Words by Emily Williams
On March 27th, 2014, my husband broke every traffic law as I screamed from the passenger seat, begging my body to stop pushing. Ten minutes later, my second daughter was born on a cot in a hospital triage.
Precipitous labor and delivery (or rapid birth) is medically defined as the birth of a baby in less than three hours from the onset of labor. Labor itself is accepted as the point when the body has continuous and regular contractions that soften and dilate the cervix. Typically, you have enough contractions that you dilate to 4 cm, at which point your hospital will admit you - giving you a nice cushion of time to get comfortable and slowly progress to 10 cm. Roughly 2-10% of births are considered precipitous (the statistics are unclear because so many go unreported). The causes are still unknown, but one idea is that some women have a super uterus that is extremely efficient at expelling a baby.
When my daughter was born, I had gone to the hospital earlier in the evening and at 4:00 the next morning, after only being dilated to 2 cm, they sent me home. Within three hours, I went from 2 cm to a full 10 cm and pushing.
I was traumatized.
So when I found out I was pregnant again a little over a year later, my husband and I were scared for what labor could be like. I immediately found a midwife. I was certain that a midwife would listen to me! I was reassured at every appointment that they would listen to me and my instincts. I was assured that they would not turn me away from the hospital – that I would not have my baby in a car on the highway.
On the day my labor started, I waited until I knew it was time to go. My husband drove me to the hospital around 5:00 that evening and I went to antepartum, got hooked up to a machine, had my cervix checked and…1.5 cm. That was it.
The midwife on call came and gave me the option of walking for two hours…so I took it. My husband and I walked aimlessly for two hours in the hospital parking garage while my labor increased to the point of not being able to stand unassisted during a contraction. By the time two hours was up, I was moaning during contractions and could barely walk. Every 10-15 steps another wave would come and I would have to stop and moan it out…but we were happy. We laughed. We named our son during that walk. We were just so at ease knowing we were within feet of the hospital this time.
When they checked me again, I had only progressed to 2 centimeters.
The feeling of being told again that my contractions were useless was defeating, to say the least. Knowing that this was playing out exactly as it had before had a crushing impact on me and my husband.
Given the options of going home and resting or walking for another two hours, we decided to go home. I knew it was a bad idea, but I was tired. My husband was tired. So we left.
Almost exactly two hours later, my husband was driving well over the speed limit on the highway, while I was screaming at my body to stop pushing without my permission.
The midwife caught me in the ambulance bay with a wheelchair and, for the second time in my life, I found myself the subject of people’s gaze as I screamed my way through the ER and up the elevator to the fourth floor. I couldn’t even sit in the wheelchair and instead had to kneel backwards on my knees because his head was there.
My son was born five minutes after I arrived at the hospital.
I know of all the catastrophic things that can happen during any birth, so I often feel silly for being so affected by my babies' births. Yet, I shouldn’t feel ashamed for having my feelings. When people tell me they wish they had a fast birth like mine, it gives me instant anxiety. The fact is, any number of things could’ve gone wrong. If it wasn’t for my calm-under-pressure husband, who is very in-tune with me, I might not have made it to the hospital at all.
There are a lot of opinions out there on what a good birth should look like. I believe that no matter what her choices are, a woman should never be brushed aside – never be ignored. The fact is, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the birthing process, and maybe we should all humble ourselves a little and listen. Precipitous births don’t progress the way typical births do. One minute, you’re having steady but painful contractions, the next minute your body is bearing down. Regardless, I do not blame my doctors or midwives for having to race down the highway on two separate births. I do blame the system that, to an extent, holds women back from making choices in their births and taking their voice away when the time comes. If the hospital’s rules keep a woman from being admitted, then maybe there needs to be a real effort by insurance companies to admit that a home birth might actually be the safest option. Otherwise, change the rules.
Emily is a photographer and Instagram fanatic. During the day she helps a princess be kind, keeps a jester out of mischief, and carries a prince on her hip who at night turns into a troll.