Until you’ve gone through it once, the bodily sensations of labor and delivery remain a mystery—all we’ve got to go off are the purple-faced women pushing out babies in movies, your mom’s ‘eh it wasn’t that bad’ brush off decades after the fact, and mom friends who, kindly, may spare you the hardcore details to ease your jitters.

The pain of contractions (aka: the tightening of your uterine muscles, which helps dilate the cervix and shimmy baby down the birth canal) depends on a number of things—the positioning of your baby, the intensity of the muscle movement, or your tolerance for pain. (We haven’t found anyone who said they necessarily feel good, but we all get through them, right?) To pull back the curtain a bit, we asked six moms who’ve recently given birth to articulate what their contractions felt like.

A Charlie Horse

“At the peak of each contraction ‘wave’, mine felt like a terrible charley horse inside my uterus—one that I couldn’t stretch or move to escape. When you can’t wiggle out of it you do the only thing left—moan.” -Julie S.

Worst Period Cramps

“They were the worst period cramps I’ve ever had... times a thousand. It felt like there was a little ember inside me that would grow into a full forest fire in a matter of seconds—and then just as quickly as it started it would die out.” -Mary B.

Spine Tornado

“Because my baby was sunny-side up they felt like an excruciating, spine-against-spine tornado that started at my rectal area and exploded up and out along my spine. I endured this for 20 hours before getting an epidural.” -Shannon T.

Twisting my Uterus

“It was like someone was reaching inside of me, squeezing and twisting my uterus with their hand as hard as they possibly could.” -Sarah L.

Sweet Relief of the Epidural

“I really believe that the only way women have more than one kid is because your mind legitimately blacks out the contraction pain—I only remember throwing up because of it, and then that sweet, sweet relief of the epidural.” -Megan H.

Breaking Your Tailbone

'They started from the tip of my tailbone like it was this blossoming pain that wrapped up and around. Kind of like breaking your tailbone in a snowboarding fall over and over again.'-Kate L.