Labor is different for every woman. Some people have painless births, some people want medication at the first sign of a contraction. Some people experience great pleasure during labor. What is true for nearly every woman is that as vivid as childbirth is in the moment, you start forgetting what it was really like very quickly after birth. Try to remember the feeling of a contraction a few days or weeks afterwards and you’ll realize that your memory has become quite fuzzy. Wait a few more months and you might not have any recollection at all of this experience that was so all-consuming while it was happening. These are a few of my thoughts on what labor felt like for me, mostly written down a few weeks postpartum. Ready my full birth story here.
On the one hand, it’s the worst thing you’ll ever go through. On the other hand, it’s just PAIN. Pain that is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. It hurts a lot, but it passes, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And, if all goes well, you get to hold your baby at the end, which is an amazing motivator.
**If you don’t actually want to know what labor really felt like for me, you can stop reading now, cause I’m really going to tell you truthfully. Fair warning.**
Labor contractions felt like my insides were turning to stone, extremely heavy stone, and the force of gravity pushed that heavy stone inside me down with immense pressure onto everything—my cervix, pelvis, bladder, sacrum, spine, rectum. Sharp. Hard-Edged. Solid. The most pressure my body has ever sensed. Not pressure like a blood pressure cuff–more like pinned-under-a-boulder pressure. I’m not saying this to scare people–I’m just trying to be accurate. I got through it, you can too. There’s actually quite a number of sensations at the same time. Now, seven months postpartum, I don’t have a body memory of how contractions felt in terms of musculature (as in, I can’t remember what it felt like in my uterus, specifically), but I can recall the bone-on-bone crushing sensation on the inside of my sit bones.
Breathing doesn’t take away the pain, it just give your mind something to focus on to get through the contraction. Breathing and “sounding out” are things that can increase in volume and intensity as the sensations of the contractions peak, so it’s a helpful focal point to “stay on top” of the contraction.
Around four centimeters my doula asked me something like “What image or metaphor do you indentify your contractions with?” Even though she asked me this in between contractions, I was already in Laborland, and she was speaking a foreign language, one that I only understood a few words of, and could speak even fewer words of myself. The question was too complex for me to both process and answer, so I had to wait until after the next contraction to answer. “Wave” was the only word I could get out. No more complete sentences or complicated syntax for me. I had a baby to push out, and that was enough work for me to do. I didn’t have ANY extra attention for her question, which seemed pointless at the time. Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions I can’t answer, I thought.
Two times between 2 and 5 centimeters, I entered a contraction and my doula was still chatting or joking with someone else in the room, as if she hadn’t noticed that another contraction was starting. I needed silence during the contractions because any other voices was too distracting and would throw me off my breathing and rocking rhythm. The first time I said “Stop talking” as I continued my labor breathing and swaying. The second time it happened I shouted “Shut the fuck up!” and went right on with breathing and moaning through the contraction. Once it was over, I apologized for swearing at her, and she apologized for talking. It didn’t happen again.
The sensation of needing to push is a lot like having to poop. You probably will poop in the process. That’s ok.
Pushing your baby out of your vagina is a wild, unbelievable, seemingly impossible feat. But women do it everyday. Yes, there is a “ring of fire” feeling during crowning, and I felt that even though I had an epidural at that point. My baby was ten pounds, so I tore really bad, which I will write about in a different post.
Make as much noise as you need. Move in the ways that feel right. Trust your body. Don’t think about it too much. This is the time to let your mind take a back seat and let your body just do what it’s going to do. You do not have control over this process, and that is ok. Let go and breathe. Then breathe again. And again. And again.