Giving birth is a pretty incredible thing. But obviously, squeezing a tiny human out of your body can get painful (to say the very least).
Especially when it’s done without pain medication or an epidural — a common method of anesthesia used during labor, where the anesthetic is inserted via a needle in the lower back and injected into the epidural space near the spinal cord, decreasing sensation to your lower body.
So we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what it actually feels like to give birth without any pain medication.
We heard from women all over the US and UK who've had natural births — either by choice or because it was too late to receive an epidural. This collection of submissions does not speak to all natural births, but we hope it can illustrate the wide range of experiences and feelings. Here are some of the best responses:
1. "It feels like every bone in your body is broken and they are all being pulled out of your cooch at at the same time, sideways."
2. "It literally felt like my body was ripping in half vertically, from the crotch up, followed by the strongest euphoria I've ever experienced."
"Unmedicated birth is intense all around: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually."
3. "I did it all: I pooped, I tore, I cried, I screamed, I prayed for it to end. At one point, I even threw up inside my oxygen mask from all the pain."
"My last was 12 years ago and I still remember the pain clearly — it was like nothing I have ever felt! I became a different person for those 10 hours. I did it all: I pooped, I tore, I cried, I screamed, I prayed for it to end. At one point, I even threw up inside my oxygen mask from all the pain. I remember hitting my head against the bathroom wall of the hospital at one point in a stupid effort to redirect the pain. But what they say is true: Once that little miracle is out, there is so much relief and every minute of pain is worth it when you hold your baby."
—Nicole Erasmus, Facebook
4. "I felt like my daughter and I were a team, working together to get her out."
"The most amazing part of doing it med-free was being able to feel my daughter twist around into position down the birth canal. I felt like we were a team, working together to get her out. All other feeling and pain was secondary to that magical bonding moment that nobody, not even my birthing class teachers, ever talked about."
—Amanda Merrill Robison, Facebook
5. "You know those giant rubber bands around broccoli or a lobster claw? If you stretch them over and over, they get hot. Your vagina does that too! The 'ring of fire' is the worst pain I've experienced."
"The pressure and pushing was all very uncomfortable and it did hurt, but it was nothing compared to that ring of fire sensation."
6. "It feels like your intestines are swollen, on fire, and infested with tiny aliens and the whole thing is going to shoot out of your ass."
"I gave birth naturally both times, it feels like your intestines are swollen, on fire, and infested with tiny aliens and the whole thing is going to shoot out of your ass dragging your spinal cord along with it."
—Amy Christine Mackay, Facebook
7. "It was totally bearable and honestly one of the easiest things I've ever done."
"I had my son at home with no drugs or assistance at all. Midwife arrived only right as my son popped out. It was totally bearable and honestly one of the easiest things I've ever done. People are taught to fear it and overthink it. I took two Tylenol a few hours later and I was walking around same day."
—Ella Pace, Facebook
8. "It feels like you sat in hot sauce after a night of rough fucking."
"The 'ring of fire' is a REAL THING. Whoever coined that term (Johnny Cash?) was a genius, because that is exactly what it feels like — the stretching of your vagina feels like a circular ring of pure fire. It feels like you sat in hot sauce after a night of rough fucking. Luckily it didn't last long. Two major pushes and he was out!"
—Resa Leigh, Facebook
9. "Your lady garden is on fire. Your butt is on fire. You will honestly believe that someone is holding a lighter to your hoo-ha."
"It feels like the worst period cramps ever. Then when you feel the urge to push, it's like when you've eaten some seriously bad Chinese food and you need to poop *now*. Pushing feels really good — it's very primal and almost instinctual. Then when the baby's head is crowning, all hell breaks loose. Your lady garden is on fire. Your butt is on fire. You will honestly believe that someone is holding a lighter to your hoo-ha. But once baby is out, all is well."
—Ciara Morrison, Facebook
10. "It's like your body knows what to do, and it's all quite raw and primal."
"I had two drug- and intervention-free births — no shame or judgment on those that choose or need otherwise — but I was induced both times due to gestational diabetes. The contractions feel like menstrual cramps, or for those who have never experienced that, I would liken them to diarrhea cramps that come and go and gradually build in intensity and length until they become almost unbearable. The pain itself isn't a normal type of pain, it feels very natural. It's like your body knows what to do, and it's all quite raw and primal."
11. "I was writhing around on the bed like I was possessed by a demon, begging someone to get me some drugs."
"The contractions hurt so bad you feel like you're dying, then comes the pressure and need to push. I was writhing around on the bed like I was possessed by a demon, begging someone to get me some drugs. I know at one point I asked the nurses if I was going to die and they just laughed, which infuriated me. I was totally a cliché preggo from the movies screaming my head off. But the feeling of euphoria that comes over you when you're holding your baby makes it all worth it!"
—Allison Schultz, Facebook
12. "It was literally the worst experience of my life. I went full-on exorcist."
"I went full-on exorcist and sat up and shrieked at the doctor, 'Get this thing out of me now!' I made sounds that I had never heard myself make before. I know that a lot of women think natural childbirth is a beautiful thing, but there was nothing about it that was beautiful to me. Nothing could have prepared me for that type of hell. I still have nightmares and flashbacks. If I ever do decide to have another baby, then I can assure you I will never do it naturally again."
13. "My midwife fished my turds out of the birthing tub with a little net."
"I pooped but was too busy being in hideous pain to care. My midwife fished my turds out of the birthing tub with a little net. Every moment of labor was beautiful."
14. "It felt like a knife was ripping my guts out through my stomach, while also being tugged from my vagina at the same time — like a tug-of-war with my guts as a rope."
"The pain was so intense I thought I was truly going to faint or vomit. I couldn't concentrate on anything else except the pain and the need to push it out of my body. That last push was the hardest thing I've ever done, but hearing her cry a second later was one of the best feelings I've ever had."
—Samantha West, Facebook
15. "Childbirth without pain medication is like having your lower body engulfed in lava that has sprung forth from the bowels of hell."
"Mine was unintentional, to be honest. I'd love to tell you that I'm just THAT awesome and I thought I could power through it. But no. Dope me up. All aboard the epidural train. Childbirth without pain medication is like having your lower body engulfed in lava that has sprung forth from the bowels of hell and then being set on fire while an actual human being comes out of your body."
16. "Have you watched the movie Labyrinth? You know 'the cleaners'? It feels like that's in your uterus."
"The actual birthing part was not as painful for me as the contractions. Birthing was more tiring."
—Sheanna Caban, Facebook
17. "Have you ever been on question 4 of 20 on a final and already used all mental and physical power you thought you had? That is childbirth."
"Have you ever thought you were going to shit yourself? Have you ever thought you broke a bone so bad it was going to poke through the skin? Have you ever had a third-degree burn? Have you ever been on question 4 of 20 on a final and already used all mental and physical power you thought you had? Have you ever just not cared one bit about the way you looked, the sounds you made, the image you portrayed nor the future? Combine ALL of these and that is childbirth, the natural way. Then three months later you tell everyone 'it was not that bad.'"
18. "When the baby slip-slides out of you, it's the weirdest, slimiest feeling ever."
"At first you think the contractions are the worst thing you've ever felt, like period cramps on steroids. Then the urge to push kicks in and it's like a semi truck is trying to plow through your vagina. But you can't push if you aren't dilated.
"Do you remember that time you ate chili cheese fries and funnel cake at the county fair but couldn't find a toilet and you had to hold back a slew of diarrhea until you got home? Now multiply that by 100 and you'll understand what it's like to hold in a 9-pound human trying to force its way into the world. When the baby slip-slides out of you, it's the weirdest, slimiest feeling ever — and once you hear the cry and see that little smooshed face and think, Well that wasn't so bad. Then your doctor has to sew up your shredded vagina, so you're like, Nah fuck that. I'm good with one kid. And for some reason I've done it twice and am considering it again. Lord, be with me."
19. "Although the pain is excruciating, you're ready to punch some holes into walls afterward because of the adrenaline rush."
"I felt empowered by the pain. Adrenaline plays a major factor in the birthing process and although the pain is excruciating, you're ready to punch some holes into walls afterwards because you've still got that rushing sensation. I would definitely do it without the epidural again. You are so present and in control of your body and the little creature coming out of you."
20. "The second my baby was born, the fiery hell was gone and I felt like I could straight-up run a marathon for a few hours."
"My second birth was as natural as it gets. I have never screamed so loud and deep in my life, the pain is real. I wanted to bite something from the pain. The second my baby was born, the firey hell was gone and I felt like I could straight-up run a marathon for a few hours."
21. "Despite it being super painful, it was also incredibly empowering and I felt like a freaking champion."
"I gave birth to all three of my kids vaginally with no pain medication, and two of them were BIG (9.5 pounds and 10 pounds!). I would easily say it was the worst pain I've felt to date in my life. But despite it being super painful, it was also incredibly empowering and I felt like a freaking champion."
22. "It felt like the baby was going to tear his way out of my body through my ass. I was like one of those Oregon Trail women, writhing and moaning with wet towels on my head."
"I missed my chance for an epidural and it felt like the baby was going to tear his way out of my body through my ass. I was like one of those Oregon Trail women, writhing and moaning with wet towels on my head."
23. "When it started I thought, I can totally do this, but then it progressed to me bawling like a cow during active labor."
"I don't like to say 'pain' because, to me, pain means something is horribly wrong and the feeling of childbirth is supposed to happen... but it ain't a walk in the park. When it first started, it was like bad cramps and I thought, I can totally do this, but then it progressed to me bawling like a cow during active labor. I also didn't want my husband touching me because I couldn't deal with any more sensations. I tolerated the midwives because, what else are you going to do? But he wanted to do all the husband-y things — stroke my back, rub my arms — but he learned quickly not to touch me...speaking of pain."
24. "I had a prolapse and needed over 100 stitches. Eight years later and I'm still struggling to feel anything. My 'area' will never be the same again."
"It was agony but felt strangely productive. However, once the head was delivered things took a dangerous turn and she was stuck by her shoulders. The midwife couldn't pull her out, so she hit the emergency buzzer and the room was filled with doctors and nurses. Out of nowhere, it felt like boiling hot water was being thrown over my vagina — they were performing an episiotomy.
Usually they give an anesthetic, but there simply wasn't time — the baby's head had been hanging out for too long and turned purple. She was pulled out eventually, but wasn't breathing or moving. I remember lying there in silence, covered in blood, exhausted and praying that she lived. After an eternity, she cried and I collapsed with relief. I had a prolapse and needed over 100 stitches. Eight years later and I'm still struggling to feel anything. My 'area' will never be the same again."
[Ed.: An episiotomy is a surgical incision of the perineum, from the bottom of the vulva to the anus, which enlarges the opening for the baby to pass through.]
25. "I like to think of it as going to a haunted house. You're excited and scared and you might accidentally soil yourself or punch someone but once it's over you think, Wow, that wasn't that bad!"
"I chose to have a natural birth in a hospital. Was it the most painful thing I've ever endured? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Probably. It's a really crazy kind of pain. I like to think of it as going to a haunted house. You're excited and scared and you might accidentally soil yourself or punch someone but once it's over you think, Wow, that wasn't that bad!"
26. "It was fun — the atmosphere was light, we were laughing and singing and enjoying ourselves, and then a baby was born."
"I planned an unmedicated hospital birth, and it took under two hours. It was fun — the atmosphere was light, we were laughing and singing and enjoying ourselves, and then a baby was born. There were about five really intense minutes, but it was very tolerable. Everyone in the room — my midwife, one nurse, my doula, and my husband — was so supportive and encouraging. All in all, it was a really great experience, and I have no regrets about choosing to have an unmedicated birth experience."
27. "It was painful, but I have had both my feet tattooed and that was worse."
"I had no pain relief, I remember thinking at the time, This feels exactly like you would expect pushing a person out of you to feel! Yes, it was painful but I have had both my feet tattooed and that was worse. So if you're pregnant now, don't worry — it isn't always like the horror stories."
28. "Five of my six childbirth experiences were natural. ... But my last child, I had an epidural. Get the epidural."
"Five of my six childbirth experiences were natural. Childbirth is insanely painful, and insanely rewarding. There was almost a sadness when my daughters left my body completely, it felt empty and lonely. But my last child, I had an epidural. Get the epidural."
29. "It was the worst pain of my life, and what can only be described as a cement block slowly pushing its way through my vagina."
"When I gave birth to my youngest daughter, she came so fast that there was no time for an epidural. I did feel myself poop on the table, but the nurse wiped it away like it was no big deal. It was the worst pain of my life, and what can only be described as a cement block slowly pushing its way through my vagina. But the nurses were great and of course it was all worth it."
30. "It's like trying to poop out a pineapple the size of a bowling ball."
"I gave birth in February 2016. The hospital had done a last-minute scan to check her weight since she was a week late and [a vaginal birth] would be dangerous if she was over 4 kilograms (8.8 pounsd). It said she was only 3.2 kilograms, so I was given the green light to have a natural birth.
But the scan was wrong... so very wrong. When I went into labour, I screamed for an epidural but it was too late. Harley Grace was born a whopping 4.55 kilograms (10.03 pounds)! I tore and needed stitches. The best way to describe the pain is like trying to poop out a pineapple the size of a bowling ball. I even think there was a moment I asked the doctor to kill me."
31. "To be honest, the first two weeks of breastfeeding hurt more."
"I'm from the UK and gave birth in a midwife-led birthing unit, which can't provide epidurals. I'm not going to lie and say there's no pain, but it's a strange pain. It's not like when you trap your hand in a door where your body screams wrongness. It's a very primal and almost natural pain. To be honest, the first two weeks of breastfeeding hurt more."
32. "I instantly regretted my decision. It was unreal. Everything I had learned thus far to manage the pain was useless."
"I have given birth three times. My third one I decided to try it completely free of all drugs. I instantly regretted my decision. It was unreal. Everything I had learned thus far to manage the pain was useless. Breathing techniques? I don't even know that I breathed at all. I am certain I started to levitate toward the end, so clearly I was possessed in some form. After the exorcism took place, I held that baby boy and in a second, all was forgotten. But never to be repeated."
—Meggan Meints, Facebook
33. "A nurse came in and asked if I could keep it down because I was frightening the other mothers in labor. ... I threw my ice chip cup at her."
"The pain was harsh and the baby's head coming out felt like fire but the worst part was when a nurse came in and asked if I could keep it down because I was frightening the other mothers in labor. I told the nurse to have them say that to my face and threw my ice chip cup at her. I may have been a little possessed but the moment I saw my baby's face I knew it was nothing and I would do it all again. But seriously, who asks a mother in labor to keep it down?"
34. "It was euphoric and felt like I had climbed a mountain or something. Hands down best day of my life."
"My son's birth was at my local birthing center. I had wanted a natural birth so I could experience the whole thing and also a way to see if I could do it. Natural births vs. medicated births or C-sections do not make one mother tougher than another. It was just a personal choice — one I was very privileged to have. It was euphoric and felt like I had climbed a mountain or something. Hands down best day of my life."
35. "I remember asking my husband, between soul-shattering screams, if she was coming out of the right hole."
"Natural childbirth is the thing of nightmares. There is no way that it could've hurt more, even if Daffy Duck had lit a stick of dynamite and crammed it into my lady parts, than it did to give birth without an epidural. I didn't realize that all of the pressure and pain would be in my rectum, and I remember asking my husband, between soul-shattering screams, if she was coming out of the right hole. She did. After that experience, I got my glorious and highly recommended epidural. Modern medicine is bae."
36. "The intensity of the pain makes you look and feel like a wild animal."
"Words could never accurately express the utter insanity of childbirth without pain meds or epidural. The intensity of the pain makes you look and feel like a wild animal, and the pain exceeds what your brain can process. It seems impossible that anything could be that excruciating. Despite all that, it never feels wrong. Your body takes over and does what needs to be done."
37. "When the baby comes out ... you feel so empty and skinny!"
"I have twins who I gave birth to without pain medication. I was in so much pain I couldn't open my eyes. It felt like if I let go of the arm rails on my bed, I would die. Pushing snuck up on me. It was similar to the urge to throw up and you cannot stop it. It feels like you are ripping open your vagina and it's on fire. But, when the baby comes out it feels so good. You are instantly un-sick. You feel so empty and skinny and you have a baby!"
38. "Imagine getting a charley horse, but it's squeezing your abdomen, back, butt, and thighs all at once for several minutes — over and over, and stronger each time."
"I have given birth to two babies without any medications. I thought I was prepared for a natural birth, but nothing on Earth can prepare you for that kind of pain. Imagine getting a charley horse, but it's squeezing your abdomen, back, butt, and thighs all at once for several minutes — over and over, and stronger each time. Also, you're throwing up and shaking. You can't think straight. You're hot. Now you're cold. You're scared. It hurts like a bitch. However, I am not trying to scare anyone away from having a natural birth. Overall, I'm glad I did it."
39. "Delivering the placenta feels like a beef liver sliding out."
"No one ever really seems to talk about delivering the placenta. My experience was that it didn't hurt but there's something really disconcerting about having something that feels like a beef liver come sliding out of the wide open slip-and-slide that your vagina feels like right after pushing out a small human."
In conclusion: Any person who gives birth is a superhero.
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Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.