Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Precipitous Labor

"pre cip' i tous: adj. Like a precipice; extremely steep; abrupt or ill-considered. "


That is the definition found in the 2nd edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. Medically, a precipitous labor is a labor that results in a birth in 3 hours or less. We all have seen on the news the story of a woman whose baby was born in a car en route to the hospital, or whose kindergartener knew enough of his numbers to call 9-1-1. Like many doulas, I have a precipitous labor clause in my contract to ensure I get paid, even if I miss the birth. I suppose many of us, if we attend enough births, will experience (or miss experiencing, even) a preciptious labor or two -- but for the most part we wouldn't bet on it, and wouldn't want to.

Just over 2 weeks ago, I gave birth in an hour and 17 minutes. I have a friend who said that she had a quick labor, too, and then she described how she pushed for just 20 minutes. She had obvious pride in her birth story, so I didn't tell her that her labor wasn't anything even close to mine. My labor was rapid. Like, really rapid. Like at 12:30PM, I was eating lunch and chatting with my husband, and then by 1:47PM there was a baby in the room. The dictionary definition of "precipitous" is far more accurate than the medical definition; my labor was like being thrown off a very steep cliff with no chute, and I free fell all the way until my daughter exploded out of my body.

A goal of natural childbirth requires values clarification, a real sense of why you want to birth naturally: do you believe in normal birth, and that in the absence of true medical necessity, there is no need to intervene with its process? Do you believe in your own primal strength? Or do you want your strength challenged? I've even had a client flat out say she was so terrified of needles that in fact an epidural was far more frightening than unmedicated childbirth. Natural labor also requires planning and practice; in other words, lots and lots of fore thought. And all my plans were tossed out the window - there was no time to collect myself, no time to process, and I had to use only what remained: my instinct - to breathe and keep the air moving through my body; my husband - whom I held on to for dear life as he supported my weight and helped me rock and sway through this deft force of nature, and my midwife - who, despite the collective surprise of everyone in the birth room at such a swift and decisive labor, entirely believed as I did that nothing was ever wrong, and there was nothing to be afraid of.

I am left with the sense that I didn't so much give birth as I did give way to birth, and I am feeling far more humbled by nature than I am empowered or heroic. My "precipitous" labor certainly was "abrupt", though not "ill-considered," and yet, in the end, just as it was meant to be.

18 comments:

thejoyofthis said...

I found this post as I was google-ing perciptious labor. A week ago I gave birth to my second child. (Another water birth!)I did not have a true text book perciptious labor, since my abor was four hours, but I went from 4cms to holding my son in my arms in 45 minutes. My first birth was ten hours, I had plenty of time to cope, but you phrased it so well, my body gave way to birth. I'm still processing what happened. So, thank you for your blog.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your definition of precipitous labor! Until now I have never hear an accurate description of what the experience is like. My labor (VBAC) lasted 29 min. I thought I was going to truly die and the "explosion" took longer to sew up than the birthing process. Fortunately, I went to the hospital over an hour away because I felt something "diffrent". Now I am expecting again and am nervous I won't make it to the hospital and will be delivering at a bar along the way, but very much do not want to be induced for fear of increased risk of rupture. So I am purchasing an emergency delivery kit so I feel a little better about it. I have heard that it is better to plan a home birth after having a precipitous labor, however, I am too far from a facility that would be able to help me or the baby if I were to experience any complications.

Anessa said...

I had precipitous labor with both of my children and did not deal with the pain well. Though certainly not by conscious choice, I bit myself and ripped my hair out of my head while contracting. The pain was so unbelievable it scares me to say it but I think I would have put a gun to my head if I had had one (NOT because I wanted to die, just to do ANYTHING to stop the pain). Later, my midwife and the nurses said they had never seen a woman respond to pain that way so I've asked around but can't find anyone else who did something like this. I also had something of an out-of-body experience when I thought I was hearing another woman scream only it was myself. I feel like a bit of a freak. Please respond if this if you can relate! Thank you!

Devmurti said...

My daugther turns a year old tomorrow. I have been reflecting back to her birth over the last few days...although I must say I have always thougth about her birth as it is still so hard to wrap my head around. At 9pm I had a contraction and at 9.44pm she was born in my bathtub. Whew!! I was planning a homebirth so I was glad to be at home. It just happened so fast I was never able to fully grasp the experience...Although the experience is what it is and my body gave way! It is still mind boggling and makes me smile and honor mother nature.

Amy said...

Anessa, I had the exact situation as you. I have had 2 precipitous labors and everyone acts like 'wow you had great quick labors' and I couldn't disagree more. I'm still traumatized! What really hit me was your statement 'also had something of an out-of-body experience when I thought I was hearing another woman scream only it was myself.' I too experienced this. Also, I couldn't 'hear' what people were telling me. Later I told my husband I had no idea I was so progressed and he said 'we were telling you'. I heard people talking but couldnt listen I guess. I also would have shot myself.

KatieGironda said...

This helped ease my fear a little. I am 32 weeks pregnant with my third. First baby came 3 weeks early in 59 minutes. Second came a month early in an hour. I am more scared this time around then I was with the other two. Somehow you made me want to reevaluate my fear!

Anessa said...

Amy, thank you so much for responding! It makes me feel a little better knowing that someone else had a similar experience!!

Anonymous said...

We were staying at Marriott regent park in London when my water broke at 11:30 pm and my contractions started immediately 5 seconds apart, my 2 years old toddler was sleeping right next to my husband and I was 35 weeks pregnant and totally unprepared, I was so far away from home, and I had my first child in an emergency c section after 16 hours of labor and epidural, so you can imagine the shock and fear I've been through! We called the ambulance and when they came after 10 minutes I was already pushing, because I had my first child in c section I had the chance to choose to have the second in a selected c section as well so I never ever thought of natural birth and never read about it, they asked me to cross my feet and to stop pushing!! As if this could happen and was rushed to hospital, I gave birth after 45 minutes, I was screaming like crazy I hit my husband for telling me that I'm not allowed pain killers, I was scratching the bed sheets trying to grasp at anything I was in GREAT PAIN that no living thing should ever experience, I screamed the Hospital off, I was terrified and all I could remember of the movies I watched is to breath, no one told me I'm doing well, no one told me that my baby and I are ginna be fine, and as English is not my first language I had to translate all my questions and cries for the midwives to understand, my baby girl was fine she had to be put in an incubator for 2 weeks while my husband and sun stayed at the hotel! I was torn stitched but this is nothing to how much I was traumatized by the experience, my daughter is six months old now and I still cry when I think about the unbelievable and indescribable put of this world pain I went through. Thanks for the blog it's good to know that someone else knows what I'm talking about as my husband and family accused me of having low pain threshold !!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I realize this was a few years ago but I am happy to have found it. I just gave birth to my second yesterday. I has my first contraction at 1205 am and he was born at 1229 am. The pain was unreal. We were planning a home birth and were so lucky our midwife was able to arrive for literally the last push. My husband was amazing and had to mentally prepare for the fact that he was likely going to deliver our baby. We were both so relieved to hear our midwife enter the front door. I had a relatively fast first labor (6 hours) and I was 6 cm dilated earlier yesterday morning so we were anticipating a fast labor but not that fast. It was like being hit by a train how hard and fast the contractions came on. I literally had been sleeping one moment and the next I was writhing in pain in all fours on the floor next to the bed. I did not tear miraculously. Although it was not the home birth I had planned, I am certainly thankful it was a quick and natural one.

Anonymous said...

I only got 30mins all in all. When Im lying down in my bed with my daughter I felt I'm going to pre but I ignore until I decided to go, when I stand up my water broke 6times at 1:20am. Around 1:25am at that time I felt the pain on and off. 1minute interval the frequency is about 5mins and went back again. I almost deliver my baby in the car coz I felt the head coming out. We reach the hospital around 1:40am I jumped directly to the bed and having a lithotomy position around 1:51am my baby came out. The staff told me that I was deliver very quick.

The best way is to get birth easy is to squatting like riding a bike while squatting and walked as much as you can. That what I did.

Mixup Mommy said...

Love the definition of falling off a cliff and your child exploding out of you. Several of my friends gave birth on or around the same time as me but they all had regular labors. They always remind me how "lucky" I was to have a 2 hr 15 mins birth of my 8 lb 6 ozer. When I tell them I probably am one mom who "missed" the birth of her own son, while she was wide awake they give me blank stares or looks like I am crazy. It's scary, terrifying, clueless, lonely experience where everyone thinks you are a lunatic because none of the tried and true forms of managing labor works. It humbling decidedly but also made me wonder what the heck did I do wrong?

Anonymous said...

I have tried to explain to people the pain and the fear but unless you go through it, I guess it's not something you can wrap your mind around. They all say they wish they had quick deliveries like mine and I wish I could last long enough to get in the bed, not fear that I won't make it, and that I can get some medicine to alleviate the pain. there was just no time. My water broke at 945. Barely got in the hospital bed and we live two miles away. then the bad contractions came that wouldnt stop for a second. Had my son at 1056. I told the nurse I had to push, and she gave me a "yeah right" look but checked me anyways. her expression shifted fast and she grabbed the phone and called the doctor. i had four nurses, my mom in law, and the dr trying to calm me down but all i could do was scream and howl like a werewolf and thrash in the bed the tearing feeling was so bad! i was shaking so horribly afterwards, it was too much too fast, and i couldnt hold my baby boy for 45 minutes after delivering him. that was probably the hardest part! and his breathing was hampered because he didnt have time to push all the fluid out of his lungs. im pregnant with baby 3 and so, so scared of delivering alone. ive had both my last babies in the 37th week so i dont even make it far enough in the pregnancy to get induced or have a c section first. im praying i get there in time with this one!

By: Kate Nadeau said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I had a precipitous labor with my second son (less than two hours from start to finish) and as I am newly pregnant with our next child I am coming to terms with how my last labor went and trying to feel better prepared in the future.

Jodi Hannah said...

I'm so glad I found this post. In one sense I'm relieved to hear there's other women who have similar experiences to mine, but at the same time I'm sad that so many have to go through that. My daughter was born 8.5 months ago, my first, and it was so fast. My water broke at 9:10pm, my first contraction (ever) was 15 minutes later, and she was in my arms at 11:23pm. About 40 minutes of that was just the drive to the hospital, which is usually an hour drive, and my contractions were right away 5-6 minutes apart and intense. I was changing into my gown and felt the need to push; thankfully the nurses were awesome and believed me. But because everything seemed to be happening so fast, I never got a chance to collect myself, focus or anything. I still don't remember most of my baby's birth which makes me really sad. I know that there was a lot of screaming; I know I went into shock afterwards and it took about 45 minutes to get stitched up, and about 3 hours and a great cup of hot chocolate to warm up and stop shaking.
We're trying for Number 2 already though, because we do want more kids. I'm just so nervous to have another birth like that. Can anyone give me some encouragement and tricks to better manage such a frantic scenario? I'm ok with having a fast labor/delivery. The odds of it happening again are pretty good. I just want to learn how to manage myself, the pain and the intensity better. Any feedback is welcome!

Anonymous said...

I too had a precipitous labor with my first and was totally unprepared. I'd planned to be in it for the long haul, to have an epidural, the whole bit. My water broke just after 8 p.m. and baby was born at 11. I think if I were planning to have another, I'd get more prepared for a natural birth and call my doula the moment we were on our way to the hospital. Because it was my first and most labors take a while, she was nowhere near me when I needed support. I also might have chosen a family member who lived closer. My sister was supposed to come join us from a few hours away when I went into labor. Needless to say she didn't make it! The hardest thing for me looking back was that I'd put together a support team, but aside from my husband, no one was there. The doctor was a stranger, my doula was late and my sister couldn't make it. I think I'd rethink my team a little and have them all on real standby as labor got close. The other thing I'd remember is this: Yes, it was scary. Yes, it was painful. But we did it. And it's because our bodies are super efficient and strong and our babies were working with our wombs even before we knew it. You did it, and you can do it again, and now that you know the possibilities hopefully it won't be so scary. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I had the same experience I had my daughter in about 1 hour and 30 minuets everything was going fine and suddenly I just got super strong contractions, and was yelling for the epidural but nobody would listen to me because they were to busy getting all the medical supplies needed into the room.Next thing I new they were putting my legs up and telling me to push I was in so much pain I was crying and I believe I was screaming too I agree If I had a gun I would have also shot myself(not really) but I was in shock because it all happened so fast I could barely hold my baby after she came out because I was so in shock. But right away when her and placenta were out there was no pain at all as if nothing had happened. Real crazy experience but, thankfully me and baby girl are just fine.

Anonymous said...

I write this comment in the spirit of helpfulness, but please don't let the type of delivery you had hold you in fear. So many variables can make it unbearable. With my first, malpositioned, baby, it took me 48 hours to go from 4 cm to 10 cm. the hospital wouldn't let me eat food the whole time (although I did at some point). I then pushed for four hours before collapsing. To be honest, all I remember is that I lost my mind during that delivery. My tailbone broke during pushing and I just snapped. Couldn't stop screaming and crying because I couldn't take it anymore. Couldn't push, couldn't not push. I begged for them to drug me. I begged for a c section. I thought I would die. My second was hard but happy labor. Totally different.

Point being, labor is labor is labor. Yes, there are those few (dare I say annoying friends?) who didn't feel a thing and thought it was no big deal, but for most of us it is really, really hard and often traumatic. Don't let your past experiences scare you from future deliveries. Plan ahead for whatever good support you can find. The rest is out of our hands.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting and accurate description of precipitous births.

My first was an easy 5 1/2 hour birth, made me look forward to when I go into labor next time.

Well, next time came around a month ago, and I delivered in less 2 hours from the first real contraction. It was very painful and I didn't deal with the pain well at all this time. I was asking for the epidural upon arrival at the hospital, but of course, didn't have time for it(and husband was adamant I didn't need it, cause he knew I could do it). It was a very...intense experience. The unknown of when I'll go into labor, or how short it will be next time, has me wanting to schedule an induction whenever we have a next baby.
A lot of people think those with precipitous births are "lucky," but the unknown is scary as heck. I don't consider myself lucky to have had a 2 hour birth.