Whenever a doctor asks me to rate my pain on a scale, with one being minor discomfort and 10 being the worst pain I've ever felt, my mind immediately goes to back labor. Back labor was seriously the worst pain I have ever felt. Sometimes I wonder if it's just me, though. I mean, it's possible I'm just a total wimp when it comes to pain, right? So, I asked some other moms to describe what back labor actually feels like. Turns out, for better or worse, it's not just me.
So, what was it like? Well, for me it felt like I was being stabbed in the back with a white hot poker while my hips were being torn apart. It was so bad that I doubled over in pain and was unable to speak coherently enough to beg for an epidural. The pain was constant and nothing like the pain described in that one birthing class I attended. To make matters worse, my labor and delivery nurse was like a drill sergeant, making me do lunges and squats in the hallway in order to help my labor naturally progress. I screamed so loudly that a couple of other laboring women came out of their rooms and asked me to be quiet. (Clearly they were not experiencing back labor).
Back labor was completely different and way worse than I imagined my labor and delivery pains would be. I honestly think I was caught off guard because so many people gloss over the pain they felt when they tell their birth stories. Like if they dare to admit how much it hurt it will make them seem weak. I have heard other people swear their labor was magical, serene, and even pleasurable. I don't know whether they're telling the truth, lying through their teeth, or somehow forgot the pain in a rush of oxytocin after their babies were born. I do know that they probably didn't have back labor, because that pain was and forever will be unforgettable.
Here are a few painfully accurate descriptions of back labor, as told to me by some badass moms who totally know how it feels and aren't afraid to share:
"It was like my back muscles were twisting into themselves over and over and over and over, like when you wring a wet rag until you get every last drop out."
"Oh mercy. Back labor felt like someone was pulling my belly button out through my spine."
"Right at my lower back, from ilium to ilium, it felt like someone took a hot iron rod and just pressed it into my back. Like they were pushing it into my hips and also pushing down. As my contractions got stronger, it felt like my hips were being split apart, but the burning, blunt pressure never left my lower back until the sweet bliss of the epidural hit me."
"Back labor feels like being repeatedly stabbed with a burning hot blunt object. It was absolutely excruciating, and brought me to tears with each contraction. I had always heard that there was no pain between contractions, so it was actually really frightening to me that my pain never stopped. Thank goodness for epidurals."
"It felt like every muscle in my back was trying to rip out my spinal cord from a different direction. The epidural I eventually got after over 24 hours of that still didn't touch the back labor, only the primary contractions. One doctor had the nerve to say, 'You shouldn't be feeling pain in your back, are you sure?' Yes, I'm f'ing sure.
The pain continued through pushing and even after I was rolled in for a C-section. It didn't stop until sometime after they stitched me up. I had no back labor with either of my next two. Contractions are painful and exhausting, but they felt productive and not like my body was trying to rip itself apart."
"Just hearing the words 'back labor' a year later makes me cringe. It was immobilizing pain shooting through my back and legs. I couldn't get the epidural, so heating pads helped until around eight centimeters. After that I just remember screaming through contractions, no position being even remotely comfortable through the crippling pain."
"Like my spine being slowly crushed in a giant spiky vice. And it didn't stop. No pain between contractions my arse."
"I had front and back labor, so it felt like someone was pressing me to the ground with a giant foot with hot molten spikes on the bottom of their shoe. It was probably made worse by the fact that I didn't expect to go into labor (I had a C-section scheduled, because my daughter was breech)."
"Like being fisted by an elephant. That's really the way I describe it to people. It's a pain you just can't get away from. No amount of squats, back massages (to the point of being bruised the next day), or walking helped. They couldn't find one contraction on the monitor, and I had to figure out when to push myself. That epidural [I had] for the last three hours [of labor and delivery] was the best relief of my life."
"I had no break, my body was shaking, and spasms took over even my ability to breathe. Nothing was comfortable. I had to be on my hands and knees. Each contraction spasmed in my diaphragm about half a dozen times on top of the main contraction. It was the same feeling you get when your wind gets knocked out. Oxygen deprivation, exhaustion, and pain. My body was arched backwards for hours."
"Like someone stomping and twisting my spine and trying to pull it out of my body through my skin. The pain lessened between contractions, but never went away."
"It was the worst f*cking pain I have ever felt. I've had multiple kidney stones, and I'll take them over back labor any day. For me it was crushing pressure. I felt like my tail bone was going to explode. I couldn't even sit down to pee."
"Like you're being ripped open by a chainsaw from the inside out. The way the contraction starts is like the chainsaw revving up. The pressure is indescribable. It started like a mild back ache, but by the time I was in active labor there was no rest between contractions because the back ache was constant.
The epidural did absolutely nothing for it. When it was time to push, they kept telling me to wait for the monitor to say I was contracting, but I always could tell them it was starting well before the monitor picked up on it. Then came the pressure of the baby's head stuck on my pelvic bone (she was posterior, hence the back labor), the attempts at manually rotating her, the vacuum assist, them pushing her back up, and the C-section. I wouldn't wish that amount of physical pain on anyone."
"It felt like a sword being run through me. I had a 44-hour labor with no drugs with my first. Piece of cake compared to back labor. After two hours of back labor with my second (combined with limited allowed movement due to the baby's decelerating heartbeat), I was begging for drugs to relieve the pain. When the doctor said we needed an emergency C-section, I didn't even care. I was just relieved that the pain would be over soon."
"Like your sacrum is being pushed out of your pelvis from the inside. No meds, but counter-pressure helped immensely."
"The pain was indescribable and engulfed my entire body. All I can remember is screaming bloody murder and swearing like a sailor."
"I started feeling it up in my left shoulder blade. It was a horrible burning sensation that I didn't realize at first was connected to labor. It felt like someone was prying my joints apart. I don't think the nurses believed me [when it came to the] intensity, because of the displacement of the pain. It wasn't until I begged my husband to 'club me like a baby seal' that they seemed to acknowledge my level of pain. The epidural calmed it until it failed."
"Back labor felt like a dragon clawing its way out of my back. I woke up from a dead sleep screaming so loud that my night nurse came running in because she was scared. It was legitimately one of the worst pains I've ever felt."
"It was some of the worst pain I've ever experienced (and I have chronic migraines). The pain would start in my lower back and move to my belly. Every contraction was agony. I had to be sitting upright, and all I could do was repeat 'I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this.' (Which obviously wasn't helpful but it really felt like I could not do it)
The experience of being in labor felt very traumatic to me, and I couldn't understand the women who gave birth and immediately said that they would do it again. It wasn't until about a year later that I heard someone describe back labor, and I realized that not everyone experiences labor like I did."