Here’s What Contractions Really Feel Like, According To Women Who’ve Actually Had Them

Spoiler: It varies a lot.
04/04/2018 11:20 am ET

Ever since you found out that you were pregnant, you’ve had a million and one questions running through your head. And between navigating your health insurance plan, checking ingredient labels and wondering if you’ll ever be able to see your toes again, there’s one that’s got you totally stumped: What do contractions really feel like? Here, nine women reveal what to expect when it’s go time. (Spoiler: It varies a lot.)

WAVEBREAKMEDIA/GETTY IMAGES

The One Who Had Two Totally Different Experiences

“For baby number one, I was on an epidural before the labor really started due to some complications, and it felt like a rolling wave of pressure. It was never totally unbearable and I only had 15 minutes of real pain before delivery. For baby number two, however, it felt like a jackhammer was attacking my insides while simultaneously being split in two. I wanted this time to be natural, but I finally broke down and begged for an epidural. The second delivery was so intense — I was seeing white lights flashing every time a contraction hit before they gave me drugs. Good thing we forget these things or else the human race would not continue.” — Marissa, California

The One Who Had to Go to the Bathroom Real Bad

“It felt like I had the world’s worst diarrhea — in waves, over and over. With that same sense of urgency you feel when you know you’re close to a bathroom but you’re not quite there yet. At one point, I was half-naked clutching the handicap bar next to the toilet and yelling at the nurses that I really, really, really had to poop.” — Margaret, New Jersey

The One Who Ate Some Bad Takeout

“At first they feel like you ate something funky. Then like period cramps. Then like really bad period cramps. Then like a tidal wave that rolls through your body, causing your entire insides to revolt and try to come out. The worst part isn’t actually when you’re in the middle of one. It’s the moment when you realize you are ten seconds from having one… and where the F is the goddamn epidural?!” — Jennie, Pennsylvania

NATALIADERIABINA/GETTY IMAGES

The One Who Felt It in Her Back

“I had intense back labor; so with each contraction, I was convinced that the baby was lost and trying to leave by splitting my lower back in two.” — Carrie, New York

The One Who Went to a (Not-So) Fun Fair

“It felt like being on a roller coaster — the same fear and anticipation as you’re going up and up and then the feeling of relief after the drop (but still scared because you know that there’s another climb coming soon). But you know what? Thinking about it now, I feel the same way about labor as I do about rides — I may not have enjoyed it at the time I would definitely do it all over again.” — Julia, Massachusetts

The One Whose Pain Moved Around A Lot

“At first, it felt like my inner body was tightening and that was weird but not painful. Then waves of pressure started in my pelvis before moving to my stomach. Next came the back pain (and wasn’t that delightful?). Then the tension grew stronger and found its way to my colon where it was like it was trying to force itself out in what felt like needing to take the biggest crap of my life.” — Rachel, Maryland

ROBERTPRZYBYSZ/GETTY IMAGES

The One Who Felt Like Superwoman

“It felt like I was exploding and imploding at the same time. The cramping was so intense that I thought I was going to vomit. I had back labor, which was like someone with sharp claws was slowly trying to pull the fibers of my muscles out of my back. But I had so much adrenaline running through me that I also felt super strong. I felt like a superhero, and that’s what helps get you through all the pain.”— Lily, California

The One Who Kept Her Eye on the Monitor

“For me, contractions felt like intense lower back pain that came and went and also peaked at the height of the contraction. I actually watched the monitor during each one to see the exact moment each one would peak and then start to dissipate. I loved the visual of when the pain would lessen. The epidural definitely helped dull the pain, but it felt a lot like a period cramp that began as something you could treat with Advil, then — within 30 seconds — evolved into pressure that would make you want to be balled up on your couch. Then, just like that, it would be back to Advil level pain again, followed by a 10- to 20-second break in between.” — Sam, Massachusetts

The One Who Felt Like It Wasn’t as Bad as She Thought

“I definitely felt a lot of pressure — kind of like carrying a bowling ball in my vagina — but I was surprised that it wasn’t as awful as I thought it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong — it was definitely painful, but I don’t feel like I was scarred by the experience, and you know, I would totally do it again.” — Dara, New York

Related:

CONVERSATIONS