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Labor Day

"This would be a good day to have a baby," my husband, George, said cheerfully one August morning, late in my pregnancy. He had it all planned out. It was the first day of school for our three older children (first grade, kindergarten, and a toddler program). With the kids away, he reasoned, he could shepherd me through labor with undivided attention and then later round them up to meet their new brother or sister for dinner.

Just one catch: It was still three weeks until my due date. The only labor I saw ahead was my job and the laundry.

The saga of birth begins deep in a fetus's brain, according to the latest research. So maybe this baby will turn out to be a smart (or obedient) child. Because around 2 o'clock that afternoon, the painless Braxton-Hicks contractions I'd been feeling for weeks began to knock the wind out of me. By 2:30, George was arranging for friends to pick up our kids. By 3, he ushered me into my doctor's office. And at 4:01 -- after I'd barely struggled into my hospital gown -- our daughter Page was born, in time to meet her siblings for supper.

What prompts a baby to suddenly tunnel out of the womb she's been snuggling in for months? Can you do anything to help labor begin, besides point out a convenient window on your calendar? Anyone who's ever counted down a due date can't help but wonder.

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