Did you hear about the woman who had hiccups, day and night, for the last five months of her pregnancy? The woman even hiccuped all the way through her delivery. I know this is a true story, because that woman was me.
After suffering with hiccups for months on end, I had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. And a story to dine out on -- probably for the rest of my life. And I'm not alone: The bizarre and the unbelievable are part and parcel of many women's pregnancies. And as unique as some of these tales may sound, the medical facts underlying their specifics are usually applicable to all pregnant women.
In the case of my hiccups, doctors came to believe that they were the result of normal pregnancy hormones run just slightly amok. These hormones, which work to relax muscles and ligaments all over the body to help the baby pass more easily through the pelvis, in my body seemed to work especially hard on my diaphragm, causing it to spasm. In most pregnant women, the worst side effects of such hormones is the potential for back injury, and common gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux and constipation (which arise from relaxed abdominal smooth muscle).
Since my own experience, I find myself scanning tabloid headlines about bizarre pregnancies. Who really knows? I started to wonder. Maybe that woman really didn't know she was pregnant until she was six months along. Maybe you can have a baby in 30 minutes and show up for your wedding on time six hours later. Maybe somebody else will have pregnancy hiccups.
Such things happen more often than you think, as these strange but true pregnancy tales illustrate.
The Labor That Wouldn't End
All labors seem long when you're the one in labor. Still, some are unquestionably longer than others. Consider the average active labor -- which should last 6 to 12 hours for first-time moms, 3 to 6 hours for veterans -- and then consider the experience of Jenny Montgomery, of Saint Charles, IL, who was in active labor for 22 hours with her second baby, and then had to wait another 7 hours before he was ready to be pushed out.
"I went into active labor at nine o'clock on a Monday night, and had only progressed one centimeter to five centimeters -- halfway there -- by Tuesday evening," remembers Montgomery. She went into the hospital the next morning, where she was found to be completely dilated -- at 10 centimeters -- within a half-hour of arriving.
And then, she says...nothing happened. So she and her husband, David, and the doctor simply waited for her to feel the urge to push. Meanwhile, she had painful contractions every few minutes for the next 7 hours. Finally, by early afternoon, she felt the urge to push, and after 45 minutes -- the only way in which her labor was average -- delivered a healthy, and impressively large, 9-pound, 15-ounce boy.
Despite her long labor, Montgomery is very happy with her second birth experience, and philosophical about why her children seem to want to stick around in her womb (her first child was three weeks late, had to be induced, and still took his time arriving). "I loved the whole process, believe it or not," she says. "I didn't tear, I knew I was progressing even though nothing was happening, and I'd love to do it again."
The Family That Couldn't Stop Growing
"I must be made to have babies," marvels Jennifer Shuart, a Rochester Hills, MI, mom who has given birth to heavier and heavier babies with each of her three children. The first was 8 pounds, 15 ounces; the second 9 pounds, 14 ounces; and the last, 10 pounds, 15 ounces. This means her third child was 50 percent bigger than the average full-term baby, which generally weighs in at 7 pounds.
Nevertheless, the third baby's notable heft did not seem to affect Shuart's labor: "Three pushes and he was out," she says. "No epidurals or anything. When people saw him and heard I had him vaginally, they couldn't believe it. He was just humongous. He looked like a monster compared with the other babies in the nursery."
Of course, one should keep in mind that size is relative. "Even a 6-pound baby will be big for a 100-pound woman with a tiny pelvis," says Dr. Siddiqi. Still, any baby over 4,500 grams (9.75 pounds) is generally classified as macrosomic, or plain old big, by doctors.
"You don't want to deliver a baby that isn't ready," says Gerald Joseph, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Ochsner Clinic, in New Orleans, "but I had one patient who had already had two babies in the 10-pound range, with shoulder dystocia (when the baby's shoulder is too big for the birth canal) in the last one -- more common in babies over 9 pounds. She had anxiety about that and we ultimately induced her at 37 weeks." Like many women who deliver large babies (although not all, including Shuart), this patient was diabetic, a common medical cause of high birth weight.
With the development of insulin, doctors can now control diabetes in pregnancy more effectively. So they rarely see the gigantic births of years ago, such as the world record: a healthy 22-pound, 8-ounce boy, born in Italy in 1955. Nowadays, any birth between 12 and 13 pounds will likely set a hospital record.
Molly MacKay Zacker and her husband, Dave, of St. Charles, IL, never wanted to spend hours in the hospital for the arrival of their second child. But they did want to be there for certain critical periods, like the birth. So when Molly, at home with Dave, went into labor, they called their midwife -- who would be driving with them -- and started preparing to go to the hospital, 45 minutes away. This shouldn't have been cutting it too close: Typically, active labor lasts 3 to 6 hours for second-time moms. Nevertheless, 1 hour and 25 minutes into hers -- and only a mile from the hospital -- MacKay Zacker gave birth to her daughter Abby in the back of the family minivan.
"My water broke when we were still seven minutes away, and I told my husband and midwife that I just couldn't hold it anymore," remembers MacKay Zacker. "The midwife was driving, so she threw the van into park and came back to where I was. I gave one push and Abby's head was out, with no problem at all." Despite the unconventional delivery, mom and baby were both perfectly healthy after a night at the hospital, and back home the next day.
Why was MacKay Zacker's delivery so speedy? Mostly luck, say doctors. "If I could figure out what makes a fast delivery, I could retire," says Dr. Siddiqi. Nevertheless, certain factors -- such as previous births, a maternal pelvis adequately sized for the baby's head, intrauterine infections that can set off contractions -- may hurry things along.
How fast can labor be? Any labor that lasts under two hours from the first active phase (more than four centimeters dilated) to the last push would be considered very quick by doctors, who warn that speed has its downside, including the increased likelihood of tearing tissue. But not always: MacKay Zacker needed only three stitches with her first baby, and not a single one with Abby. "I guess I just have stretchy skin," she says.
The Twins Born In Different Years
Most of the time, twins begin life outside the womb within minutes of each other. Once one baby is born, the other usually follows within the half-hour. But twins are also more likely to be premature, and in some cases can actually be born days or months apart, says Dr. Joseph, who recalls one case in which the first twin, born in mid-October 1994, was 15 weeks premature and weighed less than 2 pounds; he spent 81 days in intensive care. The second was born 14 weeks later -- in 1995 -- at nearly 6 pounds, and was hearty enough to go home the next day.
"Most often what happens in these situations is that the first twin delivers naturally but early, but the second just won't come out. So you say to yourself, this one isn't coming and the other one is premature, so we'll buy some time for the second," says Dr. Joseph.
Not that waiting is easy: A woman who's had one twin has to be careful to avoid infection and bringing on labor for the second twin.
Still, the wait is probably worth it for the sake of both the baby's health and the family's pocketbook: In the case that Dr. Joseph cited, the first baby, born premature, ultimately ran up around $250,000 in hospital bills; his twin, born full-term, cost a scant $850.
The Baby That Came Out of Nowhere
Silver Spring, MD, mom Anna Rudnick (name has been changed) wondered about the activity in her belly when she was carrying her second child: "It just seemed to be too much for one baby." But it wasn't until she was on the delivery table that she found out why. "I had just delivered when I started having contractions again. The doctor was stitching up my episiotomy, but I knew I was feeling more than just the afterbirth. I handed my husband the first baby, and the doctor delivered her twin."
Once a relatively common event, the surprise twin is now much less likely since the advent of obstetrical ultrasound. But while most women have ultrasounds in pregnancy, some choose not to. Without it, twin detection remains a vague business of measuring uterine size and severity of pregnancy symptoms.
Discerning two heartbeats is actually more difficult than it might seem. Since the heartbeat of just a single fetus can be heard in different places on the woman's abdomen, two different rates of heartbeat have to be heard in order for the doctor or midwife to know that there are two hearts to hear. This leaves ultrasound as the best way to know for certain if you'll be doing double parental duty. But even the best high-tech equipment could miss a twin who's hiding behind her sibling.
Another possibility, however, is that an early sonogram will find a twin that subsequently dies and disappears. Vanishing-twin syndrome, a surprisingly common condition, was only discovered after the invention of ultrasound 50 years ago, says Dr. Siddiqi.
Had the twin not been spotted on the sonogram, he says, the fetus probably would have just been absorbed, and the mother would have bled a little, attributing it to early-pregnancy bleeding, and never known she'd been carrying more than one child.
Contributing editor Barbara Rowley recently gave birth to her second daughter, after once again enduring 5 months of hiccups.