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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?

Image Source: Shutterstock
Join The Conversation
rationalreason05 rationalreason05 4 years
I have to warn some people that every person that I know that has ever had an epideral for ANY reason eventually gets sporatic back pain that can last for several days (including myself). The back pain is persistant and consistant, returning every few months. I would recommend, if at all possible, to deal with several hours of pain rather than sporadically for the rest of my life. I have had three children and can attest that every pregnancy and labor is different from the other. My first child I received a basic pain killer shot in the IV; second the epideral; the third I had nothing. My third I had preeclampsia/toxemia; blood 215 over 175. I should have died but the doctors were there for me. I would never have gotten the epideral but I also had petocin for induction and it was ten times more pain. Also, as a side note, do NOT ever allow them to give you cytotec. They will tell you that it is used for induction but a simple check at the FDA showed me the warning for the drug (on the label) that specifically states "do not give to pregnant women to induce labor"; however, it is cheaper than the others and does not demand refrigeration. Be cautious whatever decision you make that you feel is best for you and your child and always do research before you deliver so that you know what to address with your doctor.
shaybaughn shaybaughn 4 years
WIth my Daughter (first full pregnancy) I ended up with Preeclamsia/toxemia and My labor with her was 30hrs. Had to be induced 3times had to have my water broke and when it came to getting the epidural It was painful. couldnt move at all which is hard to do when your having a contraction. The epidural failed so I still felt everything so they put in more medicine in it and It didnt work, and then it was too late my daughter was coming so i wasnt fully numb I felt every contraction and having been induced 3times she was only 6lbs 4oz so she kind of just slid out. I only pushed a couple times took about 5mins and she was out. I didnt rip or tare at all which was awesome to me I didnt have to get stitched up or nothing. But after a year and a half after having her I was still having pain in my back where I got the epidural. Im pregnant again with our 2nd child and Im not educated on any other medications other then the epidural. If I cant find anything ill probably just stick with getting it again and hope and pray that itll work this time!
LauraBoughton LauraBoughton 4 years
I used to have debilitating migraines as a bad I used vomit and basically was incapacitated until it subsided. I felt that nothing could be worse than that. I was wrong. Let's just say that during the first 26 hours of my 36 hour labor, you could have hacked off all of my limbs and I seriously would not have noticed. Well, I guess not during the first 10 hours. That wasn't bad at all. After begging my husband to hit me over the head to knock me out (he kept refusing so I kept asking), we finally decided to get the epidural. From that point on, life was just grand! However, I know that if it isn't done just right, bad things can happen to mom. Be sure you pick a hospital with an excellent anesthesiologist. I have to say that had I not gotten the epidural, I would have needed a C-section. The doctor really had to pry my baby out of me, as her head got stuck. She was literally pulling my pelvis apart a bit more so that my Lizzie could come out. I didn't feel a thing, but I pushed like crazy, something that I would not have had the strength to do had I not had the epidural. Dealing with all that pain was just so draining!
ZurienOnn ZurienOnn 4 years
That Mack truck comment is spot-on! For both my pregnancies, I couldn't get epidural in time as both progressed at a speedy pace nearing delivery. Although the pain was like being run over by a truck and a bus at once, now I'm not sure if I would take the epidural the next time as I heard it could weaken my "pushing power". Had both my girls after one or two pushes as I couldn't stand anymore of the labor pains and wanted them out ASAP!
JamieHeald1363742235 JamieHeald1363742235 4 years
I planned on an epidural.... Each of the FOUR attempts to administer it, our nurse kept losing my son's heartbeat on the monitor. They decided to insert an internal heart rate monitor and when doing so they saw that it was too late for an epidural anyway. They were able to give me a spinal later on during birth to ease some of the pain. The pain you feel during labor is such a different kind of pain. Honestly I think it hurt my Mother watching me be in pain more than it hurt me!! If you've ever taken a laxative and the moment comes when it starts to work....That's what a contraction felt like for me; quite a bit more intense though. You just have to work-breathe your way thru it, then you get a break and work your way thru the next one. I was administered Oxygen after my son was born, which was worse as it made me sick for the rest of the night so I couldn't even hold my baby until the next morning! As said before, every woman-birth-baby is different. You will be in good hands who will help work you thru everything and you will get your own experience. Whether you decide to use an epidural or not, it will totally be your decision, I am quite proud of myself for things happening the way they did :)
Ericka14617043 Ericka14617043 4 years
I was induced on a Sunday evening with my first contraction at 11 that same day. The contractions were painful and 2minutes apart. No drugs were offered other than Advil. I couldn't eat or drink as the contractions never seemed to stop long enough. They broke my waters on Tuesday afternoon. And after begging and begging a doctor agreed to give me an epidural and then a Caesarean. My son was born Wednesday just before 9am. It was a horrible experience and am so grateful for that doctor. No more kids for me!
ma-carmelaarcillas1367563810 ma-carmelaarcillas1367563810 4 years
I like epidural, I did not experience pain, I'm awake the whole labor, it really helps. I highly recommend epidural.
dannicahoskison dannicahoskison 4 years
If you need the drugs then for gods sake take them!!! That's why they're there! I could actually enjoy the experience somewhat and remember it clearly thanks to my epidural! Its a miracle!
Julieann31394 Julieann31394 4 years
I had an epidural. I liked it because it relieved all of the pain and pressure and I didn't feel doped up. I was able to enjoy the miraculous moment of my son's birth with a clear head and not feeling distracted by pain.
RobinMitchell72171 RobinMitchell72171 4 years
I gave birth at home, no drugs, just my husband and two midwives. I am so grateful to have been able to have this experience. Sure, it was intense as all get out, but one midwife massaged my lower back and hips during every contraction, the lights were dim and everyone respected my wishes to keep the room low in volum and light. Towards the end, my husband was there feeding me apple slices and coconut water in between pushes and was my support. It was the hardest and yet most rewarding experience I've ever had and can't imagine anything else than another birth competing.
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