14 Terrifying Things That Childbirth Feels Like Without An Effective Epidural

by Lauren Schumacker

If you've ever had a baby, chances are, there's quite a bit that you remember vividly about your childbirth experience. You might remember your favorite nurse's name, the snack you ate earlier that day, what you were wearing, all of the emotions you were experiencing, or what it was like when you met your baby for the very first time. But for those who've had more than one baby, the experience can be vastly different from one to the next. There are many terrifying things that childbirth feels like, according to women who didn't have an epidural, that'll either leave you nodding along in agreement if you, too, decided (or were forced) to forgo an epidural and other pain medication (or if you received an epidural, but it didn't work) or leave you shaking your head.

There are so many factors that can influence or even out-right determine whether or not you're able to have a vaginal, unmedicated birth, if that's your preference. Likewise, not all moms-to-be who've expressed that they'd like to receive an epidural are able to get one. And, even if they're able to get one, epidurals don't always work or don't work quite as well as laboring moms would like. Here are some of the things that childbirth feels like, according to women who know because, well, they've lived it.


Allie, 34

"Gosh, it’s so hard. I mean, I remember it, I just don’t know how to describe it. For me, it was a pain that started at my back and it radiated through my whole body and kind of felt like, I don’t know, like maybe being struck by lightning or something."


Naomi, 36

"The sensation of their little head coming out is so special and so unlike anything you’ll ever experience. The ring of fire, though, I can do without. It is the awful burning feeling down in your nether region of your vagina being stretched to otherworldly levels and is possibly the same feeling as being stung by a thousand hornets at the same time."



"Childbirth feels like your stomach is turning into stone! Who is that Marvel character?"


Krystal, 27

"My first (a boy) was my largest child. The last few contractions made me feel like my nether regions were literally being sawed in half."


Sheila, 35

"Childbirth for me took three hours — a precipitous labor it’s called — and I thought I had food poisoning until the last hour. It feels most like you have a horrible stomach ache and need to go #2 and once you pop the baby out it’s a huge shock to the system (I was shivering and freezing) but also a big relief."


Leslie, 37

"Have you ever gotten a 'charley horse' or a cramp in a muscle? This is how your abdomen feels as you experience contractions. It starts out as a tightening and then peaks into a painful pressure that at times, totally overwhelmed me."


Krystal, 27

"When she crowned all I could feel were needles. It felt like I was being jabbed by a bunch of needles while this watermelon-sized being was forcing herself out in the opposite direction. Her birth was easily the worst of the three."


Allie, 34

"It’s almost like riding a wave a pain, so like it starts kind of at the bottom and then it goes up slowly, slowly. You hit the peak and it’s just terrible, and then it goes down again. The nurse told me to envision — this really helped me — when I start feeling a contraction coming on, like I’m surfing and I’m riding this wave and that I’m on top of it and I’m going to get to the top and then eventually I’m going to get to the bottom. And I just literally sat there thinking about it and it helped me so much because I knew it was gonna start and then it was gonna end at a certain point."


Leigh Anne, 52

"Back labor is not the most common but I describe it as taking your tail bone and putting it on the highway and taking a sledge hammer and hitting it over and over. I was not going to get an epidural the second time but that baby was stuck and so was I and the pain was awful. I got an epidural. Guess what? The epidural does not take away the pain of back labor. It may lessen it by a small percent, but you still feel it."


Krystal, 27

"Even worse than the contractions and the crowning was delivering the placenta. They have to push down on your [abdomen] to make sure it all comes out and you truly feel like your guts are being pulled out. Horrible."


Esther, 51

"It was the most pain I've ever felt, and there was no way back and no choice but to feel the excruciating pain. It was like a big ball or object was trying to come out of me with an opening not big enough for it to come out."


Marianne, 52

"In labor with [my first] just felt like I had to poop! Two pushes, he was out!"


Krystal, 27

"My second child (another boy) was a quick birth and in triage. I arrived to the hospital 20 minutes before I gave birth. The nurse asked me who I was here for, and I told her off the whole way to L&D. He was slightly smaller than my first and it wasn't as bad, but I still felt as though my hoo-ha had caught fire!"


Hyapatia, 57

"[I]t was like my uterus, which was the biggest muscle in my body at the time, was having frequent cramps like a charley horse. It was great to get a break between contractions, but I knew the next wave would come over me soon and it was hard to keep focused on the fact that I would never have to feel that particular contraction again. 'Contraction' is such a simple, small word for the sharp pain it brings."

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