When people talk about their birth story occasionally you’ll hear a resentful tone in their voice.
They might speak of their labor being too long, or maybe there were too many interventions for their liking, or it was too painful, or the epidural didn’t take, or the Pitocin made it too intense, and the list goes on.
But you rarely hear stories about labor being too fast.
And maybe that’s because “too fast” in the birth world is irrelevant.
As I spoke about in my daughter’s birth story, I had a very fast and overwhelming labor and birth experience. I had little to no breaks in between contractions which meant that I had little to no time to process what was unfolding. I was quickly moving through this transition as my daughter was making her way into the physical world. And not only was I about to give birth, but I was also about to confront my own personal death.
Precipitous labor, also known as rapid labor, is defined as giving birth in less than three hours of regular contractions.
I had never heard of this.
During my pregnancy, my partner and I had attended a childbirth class in Portland, Oregon that was mostly based around the book “Birthing from Within” by Pam England. We learned about coping with contractions, addressing and renaming pain, breath observation, and what to “expect”. Couples spoke about nuggets of information that they have gathered from friends and family, and everything we spoke about was directed towards a long labor.
We learned that when contractions begin you’ll begin to notice a pattern. Your body will jump on this rise of sensation and you’ll ride it to the top. At the top, you’ll be begging to get off. You’ll be wondering how much longer. It could be scary, it could hurt, you could be holding your breath. Until eventually it drops and eases back and you’re able to recognize that you made it over the peak. And then once you make it back to ground level there is usually a pause. A moment that can last 10 minutes long, 6 minutes long, or 2 minutes long before the next contraction picks up again.
We were told that in those moments you can gain some strength back to push forward for this “long” birth marathon.
In 2016 I watched my sister ride this roller coaster. She dropped into labor land during the contractions and then she’d come back into her body to rest in that pause, almost as if she were able to drop into a brief nap.
But my experience was so different; no one had ever spoken about running the marathon of birth in a full blown sprint.
“You’re a first time mother, it’s going to take a while,” said everyone (even the triage nurse when I arrived at the hospital that morning).
I labored for just under 3 hours and it was a traumatic experience for me.
On September 7, I woke up right around midnight and went to the bathroom. My water broke and it was game on. There was no break, there was no pause, there was no letting up. My body was fully submerged into the experience of birth and I couldn’t keep up. With 3 herniated discs at the time, back labor was adding an extreme amount of pain to this overwhelming speed. I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t catch my breath. It felt as if my spine was imploding and because I was navigating so many sensations at once, it was hard for me to vocalize any of these feelings.
Once we arrived at the hospital I was already so far progressed that the conversation about interventions was short lived. Though an epidural may have helped with the discomfort, I turned it down. I had initially planned to move through birth with no interventions unless necessary even if it meant dealing with excruciating pain.
It felt as if I was in and out of consciousness on the hospital bed.
I moved around on the bed slowly with deep moans and grinding teeth. I can remember myself gasping for air. My knuckles were sore from clinging onto the edge of the bed so hard.
I was so far transcended into labor that I couldn’t pull up even if I wanted to.
The first “pause” I received was just after she crowned and we moved through the ring of fire.
Two pushes later and I had a baby placed on my chest as I clung onto the bed with what felt like whiplash.
She was born at 2:54am.
My precipitous labor lasted from just after midnight to just before 3am and it was one long, humbling contraction.
Following the birth, it felt as if my story wasn’t worthy enough to speak of. Or as if I was boasting about how fast it all happened.
I listened to these warriors who pushed through 6, 10, 18, 24 hours of labor; even women who had prodromal labor for weeks leading up to the birth.
I heard women cry with anger about the unwanted interventions or the plans that never came true.
And any time I tried to speak about my own personal experience it felt dismissed, or at times I’d receive a “congratulations” or a “lucky you” that felt very backhanded.
No one understood how traumatic it was for me and it felt like no one opened up the space for me to truly break it down.
There’s a huge missing piece of birth as an experience- the birth story.
I think it’s extremely important for the birthing person to be able to walk through everything that happened, step by step, to build a puzzle and put all the pieces together. To be able to openly express the fear, confusion, pain, anxiety, frustration, joy, happiness, grief, and whatever else comes up, and pair it with the external surroundings. Who was in the room? How was everyone acting? Were the lights on or off? Were the voices loud or quiet? Who said what? Why did they say that? How did you feel about what they said? Every single detail should be recalled to understand the unravelings during such an intense birth, death, and rebirth moment.
I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do this, like I hadn’t earned the right to do so because I “lucked out” with a quick labor. And because of that, the foundation for my early postpartum days were built on crumbled ground. I couldn’t move past the trauma because I was so afraid of labeling it as “trauma”. Was I really allowed to use that word?
I remember finding that this had happened to others and had read about how overwhelming it was for them as well. How some of these people birthed in their car because they couldn’t make it to the hospital in time, and how if you have a precipitous labor with your first you’re likely to experience it with every birth your body goes through.
I didn’t feel as alone but I still felt unworthy.
It’s taken me 4 years to speak of my daughters birth and own up to how it was for ME.
I can step back into perspective and understand the “lucky you” comments that may come with a touch of jealousy and misinformation. And I know that if we took the time to truly break down the experience together, they might understand that labor is labor regardless of speed.
The timing is almost irrelevant.
The portal that we have to pass through when we are birthing falls upon a large spectrum of vulnerability and discomfort.
We all must take on a dark fear of the unknown.
We all have to navigate overwhelming pain.
We all sit with the presence of the death of our former selves.
And we all are allowed to label it with whatever words best describe our own experiences.
The birth story is essential.
Because one we gather all of these pieces, we can simply step back to see the larger picture and begin to understand the moment we dove into parenthood.
It’s not an unfinished puzzle that we are constantly trying to locate pieces for.
Now we can put it back in the box and pull it out anytime we find the space and time to reflect.
And that’s what we deserve.
My birth was overwhelming, intense, traumatic, insanely instinctual, beautiful, terrifying, a death of who I had been, a rebirth of who I was becoming, a rite of passage, and the most perfect experience of meeting my daughter for the first time.
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