I used to think that a contraction was "the shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of internal letters." It turns out that's only part of the story.
I've had very mild Braxton Hicks contractions off and on since about 20 weeks, particularly when exercising, but they've been no big deal. A little over a week ago I got them with a pattern that started out far apart and got closer together throughout the day, but they still didn't hurt a whole lot. I called the OB's office, got sent to L&D, and got sent home. This past week they have been quite a bit more obnoxious and painful. They come in spurts, and just when I think it might be for real, they go away. I think at least some of them are doing something as far as dilation and ripening and all that good stuff, and I will find out tomorrow afternoon at my next appointment.
We got a 4-hour crash course in natural childbirth from our doula yesterday. Andrew and I are both so happy she will be part of this experience. She is really going to be incredibly helpful in reaching our goal of having a natural, unmedicated birth.
Now we just have to wait and one of these days, these contractions will be for real.