Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Childbirth Feels Like, And Other Burning (Pun Intended) Questions Answered

First, two disclaimers:

1. I started this post on Monday, which just goes to show you how much free time I have these days. S. only naps in his bassinet for about an hour; the rest of the time he insists on lying across my body like a cooing, grunting sack of flour, trapping me and forcing me to re-watch every episode of Mad Men while eating mini Clark bars. So every day I have a Sophie's Choice* of shower, meal that does not come in individually wrapped packaging, or dicking around on the computer (which encompasses blogging, ordering more baby shit from Amazon, and trolling my Facebook feed for breaking news, because I just don't have time to read the paper, let alone pick through the gonzo slush on

*Only not, you know, as important

2. I know that there are some (maybe a lot) of you who could give two shits about babies and boobs and everything else that comes with new motherhood, and I want to take this opportunity to say that I appreciate your reading it anyway--if you still are--and that sometime soon I hope to be able to write about topics other than poopy balls and sleep-deprivation. For now, though, please cut me some slack because this baby is all-consuming, and I mean that literally. He consumes me on a daily basis, 8 to 12 times. 

And on that note, here's another post about orifices and the human beings that sometimes come out of them:

So, no one actually asked me what it felt like to push a baby out of my body, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because when I googled "What does childbirth feel like?" in order to try to do a Karate Kid montage of mental and physical preparation, all I found were a bunch of Yahoo message board posts in which women basically just said that it hurts, that they'd blocked it out, or that they couldn't really describe it.

Before I gave birth, I kept joking to my horrified mother that I was going to live-blog the experience, but even if I'd done that it wouldn't have clarified anything for you. It probably would have looked something like:

5:50 am: First contraction!!!!
5:55 am: Shit, these are close together.
7:30 am: Owwwwwwww.
8:00 am: [Retching sounds]

In between contractions, I focused on looking pretty.
10:00 am: Hi, guys, this is Jeff. Una says if I try to get her to type anything else into her phone she's going to kill my entire family. She's mostly screaming now. It sounds like Gilbert Gottfried got stuck in a garbage disposal.
1:00 pm: Jeff again. Dude. I can never unsee this.
1:30 pm: I've been to hell and back. Baby is bare-assed; I'm wearing a diaper. How is this fair?

So before I block it out completely I want to document the sensations of my* birth as best I can.

*Obviously, everyone's experience will be different. One woman's stabbing vagina pain of death is another woman's unrelenting, shooting genital hellfire.

First things first, I skipped early labor. That's the beginning stage in which you supposedly feel relatively mild contractions every half hour or so, but can still do things like bake cookies, watch movies, and walk places without crying. So I don't know what that feels like, but compared to active labor I'm going to assume it feels like dry-humping the Stay-Puft marshmallow man.

Active labor, for me, felt more or less as follows: First, it's like the baby is putting a corset on you, but being a bitch and making it too tight on purpose so you'll pass out at cotillion and ruin your chances of ever dating the heir to an oil fortune (everything I know about high society I learned from Gossip Girl). The pain of contractions wraps around your belly and shoots down through your pelvis. At first you can breathe through them, but soon you have to moan and then yell into a pillow. The corset is suddenly made of knives, and they are stabbing you in your ladybits.

The worst part, for me, was "transition." This means that you are fully dilated and that the baby's head is moving through your cervix. Of course, at the time I didn't know I was in "transition." I thought I was in Dante's heretofore undocumented tenth circle of hell, except instead of Carrot Top attempting to give me an erotic massage, I was simultaneously splitting in half and feeling like I was about to shit on my duvet.

For the record, these are my other circles of hell.
After transition comes pushing, which most people assume is the really painful part, but for me it was a bit of a relief, because I got to be an active participant in the birth and not just a moaning, writhing, passive victim. From movies and TV you think that after pushing for five minutes the baby comes out, which is sometimes true for second or third births, but for first-timers pushing usually lasts for a few hours. But! The good news is that you won't know how long it's taking because you're too busy concentrating on each contraction--which now feels like you're attempting to push a barbell out of your ass--and the sweet, sweet sixty to ninety seconds of peace and painlessness you get in between them. The bad news, of course, is that it ends with a human head coming out of a place you equate with recreational pleasure.

The head coming out hurts, y'all. I won't lie. I can't describe it any better than that it feels like what it is: a head coming out of your body. There's a stretching, burning sensation that gets more intense with each push. But by that point you're all, "GET THIS THING OUT OF ME, NOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!" so the pain takes a backseat to the most focused bearing down you will ever do. Birth makes your worst poop experience seem like shooting down feathers out of a T-shirt cannon.

So basically what I've just told you is that childbirth hurts. Who knew? My insights are invaluable. But seriously, here's something no one else says: the most alien sensation of all is when the body comes out. Because even though you've done the head, and your vagina is passed out cold and your central nervous system is shuddering and pouring itself a shot of Jameson, nothing will prepare you for the feeling of having a set of little arms and legs pulled out of your abdomen and through your baby chute. It's not so much painful as it is incredibly weird. But then you get your wrinkled little spawn plopped on your chest, and the oxytocin starts flowing, and suddenly you are dry-humping Mr. Stay-Puft... with your heart.

Are you vomiting yet? Good. Onto the Q&A, straight from the comments/Facebook!

Did any of your neighbors hear the labor/birth? When you give birth at home, how do you get a birth certificate?
Luckily, both our downstairs and upstairs neighbors were away for the weekend, and our fourth floor neighbors didn't hear a thing. I should totally take back that wine and earplugs, right? And when you give birth at home, your midwife has the birth certificate application form with her, you fill it out, and she mails it to the city clerk, or whoever handles that stuff.

How did Jeff handle things? Was he nervous about the home birth, were you? How long did it last? Are you one of those ladies that say it was the most amazing and beautiful experience ever or was it just "worth it"? 
Jeff was amazing. He was there for me throughout the labor, holding me, whispering that he loved me and telling me that I was doing great. He stayed behind me while I was pushing and didn't make any inappropriate comments about my compromised vagina, although he did later tell me that S.'s debut looked like "a hair volcano," since our son's flowing locks preceded him out of the womb.

Neither of us was especially nervous about the home birth. Obviously we knew that if anything went wrong we would need to be rushed to a hospital, which is never a comforting thought. But then again neither of us likes or feels comfortable in hospitals, so we were happy to be in our own apartment. As it turned out, I had an absolutely ideal home birth. My labor only lasted seven hours, and there were no complications whatsoever. And while my birth was amazing in many ways and I wouldn't change a thing, it hurt like fuck which kind of cancels out the beauty. So I'll go with "just worth it."

Circumcised or uncircumcised?
Un. You might have already guessed that based on the fact that I had a hippie home birth. And I know people are VERY opinionated about this issue, but my decision was based on two things: 1) It was not important to Jeff; and 2) We had no religious reason to do it. Sure, I'm not super excited about reading up on how to teach my son to properly clean his wang, but I also couldn't bear the thought of snipping off a part of him. That said, I don't judge anyone who makes the choice to circumcise. And I'll thank you to extend me the same courtesy.

I could not help noticing your eyebrows. Did you wax just before your due date? They look amazing!
Yeah, I put this question in just to flatter myself, but since I spend most days in sweatpants and a vomit-covered sweater, sporting a hairstyle that can best be described as "side ponytail struck by lightning," I need a boost. The answer, gentle reader, is that no, I did not wax my eyebrows pre-labor. It's just that years of maintaining/fighting off a unibrow have given me plucking skills that make me quite the Operation hustler. But like Eeyore might say, thanks for noticing.

And now I will distract you from the fact that I have no ending to this post with a smiling baby.



  1. love it, thanks! Especially the smiling baby pic, aww :)

  2. I am right on board with you about those fruit flavored tootsie rolls.

    Your description of labor was hilarious. "FUCK EVERYONE IN THE FACE!" LMAO
    I always make my sister read your posts now that you've had the baby, since she is the only one of us to have pushed a human out of herself, and she was literally on the floor laughing. I think a home birth is good, even if its just to protect everyone else from you. My sister threw the hospital phone at the doctor after he stood up from checking her and said, "You're still six centimeters." LOL

  3. THANK YOU for being honest and hilarious in answering these questions! It is so annoying to be ask about the reality of childbirth and get lots of vague answers. It's like a secret pact that new mothers make, that they don't want to say how bad it hurts just in case it'll change my mind about children.

    I just want to go; "Look, dude, I still plan on pooping out a baby in the future because they are beautiful and squishy and once they learn motor skills I can make them do things I hate like dusting baseboards and laundry. Just tell me how it really feels, I promise to not rob you of the "I told you so," face when I finally get knocked up..."

    Sorry. That was sort of angsty. What I really meant to say was, "ZOMG, LOOKIT THE PRETTY BABY!!!"

  4. S. is precious! I love the name and am absolutely enamoured with the fact that you had an at-home birth. You're such a trooper!

  5. Anonymous1:57 PM

    What a freakin' cutie!

    I would have KILLED for a 7-hour labor and delivery. Attended homebirth is illegal in my state, so we had to do it in a hospital, with a doctor. I made it 28 hours before opting for the epi, and oh, dear Jesus, was that a RELIEF.

    So I don't have the memories of all the pain that you describe in the transition and pushing stages (I had only made it to a 5 when I got the epi ... I think I might still be pushing if not for pitocin), but you pretty much do justice to contractions and the act of actually having the baby.

  6. You are basically amazing. I just attended my friend's home birth and obviously child birth is no tea party, but when it was all said and done she was so happy to be in her own home. Hospitals suck balls. Congrats again -- your son is beautiful.

  7. Anonymous2:51 PM

    Just came across your blog - freaking love it already. Thanks for giving me another entertaining outlet to use as part of my daily procrastination ritual!

    Congrats on the baby - he's adorable.

  8. Aw! Cute baby. But pretty sure after that play-by-play I'll be popping birth control from now until eternity.

  9. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Have done natural childbirth 3 times, it is everything you describe. And totally worth it.

  10. he's really cute. i didn't block my labor. not at all, how can people forget something that painful? however, he was worth it, although as we are hitting adolescence i'm rethinking.

  11. don't think Carrot Top is cute??

  12. Thank you so so much for posting this. Seriously, I cannot thank you enough. I've always wanted to know how bad labor is. I've asked each of friends who has pushed a human out her vagina to make sure she remembers how absolutely horrible the pain feels so they can tell me in gruesome detail so I can make an educated decision as to whether I ever want to experience such joy.

    All of them, even the one who had a natural birth was like, "meh, it hurts."

    Thanks, that was completely not helpful.

    Considering I have period pains so bad that I pass out in the shower, I'm thinking labor is not an option. Thank you for confirming it for me.

  13. Just want to jump in here really quickly, THE SARCASM GODDESS, if you have horrible period pain (I did too, passing out and all of it) then labor is actually not so bad. It is familiar pain but with a purpose. That uterus has something to squeeze. I have another friend with a similar issue and she thought the exact same thing...labour was surprisingly not surprising.

    Now I never got a chance to push any of my 10 lbers out my tunnel of love so that part, I can not comment on.

    The smile, oh the smile! How delicious.

  14. Thanks for the description. I like the unvarnished truth. I am currently in baby classes with the hubs and can only imagine the pain these women are feeling in the fabulous videos we have watched lately. It does sound like your labor was ideal but extremely painful. I am not as brave as you however and will most likely be going with the epidural. I am definitely a loyal reader and enjoy the baby info since I am very near this whole ordeal myself. Keep up the baby posts for sure :)

  15. Anonymous1:17 PM

    Yeah, that's what it felt like alright. My girl arrived in August. The sleep deprivation and constant nursing will soon get much much better. At three months she is much closer to a little person than a parasitic wiggling, but heartwrenchingly adorable, pooping blob.

  16. Your description of birth is spot on, especially the bit about how weird it is to have arms and legs come out of you. When my daughter was born I asked the doctor if I had just birthed a squid. All wet, squishy, and tentacled! She's human though.

  17. Good for Jeff for knowing just how to be supportive. After hours and hours of labor, things were finally progressing toward birth. My son-in-law, meaning well, said to my daughter, "You've totally got this, no problem." That was four years ago; I think he is still living it down.

  18. I think this might be the best thing I've ever read. In fact, I'm going to go back and read it from the beginning again right now and then forward it to about fourteen people.

  19. FUCK EVERYONE IN THE FACE sums it up perfectly. This is just so so good. (Congratulations!)

  20. Anonymous7:55 PM

    I just have to say that you are my hero !!!! It's been a long time since I pushed anything out of my vagina, but your description sounds pretty spot on. I check everyday to see if you have a new post and I am so excited when there is. Thanks for brightening my days.

    And your baby is a doll <3

  21. Anonymous10:40 PM

    I <3 you and this post.

  22. Anonymous11:31 PM

    He is beautiful, Una, and you are very brave. I was at the hospital at the first evil "I'm going to hurt you bad bitch" whisper of a contraction. And then, of course, they sent me home. Congratulations to you and Jeff. Lucky little guy you have there. Do I sound like Yoda? My intent it was not. Okay the last part was intentful. Shut up Chicken. God.

  23. Funny thing is that eventually you'll talk about feeling like you might actually WANT to do it again.
    That picture is adorable, baby smiles are too beautiful.
    OMG - you are so lucky you swore off PR. I watched this season and the after finale show "Behind the Seams" because it was going to be an hour of Tim talking about the season. B&M silenced him, reduced him to an old fuddyduddy, it was heartbreaking to watch. I know he has producer credit now, but he seems to have also sold out. I'm so sad.

  24. Nice post..It all seems worth it when at the end of the day you have a beautiful healthy baby. plastic surgery gone wrong

  25. Can I have him? (The baby or Jeff, whoever.)

  26. He is totally beautiful. I'm going to echo the thanks given in previous comments - the incredibly generic 'it hurts' does not help those of us who are planning on experiencing it and are as curious about it as we are about the experience of say, planning a wedding, or buying a home.

    So thanks. :)

  27. Anonymous2:11 PM

    I have three kids, and my third was birthed totally natural, with a midwife attending. "FUCK EVERYONE IN THE FACE" was pretty much how I felt, too, but the amazing thing was that after it was over, I felt like a million bucks. My dad, who showed up an hour later, said I looked like I could "Get up and jog around the block." In contrast, my other two kids were epidural births, and I was stuck in bed with a catheter up my hooha for hours on end after the birthing was over.

  28. I myself decided I was done making babies some minutes after the epidural started wearing off. Love you for telling it like it is!!! Congratulations on your beautiful family.

  29. Anonymous7:31 PM

    I don't like babies, and I typically don't think they are cute, but your baby is genuinely cute. Way to go with those genetics!

  30. My husband and I are on totally different wavelengths with the baby business. He decided a career change was in order and is in the med school application process, and since everyone I know is pregnant or a new mom, I am super hormonal despite the birth control. So intellectually, I know we have time, and now is not the time, but my ovaries are like, "Let's DO this!" so I cry over babies and crap like that. So you can imagine how delighted I was to read your honest, frightening, and graphic description of labor -- GREAT birth control because I am a GIANT wimp.

    But then you put beautiful baby S. at the end, and he makes it look totally worth the pain. I tried telling myself our kid wouldn't be as cute, but my husband's pretty dreamy.

    The mention of Jeff NOT commenting on your compromised vagina did make me think a few years of maturity (and seeing all those things you can't unsee in med school on people he doesn't love) may be a good thing for us. At this point, I'm pretty sure he would laugh in my screaming face if I pooped on the floor (which I'm terrified I will do).

    Anyway. I love this post. That's all.

  31. I knew it! I knew it! Everyone tells me "it's not that bad" but I knew childbirth was a horrifying, hellish experience! Ha! I win! I still *might* have a kid, but now at least I know what I'm in for. Thank you SO much for sharing this!

  32. I finished this and realized I was clenching my legs and teeth shut. Still, I appreciate hearing that the natural birth can really and truly be done. Thanks, and congratulations!

  33. Anonymous3:24 PM

    i had twin boys natrualy and i was in labor for 15 hours .contractions were mind blowing painfull but i manged to breath and pant and grunt threw husband was coaching me on and when hit the wall he showed a picture of three kids and he said our two girls and two year old son want to meet our twin boys ryder and cameron .my husband videotape the birth when i was pushing you heard me grunt my twins boys felt like it was pushing two seven pound watermellon that felt like two a large alien coming out my husband says i am female warrior to give birth.i am done having babies.i love all five kids.


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