I was blessed with having fast labors.
Or so I am told…
Each of my three children was born in less than 3 hours from the start of the first contraction. It’s called a precipitous labor and it only occurs in 3% of births. It might seem like a small number but it’s hard to predict who will have one, and if you’re unprepared for it, it can lead to a very traumatic experience.
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The Physical Trauma
While precipitous births are generally good for the baby, they can be extremely traumatizing for moms. Labor itself tends to begin without warning and goes from a 0 to 10 in a matter of minutes.
The stages of labor that we learn about in preparation for giving birth are early labor, transition and active labor.
For women who experience a precipitous labor they either do not feel their early labor at all or have an extremely short early labor stage, which doesn’t allow for much time to adjust to the extreme pain that is active labor contractions.
In my case, I simply did not feel my early labor contractions. I know this to be a fact because when my water broke with my first child and I didn’t start having any contractions – I went to the hospital assuming I would need to be induced. It was there that they told me I was already 5 cm dilated and having contractions every 5 minutes but I did not feel a single one.
It wasn’t until I entered the transition/active labor stage that I felt the first contraction and it felt like being hit by a truck. I was completely blindsided by the pain. I could barely catch my breath and begun to panic because there was no way for me to stay on top of the contractions that started coming one after another with no break in between.
The option for an epidural was off the table. The pain was unrelenting, and I suffered from tearing and swelling due to the baby shooting out like a torpedo.
But the worst pain of all when dealing with a precipitous labor, is the pain of trying NOT to push while the baby’s head is crowning and so desperately wants out! Often, doctors and midwives are surprised by precipitous labors, considering how rare they are (especially among first time moms).
I’m unsure which method of torture of worse: having to wait to push while crowing, or the thought of delivering a baby without assistance. Precipitous laborers will usually have to choose one or the other.
The Psychological Trauma
In a state of shock
After the 2 hour and 43 minute delivery of my first child, to say that I was traumatized would be an understatement. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards, re-living every painful and panic stricken moment. PTSD is a more accurate diagnosis.
In fact, immediately after the birth, I experienced a surge of adrenaline that caused my entire body to tremor and shake – so badly that I couldn’t even hold my new baby.
The nights I spent in the hospital afterwards, in the same bed where I gave birth, only made things worse as I listened to the screams and cries of other women in labor.
The speedy 2 hour and 4 minute delivery of my second child made me convinced that I would never go through something like that again. In fact, I believe the traumatic precipitous labor of my second child contributed to my postpartum depression. Talking about the trauma of my precipitous labors with a therapist helped, despite the fact that I knew it would still happen again.
Fear of being alone
Many partners have missed the birth of their babies thanks to precipitous labors. Thankfully my husband was at my side for each and every delivery, however the additional people that I wanted in the room for support didn’t make it on time. Instead, my 2 year old son got to witness his sister’s birth since his grandparents arrived a few minutes too late to take care of him.
For two out of three of my labors, I’ve had the urge to push while in the passenger seat of the car. I was almost certain that I would be delivering a baby roadside and make the local news.
With my last labor, I was delivering in a small town that would have to transfer me to a hospital 2 hours away if there were any complications and the thought of delivering a baby in an ambulance on the highway was not my ideal birth plan.
The fear of being alone and unassisted while giving birth weighed heavily on me after discovering that I suffered from precipitous labor. In my last few weeks it caused me stress, sleepless nights and a constant state of panic.
Once a precipitous laborer, always a precipitous laborer…
Consecutive labors tend to be faster than the first – which is scary when your first was less than 3 hours.
For my second baby, I decided on a water birth, at a birth center, with a midwife, in the hopes of having a less traumatic experience than my first. While the intent was for a natural and relaxing environment, it ended up being the most traumatic one of all. In 2 hours and 4 minutes my daughter was born – 7 minutes after arriving at the center, as the birthing tub filled up in the background.
The third time around, I’m certain my doctor and the hospital staff were all quite annoyed with the number of false alarms I had. They sure changed their tune when I ended up delivering baby #3 in 1 hour and 34 minutes.
It seems that no amount of planning and preparation for a precipitous labor will help to avoid the panic.
I dislike being told that I am “lucky” to have had such short labors.
I am thankful that my children were born healthy and without complications.
I am grateful that I was able to deliver them naturally, without drugs as I had planned.
But I don’t consider it a blessing of any sort to have had a precipitous labor.
I believe all women who give birth, whether they labor for days on end, or only for a matter of minutes, whether they’ve had c-sections, epidurals or water births – deserve all the credit that is due to them. Giving birth in itself is a blessing – no matter how you do it.
More Articles about Precipitous Labor:
Emergency Child Birth Information:
Baby Center summarizes what to do if you deliver a baby before help arrives.
Wiki How has a step by step tutorial on how to deliver a baby in an emergency with pictures
Med Help has a very detailed article on delivering a baby in an emergency including what to do for various complications.
Post-Precipitous Labor Items I Recommend:
The hospital is going to provide you with terrible un-absorbent pads and mesh underwear that are bulky and uncomfortable and you will leak out all over your hospital bed, especially when you breastfeed.
With a precipitous labor, there isn’t much time to allow for a gradual stretching which often results in tearing, stitches and swelling.