Fascinating Video: Dutch Men Experience Labor

Last month, two dutch men experienced labor. Or at least, they came as close as cis men can come to experiencing labor. They strapped themselves to machines that simulated labor by tightening their stomach muscles, and set a goal to get through two hours of it. You can watch the results for yourself.

I think their responses look pretty darn accurate. What say you?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Niemand

    They didn’t have electrodes on their backs. The experience isn’t complete without back labor. Also, 2 hours? That barely covers the time spent pushing in a typical first labor.

    I notice that the one who finished did say that the experience made him hesitant to put his wife through something similar. Maybe he’ll be careful with the contraceptives from now on.

  • Christine

    I’m still not sure about this video. If they didn’t have all those nice hormones to help ease the pain it’s a lot harder (and they’re going to remember the pain, unlike real labour, where right afterwards you feel that it wasn’t that bad).

    • Niemand

      This wasn’t my experience with labor at all. I remember the pain quite clearly and it was considerably worse than any other pain I’ve felt. Right afterwards I felt terrified of the pain coming back and two years later I trembled when I walked into the hospital where I was treated. Labor is painful and terrifying and, if anything, the guys got off easy.

  • Sue Blue

    Uh..no. While they may have experienced “charlie horses” in their abdominal muscles, labor doesn’t really contract the large abdominal muscles. It’s an internal experience. The pain is caused by the intense muscular contraction of the uterus (not abdominal muscles) stimulating nociceptors in the pelvis, cervix, vagina and perineum through stretching and pressure. Since these guys don’t have such internal organs, and didn’t have internal contractions forcing a large object down through any orifice, I don’t think this experience could be compared to labor. Also, even in multiparas (women who’ve had more than one child), labor usually lasts longer than 2 hours. And of course, there’s the actual delivery, which is usually the apogee of pain, which nothing can simulate in a male. About the only thing I can say about this “experiment” is that it may have given two guys a bare inkling, and a better appreciation of, what women go through.

    • Jason Dick

      Well, even if different muscles were used, it is entirely possible to simulate the overall experience. What I would really like to know is: was this technique calibrated by having women who have experienced labor themselves judge how good a simulation it actually was?

      • Noelle

        Organ pain is different than skeletal muscle pain.

      • Sue Blue

        Nope, not possible in a male, for the reasons I stated above. They do not have anything analogous to a contracting womb, dilating cervix, or vagina. The pain of cramping internal organs is completely different than the pain of, say, a charley horse in a muscle. Passing a kidney stone or experiencing severe cholecystitis (gallstone attack with inflammation) is about the only thing I can think of that might approximate the internal pain and duration of labor – although labor pain is accompanied by an intense pressure. The bones of the pelvis spread and separate, so I suppose a man whose experienced a broken pelvis might understand that part at least.

  • plunderb

    Interesting. I agree that it’s difficult to simulate labor exactly, but it was nice to see that it made that one guy a bit more empathetic. I wonder if anyone would be willing to go through a whole simulated pregnancy — taking nausea-inducing pills every day for a few months, wearing progressively heavier weight vests, messing with blood pressure, some sort of bladder clamp that makes you have to pee all the time, these electrodes, etc. It would probably be pretty dangerous, though (just like pregnancy!).

    But ditto the above posts — I’m pregnant with my second now and would love to have a two-hour labor!

    • Christine

      No, you wouldn’t. In a two-hour labour it comes fast and scary (maybe less so if it’s not your first) and hard. I was shocked to discover that, normally, it didn’t hurt to do the breathing they taught us for managing labour pains. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t even do a normal labour. All I was up for was curling up on the toilet (before the midwife came) and in the delivery bed (at the hospital).

      • plunderb

        Lol — my first labor was 60+ hours. Hopefully there is a happy medium!

      • Monika

        I guess each labour is different. My first and so far only was 2.5h and it hurt a lot but partly that was because there wasn’t time for any heavy drugs. I don’t have anything to compare to but I think I would rather a shorter labour compared to a longer one. Certainly once I could push and was fully dilated the whole experience improved (still painful but with purpose suddenly).

        I don’t remember the pain being in the abdominal muscles though, not mostly.

  • HelenaTheGrey

    I think something like this is good because it at least gives these men some kind of an idea what labour is like. I disagree with Christine about the belief that right after labour you forget about the pain. My pain was actually worse after labour than it was when I was pushing. I had horrific pains delivering the placenta and then my uterus contractions after that were some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and I definitely remember it. Yes, I have a baby and that makes me very happy, but I did not forget the pain of labour or post-labour. And like Sue Blue said, they got a minimal taste of what the pain might be like, but without the actual internal organs, they can’t “really” know what the pain is actually like.

    Likewise, I would point out that there is a great deal of fear for many women in labour. I was terrified…I had no idea what to expect and the fear added to the pain. I doubt I will have as much of that the 2nd time around, but it was very real the first time. Also, I vomited for 9 months before delivering my baby. I barely functioned for about 4 of those 9 months, living in my bed and on my bathroom floor, wasting away, and terrified that I would never feel good again. I had a great deal of pre-labour pain, swelling, body changes, reflux, etc. I know women who feel fantastic for their entire pregnancy and would do it again in a heartbeat. I know women who loved labour and delivery. But please do not forget that not everyone has that lovely experience. And the experience adds to the very real pain of the moment, which will last much longer than 2 hours typically.

    But still, all that considered, I am glad that they did it and that the men didn’t act like it was no big deal. I think a lot of men are very sensitive to the fact that this pain is real for the women in their lives, but for those who still say women are just big wimps, this might give them reason to pause.

    • Daughter

      It is interesting how different people’s experiences can be. I went through this exact situation during pregnancy (and for that reason, stopped at one child): Also, I vomited for 9 months before delivering my baby. I barely functioned for about 4 of those 9 months, living in my bed and on my bathroom floor, wasting away, and terrified that I would never feel good again. I had a great deal of pre-labour pain, swelling, body changes, reflux, etc.

      I was induced at 37 weeks because I was dangerously thin for a pregnant woman and was leaking amniotic fluid. What I didn’t know about induction was that it means one non-stop contraction, with no breaks in between.

      But you know what? I did forget about the labor pains, right afterward. My daughter was born in 7 hours, and she was healthy and beautiful. I felt strong for having gone through such hard labor and making it through, after having felt so weak during pregnancy. And the seven hours was a piece of cake compared to the nine months that preceded it. Childbirth felt like a victory compared to pregnancy.

      This is not to knock what you wrote, just to add that you’re right, everyone reacts differently.

    • kisekileia

      There are anti-nausea meds for pregnant women. Could you not get them, or did they not work on you?

      • Daughter

        Anti-nausea meds didn’t work for me. Acid reflux compounded the problem.

      • HelenaTheGrey

        Didn’t work for me either. They had me on several different ones, but on the best days, they took the edge off. On the worst, they did nothing but give me some side effects.

  • shortcake

    This was interesting, and I do agree that there is no real male simulation for pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
    As far as pain goes, I’ve had several people, my MIL included, that liken passing kidney stones to delivering a baby. That’s about the closest analogy I’ve ever heard.

    I wouldn’t wish kidney stones on a dog I didn’t like.

    • Niemand

      A friend of mine who has had 8 children and kidney stones says kidney stones are minor pain, hardly worth taking an aspirin for.

      • HelenaTheGrey

        Haha! Well, different strokes as they say. But my family has a history of kidney stones and we’ve almost all had them. While the women agree to disagree on which is worse, stones or labour, we would none of us say that it is a “minor pain.” I’ve known close to 100 people who’ve had stones, and not heard a single one express it that way. Would that we were all so lucky as her.

      • Niemand

        I’m afraid it’s more of an expression of what her labors were like than how not painful her kidney stones were. Also, her pain tolerance. She also didn’t bother with post-op meds after major surgery. People blow off labor pain because it’s “normal” and “natural” and after all only women get it, but it can be nasty.

      • HelenaTheGrey

        I figured that might be the case. I’ve had 3 stones in my life, but only 1 baby. 1 of the stones wasn’t that big of a deal and I didn’t take any meds for it or go to the hospital. 2 were horrific. 1 was when I was pregnant and could barely have any pain meds and I’d say it was probably at least equal to and potentially a little bit worse than labor. The horrific one I had when I wasn’t pregnant was pretty bad, but the biggest difference was I was able to go to the hospital and the pain meds they gave me pretty much just knocked me out so I slept through a lot of the pain. However, it did so much damage that I was in pain for months after it passed. I’ve talked to women who think stones are worse than labour and vice versa. But the main thing is that not all stones are alike and not all labours are alike…and of course, not all people are alike or even the same from day to day. Clearly, there will be no agreeing on which is worse, but I wouldn’t wish a kidney stone on most people.

  • Noelle

    The guys look to be in pain, but as already mentioned they don’t have the right parts so it’s impossible to recreate with electrodes. Contractions come from the uterus, not the abdominal muscles. The baby moves out through and tears occur in the cervix, vagina, labia, and perineum. That’s some pain right there. Every labor is different. My own were fast and very painful, with a nurse telling me she pushed her 9 pounder out au naturale. I had already assisted with lots of deliveries by that point, so I wasn’t having her derision slow down my request for the epidural. My labor, my spine, my choice lady. As my first required an episiotomy and vacuum assist, I very much appreciated the epidural.

  • Chrissy

    Apparently I have masochistic tendencies, because I really enjoyed watching those guys writhing. I just have to note though, this is how you get through ANY type of pain! There’s the acceptance, the breathing, the swearing, and so on. I do it when I stub my toe, burn myself cooking, or am on my period and cramping like a mother effer. These guys might just as well have bashed themselves in the nuts with baseball bats and called it a day, their experience was hardly revolutionary.

  • Christine

    I think this comment thread is a wonderful example of how varied labour experiences can be. I know I must have been in pain because of various things that indicate it, but I honestly don’t remember it until I was delivering the placenta. I think I’ve only met one woman who remembers the pain (she had to get an epidural – her assesment of it was “well, it’s better than labour”, which was terrifying before having the baby, and being worried that I’d need one.)

    • victoria

      I’d hoped to go natural, but I was induced. 90 second contractions with 30 seconds in between. It was incredible to me just how incredibly effective the epidural was. I felt absolutely nothing until time to push. No spinal headache or anything afterwards, either — a woman I know had a spinal headache recently and was adamant that it was worse than unmedicated labor (and she’s in a position to know).

      • Christine

        I’m very glad that I wanted to go natural. I wouldn’t have been able to get an epidural if I asked (so I didn’t bother), and if I’d relied on getting one I wouldn’t have known what to do… (Granted, I also relied on breathing not hurting, and on contractions stopping, so I might not have been any worse off.)

        The friend who got one was commenting on how effective hers was. It has something to do with her mother being a nurse at that hospital – no one wanted to screw up their supervisor’s daughter’s treatment. So they over did it a bit: she couldn’t feel anything from about mid-chest down. She got to go home as soon as it wore off though, so she didn’t suffer for it (she also doesn’t have my fear of needles).

      • swimr1

        I laughed when the midwife told the guy who quit he had 55 more minutes. I could so relate!
        I wanted to go natural on my first and didn’t realize that pitocin would so greatly intensify the labor experience. I started labor early on a Saturday and the doctor wanted to speed along my delivery. I didn’t know that pitocin without an epidural is a really STUPID idea!!!
        Pitocin was administered at 10:30am and by 1pm I was very ready to ditch the natural childbirth option. The nurse sent for the epidural team and I felt a little like a loser but was in too much pain to care. The nurse then turns to my parents (who are still in the room) and tells them to go to lunch because I have at least 5 0r 6 more hours!!! OMG – I thought I would die unless that epidural got there ASAP!
        Fortunately, about 10 minutes after my parents left, I felt the urge to push and my husband ran to find the nurse. I had the baby 20 minutes later. No time for the epidural (until AFTER I gave birth and the doctor had to give me stitches for tearing and an episiotomy).
        I had epidurals for my other two sons and, let me tell you, THAT is the way to go…

  • Sam Grover

    What struck me was that the one guy could QUIT. Women don’t have that option. That being said, I had twins with less than 90 minutes of ‘hard labor’. I hit 10 cm. at 12:40 and could start pushing some, first one arrived at 1:53 and the 2nd at 2:00. But, they were 4′ and 4’9″, so they weren’t too big.

  • Aimee

    I think it is a bit sad that watching this I wondered how many men would be willing to do this (imperfect though it is) to get a sense of what their pregnant partners are going to go through. Sad because I don’t think many would. In the US anyway.

    It is true that part of the experience of labor is it being the end of a long and exhausting pregnancy and being pumped so full of hormones you can hardly retain coherency (or maybe that was just me). But the idea is to give them in the general idea and I think it was successful. Especially because they know that it isn’t exactly what it feels like and is likely far worse, or at least comes with a lot of other uncomfortable stuff. I mean, they didn’t even poop in front of everyone ;). (I didn’t either, but I did pee on my doctor at the first push).

  • jose

    Mandatory for every anti abortion elected official.

    • SophieUK

      YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! If you want to force this on others by law then you should be legally required to go through something similar. But they don’t get to quit and it has to last 60 hours! Still wouldn’t come close to an entire pregnancy and labour!

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    Screw that. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through it. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of trap.

  • J-Rex

    I’m so terrified of giving birth!! Overall I don’t think I want kids, but I can see myself changing my mind in the future. But every time I hear about giving birth, I decide for sure that I will never have kids.
    Me and one of my sisters have really painful cramps. We asked another sister who has a baby how much worse it is than cramps and she just gave us this look…She said that when a contraction would hit, it was so painful that she felt like she wasn’t even in her body anymore. She wanted a natural birth, but ended up with an epidural.
    That’s something I could never do unless I was 200% sure I wanted to raise a child. How do people honestly think it’s okay to force someone through that??

    • kisekileia

      On the other hand, I have a friend who didn’t realize she was in labour because the pain wasn’t any worse than her menstrual cramps. People really seem to vary with regard to labour pain.

      • Christine

        And not just how much – what kind of pain you get can vary a lot, and that can have a lot of an effect on how well you can deal with it. (And remember – most women do have the option of saying “I quit” to the pain, and getting an epidural. You’ll still be tired, but you won’t feel the contractions.) What I find interesting is all the women in this thread who have traumatic memories of labour. Maybe I know some who remember the pain, but they didn’t want to scare the first-time mother by admitting it to me.

      • Anat

        You can only get an epidural until a certain stage of labor. After that, if things get worse than you can handle your options become more limited.

        The most traumatic memory I have of labor has to do with annoying paternalistic medical staff. I do remember being in pain, I spent the last few hours mumbling ‘I can’t do this any more’ with each contraction and drifting into almost sleep between them. But I can’t really reconstitute the actual sensation of the pain in my mind. Shortly after the birth the memory was a lot more concrete. Wouldn’t call it traumatic though.

      • Christine

        Hence my “most women”. I can’t remember at what point you can’t have an epidural, but I couldn’t get one by the time I arrived at the hospital. (Given how well I react to other pain relief I’m kind of glad that the option was taken away.) And even though I had the wash of helpful hormones I remember third stage labour hurting (i.e. after the baby’s out.) But I was an unusual case – the baby was taken away right after birth, they didn’t place her on me for 5-10 minutes afterwards.

        I will say that the idea “oh, by the time you can’t have an epidural it’s almost over” was bloody annoying (yes, worthy of swearing), as I spent significantly more time in labour past the point of no epidural than I did before that point. And from all the data I can gather (including how worried I remember everyone being when I was in labour), that doesn’t add up to me getting off easy, as much as my mother thinks it does.

  • http://winanipad3x.com/ http://winanipad3x.com

    I am pretty sure We have see this same kind of assertion in other places, it ought to be gaining popularity while using public.

  • Tori

    Had a natural birth. I just kind of accepted it was GOING to hurt. It did, I handled it, the actual pushing stage was really odd. The pain melted away and with every push I had a massive orgasm. The labor was 29 hours though. I did at one point feel like I was actually going to totally lose my mind. Wouldn’t do it any differently though!