Humans (well, some) have been experiencing vaginal birth for literally forever and it's always been an event that strikes equal parts awe and dread. Speaking as a woman who has given birth vaginally, I can tell you: there's a good reason for that. Birth is simultaneously awe-inspiring and dreadful, or at least it can be. Which is why, any time you have heard women describe what a vaginal birth feels like, regardless of what they're saying or how juxtaposing their feelings may be, you're hearing the truth. (Yes, even the women who tell you they had an orgasm while pushing out a child.) There are generalities, sure, but no real universals; especially when it comes to perception and personal experience. I assure you: there is no experience more personal than urging an infant out of your hoo-ha, and that's just looking at it from a physical point of view.
Emotionally, vaginal delivery is a whole different ball game. You've got excitement, fear, worry, anger, frustration, pride, irritation, love, and a million other emotions onstage and in the wings. Sometimes these emotions are competing with one another for brain power, sometimes they're working in concert as they never have before, and sometimes they're simply leaving you extremely confused or exhausted or overwhelmed or all of the above. That state can be emboldening, encouraging, or paralyzing. On every level, vaginal birth is astounding. I mean, really, if you read about this in a sci-fi novel you wouldn't believe it, right? It's too absurd and astonishing to believe that humans can routinely go through the act of giving birth in order to procreate. Yet we do, sometimes more than once!
So, I talked to other moms about what vaginal birth felt like for them. This is how they responded:
"Lots and lots of pressure, very different from the pain of contractions. And somehow, even though I had never done it before, I knew pushing would relieve it!"
"I didn't feel a thing since I had an epidural."
[Writer's note: I had an epidural and felt effing everything. I'm jealous, Stacy. Tell me the name of your anesthesiologist, for, surely, they are a powerful sorcerer.]
"Johnny Cash said it best: 'I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire.'"
"Poop! I think I even said 'I'm about to poop on the table or here she comes!' She was born 10 minutes later!"
"Like pooping. I had a fun doctor for my first delivery (he was on call for the group and I'd not met him before). 90 minutes into 2 hours of pushing I said, 'I feel like I'm shitting a watermelon!' He replied (totally deadpan) from his perch between my knees, 'You have not yet shat the watermelon.'"
"Lots of pressure, not really pain until the baby was crowning. Just lots of pressure."
"I didn't want an epidural, but decided to go for it at the last minute with my first. Thank god because it was glorious, but I could still feel a bit of pressure. I felt like I was taking the longest poop ever. When the baby came out, I remember holding her and do not remember anything else after that. With my second, I had a water birth without epidural and the pain was intense, a combination of sharp and burning pain with increasing intensity. Only pushing would help dull the pain a bit, so I kept on pushing, even in between contractions. This time, I felt everything and the craziest feeling was when the baby finally came out. I felt her slithering out of me (and yes, slithering is the correct word to use in this instance). Once the baby was born, the pain subsided immediately. I remember thinking how strange it was that just a moment ago, I was in the worst pain of my life, asking myself why I didn't make it to the hospital in time to get the epidural and then the next, I was fine."
"For some reason the pain in my vag I could deal with. I even had second degree tearing in 'a very sensitive area' as my doctor put it. It's a lot, but I guess I had mentally prepared myself for all the stretching and what-not. What I couldn't deal with was the fact that it felt like my anus was going to explode. It was absolutely awful."
"My first birth was an induction turned emergency c-section. So I had no idea what to expect with my second. My mom was my main coach, and when my body started involuntarily pushing on its own, it was awesome. And although much is a blur, I do remember that she always told me pushing was a relief and 'felt good,' and I distinctly remember — angrily — yelling at her, 'This doesn't feel better!' But then he was out. And on my chest. And I remember just saying over and over, in disbelief, 'I had a baby.... I HAD A BABY.' I felt so present and so involved. I DID THAT. MY BODY DID THAT. It was amazing. (But hey. When they say stop pushing for a sec? Stop. Cuz youch.)"
[Writer's note: to be fair, this is what Ramandeep says about everything pregnancy and birth related. Also to be fair, in my experience, she's on the money.]
"My first I pushed for 5 hours (yes that is abnormally long) due to malpositioning. It was scary, exhausting, and painful. My second pushed herself out, thank you fetal ejection reflex. I felt like a hostage in a body on auto-pilot. Words can't describe the relief of the shoulders passing and that slippery baby finally sliding out. Side note: why do they always act like the head is the hardest part? Why did we never think to say, 'Aren't the shoulders wider than the head?'"
"I'm one of those crazy women who thought it felt amazing. It hurt, but it was so incredible I almost didn't even register it. It was otherworldly."
"What struck me was how acutely physical it was. I had a VBAC, and I'd sort of mentally built up what kind of emotional experience it was going to be. It was wonderful, but, being honest, in the moment it wasn't. I was sort of overwhelmed by how 'in my own body' I felt and how unsettling that is when your body is in pain and doing a lot of work."
"The epidural did not take the pain away completely, but it took the edge off enough for me to focus on the contractions instead of trying to escape them. My doctor raised my bed and instructed me to push as I felt the contractions, but per my request gave me no other 'coaching' — I wanted to feel somewhat in control of my labor, pain, contractions and pushing and he explained how the baby's head in my pelvis was like a car tire stuck in a trench — every contraction and push was like revving the engine in an attempt to rock the car out. Fantastic analogy, and good motivation to keep pushing even when I felt I was at the end of a breath. Within about 20 pushes [Twin A] was out. I had a small tear but other than the 'ring of fire,' the pain wasn't too bad. I wanted so badly to have her placed on my chest, but as my doctor had suspected might happen, my contractions slowed [and Twin B's] heart rate began to drop. She was in distress, traumatized by [her sister's] birth. I was completely exhausted; I've since said 'the last thing you want to do after pushing out a baby, is push out another baby!' I asked the doctor if he could perform a vacuum assist — I wanted to avoid that c-section if I possibly could. The doctor said he would try, and produced what looked like a suction cup and small pump. He reached inside me, affixed the cup to [Twin B's] head, and on the next push used the pressure of the pump to help pull her out. [When she cried] I was so relieved."