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.
Here’s what you should know about the trauma of a precipitous labor.
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.
Women who experience a precipitous labor either do not feel their early labor at all or have an extremely short early labor stage.
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, I went to the hospital assuming I would need to be induced, since contractions had not started. 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.
I was already in the transition phase when I felt the first contraction so the pain suddenly went from none at all to incredibly intense. Instead of slowly adjusting to a gradual increase in pain, I was completely blindsided. I could barely catch my breath and begun to panic because it was impossible to stay on top of the contractions that started coming one after another with no break in between.
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). Many times, the labor and delivery staff are unprepared or waiting for the doctor to get there. They will tell you to blow out through your mouth in an effort to halt labor, but anyone who has given birth knows this is nearly impossible.
So instead of experiencing the immediate relief that comes with finally delivering a baby, you’re forced to wait in an unnecessary amount of pain, because no one believed you when you said you felt like pushing.
The Psychological Trauma
I had no idea what to expect with my first labor. So when I was advised that I was, in fact, in active labor, I didn’t think much of it because I wasn’t in any sort of pain. No one warned me that labor pains could start at any moment, and no one questioned how I was 7 cm dilated and not in any pain.
But when the pain did begin, I was treated as though I was overreacting. I don’t really blame them though. I mean, how could I be in such an extreme amount of pain, after I was just skipping through the hallways five minutes ago?
And then came the urge to push. It was unmistakable and uncontrollable. But the nurses told me it was just pressure, and there was no way that I was already fully dilated.
This continued to happen with my other two deliveries. I warned my midwifes and doctors that I was a fast laborer, but they still treated me as though I was overreacting.
The way that I was treated during labor made me feel as though I had no control, no voice, no say in what was happening to me.
Immediately following labor
After the 2 hour and 43 minute delivery of my first child, to say that I was traumatized would be an understatement. Immediately after 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. I was happy, but I was also in a state of shock.
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. I barely slept, and would wake up in a cold sweat thinking that I was labor all over again.
Weeks, months and years later
I had nightmares for weeks afterwards, re-living every painful and panic stricken moment. PTSD is a more accurate diagnosis.
When I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, I quickly made the decision to have a home birth because I did not want to go through such a traumatic experience again. Eventually, I settled for a birth center, hoping that it would still be faster than delivering in a hospital.
With my third pregnancy, I spent most of my last few weeks battling anxiety about when I would go into labor and whether or not I would have enough time to get there. Frequent false alarms landed me in the hospital every other day until it was finally time.
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 two 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. I was afraid to be left alone for any period of time in case I went into labor, and I lost several hours of sleep wondering if that pain I just felt was a contraction.
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.
My second child was born in 2 hours and 4 minutes from the start of the first contraction. I was confused as to whether or not I was having another precipitous labor or if I was actually feeling the early labor this time. I tried to be tough and hold off as long as I could, which turned out to be a big mistake. Despite feeling the urge to push during the entire car ride to the birth center, I delivered my daughter a mere seven minutes after falling desperately into the arms of my midwife.
Her traumatic precipitous labor left me convinced that I would never have another baby for this reason alone. I believe that it contributed to my postpartum depression. Talking about the trauma of my precipitous labor with a therapist helped greatly.
Baby number three made her appearance in 1 hour and 34 minutes. I felt much braver when it came to her delivery. This time, I knew for certain that it would be fast again. I knew through trial and error that I had to make it to the hospital as soon as I felt contractions and not spare a single second. I harassed my doctor on a regular basis and I didn’t feel bad about it. I made sure that she knew it was going to be fast, and she assured me that she would rush to the hospital as soon as she got the call, which she did.
My third delivery was the most successful of them all. It was still painful and scary and traumatizing, but this time, I learned to demand the type of care that I needed. I didn’t put up with being told that I was overreacting. I accepted that I would have another precipitous labor and did my best to prepare for it.
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.