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

It feels like your core muscles are ripping apart your abdomen.

2. Brittany, 28

The worst diarrhea of your life, like an alien is trying to eat it's way out of your tailbone, like standing in a long line when you have to pee after drinking a mondo sized soda at the movies — the fear, pain, sweats, and trying to hold on to something like you're falling off a roller coaster mid helix.

3. Kimberley, 49

Not what you think. The pushing out part is not the most painful. The labor part is like having a grabby sharp hand twisting and squeezing the crap out of your guts on a timer for what seems like eternity until you're delirious with exhaustion. Feeling the urge to push is a welcome relief!

4. Molly

I farted. Really loudly. Right in the doc's face.

5. Sarah D., 40

Like your uterus is suddenly your worst enemy. Honestly, the pain was so intense and for so long that I went out of my head. Sadly, I couldn't leave my body. Trying to describe it is so hard! It's the most intense thing because you feel like you're dying giving life. At one point, I said, "I can't do this." And at another point, Oliver was holding me from behind as we stood out on our deck looking at the groves and he was like, "Oh, are you still losing some of your amniotic fluid?" And I was like, "No, babe. I'm peeing. I'm peeing on you." So romantic.

6. Katie, 37

I'll say for the record that the pressure is just as hard to handle as the pain. The pressure is so intense. They always say you make crazy sounds, and it's true — for most of the time making a deep, bovine moaning sound was the only thing making me feel like I could handle it. It was surprising how much making that sound helped.

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

My labor was weird. It lasted 80 hours, partly because the contractions never got strong enough. So for me labor pains were only like very very very bad menstrual cramps. The problem with them was that I couldn't sleep through them, so for four days I was awake every few minutes. That was the hardest part for me. (Also if I lay on my back it was agony, but luckily I was in a birthing center and was allowed to walk around and wasn't tethered to a bed by a monitor.)

9. Sara, 39

Time exists in its own warped plane; 5 minutes can feel like 2 hours and vice versa. There is pain, because of course there is pain, and it's a pain specific to childbirth, and it comes and goes in relentless waves. You make it through labor and feel superhuman and part of this massive sisterhood of other women who have done the very same thing, but each in her own way with a story that is unique to the birth of that one baby, and so it is universal and individual at once. The closest thing to labor I'd experienced before was running a marathon. You are ravenous when you finish, but instead of an ugly t-shirt, you get your own baby.

10. Betsy

I had 29 hour back labor. I wanted to DIE! I was in a hospital that would not let me move because of the epidural. The epidural which I only agreed to after 15 hours of pain, seemed to numb my lower back and the pain shot up to the middle of my back. I still feel that pain and I think it’s trauma. The nurses were not very nice; one of them had the nerve to tell me not to make noise because it scared the baby!!!

11. Ellen

Imagine someone is squeezing a rather dry lemon for all of its juice to make lemonade. Now imagine that instead of a lemon, that person is squeezing all of your internal organs in your mid-section at once in that same last-drop fashion, and it happens every two minutes or so, forever. That's what labor really feels like. You're pretty sure whatever lemon is in your lower right belly is going to pop, but it never does.

12. Dahna

I'll tell you what, I had my son 30 year ago and I STILL remember it like it was yesterday. My labor got off to a slow start on Wednesday. My baby was born on SUNDAY. It was painful from Friday through the epidural on Sunday morning. I felt like my pelvis was being broken!

13. Yuki, 40

It was 13 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I was induced, and as soon as the contractions started, I recall thinking: "Holy shit. I need an epidural as soon as they can find someone, anyone, to do it." I think I lasted two hours, max, without pain meds. It would have been less, had they been able to get that anesthesiologist to me sooner. Worst pain ever, and I'm someone who, by then, had been hit by cars twice while walking or biking, and had had endometriosis for years. It felt like a car was backing over me, again and again, in my hospital bed. My hat is off to anyone who chooses a natural birth, but I have zero regrets about my decision. The woman in the room next to me was screaming, "I can't do this!" and perhaps regretting her natural birth, which went on for many extremely loud hours. By then, I was in no pain and reading a dude magazine like Maxim or Details, as I recall.

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

My mother said she had easy, pain-free labor for both me and my brother (and he was nearly 10 pounds). No such luck for me. I do remember demanding that my husband call her from the delivery room (around 3 am) so I could inform her of just how wrong she was (with lots of colorful language).

16. Jordan

I'd love to share the magnificent agony of labor--pitocin-driven contracts so sharp, it's like your uterus is being slapped with a metal belt repeatedly, with no respite, no chance to breathe or let up. And I also vividly remember "the ring of fire" which feels exactly like it sounds--only fire would probably be a relief at that point. I also vividly recall the strange relief of my son's body passing through--completely painless it seemed in that moment.

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

It was worse than being in a torture prison. The only word on my birth plan was "EPIDURAL" and yet I didn't get one until after the most indescribable back pain. I would def have died if I didn't get that epidural. Then my baby twisted on the way out of the birth canal and ripped it all up, so I had major abdominal surgery to sew it all up. The recovery was so hard because hello, I had a new baby to take care of, too! Result: postpartum depression.

19. Pooja

Long (started on and off on a Monday and my daughter was both on Thursday) but not as painful as I thought it would be. The pain was very manageable, in fact, and no worse than very bad cramps for me.

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

Pretty painless and felt like period cramps — UNTIL they broke my water. The very first thought I had after they broke my water, post-contraction, was "fuuuuuuuck this!" My first word was “EPIDURAL!" It felt like getting hit in the back with a sledgehammer, very slowly. Agony.

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

Grapefruit-sized fireball descends from uterus. With my third I had an epidural, and the very young resident missed the mark. She offered to "do it again" but I declined. The delivery proceeded and there was a lot of screaming. The doctor (young female and newly pregnant with her first child) requested that I stop “shrieking:" I was disturbing the other parents on the ward. I think I responded with something along the lines of "!@#$ off!”

24. Madison

I'm a mama of a four year old. My labor was very LONG - 47 hours. Long and exhausting are words that I'd use to describe the transformational process of labor. For me it wasn't very painful. I teach workshops on pain processing and I have a high pain tolerance. I primarily used a vibrator and breathing techniques along with laboring in the tub as ways of coping with the sensations of labor.

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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