"The ring of fire is absolutely real": 24 mums describe exactly what childbirth feels like.

As someone who has never had a baby before, most of what I know about childbirth is close to nothing. 

According to the movies, your waters will break (while you're hanging out with friends at some cafe or party or something. Whoops!) and you'll probably hail a taxi, rush to the hospital and then your baby pretty much just ZINGS straight out of you in the space of, like, 20 mins. Cute!

But alas, friends - we've been told that is in fact VERY inaccurate, truly ridiculous and not at all close to what happens during most childbirths.

Shocked and appalled.

Watch: Here are all your burning questions about childbirth, answered. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

So, what really goes on when you're giving birth to a human? 

Is it actually as painful and terrifying as people describe? (Please, say no. Pls). Are the contractions so bad that you'll scream out for an epidural? Will you really want to punch your significant other in the face mid-labour?

We went ahead and asked 24 women to tell us *exactly* what childbirth feels like. And, you guys... it's a lot.

Here's what they said:


After having two very fast births, it felt like burning basketballs were being pulled through my body. My first son was born at such speed that the umbilical cord snapped!


When you have a c-section, it feels like someone is washing up inside your tummy. That’s how my OB/GYN described it and she was 100 per cent correct. It’s the strangest sensation. Absolutely no pain, but just the feeling of someone rummaging around in your insides.


The uncontrollable urge you have to push feels like throwing up, but in the reverse direction. It comes in sudden violent waves and there is no stopping it. Contractions are like your body is sprinting up a hill, and there's this increasing pain until you get to the top, then a slow easing pain as you jog down the other side and finally feel relief at the bottom.



I've had two babes naturally without drugs and felt both. My most recent daughter, Sailor (almost one) is left in my memory, though.

I went into active/intense labour pretty quickly. I felt the first 'stings' around 11am and held out at home for as long as possible until I was leaning against the wall in the shower screaming the roof down. I just knew that it was time to go - I could barely walk without feeling like bub was going to plop out of my vagina.

After getting through traffic (and feeling every bloody pothole in the road!) we arrived at the hospital around 6.30pm. The nurses had to come down with a wheelchair because I seriously could not walk - I had so much pressure in my lower half and walking just didn't work for me.

The pain was super intense and my breathing was getting a bit ridiculous so the midwife offered me gas and I took one suck and felt like I'd been drugged. My hubby said I was white and ran over with a sick bag. Nothing came up, but I felt so off. The gas tube was thrown away, and we got stuck in!

I remember being really sweaty but also really cold, so I didn't want any ice or water. The pain came in rushes... one minute I'd be laying there just breathing heavily to myself, the next I could feel a surge of intense pain and pressure coming and I automatically lost control of my body and verbally let out who-knows-what sounds. Then it would die down again and I'd go back into myself and breathe.

I needed to push fairly soon (just as my OB got there, thank god!) and as Sailor started crowning the burning was crazzzzyyyy - I kept saying 'My God, my vagina is on FIRE!'. I could feel it stretching - the burn was insane.

Once they're FINALLY out, you feel a beautiful rush of release and a s**t load of fluid just pours out and it feels really good.... until they want to get the placenta out. I had short umbilical cords with both of my girls so getting the placenta out was tough. 

Some people can deliver it easily with a bit of help but others (like me) have to haul themselves up onto all fours and push like crazy. It's by far my least favourite thing about giving birth.


I had an epidural that stopped working in active labour and Jesus H Christ there is no other pain like that in existence.


Think of the feeling of muscle fatigue you get when you're doing squats and you're shaking and literally can't do one more squat. Contractions feel like that. The muscle is working and working, but you don't have the choice to stop. You get your mini-break and then another wave of contractions and intense muscle pain sets in.


It is honestly the most exhausted I've ever been. I found I had to move constantly to distract myself from the pain. I also got waves of nausea so that added to the exhaustion and feeling of being completely drained. 

I had the feeling of needing to do a massive poo and the pressure in my back was UNBELIEVABLE. Actually, pushing provided a little relief after all the contractions, and as the baby moves lower it feels like you're doing a massive poo (sorry!) but then as the head starts to crown you get this intense stretch and burn. 

One of my girlfriends coined it 'the ring of fire'. Before I had given birth, she told me to pull the corners of my mouth out as far as I could and that burn of my lips stretching was the closest thing she could describe to the feeling as the head emerges. And even that doesn't get close. 

It doesn't last for long but the intensity of the stretching is FULL ON! Once the head is out you don't really feel the rest, as that's the hardest bit.


My pregnancy resulted in an emergency c-section after 31 hours of labour. The c-section was not part of my birth plan… it was an unexpected turn of events. It felt like I had no control of my body from the chest down, but what I didn’t expect to feel, was the huge amount of pulling, pressure and discomfort. 

I was also cold, shaking and oddly extremely thirsty throughout the entire process. Being awake whilst a human is being pulled out of you is a bit of an overwhelming life moment to go through with a room full of (lovely) strangers.

When my (enormous) son was finally in my arms the rest of the surgery became a blur and I was completely oblivious to the fact my insides were being put back together and stitched up.


I felt like my whole body was being split in two from the vag upwards.


I had 'good' births in that whilst of course they were hectic, they were short and swift. Both were vaginal and without pain relief. My first arrived after spontaneous waters breaking and birthed less than three hours later after about two pushes - a very rapid 'active labour'. I think I was in a bit of shock after that!

My second was induced and arrived within four hours. I didn't realise I was even close to birthing. I said I needed to wee and the midwife took me to the toilet. I suddenly felt this heavy weight rush to my pelvic floor and bottom and said "that's not a poo, it's a baby!" 


They pulled me up, so I was standing, and I waddled to the door while I was trying to hold him in (!). My obstetrician got down under me and said "ok!". I would describe his birth like the feeling of a sloppy octopus falling out... so weird!

On both occasions my amazing obstetrician had me "claim my baby" and be the person who reached down to grab them as they came out, be the one to touch them first and lift them to my chest. Truly one of the greatest experiences and privileges - I never would have considered it based on the way you watch births unfold on TV.


I like to compare birth to a long haul flight. All the airlines are different but the goal is to get there and you have no choice once you've taken off. 

My first birth was a bit s**t, much like when I flew to London with Air Korea a few years back and there were no personal TV's, so I watched a big screen playing Freaky Friday dubbed in Korean, with English subtitles and wanted to parachute outta there. 

My second was more like a flight with Royal Brunei where you seem to have a lot of unnecessary stopovers, some planes had TV's and some didn't. It was fine for the price, but you wouldn't recommend it to a friend.

Obviously we all want that beautiful private higher than first-class cabin Emirates offer, but you gotta roll with what you're dealt. 

With my first, I only had gas and air (not by choice, I wanted an epidural, but it couldn't happen). I distinctly remember briefly returning to my Catholic roots and praying to pass out. I wanted to be unconscious - it was the only way I could imagine the whole thing getting better. I promised God all sorts of things.

Then soon after, the midwife was like 'good news, we're in the final stage' and the relief was amazing... 'just about another one and a half hours and you will have a baby' and I legit cried. 

The ring of fire is absolutely real and nowhere near as pleasant as the Johnny Cash song.

I had the epidural of my dreams with my second and there's still no escaping that ring - although it just turns into the ring of immense pressure that feels like it's going to break your pelvis.

I'm due with number three in five weeks, and I'm not at all terrified. Fingers crossed for an Emirates birth experience!


To me, contractions felt like someone had their hands up inside my pelvis and were pushing the bones apart with Hulk-like strength. And then it would stop and you would feel totally fine for a couple of minutes before it comes over you again (and again).



It’s like running a marathon - you have to keep going and going and going. And, like a marathon, you can’t stop to eat or sleep.

Contractions feel like very intense period cramps, and by the end they are very strong and painful. My labour went for 16 hours and I only left the house once I was already pushing (that wasn’t the plan). I arrived fully dilated and got straight in the birth pool and pushed the baby out one and a half hours later.

I did hypno-birthing, which was very helpful and allowed me to do it without drugs. The pushing part also hurt, but when I think back to it my main memory is of exhaustion! It was a very positive experience for me and if I have another baby, I’d like it to be similar.


They don't really explain that the pushing is very similar to how you push out a poop. It feels like you are too! And then often you actually do poop. Also, pushing out the placenta feels like giving birth a second time. I also had fluid accumulated all over my lower body that you could push around... it was so weird.


So much pressure. Everywhere in your body. And in the final push when baby comes out it is the greatest relief EVER!


I remember wondering how I could be in that much pain but not dying. I did drug-free births. Funnily enough though, I would literally go through that every day to feel that high of holding your baby for the first time.


This most amazing physiologically powerful sensations. Yes, it was pain. But this pain was not from damage or disease, it was coming from me. 

My whole body focused on one task. All my focus and energy pouring into these intensely powerful and painful surges. Then in between, rest, stillness and bliss... then my breathing changed, and I felt this intense downward shift in my energy.

Everything works to move my baby down, like doing the biggest poo you've ever done. You can feel the tiny human moving through your pelvis and then they come out and are on your chest and everything stops. The pain, the pressure, everything stops just like that. And you did it. 

It hurts, God it hurts, but it's the body doing exactly what it was designed to do.


I remember thinking that this must be what it feels like to break every bone in your body at the same time, and that the pain was way beyond what I had been able to imagine. 

Towards the end it was like an out-of-body experience and I suddenly understood why others had described it that way. I also gained great clarity on the ring of fire description!



I had silent labours. With my first two, my waters broke at home. Then when I went to hospital, they hooked me up to a machine to measure contractions, but I didn't feel them. I was just chatting away to the midwives when they said the contractions were really strong. It only hurt when it was time to push.

I went in to be induced with my third a few days before my due date. I had the gel applied and expected to stay overnight and give birth the next day. I wasn't hooked up to a machine, and the midwife didn't believe me when I told her about my other labours. After I asked to be checked, I was rushed to birth suite in a wheelchair, and gave birth in one push six minutes later.


I felt like I was getting stabbed in the back and front (baby was posterior). I also vomited from the pain of it all - even before the drugs.


Contractions change. No one tells you that. They start by feeling like extra strong menstrual cramps. But then your body just starts pushing with each contraction and those pushes get more intense. You feel your pelvic muscles contracting and pushing for you. You literally can’t not push.

I found that as someone who has trained in singing and had great control of my diaphragm, it didn’t feel like pushing out a poo for me. It felt like taking a deep breath and using my core muscles to push that air down into my pelvic region.


It felt empowering. I loved labour. I found hypno-birthing to be the most amazing thing. It worked so well that I was pretty much asleep most of my labour, except for the final hour when he was accidentally born in the shower at home (we were meant to go to a hospital). 

The uncontrollable urge to push is amazing, it's kind of like that feeling when you have food poisoning and your body is just expelling everything from your system.


It’s such a different feeling for each labour and birth. My first was the least painful. I felt euphoric and the contractions would come in tingling waves intensifying until they peaked and stopped, and then nothing until the next one came. My waters then broke, and I pushed him straight out.

My second was stuck and twisted and it felt like my vagina was being torn apart and there was this burning, stretching pain. Turns out it was stretching (I had lots of stitches).

My third was born in an hour with no break in contractions and came out in his sac. Standing up in the hospital hallway was an hour of pain like nothing else. I felt like my whole body was convulsing.


For my fourth, I was induced. I hated it. I could feel the drugs running through me and wanted to pull all the monitoring stuff off me. I felt hot and the pains were intense but quick.

My fifth, I struggled with the birth mentally. I couldn’t get my head in the game. It felt like it went forever (it was very quick) and I felt exhausted and that the pain was gruelling and relentless, but then I snapped and went f**k this and pushed her out and have never felt so much relief as the moment I felt her body slip out after her head!


I’ve been induced twice and delivered two little girls. It feels like the immense pressure of period pain and needing to poo. The burn is real. BUT! Compared to getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist, I’d give birth a hundred times!


You'll vomit (the most horrible, frothy gross vomit ever), you'll be nonverbal but scream and groan, you can't stand noises and you're definitely not "in the room". I read somewhere that in transition the mother goes to retrieve their child's soul. I believe it, I was absolutely somewhere else in transition. Then suddenly I'm back on earth, pushing my baby out. And, no gas or pain relief altering my mind to feel like this...

Feature image: Getty

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