What Does Labor Feel Like? 25 Women Talk About What It Really Feels Like To Give Birth, Because You Can't Believe Everything You See On TV


I’m one of those women who absolutely knows that I want to have kids some day and while I do want to adopt, I’m also really interested in getting pregnant and carrying my own babies. It just feels like one of those things that is nothing like anything else that you do in life. Giving birth is not a unique experience, by any means, but it’s an experience unique to every woman. But despite the desire to do the whole pregnancy and giving birth thing, I’m also completely terrified. First, your body is totally transformed and inhabited by another human being. That’s like, some Alien sh*t right there. Then, if every movie and TV show that has ever shown labor is to be believed, you spend hours in complete agony, tear your body up, and then don’t sleep for months. Yeah, becoming a mom is sounding less and less appealing…

Of course, there’s that video that was making the rounds a while ago about “orgasmic birth,” and while it’s a little hoo-hooey for me, I’m know there’s a lot of truth in the idea that the way we give birth (on our backs, lying down, in the hospital) is not the way we’re supposed to do it. Pregnancy and birth are not illnesses and I think our treatment of them as such leads to a lot of the horror stories we hear about and see on TV. There are better ways to give birth, ladies!

Because I’m curious to a fault, I decided to ditch those dramatized versions and ask some moms what giving birth is really like. Their responses are uplifting, informative, and very often terrifying but the most important thing to note is how different every single one is. I guess labor really is unique to each woman, after all.

1. Victoria, 29

2. Brittany, 28

3. Kimberley, 49

4. Molly

5. Sarah D., 40

6. Katie, 37

7. Carrie, 41

The thing that surprised me the most is how each labor is different, even for the same woman. With my first labor I felt nauseated the whole time and vomited after hard contractions. The pressure in my abdomen, back and running down my legs became harder and harder to bear. With my second labor I felt not too bad until it was almost time to push, and then the pain was so intense that I was on my hands and knees in the hospital hallway, yelling through contractions. With my third baby, the contractions did not really hurt and I went about my day, managed to walk about a mile to the hospital on a beautiful summer evening, and it only started hurting once I got to the hospital and was almost ready to push.

I think it's important to know this because if you think that all labors are similar, you are tempted to compare yourself to other woman and wonder why you needed an epidural when your friend got through labor fine with no pain medication, for example, or think that because your mother was in agony for two days you will be too.

8. Claire, 38

9. Sara, 39

10. Betsy

11. Ellen

12. Dahna

13. Yuki, 40

14. Debbie, 32

I had two home births. Both resulting in happy healthy baby boys. The contractions were absolutely insane. I have never ever been in that much pain in my life. I remember saying to my midwife, "I think I'll be one of those quiet laborers. I don't like to make a lot of noise." HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was loud, loud, loud! I was a loud groaning cow. I felt like all of my organs were being squeezed, slowly, in some sort of medieval torture contraption. I could not for the life of me get comfortable, and I swear if someone had tried to force me onto my back with my legs up in the air, I may have been arrested for assault.

My first son was born in a baby pool — I stayed in the frog position for about twelve hours before he came out. My second was literally born almost in the toilet. I was trying to have him in a baby pool (like my first), but got stuck in transition, so my midwives had me walk to the bathroom. Had a huge pushing contraction (actually probably the only "good" feeling contraction of EITHER of my two birthing experiences) and they had to catch him before he fell into the toilet. Craziness.

15. Marianne, 46

16. Jordan

17. Monica, 51

I had a really positive natural birth experience. I got it by changing to a home-based midwife in my 7th month of pregnancy, when it became clear the hospital-based midwife would not commit to my plan for a drug-free birth. In preparation, I took a wonderfully crunchy birthing class that focused on positive information about birth, explained positioning and using gravity, instructed the birthing partner in how to really help, and had us practice tolerating pain with bowls of ice. It was a great way to work on coping skills, and I learned vocalizing was key for me. I chose to have a water birth in a birthing tub, which minimized pain tremendously--except when I got out to pee, and when it was time to push.

I pushed for two hours and birthed a 9 lb baby girl, and her shoulders were as big as her head, so the actual birth was painful (the midwife coached me in how to turn an initial scream of pain into a low yell of force that helped move the birth along)— but the 19 hours of labor leading in were quite bearable.

That was my first and only birth. I knew I was only going to do it once, and I couldn't be happier with my experience. I think the key is having other knowledgeable, calm and capable women there for support. (And not laying on your back--that is NOT a prime position for laboring.)

18. Susan

19. Pooja

20. Barbara

For the first one, it felt like I was being stabbed in the back with knives. I remember thinking WTF, why is the back involved in this thing? The midwife told me it happened sometimes when the baby was in a bad position.

For the second one, the pain came in the places I expected ... the stomach area.

I had an epidural in both cases (and my husband had a nap both times because HE was so tired). But the back pain was awful and very unfair, I thought.

21. Sarah

22. Maggie

I was strapped to a bunch of machines because I was 42 weeks along, and the doctors were concerned about the baby's heart decelerations. More than anything, I wanted to move. That's all. I went to the hospital prepared to labor in various positions or do stretches on my birth ball, but instead I was flat on my back with nothing to do but fully experience every spasm and explosion of pain. About 16 hours into labor I tore the straps off and did a yoga video on YouTube. I felt so much better.

Oh, and after all that, I ended up with a C-section.

23. Frances

24. Madison

25. Lindsey

Mine is a bit of a horror story. Contrary to what everyone told me ("the first baby takes FOREVER to come...once you start feeling contractions, just ride them out...it'll take many, many hours before the baby arrives), my labor lasted LESS. THAN. FIVE. HOURS. What does that mean? My body didn't get a chance to accustom itself to the labor gradually - instead, I went from zero to 100.

I pleaded for an epidural, but a medical issue made me ineligible to get one. All I got was laughing gas - which, by the way, doesn't make you laugh. I was in a bit of a weird haze the whole time but it didn't make the pain any better.

I felt like I was being ripped in half from the inside. I remember thinking during labor "If I want other kids, I'm going to have to adopt!" I also remember thinking "Now I understand why women can die during childbirth." I also remember screaming "Use the foreceps! Use the foreceps!" to the nurses. Luckily, I had a great baby who has now turned into a great five-year-old. I tell him that the day he was born was both the worst and best day of my life. #motheroftheyear

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