(MANSFIELD, Texas) — A determined dad-to-be managed to videotape the backseat birth of his daughter while driving his wife to their Mansfield, Texas, birthing center.
Zachary and Jennifer Russell were 15 minutes into the 45-minute trip when Jennifer’s water broke. Moments later, baby Willow was born.
“By the time my water broke, I pushed once and she was out,” Jennifer Russell told ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV. “I didn’t think it was going to happen that fast.”
The first thing proud papa did was whip out his video camera.
“I just kept making sure the frame was good and that I was staying on the road,” Zachary Russell told WFAA. “I’m surprised. I did real well!”
While most moms-to-be make it to the delivery room with time to spare, experts say a quick labor can surprise even the most practiced of parents.
“The vast majority of women have plenty of warning before their baby is going to come,” said Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “But some people have very, very rapid labors.”
Other unplanned labor locales include a New Jersey PATH train, a stuck service elevator in Spanaway, Wash., a Baltimore airport bathroom, a Denver library, a McDonald’s in Vancouver, Wash., and an airplane en route to San Francisco.
Despite having a due date — an estimate based on the time of conception — babies tend to come out when they’re ready, regardless of whether the parents feel the same. But several warning signs signal the start of labor, which for first-time moms lasts an average of 16 hours.
“About 1 percent of women break their water before they go into labor,” said Greenfield. “It’s usually a big gush, but sometimes it’s more of a constant trickle.” Either way, “you can usually tell.”
There are other, more ubiquitous signs that a baby is ready to go: Contractions that start out feeling like menstrual cramps and steadily grow more intense; a tightening feeling across the lower back; and the sensation that the baby is curling up inside. But there are false alarms, too.
“I think that’s part of what keeps people from acting at first,” said Greenfield. “People sometimes feel crampier and have more pelvic pressure” late in pregnancy. “And there’s the bloody show — mucus and blood coming out of the cervix. But they’re not very predictive of labor.”
Some women are caught off-guard because they don’t feel pain with contractions.
“Everyone’s been telling them, ‘Pain, pain, pain,’ and they don’t recognize what contractions feel like,” said Greenfield of the women some would call lucky. “But that’s pretty rare.”
Even for veteran moms who’ve been there, done that, labor can be sneaky.
“If their first baby came in two hours, the next baby may be the one they’re going to deliver in the car on the way to the hospital,” said Greenfield. “The second delivery, on average, is usually half the length of the first.”
Although few women would choose the backseat of a Ford Compact over a birthing center, Greenfield said quick labors are usually a sign that everything is going smoothly.
“This is the way nature intended,” she said. “Labor wasn’t intended to happen in hospitals hooked up to IVs.”
Wherever they’re born, babies need to be dry and warm.
“The most important thing is to dry it off and put it skin-to-skin against mom,” said Greenfield. The next step is to get mom and baby to the nearest hospital. “It’s so dramatic and exciting,” said Greenfield. “When it ends well, it’s certainly a story to tell.”
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