This is it! Luckily by the time most women are nine months pregnant they'd give anything to have their baby in their arms and out of their bodies. Perhaps this is the reason women continue to make it through birth after birth. We can't wait to meet our children!

Before you give birth there are many ways you can prepare for the big event. Many regional health authorities offer birthing classes and hospital orientations. You might also choose to pay for additional private birthing classes. Whatever you choose to do to prepare for birthing, remember that women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time and your body, if not your mind, will know what to do.

There are so many choices and options around birthing it can leave you feeling confused.

If I choose an epidural, I might suddenly decide I want to walk around and won't be able to. If I choose to have my baby at home, I might change my mind and not be able to get an epidural when I really want one. What if there are complications? What if my home birth has to happen at the hospital?

Every woman has to make her own decisions regarding the way she chooses to birth her child. Unfortunately, almost every woman who has been pregnant has been subject to at least one person's opinion on how to give birth the right way. Stop right there. There is no best or right way other than mom and baby being as healthy as possible. This might mean that your home birth experience turns into a C-section or your planned epidural turns into a quick delivery with no time for pain management techniques. The most important thing is that you and baby are safe and healthy. No one hands out medals after you give birth – it is not a competitive sport. Learn about your options and choose what's right for you.

Many experts suggest that pregnant women write a birthing plan to help them think through their birthing choices. A birthing plan can also help your medical and birth professionals know your wishes. Birth plans often include how you would like to labour – for example, would you like to spend some time in the shower or pool, would you like to squat while holding onto a support, do you want music playing. Birthing plans also list the pain management options that you would consider during the labour process – focal point, narcotics, meditation, massage therapy, nitrous oxide, hypnotism, epidural. Birthing plans can also outline the types of procedures or interventions you would consider – episiotomy or use of forceps. However, many birth plans change drastically and some get tossed out completely during labour and birth because of unforeseen complications or because the birthing mother changes her mind.

Changing your mind is okay. Just remember that some procedures or pain management techniques are time sensitive; you may not have time to get a last minute epidural before the baby arrives. Try to keep an open mind and have faith in yourself, your body, your birth supports and your health care provider.

There are three stages of childbirth:
  1. dilation and effacement of the cervix;
  2. delivery of the baby; and
  3. birth of the placenta.

On paper it sounds simple and straightforward, but in real life it can be overwhelming, scary, emotional, exhausting, thrilling and painful all at the same time. You'll probably feel all of these emotions and then some during your birthing experience (24 hours is a common length of time for first-time moms with subsequent births usually moving at a faster rate).

The first stage, dilation and effacement of the cervix, is a gradual process of the cervix thinning (effacement) and opening (dilation) to prepare for the delivery of the baby. It is a gradual process that usually takes about 12 to 14 hours for first-time moms and four to six hours in subsequent births. However, each pregnancy is different and you may experience a longer or shorter labour. During this stage, contractions begin and grow in intensity and frequency, causing the cervix to thin and open, which then allows clear passage for your baby to travel from the uterus to the vagina.

The second stage, delivery of the baby, happens once the cervix is open (measured at 10 centimetres) and usually lasts around 50 minutes for first-time moms with subsequent births lasting around 20 minutes. During this stage, you will continue to experience contractions but you will also feel a strong urge to push with your abdominal or stomach muscles. Some women find it helpful during this stage to visualize or imagine their baby coming down the birth canal with each push. As you push, you are forcing the baby to move through the birth canal and out into the world.

The third and final stage is the delivery of the placenta, and this stage usually lasts about five to ten minutes. During this stage, your placenta separates from the wall of your uterus and moves down the birth canal to be delivered through your vaginal.

Caesarean Section

Some women experience another form of birth called a Caesarean or C-section. This is when your baby is delivered through a surgical opening in the lower belly area rather than moving through the birth canal and vagina. C-sections are usually performed when there are increased risks with a vaginal delivery, such as increased risk because of the baby's position in the womb, having more than one baby in the womb, pre-existing health concerns with mom or baby, placenta problems, or concerns about your baby's well-being or maternal infections. If you were hoping to give birth vaginally and are feeling disappointed or upset about having a C-section, you are not alone. Many women wish they could change the way they gave birth – some may even wish they could have had a C-section!

What is really important is that you understand that whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section, you did not fail at childbirth, it was not your fault that a C-section had to be performed, and that you did the right thing to protect your health and the health of your child. If you find yourself thinking you are not a real mom or didn't experience true birth because you didn't give birth vaginally, remind yourself that being a mom is not about giving birth a certain way, it's about caring, nurturing, loving and supporting your child on a daily basis.

Recovery After Childbirth

An unofficial final stage of childbirth is the short-term recovery process after giving birth. During this time you might receive stitches, ice packs, medication and the first love-awe-and-wonder-packed cuddles with your newborn. Your health care provider, nurse or midwife will go over the specifics on how to care for your body. Once you are home, you can also expect a visit from a community health nurse who will gladly answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding your healing body or your baby.

Recovering from childbirth takes a long time, especially when you consider that recovery includes returning to "normal" hormonal levels and your pre-baby body (though we all know that you don't ever fully recover from childbirth and becoming a parent – physically or emotionally). Most of the changes are wonderful and some are not so – but it is the best deal we'll likely ever make. That's why so many parents choose to do it again!