You can ready every pregnancy book known to man, every baby book that has ever been penned, but it's still pretty impossible to completely prepare yourself for labor and delivery. You can write a birth plan and be as meticulous and organized as you've ever been before, but until you're in the middle of a contraction and your baby is crowning (or being pulled out of an incision in your abdomen), it's futile to assume you know exactly what you're in for.

It's frustrating, to be sure. You can be diligent and do your research, but child birth, and everything it entails, is different for every woman, which makes even the most universal experience difficult to completely describe to someone who is about to go through it. When you bring life into the world, time and emotions somehow transcend language, so when you ask a woman to share her birth story she can be as descriptive as humanly possible, and still fail to prepare another woman for her unique labor and delivery.

Not to mention that anything — and I mean anything — can happen. Because every woman's body is different (and thus, responds to pregnancy, labor and delivery differently) it is impossible to know exactly how someone is going to respond to something as miraculous and difficult getting a baby from the inside to the outside. We can prepare ourselves as best we can (something I highly recommend) but until that moment arrives, we can never completely know what we're about to feel, or how we're about to emotionally handle the rollercoaster that is labor and delivery.

Here are 20 moms sharing the one thing they wish they knew before it came time to push. We may not be able to completely prepare ourselves beforehand, but we can at least share our nuggets of earned wisdom for all those future moms who are reading every pregnancy book known to man and every baby book that has ever been penned.

Olivia, 31


"I actually felt really well-prepared. I have always been fascinated by childbirth so I had read a TON. I think the piece that could have been emphasized more is that you really just have to prepare to go with the flow. You don't know how long things might take. You don't know if you'll want your partner to rub your back like you had practiced. In a lot of ways you'll feel in touch and connected to your body, but in so many ways, you have no control. And letting go of that will help you in labor and in parenting."

Elise, 27

"That I could expect intense vaginal bleeding even after a c-section. For some reason, I didnt expect this. I was mostly focused on the wound itself."

Hannah, 28


"I wish that I had known more about the pain associated with Pitocin. My water broke with my first [baby] but the contractions never came. My doctor cranked it up after almost 12 hours of labor that wasn't going anywhere. I wanted to go as long without an epidural as I could but after the Pitocin was nearly doubled I couldn't take it. There is no comparison that even comes close to the normal, natural contractions of my second delivery and the medically induced ones of my first. Pitocin contractions are no joke and waiting for an epidural once they're in full swing was a harrowing experience."

Nicole, 34

Probably the fact that the doctor would only be there to catch the baby and...remove the placenta. My nurses were way more involved!

Elizabeth, 34

"I was 28 when I have birth. Transferred to a hospital from a birth center. It freaking hurts. A lot. The hippies lie."

Megan, 32


"I wish I knew how long it can take to deliver, I assumed it would be quick, like in the movies, but I pushed for a full three hours before my doctor decided a c-section would be a better option at that point for my preemie twins, and I felt guilty the entire time I was pushing because my family was waiting outside the door and bored."

Krista, 38

I wish "retained placenta" had been discussed with me. I bled for weeks and weeks after labor and kept getting told it was "normal". Come to find out I had retained placenta for 4 weeks! No one ever explained this risk to me and if they had, I would have pushed things alot quicker.

Oh! And this one is embarrassing... And doesn't happen to everyone... But I wish I'd known all the side effects to epidurals better. It gave me uncontrollable gas. So there I was... no control from the waist down, with gas. I had NEVER "tooted" in front of my husband before this. I was mortified!

Gemma, 27

"I wish I had known what labor felt like, because the nurses at the hospital admitted me when I wasn't actually in labor. Instead of admitting their mistake and letting me go home when I didn't progress over the next 12 hours, I was bullied into having my water broke and had tons of interventions that induced labor...even though I was only 37 weeks!"

Jamie, 32

You're in pain, not danger. It's natural for your body to go into panic mode when you're in pain because your monkey brain is like "Pain means you're gonna DIE!" but it's totally normal pain. Realizing this between my first and second labors resulted in two very different experiences.

McCalla, 36


"As a Doula and someone in the birth community, I wish more people knew or embraced was is that labor is a wonderful thing to cope with "unmedicated" if there are two elements on board. The first element of course is consent, that being a woman consents to feeling labor, to knowing labor, and to birthing unmedicated. If someone doesn't want to birth unmedicated it should never be suggested for them."

Birth is like sex for me in that personal autonomy and empowerment comes through consent and choice.

"But the second element I wish was more emphasized is that it makes sense to use physiological elements of coping when labor appears physiologically "typical." By that I mean if labor shows up with a normal timeframe if it starts on it's own, then breathing or getting in the water or slow dancing with your partner are effective and good coping practices. However, if labor shows up outside of physiological norms; For example, if Pitocin is administered or some other strange element, potentially back labor, endometrial scarring; these are the times for which coping is a wise choice. I see so many women have pain-shame in labors that are abnormal and they end up with unmedicated births that feel like torture because they are coping with a medical situation with non-medical pain coping practices.

And furthermore, in some of those instances, they end up with a cesarean birth because they get into a place of extreme maternal exhaustion instead of using the medical pain coping options when it becomes evident that those might be the better choice. It seems we often idealize the idea of natural to the point of forgetting that we live in a constructed and built world and we should adjust our concept of natural to take into account the advantages and realities of our current context."

Kimberly, 31

"Things will change. You are not a bad woman or weak or flawed if your birth plan doesn't go as "planned" (and, heads up, if won't). Having a medicated birth — or a cesarean — doesn't minimize your birthing experience, and you are NOT a deplorable human being for getting an epidural. In short, whatever happens, happens."

Jennifer, 27

Labor shakes! It was so scary!! [They] started [for me when I was] at 8cm — I had no idea what was happening and the nurses were so helpful telling me it's normal. I'd never heard of such a thing before it happened to me!

Brittany, 29


It would have been nice to know that there's a chance with an epidural it would take away contraction pain but not pressure pain.

Krissy, 37

"I wish I had known I cold expect more...respect. To not be talked down to and head patted. That it was OK for me to say no to anything, even tiny "meaningless" things, because they aren't meaningless at the time. I thought I was "silly-girl-dreaming-of-white-knights" for a long time because I realized I had been expecting that I would feel more after the birth: victorious, proud, magical — something. I had a right to that."

Brandi, 26

"I can't think of anything from my first labor and delivery. I had great nurses and it was pretty easy. But during my second delivery, I wish I would have stuck up for myself more, [because not doing so] caused complications leading to a emergency c-section and my son almost dying."

Karlee, 29

I wish I would've known they hooked you up to Pitocin after giving birth, so I could've opted OUT (or that I knew I could opt out). It was horrendous.

Also, I had NO IDEA I'd bleed so much. I wish someone would've sent me home with 100 pairs of those hospital granny panties. You know, the disposable ones that held in those monstrous sized pads that I'd have to wear for 6 weeks?

Liz, 36

"[That] it was OK if, for whatever reason, I did not feel the world stop when I first held [my baby]; that sometimes that bond can take time. And the second [thing I wish I had known] was that no matter how much you plan, you never know what the delivery will be like and expect the unexpected."

Catie, 27

One thing I wish I would have known during both of my labors is that every single choice is mine, and mine only. Not my husband's, not my nurses', not any of my friend's, or other moms' online. When I was having my children, I was fairly young and afraid of speaking up for myself. I wish I [hadn't been] and that I had spoken up for myself. No matter what your preferences are — calm, hectic, drugs, no drugs, whatever — speak up for yourself. This is your moment.

Julia, 28


"I wish I knew what "pushing" felt like, and how to push. I was never told that you needed to push like you were pooping prior to [having to do it myself]. I was half way through my third (what I thought was a push) and the nurse goes, "Girl, push like you're poopin'!!" And that changed everything! I had an epidural so I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, and not being able to feel the lower half of my body definitely didn't help. So when she said that, I finally felt like I knew what the hell I was doing, or supposed to do at least!

Emotionally, I wish [I'd known] how strong I was. While in pain, and pushing, and tearing, and every other crazy thing that was happening to my body, I wish I knew that the hope I had for this baby would overpower the pain. That no matter how much pain I'd be in, hope and strength would get me through it."

Amy, 29

"That it would feel like I needed to take a crap! The rectal pressure was a surprise and very uncomfortable. Not sure how anyone could go through that AND contractions without an epidural."