For any mom-to-be, thinking about labor and delivery is both exciting and terrifying. You’re probably thrilled to meet your new baby, but you might be anxious if you don’t know what to expect.

Many new moms are worried about pain management and fearful about something going wrong.

To help ease your doubts, here are five labor stories from moms who’ve been through it all. From a home birth, to a baby who was born way past her due date, their experiences are unique, real, and beautiful.

Jessica Timmons, Mom of Four

Four babies, no epidurals, and Pitocin with every one — I get quite a bit of side eye when I share that.

For the first three, the choice to forego the epidural was a medical precaution for a potential bleeding disorder that runs in the family. The Pitocin was necessary because of another fun family trait of stalling during labor, somewhere around the 4- or 5-centimeter mark.

We got our act together between babies three and four, so I was cleared for an epidural at my last delivery. But honestly, the idea of having no feeling below my waist scared me more than the pain of labor.

I had no illusions about what was coming, but I find there’s a sense of control, or at least feeling like an active participant, in the acts of focused breathing and feeling the ebb and flow of contractions and pushing. Being told when and how to push because I’m unable to judge that for myself makes me far more anxious.

Women tell me I must be tough, and my pain threshold must be nuts, and that giving birth without an epidural is something they could never do.

But of course they could. It may not be a first choice for many, but if push came to shove and an epidural simply wasn’t an option, I have no doubt that these women would surprise themselves with their own strength.

As scary and improbable as it seems, it’s what our bodies are designed to do. There’s comfort in remembering that.

Lisa Baker, Mom of Two

I chose homebirth because I have a phobia of hospitals.

I was nervous about opting for a homebirth in my 500-square-foot apartment. After touring the labor and delivery wing of every hospital within an hour's drive, I knew home was the only place I could hope for the drug-free labor I wanted.

I took a self-hypnosis course for labor pain management, and by using that along with water birth, my experience of labor with my first baby was entirely pain-free. Even though it was 36 hours long, it was incredibly peaceful, and when I caught my daughter myself and pulled her out of the water, I knew I would never give birth any other way.

Most of her birth I spent just relaxing in the water, alternating between drowsing and reading “Harry Potter.” 

When I got pregnant with my son four years later, I knew I'd have another home water birth. What I didn't know was how much I would want to be different the second time. With my first birth, I didn't want anyone there but my husband and midwife. I wanted candles, darkness, and quiet music.

With my son, however, I wanted to invite lots of people to keep me company during labor, from a friend, to photograph, to my sister and her husband. Instead of reading and listening to hypnosis recordings, I watched “The Dark Knight” and “Moulin Rouge.” Instead of relaxing through contractions, I ate lasagna and cake.

But what stayed the same was the fact that I got to choose, and I was in complete control of my environment and my experience. 

Chaunie Brusie, Mom of Four

With my first pregnancy, I went into labor thinking that I had this whole giving birth thing in the bag.

I had laughed off my childbirth classes and not really paid attention to the advice of my midwife, who encouraged me to practice my breathing. “Puh-lease,” I thought. Everyone knows how to breathe. 

Boy, was I in for a surprise. My labor experience was spent realizing — too late — that I was not at all prepared for labor. I felt out of control, exhausted, and completely fearful. Unfortunately, my fear further intensified my pain. That made me more scared, and around and around in vicious circles I went.

The whole thing felt like a disaster until, of course, my midwife placed my daughter on my chest (and I was surprised she was a she, since everyone thought I was having a boy!) and I fell in love with the world’s most perfect baby.

With my second pregnancy, I was determined to have a better labor experience. That was partly because this time, I knew what to expect and partly because I spent almost nine months preparing. So going into my second labor, I had a much more positive experience.

I had spent a lot of time during my pregnancy practicing visualization. I simply visualized myself being in control and pushing. I had heard once that a study found that athletes who visualized themselves succeeding in their sport were more likely to succeed. I figured the same concept could be applied to giving birth. Heck, it’s one of the most extreme sports around, right?

I also did a yoga DVD almost daily and found that all the practice on breathing through the balance movements helped me breathe through my contractions. I was able to use my visualization and breathing techniques to successfully have a natural labor and birth, and my nurse even commented that she had never seen someone so in control during labor, which made me feel so much more confident.

I was proud of myself for preparing this time around and having a labor that didn’t make me feel terrified the entire time.

Ashley Marcin, Mom of One (with One on the Way!)

As a first-time mom, I was expecting labor to take a full day or more from start to pushing time. That's how long it took my mom and grandmother, so why would I be any different?

Instead, I woke up early one morning feeling what I thought were intestinal cramps, and spent a few hours going to and from the toilet. By the time my alarm went off, I noticed that my discharge was getting that "bloody show" everyone told me about.

The cramping by that point was coming more frequently, so I decided to time what was going on. I then realized that I didn't have diarrhea. I was in labor!

I called my midwife who assured me that things would probably progress slowly. She told me to call back when I felt like the contractions got stronger and closer together. I think she was pretty surprised when I phoned her no more than 30 minutes later begging to come to the hospital.

My husband got home from work and, since I was only 38 weeks, I didn't even have my hospital bag packed. I grabbed a few essentials (OK, I tossed them down the stairs to my husband while crawling on all fours) and we drove the mile or so to the hospital.

By the time I was checked in, it was around 9:30 a.m. My midwife checked my progress, and I was already dilated to 5-6 centimeters. After signing some paperwork and getting monitored, I spent the majority of my time laboring in the shower bent over a birthing ball.

Many of these hours are a blur. What I do remember is that I wanted to be alone. No music, candles, or other people around. By 12:30 p.m., my midwife was surprised to discover I was already at a 10! It was pushing time.

That's when the real work began. Honestly, having my labor go so quickly the first time around isn't something I was expecting. We soon discovered that my daughter was sunny-side up, making pushing her out very difficult. After the first hour of trying, I wasn't feeling so well.

We started to notice that both of our heart rates were getting higher and higher. After another half hour of pushing, my midwife started discussing methods that might help things along. We decided to try another half hour and then get the obstetrician to discuss a possible cesarean delivery. I hadn't had an IV or any drugs up until this point, so I was unhappy at the thought of getting all that started.

In the time it took the OB-GYN to arrive, I somehow pushed through the zone and delivered our daughter around 3 p.m. The pushing was such an athletic feat, I think I sighed something like "Oh, thank goodness that’s over!" before even looking at my baby daughter.

What I was most thrilled about? That after delivery, any pain I had been feeling totally went away. I needed a good number of stitches, but I didn't feel them because I was too focused on being done.

While I may not have been in labor a whole day, I certainly got the full experience. I'm now pregnant again and have been told to stay close to the hospital in the final weeks in case things progress so quickly.

Natasha Freutel, Mom of One

As I watched my due date come and go, I started to realize that my ideal birth plan may not happen.

Being a first-time mom, I had visions of laboring at home until the very end and gracefully delivering without drugs. At nine days overdue with a baby that weighed nearly 10 pounds, my doctor and I had a frank discussion.

“I think we should think about inducing you,” she said. At first I was angry but realized that at this point, I no longer cared as much. I so desperately wanted this pregnancy to be over and start our new life as parents.

So, I left the office, went home, packed my stuff, and prepared to meet my baby girl the next day. At 5 a.m., a few hours before we were to arrive, I get a phone call from the hospital saying that they no longer had room, and it would have to wait until the next day. I cried, I bounced on my birth ball, ate spicy food, and did everything I could to get the party started, with no luck.

That next day we finally got to the hospital and started the induction process. Labor was slow and boring. With very little progress in the first 12 hours, they decided it was best to break my water.

This, in combination with high doses of Pitocin, brought on some pretty intense contractions. After four hours of one powerful contraction after another, and barely any rest in between, I opted for an epidural.

Two failed epidurals, and another eight hours later, we finally got to meet our little girl! Surprisingly, the pushing part was easy, and in 30 minutes she was out and in our arms — all 9 pounds and 12 ounces of her. After the first push, the nurse exclaimed, “Wow, do you work out?”

That gave me a good laugh and satisfaction that all my hard work had paid off. Unfortunately, our baby girl broke her collarbone on the way out, but other than that we had a healthy, happy, beautiful baby and couldn’t be happier.

The Takeaway

Soon-to-be moms often wonder what labor and delivery will be like. Even if you’re anxious, try to stay relaxed and calm.

Try to focus on the fact that soon enough, your new baby will be in your arms. If you’re still worried, talk to your doctor about your concerns.