How long was your labour? It's time to share war stories...

“Don’t worry, honey, it’ll all be over REALLY soon.”

I’m often asked how long the fastest birth I’ve ever seen was.

‘Four minutes,’ I get to reply to people with seriously raised eyebrows.

It happened when I was a student in my final year of midwifery training.  A woman with a history of two previous precipitate (fast) labours had come into hospital in what was clearly very early labour.

She was having one tightening in a ten minute period; they couldn’t even be classed as mild contractions.  Usually, someone in labour this early would simply be sent home and told to come back when they were ready to get serious about giving birth.  But because this woman did indeed have a history of giving birth very quickly, it was more than possible that she could go home and find herself accidentally having a baby while she boiled water for a cup of tea.  So we were more than willing to let her stay, looking in on her every half hour to see if there were any further developments.

But there weren’t; every time I went into the room to see what was happening, I was told that she’d had another three tightenings in the half hour since I had last checked in.  Eventually I encouraged the couple to go for a walk and come back in half an hour so that I could check the baby’s heartbeat and the Mum’s pulse and blood pressure.  So off they went, coming back thirty minutes later to report that nothing much had happened on the walk.  I sent them back out again, beginning to wonder if this baby was just fooling around and that the whole labour would just fizzle out and we’d send the mum on her way.

I found some things to do in the meantime, chiefly, showing other students how you can use a tube of topical anaesthetic to numb your legs before waxing them, just how you can manipulate the Drugs of Dependence Log Book to your best chemical advantage and how to create a second identity in payroll in order to pull double pay.  Cool, huh?

Seeing as how walking usually gets things moving along in the labour department, I was disappointed when, after having walked around in circles for an hour and a half, the woman’s contractions weren’t coming with any more frequency or intensity.  And now she was getting tired from being on her feet for so long.

‘I’m going to have a bit of a lie down,’ she told me.

‘No worries,’ I told her, ‘let me know if you need me for anything.’

She retired to her room and I sat down despondently at the front desk, watching the central CTG in a mindless manner, flicking between rooms to see what was happening with everyone else in labour.


A man’s yelling brought me back to reality.  ‘Help!  Help!’

It was the woman’s husband; he’d stuck his head out of the door of her room and was calling in my direction.

“The baby had its eyes open and was looking around from inside its underwater world, clearly wondering what in heck was going on.”

I ran down to the room, thinking that this couldn’t possibly be the baby being born, but ready to have my disbelief suspended.  Sure enough, the woman was lying on the bed, legs akimbo and half a baby’s head coming out of her vagina.

‘Fuck!’ I yelled in a moment of special eloquence.  I pressed the buzzer to alert a midwife that her presence was needed, and hurriedly slipped on a pair of gloves.  I barely managed to get a hand on the baby before the woman pushed it onto the bed, still surrounded by a pool of birth waters enclosed in the unbroken membranes.

I was momentarily nonplussed; I’d never been at a birth where the baby was born in the caul.

The baby had its eyes open and was looking around from inside its underwater world, clearly wondering what in heck was going on.  The baby was clearly visible; it was like looking at a baby mermaid inside a fish tank made of Glad wrap.

I was just reaching for the scissors to cut the baby out of its watery little home, when I watched the baby do something pretty cool.  With one hand, the baby reached out and scratched a hole in the membranes, one big enough for me to put my fingers into and pull aside so that the baby could come out into the world of air and light.  Amniotic fluid flowed over the edge of the bed and onto the floor, and I picked up the now free baby and gave her to her mother.

‘That was quick!’ I said to her.

‘Yep, I don’t fuck around when it comes to giving birth,’ she grinned.

Four minutes.  It doesn’t get much faster than that.

Zepgirl is an executive assistant and midwife.  She lives in Melbourne and can be found anywhere that Harry Potter or Led Zeppelin might be up for discussion.  She lives for the day that the misuse of apostrophes becomes a criminal offence and takes zero responsibility for any typos or grammatical errors in this article.

So, is this the fast birth to end all fast births? How long were you in labour? What the fastest (or longest!) labour you have ever heard of?

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