In some way, this question is so silly as to not warrant a post! But inevitably it comes up when you’re pregnant and kind of gnaws at you until you bravely ask someone who’s gone before you. And they kind of smile or laugh and say something like, “Uh… YEAH!”
But sometimes you’ll meet someone who says, “Well, it wasn’t that bad.” And that’s kind of intriguing. Childbirth has gone down in history as traditionally the most painful thing you can experience. Torture notwithstanding, it is amazing that something as painful as childbirth could be experienced by so many people, so routinely. It connects us to generations and generations of women who have gone before us, in every tribe or nation that has ever existed.
Today, however, we have the conveniences of technology that can make it far less painful. If you get an epidural early enough into your labor, you may have a virtually pain-free experience. Many women opt for the epidural and it is nothing to be ashamed of. You can then enjoy your birth and first post-partum moments. Obviously if you have C-section, the birth is painless, but you will probably suffer afterwards (more than the average vaginal delivery patient does.) Some women find breastfeeding very difficult following a Caesarean because of the tenderness of their scar site just below where the newborn baby needs to go.
Breastfeeding following a vaginal birth can also hurt because the sucking invokes abdominal cramps. These cramps are helpful for your uterus but can wreak havoc on you, especially with successive children. The more children you have had, in general the more painful the cramps are. I remember with my third child feeling so much pain that it rivaled the labor! And of course no epidurals possible then =) I was crying and squirming around, all the while trying to contain myself enough that my little sucker could stay on there =) So hang on for a couple days if this is you.
But back to the original question. Most of the time, having the baby hurts. Even if you get the epidural, almost all women in labor experience pain. The degree varies widely. Bill Cosby joked that his wife likened childbirth to pulling her bottom lip over her head! And the Bible tells us that God multiplied our sorrows in childbirth as a result of the Fall, so that’s probably why we see a huge difference between us and the animal kingdom. Some women labor rather easily, some in agony, and everyone else in between. Three of my close friends have had natural childbirths where they were fine pretty much until it got near pushing time. I listen to them tell their stories of laboring in the bathtub or on the labor ball and I can’t believe what I am hearing. I am no chicken and there is no WWAAAAYY that my experience of pain could compare to theirs; I felt like I was being stabbed by a knife or squeezed through in a vice by just a couple hours in. Of course, I was induced for all four of my births too, so that may have something to do with it.
Incidentally, those three friends of mine also had an easier time getting pregnant, had regular and shorter cycles, had healthier diets than mine, and were under 31. They did not go overdue very far and also seemed a little more in touch with their body/signals than I was when I first got pregnant (like they always seemed to know when they were ovulating mid-cycle). So maybe this all had something to do with it!
But I think most women who go the natural childbirth route hurt more than they could actually visualize beforehand. They describe a sort of “out of your mind” experience when it comes to the difficult part of labor, and the journey or ring “of fire” as the baby descends the birth canal in the final part. And most of them really did “labor” in much pain during the labor. So you have to take into account who you’re listening to when you’re trying to consider how much pain you’ll have. In reality, you don’t know. Many women have been surprised for good and for ill on this subject. Women who thought they’d cry for the epidural at the first contraction ended up huffing and grinning through the bearing down, and women who thought they were totally prepared through childbirth education classes find themselves calling for the anesthesiologist after one hour of experimentation! So I think it pays to be flexible. Have a vision and go for it, but be practical when the moment is upon you. Every woman is an individual, and so is every baby—so it makes sense that every pregnancy, including the labor and delivery, has special qualities of its own that need to be attended to with care and wisdom.