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Labor Expectations and Experiences

But that's not to say you shouldn't educate yourself. "Would you ever go into anything important in your life without some preparation?" asks Michelle Collins, a certified nurse-midwife and instructor at the Vanderbilt School of Nursing in Nashville. So perhaps the most surefire approach to getting the birth you want is simply to be open-minded. More than 60 percent of those who were very satisfied with their births said they didn't care what happened during labor as long as the babe was okay. "I prepared a birth plan but was flexible with it for the health and safety of my child and me," says Dusty Hepler, 27, from Sarasota, Florida. "I wanted to go as drug-free as possible, but in the end it was the epidural that allowed me to relax enough to be fully dilated in only a couple of hours. Giving birth was a cinch after that!"

Jaime Martietion, 28, didn't commit her wishes to paper. "I never imagined that I'd have a c-section, but it was great nonetheless," says Martietion, who lives in Rockville Centre, New York. "My son was born perfect and beautiful! Sure, the recovery was painful and longer, but I was dealt a different hand and worked with that."

The bottom line: Making a birth plan is a good way to inform yourself about labor and to ensure that you and your provider are on the same page. But be prepared to fling it -- and wing it -- with the first contraction.

Beth Howard is a contributing editor.