The “ring of fire”

At some point during birth preparations, somebody is going to tell you about how it feels to give birth. For me, the contractions were painful, but the birth itself was not, except for what is known as “the ring of fire.” Some women feel this every birth, some don’t feel it at all, and some have it at some births and not at others. I don’t want you to set yourself up for feeling more pain than is strictly necessary, but I do want to prepare you for this sensation.

First, what is it? During a vaginal birth, as your vagina expands around the largest point of the baby’s head you will often feel a pulling or burning sensation. It is brief (maybe 30 seconds), and like every other pain you feel, it impels you to change something to stop the pain. Typically, it will feel better to stop pushing, to allow your tissues to rest and expand gently. Many times when women push through the pain, they end up tearing.

Now, what does it feel like?

Open your mouth as wide as you can and hold it. Now, put your fingers in the corners of your mouth and pull your mouth wider until you feel stretching or burning. Now, imagine that at your vaginal opening. That is similar to what you might feel when your baby is born.

Yes, it’s painful, but it’s also brief. Some women are nearly terrified of the “pain of giving birth,” but they feel like they can handle the contractions. They may opt for an epidural or a local anesthetic to avoid this pain. But I gotta tell you–birth is painless compared to the contractions beforehand. If you can handle the contractions, you don’t need to worry about feeling the baby come out. For me, pushing was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done; and the sensation of the baby moving down was also empowering. The contractions were no fun; but pushing my babies out was painless, except for the ring of fire.

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