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What Is Childbirth Like?

What Childbirth Is Really Like

I'd made it through months of morning sickness, quirky food cravings, and days filled with constant treks to the potty. But in the last trimester of my pregnancy with my first child, it dawned on me that my biggest pregnancy challenge was still ahead: labor.

Like many women who are pregnant for the first time, I wanted to know what to expect during labor and whether an epidural was advisable for me. A relative of mine shared an audiotape of herself screaming during her labor, which set me on edge. Was that what pushing would feel like? How long might my labor last? Would it necessarily be horrible for me, too?

Here, Circle of Moms members share answers and advice on what to expect during labor.

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Every Delivery Is Different

Both Andrea D. and Hannah B. advise that moms should count on their labors being unpredictable. "Every delivery is different, all babies are different, and so is the mom giving birth," as Andrea puts it. Her first birth was straightforward and she labored for 13 hours; her second, which capped off a complicated pregnancy, had her "balling my eyes out and curled up in a little ball." Similarly, Hannah "planned on all the meds" but her labor moved too quickly for them to be administered. "It can all drastically change in minutes," she counsels.

Another Circle of Moms member (screen name: "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong") reiterates that the level of pain a woman experiences with labor varies widely: "For some women it is not bad, and [for] others it is unbearable. Every woman is different."

"Bring on the Epidural!"

Temeka P. recounts begging her medical team for the pain relief of an epidural as she entered her 21st hour of labor. "The pain does go away instantly," she reports. And Jennifer M. says that after she got an epidural she was "the happiest person in the world." Kayla H., who got through one delivery without pain medication and the other with, says she felt "absolutely nothing" when she labored with an epidural. Her final word on medication-free childbirth? "Never again."

"It Was Easy"

On the other hand, some moms have an easy time of it. Danielle K. was in the hospital at 9 a.m. and her baby was born at 2 p.m., a mere two hours after her water broke. "It was a great experience and I can only hope the next one will go as good as this one," she says. Shelly Z. was also pleasantly surprised by her experience: "My birth lasted only three hours and was very calm. The pain was [no] worse than the pain of migraine headaches I've had since my late teens."

What Contractions and Pushing Feel Like

Many Circle of Moms members describe labor pain as a much more intense version of menstrual cramps. "I would best describe the contractions [as] the worst menstrual cramps you have ever had, ten times over," says Sarah H. For Holly M., the contractions "felt like a Mack truck." For Merindah D. though, the pressure from pushing, which "felt like taking a huge poo," was far worse than the pain from contractions.

Sarah adds one bright note here: that birthing classes and some words of wisdom from her own mother really helped her deal with the pain:

"I remember my mom telling me that they call labor labor for a reason. I would have to agree with that. It is hard work! It is not easy and it does hurt, but you can get through it."

A Life-Changing Experience

Despite the pain, many Circle of Moms members describe their childbirth experiences as "amazing" and the best day of their lives. Jennifer M. shares that "even" her husband shed a few tears of joy when their child was born. For this reason, Bree H., who has had two natural childbirths, hopes first-time moms will approach childbirth without fear. She believes that if moms prepare themselves for natural births they can be pain-free. "When you are relaxed in a natural labor your body releases chemicals into your brain that gives you natural painkillers," she says. "I felt totally drugged during my natural birth."

Though she says she did experience pain and "passed a lot of gas," Denikka G. urges pregnant moms to focus on the fact "that it is a different kind of pain . . . pain with purpose with a huge reward." As she explains, "I've broken my arm, had rope burn, burnt my fingers, and sprained my ankles, and childbirth is a totally different kind of pain altogether. It wasn't as bad, because if I stuck with it just a little longer, I would have this huge reward, instead of the 'pointless' pain of a general injury."

Mack truck-level pain or no, many Circle of Moms members agree that their deliveries exceeded all their expectations. In my case, I was relieved to discover that though birth was pretty painful, it was not near as torturous as my relative's Screaming Banshee–like wailing made me envision. In fact, I remember thinking that centuries of moms have gone through this and so I could push through.  And I did so three times, resulting in three beautiful babies.

What did labor and delivery feel like for you?

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