The Five Stages of Dilation

Natural Childbirth

Stage 1: DENIAL. Mild discomfort starts to poke you where the sun don’t shine, as if you were having your period. Things are a little sore and tender, but it’s nothing to worry about. You get optimistic and hopeful, and even think your delivery will be pretty, even glorious. You know, like what childbirth might look like if the tampon commercial people were to film it. You consider the thought that it might not even hurt at all. Perhaps that mild discomfort is just your positioning. I’ll just adjust my legs over there. Or run through a meadow, Julie Andrews-style. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

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Stage 2: ANGER. “WHATTTAAAF…” You’re lucky if you even finish the sentence. Contractions spike into a whole new motherfucker of intensity level. You aren’t – can’t be — prepared for this. Like when you eat so much, and so many different types of food, that it’s all going rotten in your intestines. You want to scratch the wall, your breath is shallow and you can’t wait to shit it all out, because a pain a hundred times worse than food poisoning creeps out and around you. It’s a migraine in your gut, all-powerful, all-consuming. One pain to rule them all. Frickin’ ouch, mother fucker.

To aggravate matters, after hours of begging, pleading, swearing and sweating, you’re told you’re only dilated about one centimeter. Nine more to go, sweet cheeks, but hold in there. You’ve never felt more desire to punch someone more than in this moment. Wait, did I say punch? I meant to say rip the beating heart out of the chest of an unsuspecting, innocent human being. You croak out, “Honey, could you come here a minute?”

Stage 3: BARGAINING. You start questioning the integrity of the measurements. They’re subjective, even lazy. They’ve gotta be. C’mon! How can two fingers put together know that you are barely one centimeter dilated? You demand a re-count. Those fingers are huge! They’ve gotta be five or six centimeter, at least. Get a damned protractor up there. A tape measure, something. The ripening pain in your abdomen makes you think that a fallopian tube just exploded. “I know I said I didn’t want drugs until the last possible minute. But yeah, I want ‘em. Gimme.”

Hopefully you are in better luck, unlike me. My midwife, she said I should wait until at least four centimeters. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T HAVE DRUGS YET?”

Demand a recount.

Stage 4: DEPRESSION. You’re not progressing as your delusional self thought it would happen. The pain keeps increasing, as if someone is reaching inside your abdomen through your vagina, trying to detach your uterus with rusty, jailhouse-sharpened spoons. Repeatedly. Every four minutes.

By now, you feel there’s nothing you can do, other than… wait. Squeezing your eyes might help. Those massages, that breathing pattern, those pressure points, are your onlyhelp.




Stage 5: ACCEPTANCE. You realize you’ve managed to make it for close to 12 hours under all that shitting-fallopian-explosion-uterus-extraction pain. You don’t know if your body has given up or gone numb.

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You know help will come, you will only need to stay focused until that happens. Because it HAS to happen. It HAS to.

Months from now, you’ll hear stories about yourself. Stories that you have a starring role in. Stories that are vaguely familiar, but you don’t. Remember. Doing that.

Like when you release your husband’s ears and order him, on pain of death, to fetch the epidural guy…

Related post: Pooping During Childbirth: You’ll Survive It

About the writer

Nadia is behind Mama and the City, a blog about the juggling act of being a mom with one chiquita, a full-time professional and a photography hobbyist. In addition to sharing her observations from around the city, she discusses her family, which has fostered a special comfort writing about her mother and the experience of growing up with a parent who has Bipolar Manic Disorder. Also find her on Twitter @mama_andthecity  and Facebook.


Imani 1 year ago

Funny article. I didnt have quite the same experience. My labor wasnt painless by any means, but I never felt like I was gonna die.

If I had to sit in a hospital bed for my labor I wouldve asked for meds. Cause no joke, contractions hurt. The only thing that kept me sane was movement. Walking, swaying, shaking. Lol. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was sit down and rest. But it made the pain almost unbearable. So I kept moving.

I think the pain has a lot to do with how you react to it. When women go in expecting the worst, they prep their body to have that kind of experience. You tense up. You create adrenaline. This intensifies the pain. Melatonin and oxytocin are whats needed to help further along your labor. Melatonin is produced when its dark. Like when you go to sleep. Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone. Light touches, kissing….stuff like that produces oxytocin.

I know its not easy to think happy thoughts when youre in labor, but it works. This isnt some crunchy mumbo jumbo. Its chemicals, physiology, science. Use it to your advantage!

Breah Gardiner 1 year ago

I didn’t realize was in labour until I was already a 7-8 but then I took forever (like 3 hours) to get to 10cm. With both my kids.

Kimberly King Cox 1 year ago

Had both my kids with no meds. Dr wanted me to have it but I refused

Kate Micklow Harwan 1 year ago

Oh man. And the back labor….awful.

Giovanna Capane Holden 1 year ago

Hope your water breaks first. They’ll admit you to triage & you’ll have plenty of time to dilate & get the epidural when the first twinge of contractions starts. Lol

Katherine Hunt Arabis 1 year ago


Meg 1 year ago

Had to laugh! When I was pregnant with my first child, my doctor asked if I was going to get an epidural. When I said no, he got a horrified look on his face & told me that beginning stages of labor are easy, until you feel your body is being ripped apart. He begged me to get an epidural because, “Giving birth is like trying to fit a bowling ball through a key hole!” I laughed until I was in labor, which was 12 hours of back labor, with barely any time between contractions & an evil nurse who kept saying, ” I don’t see so much pain.” 2 minutes after she uttered those extremely irritating words, my son was born.

Amber 1 year ago

I both understand this, and have trouble with it. I was in labor for a total of 34 hours. Was it fun? No. Was it exhausting? Yes. Was it painful? Of course. I had an epidural about 6 hours before I had my son because it took that long to get to 5cm and then get the guy up to do it. But I just breathed through it and held my husband’s hand. I wasn’t angry with him, or how long it was taking. In fact, I laughed when they’d come to check me because they’d bring a student to try first and he almost always got it wrong by 1cm. I got a fever, got sick, and had them try to tell me I wasn’t in labor because it was taking so long to progress. But you have to focus on the good. I’m about to do it again, and I know I can make it regardless of time or pain because my husband, and mom, will be there to help me, and to help each other.

Rachel Margaret Shively 1 year ago

Doing this for the third time in a few weeks. Last time I got to the hospital at 7cm and he was out in 4hours. This time the labor will be quick, I know it!!! This article though, way to freak out first time moms.

Cait Hauskins 1 year ago

Oh my god…horrifying!

Kimberly Thurston 1 year ago

The ring of fire was the worst for me. Everything else I could handle.

Mindy Aloes 1 year ago

“Get a damned protractor up there”- HA!!

David Patti Carl 1 year ago

My middle daughter was a dry birth, and the RNs were telling me NOT TO PUSH because the doc wasn’t there yet, I screamed to CATCH THE BABY she’s coming!

Bonnie Kulenkamp 1 year ago

Getting ready to give birth for the first time in a few months and stuff like this scares the crap out of me

    Judy Burgess 1 year ago

    Dont take any notice of it. Google positive birthing. It is possible to enjoy it. Yes its intense and yes it can be painful – the key is to stay calm, focused and breathe through each contraction…..this could be hours and hours but you can, SO do it! Try and stay active too – google active labour. Good luck.

Rebecca Workman 1 year ago

Lol. Yep. Even told my fiance to “quit fucking rubbing my hand like that!”

Sarah Brubaker 1 year ago

The pain for me was UNIMAGINABLE. I couldn’t believe it was real. I am also 5 feet tall, my baby was 9 lbs 13 oz and 22 inches long. Umm YEEAAAAHHHH.

Elizabeth Sarsfield LeJeune 1 year ago

Mine did not have time to work and I don’t wish that on anyone!

Kaylie Jordan 1 year ago

I’ve been at 2cm for 2 weeks now, soo ready to be done. The contractions i can handle so far, it’s the stabbing my cervix with an ice pick that sucks!

Jacqueline Oliver Scotto 1 year ago

This sums up my labor perfectly… 70 hours of hell! Was 1cm for two days with full on contractions…. Hung in there until epidural bliss! And then the pushing started… Ouch! And some say is becomes blurry afterward and you don’t remember it. Yeah right!


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