A Story of Precipitous Labor
Precipitous labor lasts less than three hours and ends in the rapid expulsion of the baby. Moms that have been through 24-48 hour or longer labors are probably reading that thinking how nice that would be, and while yes, there’s something to be said for short, it’s not so sweet.
With my first baby, I was induced and got an epidural fairly early on. When I was induced, I was just at 2 cm and had only progressed to 3.5 cm when I got the epidural. Once I received the epidural, my water was broken and things progressed from there. I got to 10 cm and they let me labor down for over 2.5 hours. Laboring down is allowing the baby to come slowly and naturally down the birth canal without pushing. Once I started to push I was told to stop a short time later to allow for the doctor to arrive. With the baby nearly crowned, I laid there for almost thirty minutes waiting, and the baby arrived in a few short pushes once she was there.
The labor itself wasn’t bad, but the recovery was rough. I believe laboring down for so long and the extra time added when I was told to stop pushing contributed to damage to my pelvic floor that I questioned if I would’ve experienced otherwise. Due to this, when I got pregnant with my second, I decided I wanted to attempt a natural, med-free birth.
I read books, hired a doula, created a birth plan, and generally felt like I was prepared. In my head, I had envisioned us laboring at home for as long as possible. I’d lay in bed while my husband rubbed my back, and we’d spend those early hours just trying to relax until we got to the more active stages of labor. My husband and I discussed the music I wanted to listen to (Taylor Swift - yes, you read that correctly) and he went out to buy Christmas lights to have hung in the room to add to the ambiance. I even bought a pretty labor and delivery gown so I’d at least feel cute through the early process (because that’s a priority, not). I knew it would be hard, but I studied birthing mantras and envisioned me embracing contractions peacefully and giving my new baby a zen entrance into this world. Sounds lovely, right?
It’s not what happened.
I had been steadily progressing towards labor for weeks leading up to my 39-week appointment. The doctor was surprised to find I was almost 6 cm dilated. She asked if I was feeling contractions. I wasn’t outside of what I’d been feeling for months. I had terrible Braxton Hicks contractions that started around thirty weeks with both pregnancies and progressed to them being uncomfortable and at times consistent for hours. I asked her to sweep my membranes to help stimulate labor as I was more than ready to evict this other human residing in me. She was fine sending me home afterwards since I wasn’t feeling any other signs of active labor, but said not to wait too long to get to the hospital once I did start feeling contractions.
Driving home I remember being terrified this baby would just shoot right out at any moment. After all, I was freaking 6 cm dilated. I only had four to go and even though I had been progressing for weeks towards six, that last stretch seemed likely to go fast.
Once I got home I walked around staying busy and folding laundry. I felt strong Braxton Hicks contractions during the day, but they weren’t consistent and I could certainly walk and talk through them. She did warn that my uterus may be a little irritable and the membrane sweep may trigger some cramping.
Shortly after 6:30, I started experiencing what I thought might be closer to the real deal contractions. They still weren’t super painful, but they felt a bit different and were getting consistent. They felt like waves of cramps with some pressure. I started timing them and was surprised to find they were four to five minutes apart. I called the doula. As I was talking she asked if I had been having any during our call. When I said yes, she said she still thought they might be Braxton Hicks since I seemed to be handling the pain okay, but since I had also been 6 cm, she thought I should probably start heading to the hospital just in case.
My husband came in shortly before 7:00 and asked if he had time to put a pizza in the oven. While cooking a pizza maybe shouldn’t have been on the top of his priority list, I said I thought we had plenty of time since I wasn’t completely convinced what I was feeling was really the start of labor. A few minutes later, I got up and went to the bathroom. Walking out of the bathroom I felt my first definite, no question about it contraction. I doubled over and dropped down to the floor yelling for my husband. I had just been knocked to my knees in pain, and as he came in I told him to get me in the car, we needed to get to the hospital immediately.
I wasn’t wrong in my assessment of the seriousness of our situation. Once in the car, the contractions were coming every 2-2.5 minutes. I barely had time to catch my breath from one before another started. My water hadn’t broken, which was somewhat assuring I wasn’t delivering the baby on the side of the road.
We arrived at the hospital around 7:30. I knew I couldn’t walk. I could barely get words out through the waves of pressure and pain that now had hardly any time between them. I felt like my insides were going to explode out of me and I truly wasn’t sure from where. My husband rolled me into the hospital’s emergency room entrance and we were greeted by a young 20 something-year-old guy that was asking things like my birth date, social security number, and due date.
“Today! I’m due today! I’m having this baby RIGHT now!” was all I managed to scream back at him. To be fair, they probably have a number of pregnant women come in thinking they are about to have a child suddenly expelled from their body right there on the floor, only to find out they aren’t even halfway to pushing yet, but I was certain this baby was coming soon or I was going to die. One of the two.
A nurse came out, assessed the situation, and thankfully realized I needed to skip this part of checking in and go straight to a room. Our doula met us as we headed up and realized I was most likely in transitional labor. I tried breathing, I tried to embrace the contractions, but I couldn’t. Every time my body seized in pain, I was screaming through clenched teeth.
We got to the room and the contractions were so intense they had to help move me to the bed. If I tried to move my body in any way, it immediately caused the intensity of the contractions to increase and cut the small space between them short. When they checked me, I was at 8 cm. A nurse made a comment that it was noted that I had wanted a low intervention birth. "No, I want the epidural, I do!” I managed to get out. Unfortunately, they hadn’t even had a chance to draw blood or get an IV in at that point, and there was nothing they could give me.
I tried my birthing mantras, I tried focusing on my husband (who looked like a deer in headlights and just kept saying what a good job I was doing), I tried positive thoughts, but I mostly just continued to cry and scream through it. You know those people that say labor isn't like the movies? Mine was. Mine was like every chaotic scene of a woman screaming in pain that’s ever been shown. I laid there on my side gripping the bedrails, unsure if I was going to vomit or split in two. My doula was putting pressure on my back and I thought it was making it worse. I snapped at her to stop, and the second she took her hands off my back it felt like a vice was about to break it while my stomach was about to explode from pressure at the same time. I immediately told her to put her hands back.
At one point they strapped oxygen on me and I begged for them to let me push. The doctor checked and I was 10 cm, but my water hadn’t broken yet. He asked if I wanted him to break it and get this show on the road and between screams of pain I told him yes. Just minutes after my water was broken, my perfect, little boy came torpedoing into this world just a short hour and fifteen minutes after that first full-blown contraction.
One thing I will say is true about natural childbirth, immediately upon the baby coming out, the pain (at least the worst of it) is gone. I was almost in a state of shock from the chaos of what had just happened. I laid there shaking uncontrollably trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was already holding my baby. I still had on the tank top I had arrived in (I have a cute labor and delivery gown if anyone needs it!).
Rapid labor can increase risks of complications for mom and baby, but luckily we escaped those. We were told if my water had broken at home, the baby would’ve been born there, and the thought of that was terrifying. It’s said that rapid labor can often be more intense and shocking to the system since there’s no gradual build-up of pain, and while I don’t have much to compare it to, I do know the pain was unexplainable. For me, the baby coming out felt like a paper cut compared to the contractions.
As for natural vs. epidural - this is such a personal decision for anyone. I would have totally gotten that epidural if it had been an option in those moments, but afterwards I was glad I didn’t. I did feel like my recovery was better and I liked being able to walk shortly after delivering.
If you are considering natural childbirth, here’s my advice:
-Read and research and make sure you know your reasons for deciding to go this route. If you don’t have strong reasons behind your decision, you’ll most likely cave to meds.
-If it’s an option, hire a doula. They are your coach and advocate for what you want and don’t want at the hospital. In those chaotic moments, our doula was calm and collected, being a steady voice in the process and communicating things when I could not.
-Look up different natural birthing strategies and decide which is a good fit for you.
-Write that plan, make that playlist, buy those dang Christmas tree lights and cute labor and delivery gown, but also know that things don’t always go as planned, and be okay with that.
-It’s true, nobody gives you a trophy for not getting the epidural, so if you change your mind and ask for it, that’s okay too.