One of the first reports of men using labor pain simulations appeared in the US in 2013, with two blokes claiming that their wives exaggerated the pain felt during childbirth. They were soundly proved wrong and hailed their wives and mothers as ‘heroes’.
The first ones in China cropped up not long after due to many expecting mothers complaining that they are not receiving enough sympathy from their partners. This, combined with a significant lack of anesthesiologists, may have led to the country’s high rate of C-sections. With no live baby being squeezed out it is basically a pain endurance exercise, so I decided to grit my teeth and give it a shot.
Several hospitals in Shanghai let you try for free, but we chose Childbirth Pain Experience Centre because they give out these suave certificates if you see it through to the end, which I planned to do. How bad could it be, really?
After psyching myself up in the lift and signing the waiver about not having pre-existing heart conditions, I paid the fee and they proceeded to attach pads to my stomach.
The cables are wired up to the harmless-looking pink machine which sends ten levels of gradually increasing electric pulses into your torso, each lasting 45 seconds. The whole experience lasts about eight minutes, a long time when you’re in agonizing pain, but a fraction of childbirth.
Level 1 is like being stroked with a feather duster. Piece of cake.
The regret and doubt begins at Level 2.
At Level 3 I'm getting repeatedly punched in the stomach by millions of tiny boxers.
At 3.5, shooting pain goes down my left leg like it's being pecked at by a flock of seagulls.
3.9 and I bow out. I know, pathetic.
After a quick rest and a drink of hot water they let me try again free of charge. I breeze through level 1 and 2. Level 3 hits and I’m unhappy.
3.5 - shooting leg pains, the gulls are back.
Level 4. This is new territory and it’s shit. The tiny boxers are heavyweights with thumbtacks for knuckles. 4.5, someone is hammering nails into my torso and legs. I try to tap out but they tell me I’m just seconds away from Level 5. Apparently in real labor, this is when the baby’s head appears.
I do not make it past Level 5.
My masculine hubris well and truly humbled, I gave up the idea of ever getting that certificate. I remember someone once asking "what hurts more, getting kicked in the balls or labor?"
This. 100% this. Level 3 is vomit-inducing, then level 4 you genuinely feel like you're going to explode. Some onlookers with thousand-yard stares maintained that Level 10 is possible, but a part of you never comes back.
Of course, there is no simulation that can come close to the real thing. Painkillers are the closest women can get to "tapping out" of that experience. Until science invents a way for men to give birth, I think every man owes it to their mother to give this a shot.