Is it time doctors and midwives bin the term "failing to progress"?

Giving birth is an emotional process.

However, there’s one particular term that is most controversial amongst mums and mums-to-be while they’re in the midst of a difficult labour – “failing to progress”.

That is, to describe a labour that goes beyond 20 hours for a first-time mum and 14 hours for a woman who’s already given birth before.

Gold Coast-based gym owner and fitness influencer, Revie Jane Schulz, says hearing the words “failing to progress” affected her for months.

“It took me six months, maybe longer, to really embrace how Lexi was born and feel like I had done a good job, and stop beating myself up,” Schulz said in a YouTube video.

Already impatient with an overdue pregnancy that had extended to 40 weeks and 10 days, Schulz explained she and her husband Clay made the decision to induce their now daughter Lexington (Lexi for short).

When they booked in at their hospital for a Friday 2pm appointment, Revie and Clay were ready to meet their future baby.

At 3pm she was induced with a ‘gel’ (normally containing hormone prostaglandin to soften the cervix) that gave her a few “period-like cramps”, before receiving another round of the gel at 9pm.

This resulted in a “rush of contractions” and her water broke soon after.

Listen: I’m scared of birth. Can I get a c-section? We ask Midwife Cath if a fear of vaginal birth is a good enough reason to have a caesarean. (Post continues after audio…)

By 11pm, Schulz was experiencing contractions every four to five minutes and by midnight she had dilated to three centimetres, which is normally expected at the early labour phase.

“From 12am to 5am I could probably just say that it was the worst experience of my life… It was like I was in the ocean and I kept on getting hit by wave after wave.”


Despite this, five hours later she was still only three to three and a half centimetres dilated.

It was after 17 hours at the hospital, that Schulz heard the words she says plagued her for months.

“That’s when my favourite term in the whole entire world came into play, and that was ‘failure to progress’.

“I can’t feel my legs and I feel like I’ve been in a train accident and you guys keep telling me that I’m failing? That sh*t is getting to me.

“That has got to be the worst term to use in that situation.”

Eventually, the doctors decided on a C-section, and the exhausted parents finally got to meet their healthy baby girl.

Looking back at her labour, Schulz calls the period before her c-section as “the darkest place I had gone through in the pregnancy.”

“I felt like I had totally and utterly failed, so that word ringing around the room was adding salt to the wound.”

Schulz says the term ‘failure to progress’ left her feeling more vulnerable.

“After around seven to eight months of speaking about [this] to the hubby and fellow mamas I was able to embrace our story and realise I had not failed at all,” she wrote in a subsequent Instagram post.

“Lexington was brought into the world healthy and happy and that’s all I could ever hope.”

Do you think the term failure to progress should be changed? Or do you have a story to share? Please tell us in a comment, because we’d love to hear it. 

Listen: The Pointy End – Birth Stories: Monique Bowley and Bec Judd deep dive on the beautiful act of labour, speaking to mums and experts.

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