Joanna Goddard belly shot

When I was pregnant for the first time, I was terrified of giving birth…

I’ve never been the toughest with pain (honestly, even jogging feels like a lot, haha), and not knowing what to expect made me even more nervous. I remember walking around Manhattan and looking at strangers who passed by. “You were born, and you were born,” I would tell myself. That ritual somehow calmed me. So many women had done this before, right?!

When I finally went into labor, the sensation was different from what I had expected. For me, here’s how it went down:

  • I had a few Braxton Hicks, or “false” contractions, in the couple weeks before Toby and Anton were born. These felt like my entire belly went hard as a rock for a few seconds. For me, it didn’t hurt at all, but I felt like I could knock on my stomach like a wooden door. Then it would just go back to normal.
  • When I actually went into labor, I didn’t realize it at first. I figured labor would feel like Braxton Hicks, but my belly never tightened up. Also, my water didn’t break early on, like it does for some women. Instead, I felt on-and-off cramps low down in my pelvis, like menstrual cramps or gas. During the ninth month of pregnancy, everything was pretty creaky (my back! my feet!), so vague discomfort seemed par for the course. But, after a couple hours, the cramps started getting stronger. We started timing them and excitedly headed into the hospital.

    Joanna Goddard belly shot

    Alex and I going to the hospital when Toby was born. We were both giddy, although I was more focused. :)

  • As my labor progressed, the cramps came every couple minutes, and would start off slowly, build to a peak, and then ease up again. The peak got higher and higher as time passed. Anton’s labor was faster and more intense than Toby’s. I remember sitting in the waiting room at the hospital, when my contractions went from zero to sixty. It felt like a washcloth was getting twisted and rung out in my pelvis. I was kneeling on the ground, rocking back and forth, moaning loudly, and rubbing my forehead on Alex’s knee. Even though many people near us were watching (what is more compelling to grandparents in the waiting room than a woman in labor?), I didn’t care AT ALL. I felt like an animal, as my body took over. The break of a minute or two between each contraction — with no pain — was a welcome relief. And I was so focused, the time was flying by.
  • With both boys, I chose to get an epidural once we were in the delivery room and I had labored for a while. With Toby, I had back labor, so I still felt lots of pressure. With Anton, the epidural completely took away the pain, even through the pushing stage. Alex and I chatted excitedly and brainstormed baby names, while watching my contractions spike on the computer monitor. I couldn’t believe the difference, it was surreal!
  • The biggest thing I remember about labor, though, was how EXHILARATING it was. Although the sensations were intense, you’re bringing a person into the world, and the experience of holding those sweet tiny boys for the first time still brings tears to my eyes, even as I type. xoxo

    If you’ve had a baby, what did your contractions feel like? Did you have an epidural? A C-section? Did you adopt or work with a surrogate? I’d love to hear about your experiences… Here’s Toby’s full birth story, if you’d like to see photos.

    P.S. More on pregnancy, and going from one to two kids.

    (Photo from when I was pregnant with Anton.)