1. Get to know yourself Think about what makes you tick and what you really want. Are you skeptical or respectful of the medical establishment? Ask yourself, if you had no constraints, how would you want to give birth? Does one option make you say: “Yes! That makes total sense!” Do others make you squirm and think: “Yikes! I would never do that in a million years.” Your gut reaction tells you which choice is right for you.
2. Take a peek at the other side If you are leaning toward natural birth, also take a look at materials that argue for medicated birth. If you’re set on a hospital delivery, read up on birth centers and home births. You might discover that your choice does not have to be all or nothing: Elements of one birth option can be incorporated into a different one.
3. Let go of the fear While the pain of childbirth is real, so are the many options for alleviating it. Instead of fixating on how bad you expect the pain to feel, focus on how you can handle it, whether through HypnoBirthing, water birth, a relaxation mantra or an epidural. Read more about the fear factor here.
4. Get the scoop from real-life women Talk to mothers who’ve been through the kind of birth experience you desire. If you don’t know any yourself, ask your midwife, doctor, doula or birthing center to hook you up with women who can give you an honest narrative of what really goes down.
You can also read birth stories from some of our Real Moms here: Dana's amazing water birth tale; Kate's triumph through natural birth; Emily as she gives birth for the first time; Zoe as she worked through changes to her birth plan and intervention; or this up-close and personal look at Carole and her c-section delivery of twins.
5. Choose your doctor or midwife as carefully as you choose your spouse Seriously. The single most important factor in having your wishes and needs truly met is finding a care provider you absolutely trust.
6. Understand the rules Think about every procedure or standard intervention, such as epidurals, fetal monitoring or induction, that could possibly crop up, and talk to your doctor or midwife about it. If your gut feeling is to leave such choices up to your doctor, fine. But if you have any concerns, raise them now.
7. Don’t listen to anyone else If you even hint you’re considering an alternative birth plan, particularly a home birth or an elective C-section, critics will crawl out of the woodwork to try to convince you that you’re making a mistake. So avoid discussing your decision with others until you’re absolutely certain of it. Even then, you may want to keep things vague.
8. Prepare like it’s a shuttle launch If you’re planning anything other than a standard medicalized birth or a scheduled Csection, sign up for classes that will help you prepare physically and mentally for labor and will also help you meet pregnant women with the same mind-set.
9. Keep an open mind Remember that in the end, you can’t have complete control over this (or any) birth. Even the most meticulous plans can get screwed up. So sit down, close your eyes, and picture a scenario in which your labor stalls, you get transferred to a hospital or you have to have a C-section, and imagine how you will cope.
10. Let it go If things do not go exactly as planned, it is not your fault: You have not failed if you need a C-section or if you ask for drugs. You have not failed if you don’t have that emotional explosion of instant baby-love. In the end, childbirth is just the kickoff to the great adventure of motherhood that lies ahead.