From ‘natural’ births to emergency C-sections, no two births are ever quite the same – as readers of HuffPost’s popular Birth Diaries series will know.
People are endlessly fascinated by what it’s like to have a baby, whether you’ve got one, are expecting one, will soon or one day watch someone have one, or never plan on being a parent. There’s a reason ‘One Born Every Minute’ ran for eleven seasons. But what does childbirth actually, physically feel like?
Mine was like the build up of intense pressure that came in waves, travelling down from my stomach low into my pelvis, like the worst period pain imaginable (or the twisted, gut-wrenching feeling of food poisoning) and then an easing – until the next contraction. The time between contractions felt like a peaceful release: I kept falling asleep, even though they only lasted a minute!
Then the breaks grew shorter and shorter, and with that came a feeling of not being able to control what was going to happen next – a panicky feeling, because I knew I couldn’t slow it down. I shouted to the nurses that my body needed to push. When the baby’s head crowned I could feel myself opening, and with that was an intense sting, like a burning sensation – it felt like the prickle of skin after you’ve been splashed with hot oil while cooking. But this was mercifully short. When the baby came out, she slid out – in one gushing torrent, like she was being carried on a wave. And then, relief.
That’s my story. Below, eight women share their very different experiences.
‘An Uncontrollable Intensity’
Gemma: “I genuinely can’t remember the pain anymore. But I remember some of the sensations. The strongest one by far was the feeling of wanting to push. When that started to come, the uncontrollable intensity of it is like nothing I’ve ever felt. Absolutely nothing can stop you doing it! It also felt incredible because I knew by that point it wouldn’t be long until I got to meet my little one.”
‘Shaking With Fear, Then Relief’
Anonymous: “I ended up having an emergency C-section. I remember the big blue sheet going up and a faint feeling of something rummaging in my stomach. I was shaking uncontrollably from both the fear and the emergency extra epidural. Then a moment of light relief: as you could see the shadows of the doctors working behind the sheet, my husband made a joke about shadow puppets! Then she was out. I kept saying, “I can’t hear her, I can’t hear her,” then the beautiful, poo-covered grubby little baby was handed over and we cuddled her as they sewed up my tummy. I’ve never felt such fear or such extreme relief. Plus I’d been in labour for gone on 24 hours by then, so I was so tired. It still makes me so emotional thinking about it.”
‘Like Passing A String Of Sausages’
Sarah: “It started as a bit of ‘bloody show’ so I went to Triage to be checked. The monitor showed everything was okay and then half an hour later my waters broke slowly in small gushes. Then the dreaded speculum exam brought out a big gush. I went to the maternity ward to be monitored but had my first cramp in the lift on the way up, followed by a six-minute contraction which felt just like my usual period pain. They gave me morphine and I slept for an hour and a half with the most vivid dreams and then woke thinking I really needed to open my bowels.
“Turns out I had gone from 0-9cm dilation in about half an hour. I was wheeled to delivery on all fours holding the bed like I was riding a chariot! 52 minutes later my son appeared with some assistance from gas and air – I don’t recall any pain really, other than the sting as he crowned. It felt like passing a string of sausages!”
‘Stinging And Pressure’
Katy: “I was totally out of it for the birth of my first daughter – I just remember hours and hours of waves of pain. Like my insides were in a pressure cooker. The baby was in distress and they thought I’d need a C-section so gave me an epidural. From that point, I only knew I was having contractions by looking at the monitor, until the final pushes which seemed to cause chaos in the room. Adult after adult entering the room. Finally, a noise I’ll find difficult to forget – the snip of flesh. Baby being sucked out was an uncomfortable experience, stinging and pressure. After birth, being stitched up was worse as the epidural had worn off.”
‘Wave After Wave Of Pain’
Anonymous: “I recall intense wave after wave of pain, so much so that I was losing control of my senses and where I was. I remember two consultants coming in and being injected in my stomach to slow down the contractions as the baby was in distress. My husband was trying very hard not to panic me but I could see from his face how terrified he was. I remember the contractions once again becoming unbearable and I vaguely remember rocking because it was the only way I could manage the pain in my head. It was very much mind over matter. The baby finally crowned and was delivered but I had lost a lot of blood so the midwife gave me an injection and insisted on stitching me up straight away and I recall her saying ‘I don’t like the look of this’ twice to a colleague who had walked in the room. My husband meanwhile was holding the baby who was mercifully perfect healthy.”
‘Burning, Then Lube’
Emma: “My main memory was fear. I was terrified of the ever-increasing pain and not knowing when it would end. Then the burning – and me demanding lube! That feeling of not being in control, then the most amazing relief when she was born. Then fear again as we were expected to look after a tiny human!
“It was similar with my second baby, but we had a home birth and it was lovely not having to go anywhere, as well as the soothing feeling of being in the water. I was much more relaxed until the intensity increased, the swearing increased, the midwife twiddled my nipples (apparently it helps stimulate birth!) and stroked my tummy. It helped to realise I never had to go through that pain again. I remember saying to my baby, ‘Come on little one’, and my midwife saying, ‘Yes, that’s what we want, you’re ready for this.’ Then she was born and I held her and didn’t care about anything in the whole world other than holding her close to me.”
‘Waking Up In A Daze’
Claire “I was two weeks overdue and due to be induced at 9pm. But I’d started getting contractions at 5am that morning, so went to the hospital to be checked. In the end, after a day of contractions that stayed at a level of ‘not really going anywhere’, sick all over the newly-changed hospital bed and an attempted wee that wasn’t gonna happen, it turned into a ‘code red’ emergency C-section. I then woke up and remember thinking, ‘I can’t feel my legs. Where is the baby?’ I can’t even remember what happened immediately after that – I was in a daze.”
‘Like A Massive Number Two’
Susan: “I had a epidural with my first baby. This prolonged things a bit, but had no choice because at the time I was diagnosed with 1st stage MS. After being in for two days, my son finally decided to put in an appearance, and I remember the feeling vividly! It was like a pressure I couldn’t even comprehend. I then felt the stinging, like a burning sensation and then an immediate release like I had passed a massive number two! My partner burst into tears and I couldn’t stop shivering.
“With my second child, my contractions came thick and fast. I had a stomach upset at the time so was trying to decide what the pain was. When I realised, I rushed to the hospital. The car journey was so painful and the air was blue! Once at Triage, they rushed me into a room where they told me it was too late to have any painkillers, and you can imagine my reaction to that piece of news! In the end, though, I had no time to even think about it as she was clearly in a rush to meet us. As I lay on the bed, clawing hold of my partner’s arm and nearly falling off the edge, she whooshed out. It felt like she shot across the room! The relief is probably one of the best feelings I can ever remember having!”