My Accidental Home Birth
I had absolutely no intention of having a home birth.
But that is exactly what I got. My first daughter, Zea, was born after only three very intense hours of labor. In the medical world this is called precipitous labor and it is pretty darn rare, especially for a first baby. Boy, were we shocked.
As a first-time mom, you really have no idea what to expect as you approach your due date, but you do not expect to be one of the rare cases. We read a few birthing books and we had talked with many close friends who had several kids already. I think I just assumed I'd be somewhere in the average range of length and difficulty of labor.
My Speedy Little Daughter
We went to bed the night before my due date, no expectations of anything happening during the night. I hadn't had any false labor, any real contractions, any of the signs of early labor at all. I fully expected to wake up in the morning and pick my mom, who was coming into town from Texas for the birth, from the airport.
I woke up right around midnight, not even knowing what woke me up exactly. Obviously a contraction must have woken me up because not ten minutes later, as I was trying to drift back asleep, another one came along and now I was really awake. It was not an intense contraction at all, but it was the first I'd ever really felt. I laid in the dark, waiting in anticipation for another, and sure enough, maybe ten minutes later, another mild contraction.
I grabbed paper and pen so that I could keep track of the time and duration of the contractions. From everything I'd read, I fully expected to have many hours of labor ahead of me. But instead of the slow progression of increasing intensity, frequency, and duration of contractions, my contractions come faster and harder very quickly.
After only an hour of labor, my water broke and my daughter's head was crowning. It became very clear that we were not going to make it to the hospital. At that point my husband called 911 and he was told that firefighters were on their way.
The 911 operator told my husband that I should not push until the firefighters arrived, that it would be safer if the baby was born when they were there. Easier said then done. Any mother will tell you that once your body wants you to push, you push. Fortunately the firefighters arrived in less than ten minutes and five minutes of pushing later, Zea was born!
What Does Precipitous Labor Feel Like?
Very fast labor feels like an intensified, condensed version of typical labor. So say you were to put contractions in categories of intensity from 1 to 10. Typical labor would look like this: an hour of level 1 contractions, an hour of level 2, etc., ending with an hour of level 10, pushing contractions, then your baby is born. Fast labor looks more like this: one or two level 1 contractions, one or two level 2 contractions, etc., then maybe five minutes of pushing, and your baby is born. Pretty intense!
The Pros and Cons of Fast Labor
There are both positive and negative aspects to precipitous labor.
I'll start with the less pleasant parts. Unfortunately, when labor goes so quickly, your body does not have the same time to stretch gradually that it would during a 12-15 hour typical labor. So you are more likely to tear and to a greater degree. Also, you do not have the same gradual build up to prepare mentally that you would normally. The labor process can feel very chaotic, especially with your first, when it is proceeding so quickly. Lastly, precipitous labor may lead to an unexpected home birth, as it did with my first. Now, of course, this is not the end of the world. Plenty of women have beautiful, safe, planned home births. But if there are any complications, a home birth without a midwife present can be more dangerous, if first responders are not able to arrive quickly.
But it's not all bad! Really, I have come to appreciate how quickly my body goes through labor. Such fast labor means that once my daughter was born, I was not facing the same kind of physical exhaustion that comes from a full day of labor. I was better able to enjoy my newborn baby and work through the new experience of breastfeeding. Precipitous labor also makes the possibility of a c-section much less likely, unless of course the baby is in distress. Many complications from delivery come from the prolonged stress of labor on the mother and the infant, so a shorter duration of stress is beneficial to both mom and baby.
How Fast Was Your Labor?
Once A Fast Laborer, Always a Fast Laborer
After the uniquely quick birth of my first daughter, I was very curious to see what labor would look like when I became pregnant with our second daughter. I heard from a lot of women that each of their children's births looked very different, so I had I no idea if it would be just as fast. We were prepared in case it was, though, because I really did want to have my baby in a hospital this time. And sure enough, my second daughter was born after only three fast hours of labor, just like her big sister. It seems that my body moves at only one speed when giving birth- FAST. Fortunately with my second baby, we did make it to the hospital, though with not much time to spare. I know now to head to the hospital as soon as I feel even two or three regular contractions. So if you've had a precipitous labor before and are wondering if that's what you can expect again, I'd say err on the side of caution and don't wait once those contractions start coming. The worst that can happen is you will be sent home if it's clear no progress is occurring.
Don't Be Afraid!
Before my first daughter was born, an accidental home birth was at the top of my list of fears. In reality, most healthy babies can be born at home without complications. It's really not as scary as it sounds and a quick 911 call means firefighters will be there to help in very little time. So cross "accidental home birth" or "super fast labor" off your list of fears; your body can do what it needs to just as easily at home if it has to!