When people ask me what labor and childbirth were like, I invariably give the same response: imagine the most horrible menstrual cramps you've had and multiply that by 1,000. Then imagine that stabbing feeling you get in your bowels when you seriously have to poop and multiply that by 1,000. Now let that go on for 18 hours. That's about right. Of course, pain is relative and every person, every body and everyone's pain tolerance is different, so when women describe what a contraction feels like it can differ considerably from person to person. (That said, I have never personally encountered anyone who has told me it feels like butterflies and rainbows cheerfully co-mingling inside of them, so some things are just straight-up universal.)
Pregnant women have months to get themselves used to the idea of labor. Many (myself included) will reach a certain point in their pregnancy and start sobbing because they just want to be done and it all to be over with. They'll try everything they can to try to induce labor, thinking, "I need to meet this baby, besides, nothing can be worse than feeling pregnant for another godforsaken minute." Then the contractions start. Usually, they start off relatively gently and seem completely manageable but, inevitably, there comes a point where many a loving and dedicate mom-to-be will think to herself, "I've changed my mind. I'd rather be pregnant forever." (This feeling usually goes away once you finally see your little one. That's pretty great, too.)
Look, I don't want to scare you, but it's intense. Usually it's tremendously physically intense, but just the fact that you know you're bringing a new human into the world can be pretty heavy all the way around. As I said, everyone experiences labor and contractions differently, so I talked to other moms who have been there and done that, to see what things were like for them.
"Like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) that's too legit to quit."
"I had contractions for 24 hours with my second and had no idea that is what was happening. I felt a little achy and tired. No contractions with my stubborn first, who decided she was never coming out and would still prefer to be in womb if I left her there."
"Like a little person living inside your stomach is twisting and tightening it. I also learned that there is a big difference between pain and pressure!"
"With my first, I was induced and then had an emergency c-section. [I] never felt a contraction. With my second I was scheduled for a repeat c-section, and I had no idea I was in labor. I thought I was having bad gas/food poisoning from really delicious fried chicken the night before, until I realized the cramps were coming at evenly spaced intervals. Ergo, fried chicken = great labor inducer."
"Like the Incredible Hulk wringing out a wet towel....except that towel is your uterus."
"I never experienced it with my first two (c sections for both were planned). With my third I started having a coughing fit which led to vomiting (story of every single day of all 3 of my pregnancies with my boys) which resulted in my water breaking. The contractions started to come on shortly thereafter. They weren't intense because I never got that far before I had a c section but it was a clear, rhythmic tightening of my midsection."
"Like being pulled apart with meat hooks from the inside."
"Like your insides are being squeezed in a vice, and then your back catches fire."
"Intense. A wave slowly begins to roll through you. Your belly physically hardens and tightens as the wave contracts, bear-hugging your uterus and gently moving baby down, then slowly releases and recedes as quietly and uncontrollably as it came."
"Like a thousand waves crashing into my midsection all at once, and then pleasantly receding."
"It feels like you're being punched in the stomach, only the punch is going in slow motion and you're feeling the full force of all the pain the whole time."
"At the beginning, I hardly felt them. It was small twinges, not unlike period cramping. They eventually lasted longer and grew in strength. By the end I equated it to a Plasma Globe lighting up. My entire stomach would tense and the pain felt electric."
"It felt like menstrual cramps x100 and then after they broke my water, I just remember seeing black - the pain was so intense and I couldn't really pinpoint where or what was going on."
"I have only experienced Pitocin contractions, and those are straight from the devil himself. It was mind numbing pain. Very stabby. In my back and stomach."
"Like insanely bad gas pains."
"Like you're body is finally fed up with all the complaining about it you've been doing for nine months of pregnancy and it's getting it's revenge."