I had epidurals for both of my children’s births, so I’d understand if people automatically assume I didn't feel anything when I was pushing human beings out of my body. However, and believe me, I did. In fact, I could tell you exactly what pushing during labor actually feels like. I was comfortably numb from the waist down before being in active labor, but I totally felt what was going on down there when it was time to push.
I’m not going to lie; it hurt. However, it was a nuanced pain, and one that I actually couldn’t remember very well once labor and delivery was over and the pain subsided. The magic of babies is that they have the power to erase the memory of pain. (That might also be attributed to the oxycontin that flooded my body upon the birth of my child, because science.)
It’s hard to describe what pushing during labor actually feels like. When I was pregnant, I remember other moms having a hard time painting an accurate picture of what to expect in those moments right before my baby exited my body. Having lived through it, twice, I totally understand why describing that feeling is such a challenge. However, and in my experience, labor and delivery tends to go a little smoother when you know what to expect. So, with that in mind, here's what pushing during labor might feel like for you:
There was definitely a burning sensation, which was in no way pleasant. However, I knew that if I just stuck with it, I’d have a squishable, yummy baby when it was all over. ‘Smores and newborns are equally sticky and hard to hold, so I think this analogy holds up.
To describe the feeling as “burning” isn’t totally accurate, as the sensation was sharper. Something along the lines of a beehive being evacuated and then simultaneously honing in one victim (my birth canal) is closer to the truth.
I remember feeling a crazy amount of pressure. However, it was flaming hot pressure. Now, I know mentions of horses typically stir up romantic feelings for some, but that's not what I’m going for here in this reference. It was “hot,” but not in the figurative sense.
All that pressure as I was bearing down during pushes truly did bring to mind an image of a gigantic object lodged in my lower abdomen. Sure, it was easy getting the thing in there, but that was before I had to carefully consider an exit strategy. Though I didn’t push for long, and it only took a few actual pushes, they absolutely felt like I was trying to will a boulder out of me.
On more than one occasion, I have accidentally inserted a new tampon before removing the used one, and not noticed for, um, a while. Pushing was like that, except maybe I had failed to remove a half a year’s worth of super absorbency tampons and now they were lodged all up in there and it was all on me to get them out. What I’m saying is, it hurt and you can’t kid yourself into thinking you’re some kind of warrior for going through childbirth. That feeling comes later, thankfully.
The burn is a slow burn, so the notion of a lazy, cosmic ball of fire ambling down my birth canal is a fair depiction of what pushing during labor feels like. Also comets are mesmerizing and amazing, like newborns, so if I tell myself there’s a heavenly body clawing its way out of my uterus, I’m more motivated to push.
The discomfort of labor is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Worse than the worst cramps and more otherworldly than trying to change a baby in an airplane bathroom. So, not unlike a tree trunk that got wedged inside you, and you just happen to be in a roomful of people who believe its totally within your realm of capability to remove, using only your core muscles.
I was lucky that I didn’t tear anything pushing, but it certainly felt like I was getting split in two as it was happening. “Women have been doing this for millennia,” I was saying to myself. I’m naturally competitive, so I willed myself to get my wrecking ball babies out of me.
Honestly, they weren’t even that big; my daughter was 6.5 pounds and my son was a bit over 7 pounds. Props to those moms who manage to squeeze out those 9-pounders.
Burning, stinging, pressure, and also a hard-to-describe squeezing feeling all add to the glorious stew of sensation that is getting a tiny human body out vaginally. I had never felt so much going on inside my body before. It was hard to know what part of my innards was being at assaulted each time I pushed. Honestly, they all felt like they were closing in on themselves.
And those dragons are actively breathing fire in my birth canal. Not cool.