"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.