It's the "mother of all menstrual cramps." It's a wave; you have to "ride it." It's not actually painful, but "intense." It takes over your "whole body." It hurts in your back. There's an "elephant sitting on your pelvis." It "kills." It's a very "bad, strong charley horse in the abdomen."
In some ways these descriptions are all true. But put together, these images and metaphors can be confusing. Maybe that's because women experience (and describe) contractions so differently. But given the variation in experience and semantics, there is still the fact that a contraction is a particular bodily function. Since the question, "But what does it really feel like?" is asked to me so often in childbirth class, I've come up with a few ways to describe it. Here's my best shot: