Is Birth Painful?

Well, in short, yes... or maybe it's no... Was that not a helpful answer? You hear both extremes from "It's the worst pain I've ever experienced in my entire life" to "It was exhilarating" and even "orgasmic". So who's right and what should you expect? 

Official disclaimer

First let me say, you're about to hear my opinion on the subject of pain in childbirth. Every once in a great while I have an opinion that not everyone else in the world agrees with and so it is very okay for you to not agree with me on this. But since my opinion is the only one I have it's what I will have to go with ;)


I have really grown to love this quote because I think it sums up labor beautifully. According to midwife Suzanne Stalls, it is hard work and it does hurt a lot BUT you can do it! We'll talk more about how we all perceive pain differently and about the difference between pain and suffering in another blog post but for now let's look a little more into this concept of hard work and pain.


There is no such thing as an easy birth- birth is a journey, and it involves hard work. It’s not easy. I don’t care how quick labor was or how “easy” the birthing mother made it look, giving birth to a child, becoming the mother of this child, is not easy… it’s good, it’s miraculous, it’s empowering, it’s mind-blowing, but it is hard work.

So? Is labor as hard as I think it is?

Well. Labor is work. There is just no doubt about that. I've done a little bit of work in my life and some of it has been awful! (I quickly found out that being on my feet all day as a furniture sales person was not the right career path for me!)  My husband always says that he never worked a day in his life as a public school music teacher... he taught Jr. High kids... some people might think he has a screw loose because you couldn't pay them enough to spend 50-80 hours a week with kids who were just barely on the adult side of puberty! Now, obviously it was work! I can attest to the fact that 10- 12 hour days, discipline issues, administration nightmares and all of the other fun things teachers deal with is definitely WORK! But for him the joy in doing what he loved made it so rewarding that it was like getting paid to play! When you are doing what you are made to do, with a mind that is focused on what you love, and in a supportive environment you can work so, so hard and love every minute of it! It's a similar concept in labor. Yes, it is hard work but hard work is not bad! Actually, I can't think of anything that I really love to do, you know those things that come from that passionate place deep inside, that doesn't involve a whole lot of incredibly hard work!

So? Is childbirth painful?

If you want to know the feeling [of labor pain], just take your bottom lip and pull it over your head.
— Carol Burnett

I've stalled long enough. It's time to get to the real question. Is labor painful? But, is that really what you're asking? Because if that's all you want to know I'll just tell you that yes, I believe that labor is definitely perceived as painful for most women (I also truly believe that there are some women who do not perceive childbirth as painful but more on that at a different time). I don't think that's really what you want to know though. I mean, come on! We've all seen childbirth in the movies and on T.V.! Clearly it hurts like hell! Only, it doesn't... or a least it doesn't have to be like in the movies and in fact, it almost never is!

We are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth. It’s profitable to scare women about birth. But let’s stop it. I tell women: Your body is not a lemon.
— Ina May Gaskin

Hollywood has a lot to say about childbirth and for most of us that's where we get our information about what to expect in labor. (I might have a whole separate blog about that because I don't want to go off on too much of a tangent here). So if you already 'know' from a lifetime of Hollywood births that labor is indeed painful what is it that you are really asking? I think the real question is "Can I handle it? Yeah, I know that my mother-sister-aunt-friend made it through but can I do it?"

Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is intense. Yes, you can do it!

I may have never met you but I feel like I can say with a huge amount of certainty that YOU can do it! Your body was designed to birth the baby that you carry. Not only that but your body knows how to birth your baby. Take the waves one at a time and rest deeply in-between. (You will never understand a power nap until you've slept for the 2-5 minutes in-between contractions!) Trust that your body knows the process and that your mind doesn't have to know what to do. Just follow your body. And then know that the discomfort, the intensity, the pain of labor has a beautiful purpose.

The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.
— JOSH WILSON, Before the Morning

One of my favorite songs says 'The pain that you've been feeling can't compare to the joy that's coming'. Josh Wilson borrowed this concept from the Bible (Romans 8:18) and he was talking about life's difficulties in comparison to the glory of eternity. The song goes on to say 'Once you feel the way of glory, All your pain will fade to memory' and that is so applicable to labor and birth! Yes, I do believe birth is hard work. And yes, I do believe that it very often involves pain (or at the very least great intensity!). But oh the joy that comes from it so far, far outweighs everything!

Moments after birth you already know that it was all worth it and that you were enough.


The pains of childbirth were altogether different from the enveloping effects of other kinds of pain. These were pains one could follow with one’s mind.
— Margaret Mead

I'll pick up with this quote from Margaret Mead in my next post. There is a difference in our perception of all other pain and labor pain.

We'll talk about that next time,