I was over-joyed when I first learned I was expecting my first baby. It wasn’t until sometime in the second trimester, when I finally started to show, that I really realized I was going to be giving birth–somehow and sometime–and only months away. I was scared. I knew that pushing our baby out was going to be the hardest physical challenge of my life so far. I decided to do what I do best when I start to worry: research.

One of the best ways to learn about things like pregnancy, parenting and childbirth is to talk to other moms. I started to pick the brains of my friends who had children. I asked them to tell me their stories, starting with how they first knew they were in labor, how long it lasted, whether or not they got pain medication and if they would change anything if they could go back and do it again. Many friends that I talked to had very strong opinions on things like natural childbirth with no pain medication or c-sections. I even had one friend who told me she was sure her sister could have “pushed her baby out if she had only tried harder.” She didn’t approve of the fact that her sister ended up with a cesarean since she had given birth to her own son vaginally, at home and with no meds. I have to admit, I was surprised to hear this. Why would moms feel the need to judge each other about an experience that is unique to each of us?

I also did a lot of research online. I read blogs by new moms, I learned about the risks and benefits of different interventions during the birth process and I found out how a spinal is different from an epidural. I also did a lot of reading about contractions and how to tell real labor contractions from Braxton-Hicks contractions. How would I know I was really in labor if my water didn’t break? I worried that I’d be in labor without knowing and end up having the baby on the kitchen floor. Ha! I later found out that my own real labor contractions were unmistakable.

I also bought lots of books on pregnancy and read them all. I even read them to my husband, who politely pretended to listen. And as I gathered more and more information about giving birth, I began to write my own birth plan. The first decision that I made was whether I wanted to give birth at home or in a hospital. That was easy: I wanted to give birth in a hospital. I had read many touching stories about home-birth experiences but I didn’t feel that would be a good option for a Nervous Nelly like myself. I also opted out of things like hypno-birthing and water birth, though I had learned breathing techniques at my child-birth class and planned to do some of my laboring in the jacuzzi tub in the labor and delivery room at the hospital.

In the end, the birth process did not go as I had hoped. I had a long and excruciating back labor, went for the epidural and ended up with a cesarean. But you know what? It was still childbirth–maybe it didn’t look or sound like a perfect story or fit many other people’s ideals of a what giving birth should look like–but it ended with a beautiful, healthy baby girl being put into my arms.