What does giving birth REALLY feel like?

I’ve been toying with writing this post for quite some time.

Do expectant mums really WANT to know what giving birth feels like? Would knowing about the pain, blood and screaming have made me more or less nervous about giving birth?

Now that I’ve had two, I should be able to answer this question. But the truth is I’m still in two minds.

Going in to my second birth I was far more confident. I had managed it the first time, after all. But it turns out I had forgotten quite how painful contractions are. And because I had a forceps delivery the first time, I hadn’t realised how hard it can be to push a baby out when you’re absolutely exhausted.

But this blog is all about openness and honesty. I believe in the giving and receiving of information, and for me, I always like to know what I’m in for.

So this is your explicit content warning, if you do not want to read about giving birth to babies in graphic detail, please read no further and click on one of the lighter hearted, less bloody posts from the archives.

If you are ready to delve on into my birth stories, read on. This is part one of my story, the delivery of my first baby, and do remember that I emerged from the other side of this experience just fine!

I was determined not to go into hospital too quickly with my first baby.

I had heard many a tale from fellow mamas about how they were turned away from the delivery ward repeatedly because their contractions weren’t close enough or they were nowhere near dilated enough to be close to giving birth.

So I wanted to stick it out at home, a place where surely I would feel more relaxed.

And as it turns out, it was far nicer being at home, however it was hard work on my husband. Let me explain.

My labour kicked in at around 10.30pm, just as I had switched off my light to go to sleep. I had been feeling thoroughly uncomfortable all day, with little twinges here and there but nothing that you could call a contraction.

As I lay in bed I felt a little twinge. I had experienced quite a bit of round ligament pain, so initially blamed this and tried harder to find a comfy spot in the bed.

Then the twinge got stronger, and then it really hurt. I was 10 days overdue at this point, so should have taken it more seriously. But I still had a little doubt in my mind that it was actually happening.

I picked up my phone and opened the contractions app I had downloaded about two months previously, and had childishly given up hope of ever getting to use it!

The contractions were all over the place. At first they were about six minutes apart, lasting for just a few seconds.

Then things kicked up a gear. I had to run to the loo to empty my bowels, thankfully I made it on time. Then I settled back in to bed, only to feel sick. This time I didn’t make it to the loo, and vomited all over the floor. As the vomit continued, my husband tried to usher me to the bathroom but I yelled that I couldn’t move (being absolutely enormous, and vomiting and experiencing contractions all at once don’t make it particularly easy to do even simple things like putting one foot in front of the other).

On reflection now it’s all rather funny to me, but at the time as I alternated between being sick and needing the loo, it all felt rather violent. It was like my body was purging everything in preparation for expelling the baby from the womb.

I was shaking so much at one point, I handed my phone to my other half and shouted “now” every time a contraction kicked in, and then just about managed to grunt at him when it finished. They were strong, to the point where I struggled to speak.

But my contractions were still more than five minutes apart, so after ringing the hospital, who told my other half “this is the hardest part” (what a lie that was!), I tried desperately to find a comfy position to handle the contractions.

In the end I planted myself at the foot of the bed on all fours, with a pillow in front of me. Whenever a contraction hit I slammed face down into it and rocked back and forth. I looked like a right state! A cross between a porn star and a beached whale struggling to move.

Finally at 4am the hospital said I could come in so they could take a look. This is a blissful time to drive in our busy town, but I couldn’t appreciate the lack of traffic jams because the car was so bloody uncomfortable and every time it braked I felt even worse.

Once we were set up in a room I was disappointed to hear I was only 4cm dilated. I think I had thought maybe the contractions would have got me a little further along by now.

So what does a contraction feel like. For me, it’s like the worst food poisoning you’ve ever had. You know that feeling where your body is trying to drive all the bad stuff out of your belly and so it clenches with such a force you feel like your entire abdomen is on fire? It’s like that, but worse.

Contractions take your breath away, when you are really in full labour, you will not be able to speak at all. They are a kind of paralysing experience. And while some mums have told me they did not make a peep during contractions, I grunted and moaned as I puffed on the gas and air.

In case you are wondering, gas and air makes you feel drunk. It does not stop the pain, however I highly recommend you give it a try!

I got into a nice rhythm with my pipe, heaving in a huge puff of air before blowing out with an almighty groan. It’s not a pretty sight, but this isn’t about looking good for the camera, unless you’re daft enough to have signed up for One Born Every Minute.

It was decided at 10am that my contractions were still not close enough and so I was popped onto a Syntocinon drip to speed them up. I was warned that the drip would make things way more intense, and they did.

It’s not an exact science, and the midwife had to twiddle with the speed of the drip many times to dial down the intensity or bring it back up again.

Deciding I was struggling to cope with the pain at this stage, I asked for diamorphine. This is a wonderful drug, made me ridiculously chatty and actually made the whole experience fun.

Until the intensity wore off about an hour later, then I had to wait three hours before being allowed another one.

At one point a doctor and a group of students walked into the room. It’s weird going through contractions with a large audience. You are embarrassed at the noises you’re making, but you have zero control over what happens. And while you know that everyone understands, you still feel like you would rather be locked away in a room like an injured cat, left to lick your wounds in peace.

Throughout all of this me and hubby kept our spirits up, joking and reading newspapers. We hadn’t slept at all the night before, but were excited.

Yet as the morning became afternoon and things still weren’t progressing, when I was told I was just 5cm dilated I could have cried.

I started focusing on every contraction, as if I could push my cervix open with my brain alone. Finding a comfortable position was nearly impossible. Sitting down felt horrendous for my spine, standing up was tiring but the best option in terms of comfort. In the end I bounced about on one of those giant labour balls for most of the time, with everyone else in the room watching me nervously as if I would soon bounce too hard and launch myself out of the window.

Finally, as we hit 3.30pm and it was time for another examination there was good news. I was 10cm, woohoo! I felt like having a party, it was baby time.

And yet the labour continued for another three-and-a-half hours. That feeling of needing to push, the feeling that I am now familiar with, the one that tells you you cannot fight pushing, never came.

And yet I did try to push, I tried on my hands and knees, on my feet, on my back. I tried every which way I could, but the baby would not budge.

Unfortunately I did poo on the table a few times, which was utterly horrendous. The midwife cleaned it away without so much as mentioning it, and then was back to business as if nothing had happened.

Finally a doctor was brought in to figure out why this baby was stubbornly refusing to leave. He was a giant man, who towered over everyone and seemed to absolutely fill the room with his presence. And yet he was the most reassuring person.

The giant baby doctor calmly explained my baby could be born in this room, but she would need a bit of help. He said he was going to use forceps to get her out.

So I popped my legs up into those charming stirrups you get on delivery ward beds, and the doctor and midwife began counting our equipment.

Meanwhile, without any mention, another member of staff wheeled in a special care baby holder. I didn’t really acknowledge what it meant at the time, which I’m glad about now. I didn’t need to panic or worry any more than I already was.

I chose not to look at the forceps, which I’m glad I didn’t. My husband says they were enormous (possibly an exaggeration brought on by lack of sleep and sheer panic).

The doctor gave me a short warning and went for it. The insertion of the forceps was kind of like a smear test, but then he had to get a hold of the baby, which dialled up the discomfort and with a “3, 2, 1” he pulled out the head.

My scream could probably be heard for miles and miles around. It was an animal cry and my heart felt like it was about to burst from my chest. It should not have been unexpected, but her head exiting my body was a sensation I was not prepared for and I felt like I was being ripped apart.

As I turned to the midwife and asked her to “help me”, she must have wondered what on earth I thought she was trying to do! Having a baby hanging part in and part out of you is a bizarre sensation, like you might split in two at any moment.

Alarmingly, it also feels uncannily like your baby is coming out of your rear, rather than your fanny. Another rather upsetting development that had me panicking and begging for someone to make it stop.

Leaning in closer in an effort to reassure me, the midwife ordered me to “pant like a dog”. Gasping like an alsatian on a hot day, I listened as the doctor told me I would need to push, so I tried my best to focus and pushed as if my life depended on it.

Finally with one more scream through gritted teeth she was here, and the relief was unbelievable, as at last the pressure on my precious privates was taken off. I’ll never forget seeing her for the first time in the hands of the giant doctor, screaming and looking a very funny colour.

The baby holder was wheeled out of the room, obviously not needed, and I was handed my baby. It’s funny how with both labours I don’t really recall delivering the placenta. I know it happened, but it barely registers in my memory.

Therefore, I’m guessing it can’t have been that bad! Having stitches wasn’t particularly pleasant. I was thoroughly numbed, however I could still feel a bit of pulling and prodding.

Plus I felt gunky and covered in all kinds of different fluids I couldn’t put a name on. Once the placenta was out, the room looked as if the site of a horrific mass murder. Bloody white cloths, stained bedsheets and white faces everywhere.

This birth story is by no means special, nor the most difficult labour any woman has ever gone through. There were no real complications, apart from my needing a helping hand with the forceps.

And yet for me it was full of drama, and things that with hindsight are quite funny. Though it was painful, it did not put me off going for a second round, which must either tell you that mums forget a lot of the detail of labour or that it’s worth it in the end.

I am dishing all the details about my second labour in part two! Do check out  my follow-up cringeworthy tale from the delivery room!

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2 Comments

  1. April 27, 2018 / 7:01 am

    Great article and pretty spot on I’d say! And despite that, giving birth is really not that bad (in hindsight). I’m prepping for the arrival of baby two & in all honesty the labour part is the least of my worries! 🙂

    • themummybubbleblog
      April 30, 2018 / 4:01 pm

      Haha, I know exactly what you mean! I was like that too with my second. All the best lovely, you’ll be absolutely fine I’m sure x

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