"Avoid books that put the fear of birth into you, and definitely don't read all the horror stories on the internet," says Mckenzie Mangus, 32, from Santa Cruz, Calif., who gave birth to her son Tatum at home last summer. Instead, she recommends picking up a copy of Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Birthing From Within or The Pregnancy Journal. "I also surrounded myself with supportive girlfriends, many of whom had home births," she adds. Before she gave birth, Mangus's closest friends threw her a Blessing Way ceremony—where they all gathered in a circle to share stories, songs and wishes for the mom-to-be and presented her with special beads and hand-made prayer flags for the big day. "I gave birth to my 9-pound son out on my patio surrounded by candles and those mom-made flags, which reminded me of how powerful my friends were," she remembers. "Now I feel like I could conquer anything!"
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Tiffani Greenaway, 32, from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn't use an epidural or the labor-inducing synthetic hormone Pitocin for the birth of either of her two sons in 2011 and 2013. Instead, she used a visualization technique to get through labor and delivery. "During my strongest contractions, I pictured myself holding my son in the air on the beach. I envisioned the white sand, the sound of the waves, and the joy I would feel," she says. "That really helped me push through the pain." She also repeated to herself the following mantra throughout: "I am strong. My body knows what to do. I can do this."
"My doula made both of my births such an amazing, empowering experience for me," says Christine Marion-Jolicoeur, 34, of Windsor, Ontario, mom of two boys, ages 3 and 5. "During my first delivery, she massaged my back, reminded me to keep drinking and gave my husband ideas about how to keep me as comfortable as possible." Her doula experience was so positive that she was determined to have her by her side again the second time around. "My husband was great, but during my second birth I only wanted my doula! I needed her inches from my face, looking right into my eyes, coaching me through each contraction and telling me I was doing a great job," she says. "Even though I had pretty intense back labor, she helped me make it through drug-free."
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Some moms worry that different interventions like induction and fetal monitoring can make their labor longer and more painful, or restrict their movement. With this in mind, Brooks Van Wingerden, 31, of Nipomo, Calif., decided ahead of time what she wanted to do when giving birth to daughter Kate last year. "Before the birth, my husband and I went though numerous scenarios: He'd say, 'They come in, you're three centimeters dilated, they want to break your water...what do you do?' I told him over and over that no matter how much pain I was in, I didn't want the epidural," she says. "I'm really glad I told him that daily, because six hours in, I was ready to have a C-section and just have them cut the baby out to end the pain, but he helped me have the natural birth I wanted."
"The best thing you can do is stay fit throughout your pregnancy," says Susanna Elliott, 29, of Lexington, Ky., who made a point to do at least a ten-minute workout video every day while pregnant with her daughter Claire, now 15 months. "I did lots of squats. This helped build my strength and stamina, and contributed to the feeling that I could do it!"
"When I was pregnant with my twins, I talked to seven doctors before finding one who supported my plan to have a natural birth," says Angie Weber, 27, of Minneapolis, Minn., whose daughter Addison and son Jackson are now 1. " There were a few things I told him I would not budge on: having our doula in the operating room with us—I had to deliver in there because of the twins, not getting an epidural and not using an internal fetal monitor, and he respected that." The other thing that helped Weber during her birth was essential oils. "I had a diffuser that filled the room with this great, calming scent, and it really helped me stay relaxed," she says.
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Liz Helton, 29, from San Francisco went into her labor with her daughter Lydia last year with playlists and episodes of her favorite TV shows cued up for distraction. But when it came down to it, her own movement and breathing was what helped her get through each contraction, making her realize that having a natural childbirth is about listening to your body and working with your baby to help him enter the world. "You can think, 'First I'll take a shower, then I'll walk the halls for a bit before sitting on a medicine ball' all you want, but there is a solid chance you will spend an hour-and-a-half laboring on the toilet because it is the only thing that makes you feel sane," she says. Her biggest advice to women going into labor? Go with the flow: "Remember that no matter how your baby arrives—naturally, with the assistance of an epidural or from a C-section—you are still a warrior and a champion!"