I would know. It's happened to me twice now. My first two births were easy and fairly fast. My third and fourth have both clocked in well under three hours from start to finish.
That might seem like something enviable, but it is very intense, prone to sudden changes, and can be scary, depending on one's preparedness and how the labor progresses. In my most recent labor, I went from becoming aware that this was the "real thing" to pushing in about 45 minutes, and from meeting the L&D admission requirements to birth in about 15 minutes. There was simply no time for the midwife to arrive let alone to transport me anywhere safely. And the sudden shift from riding out contractions to pushing left me so surprised that I really couldn't think my way through anything.
With that experience in mind, I would encourage any expectant mother to educate herself and encourage her husband to learn about unassisted childbirth. Births often don't go according to plan, and being prepared for various contingencies is important. If you hire a midwife, you and she will plan for the contingency of something going wrong. If you have a doctor and hospital, there are procedures in place for handling various unexpected circumstances. Likewise, if labor sneaks up on you, having some idea what to do and having a prepared partner to help with the things you can't do can make the whole process much safer and much less overwhelming.
Having some idea of the process of delivering a baby is a good idea for any expectant parent anyway, as it will help you keep calm in the delivery room.
Here are some things that I found helpful:
- Have a First Aid handbook handy. Read up on mouth to mouth resuscitation and the symptoms of internal bleeding. Generally speaking, precipitous childbirth happens when all is well for both mother and child, but strange things happen, and ambulances take time to travel.
- Read Dr. Gregory White's Emergency Childbirth. This is a manual intended for emergency personnel, but it is very easy to read and reassuring for the layman.
- Have a fetal heart doppler handy (they can be had very inexpensively on Amazon). It might not occur to you to use it in the heat of the moment, or you may not have time, but the ability to track fetal heart rate and position leading up to birth is very useful. You can also use it in lieu of a stethoscope when the baby is born to check heartrate.
- Have a bulb syringe, towels, disposable gloves, and chux pads on hand (I buy the ones marketed for house training pets, because they are half the price of medical ones)--basically the sorts of things you need around if you plan a homebirth, many midwives post shopping lists on their professional websites and many companies sell pre-assembled birthing kits (an example can be found here). If you are nearing your due date, having these items on hand is simply part of having a stocked first aid kit.
- If your husband has not witnessed the "business end" of childbirth before, encourage him to watch one or two online. Familiarity will breed confidence and will help him whether he is supporting you in the delivery room, holding your hand while the midwife helps you at home, or catching a baby in the back seat of the car. Knowledge is power.
- Have your husband with you for at least one third trimester prenatal appointment, and ask your doctor or midwife for an overview of what to do if labor proceeds very quickly.
Again, I am not promoting unassisted childbirth. It is simply something that can and does happen on occasion, and the results will be better if it is an anticipated contingency. In short, be prepared: