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What it Feels Like to Have a Vaginal Birth, According to Moms Who Have Had One

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I went into both of my pregnancies with an open mind. In general, I thought I wanted to have a natural birthing experience, but if it got too intense for me I would gladly opt for an epidural. If my midwife said it was time for a C-Section, I’d go along with that, too. I will admit to being slightly deluded about childbirth. When my midwife told me she had walked to the hospital to deliver her own babies, I thought, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. I’ll walk to the hospital, too.” Guess what? That did not f*cking happen. When I woke up in labor one sunny Sunday morning, I wasn’t walking anywhere. By the time we got to the hospital (which we nearly didn’t, thanks to the New York Marathon), I was 100 percent ready for an epidural … except there wasn’t time. I was already dilated to nine centimeters, and my midwife said it was time to go. I pushed for 1.5 hours and vomited between every single contraction. That was my main take-away. Having a baby is like having the most violent, uncontrollable, panic-spreading stomach bug known to man.

And so I did it again, four years later. As soon as I went into labor with my son, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, that’s what the worst pain imaginable feels like!” I got laughing gas for my second delivery because I had my baby in the UK, where epidurals aren’t done, but I didn’t notice any difference whatsoever. The pain was too unfathomable. It hurt so much that I screamed at the top of my lungs (which, incidentally, my midwife discouraged because she said it made my pushes less powerful).

But here’s the thing: Every vaginal birth is different. Some women, like me, feel incredible pain during their vaginal deliveries, while others don’t feel much at all. I remember my childbirth education teacher telling us we might even have an orgasm during labor — um, yeah, that didn’t happen. But there are a million ways it could go down. Here, moms share what their vaginal deliveries were like, to give you a general idea of what to expect during your labor and delivery.

“I had an epidural, which worked amazingly well. I got a nap out of it, etc. I was woken up at 2 a.m. because I was ready to push. It kind of was happening to me/around me. I felt nothing. It was kind of amazing that I was actually pushing. My doctor would count backwards from 10 and then she would tell me to back off. Apparently I was doing well because the baby definitely came out, but I felt nothing the entire time. I felt like I was clenching my abs but without knowing if anything was happening until an hour passed and the baby was on my belly. It actually felt completely normal. I’m mildly sad that I missed the gore and pain only because I like the idea of getting experiences under my belt. OMG, no pun intended!'” –Julie F. New Orleans, Louisiana

“My contractions started three minutes apart and I did not have much time to think about what was going on. I do remember thinking that the pain was unbearable and that I was crazy for thinking I could give birth without pain medicine. My doula asked me if I wanted to sit down for a little bit or take a bath, but on my short walk to the bathroom I felt the baby’s head between my legs. My instinct kicked in and I pulled some towels on the floor, squatted down, and three pushes later the baby was out. All the pressure I was feeling was miraculously gone and I had a baby on my belly still attached to me though the umbilical cord. Shock set in that I just had a baby on my bedroom floor without any doctor present. While we waited for the EMTs to arrive, we got as comfortable as possible and enjoyed our first minutes as a family. Thankfully everyone was healthy. The entire process only lasted about two to three hours. I count myself very lucky to have had such a fast birth!” –Kathleen B., Brooklyn, New York

Related: 21 Things Only Moms Who Have Had Vaginal Births Know

“I had been in labor with my first child for about 29 hours when it came time to push. At that point, I was so tired that I would start to fall asleep between contractions. As the contractions came on I was instructed to take a deep breath and push. At first it felt futile. I wondered, ‘Is this baby ever actually going to come out?’ There was pressure. I feel like I was going to poop. And then the ‘ring of fire.’ Johnny Cash was playing in my head. It burned and I could feel my baby’s head partway out as if it was just stuck there in my vaginal opening. On the next contraction I was determined to finish it. And I did. As she came out there was this deep sensation of release. I’ve heard some people claim it’s orgasmic and, well, I wouldn’t go that far, but there was a similar sensation and flood of endorphins. And then she was there, laying on my belly looking up at me, and the last 30 miserable hours of my life disappeared into this blissful moment.” –Corrina C., Ft. Collins, Colorado

“I needed a ladder. Did you know there aren’t foot boards on hospital beds? In America they don’t think women should give birth to large babies so they often make mothers lie in a bed, as if ill. This is misguided because giving birth is a momentous physical expenditure. Vaginal birth is like scaling a mountain inside your own body. It’s an ancient relay race. My feet are one size larger now, purportedly from extra gravity during pregnancy, but I believe it’s from the search for proper footing during my delivery. My daughter’s placenta weighed more than she did. No one tells you that you will give birth twice for each child.” –Heather K., Brooklyn, New York

“I had an epidural, so I was numb from the waist down. My labor stalled, and my midwife started filling out papers for a C-section. I was on hands and knees, which wasn’t easy to make happen due to the epidural. Suddenly I sensed something weird down there. A bathroom situation, I thought. ‘Oh no! I think I’m pooping!’ I said, mortified. My midwife looked up from her C-section form. Then she ran over to me, all business. ‘The baby’s crowning,’ she said. Less than a minute later, my son was born. There never was any labor poop, thank god.” –Amy K., Washington DC

“I pushed for 3 ½ hours. It seemed to take forever, and I remember thinking that if they offered to cut me open and take the baby then I would be okay with it. I really had the sense that I would never actually have the baby, like I would be trapped in this moment forever. I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed with no progress. … And then it changed. I could tell that I was pushing something that was moving. And then I pushed and she came out and I felt the greatest sense of relief. The midwife laid her on my chest, and it was the most beautiful and amazing thing. Then, I delivered my placenta. It was so big and slimy! After that I was so calm and relieved and happy. I felt like a superhero, or a minor deity.” –Tracy T., Durham, North Carolina

“It feels like taking a REALLY big poop. Out of your vagina. I remember screaming like a totally unrecognizable monster. Vocalizing and breathing really helped with the process. The contractions leading up to the pushing were much harder for me than the actual pushing. They felt to me like really intense cramps — like the ones you can get in your feet sometimes — that I could not make go away. Each contraction does, of course, eventually end, but there’s no controlling when it ends and no comfortable position while it’s happening. I remember feeling confused by this, and asking the nurses, ‘What do I do?’ and every time, they just said, ‘Breathe.’ It’s pain that cannot be escaped, only managed. That, to me, is what separates it so distinctly from any other sensation I’ve experienced.” –Polly K., Springs, New York

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Photo: Getty