Aaaargh! Was that a contraction? When labour starts you'll need a strong shoulder to lean on, maybe literally. Get the right support during those crucial hours and you'll be just fine whatever nature throws at you. You'll also have an ally to make sure your wishes and needs are clear and at the end of it all you'll share that most precious and unforgettable of experiences-the moment your baby first enters the world.
Take time to make the right choice, as these four mums did.
Me and my man
, 34, lives near Shaftesbury, Dorset, and is married to Kevin, 36, a computer programmer. He was by her side during the birth of both their daughters, Kirsty, 5, and Freya, nearly 3.
There was no question of Kevin not being with me during labour. We'd been together for 16 years and he seemed to just know how to help, whether it was to run a bath, massage me or simply urge me on when I felt like giving up.
My first labour lasted 27 hours and I had a lot of pain in my back as Kirsty was lying in the posterior position (her back was to my back). I spent many hours bending over a dining room chair while Kevin massaged my lower back with his thumbs. He's very strong and applied the right amount of pressure over several hours-in fact, I ended up with two holes in my nightie!
When the time came to push, Kevin was great. He gave me enough pressure to push against while yelling, "Push!" at the top of his voice. The midwives reckoned he was a natural!
Kevin and I saw both of my labours as wonderful, private experiences. I'm at my most relaxed around Kevin and knew I could shout at him, whereas you have to be polite to midwives!'
Sarah runs her own website www.organizedmum.co.uk
I've heard some men say that they feel pretty useless at the birth, but I felt the opposite. I carried out all of the practical things that needed doing - such as setting up the gas and air cylinders for Sarah, getting drinks, running baths and rubbing her back. I was also there to provide emotional support and to help her feel safe and secure. If there's one piece of advice I'd give to other dads-to-be, it's not to take it personally when you're getting shouted at!'
A friend in need
, 37, from Peterborough, asked her friend Sarah Ward, 38, to be with her during the birth of daughter Isabella, 10 months.
My partner left me when I was 4 months pregnant, so I asked my friend Sarah to be there.
Although I had lots of family and friends who would have helped out, I didn't feel they would offer the kind of support I needed. I chose Sarah because she's a good friend and has always been a great support, particularly in the early days of my pregnancy when there was all sorts of emotional turmoil. I knew she would take the responsibility seriously and could calm me down if things went wrong. Plus, Sarah's mum is a midwife so I felt confident she wouldn't pass out if the going got tough!
Sarah came to the NCT antenatal classes with me, and we laughed about the looks we got from all the other couples. She also read books about birth and became a bit of an expert. I was the complete opposite-when my contractions started, I didn't even know how my TENS machine worked. Luckily Sarah sorted it out for me!
The labour progressed for about 11 hours and with Sarah at my side, I felt calm and in control. It was a positive experience until, right at the end, it was decided I needed a ventouse delivery. Suddenly my legs were up in stirrups and there were lots of medical staff rushing around. I was terrified about having intervention, especially as I'd had no pain relief - but that's when Sarah really came into her own. I needed an episiotomy and began to panic but Sarah held my face tightly so I could only look at her. She helped me to concentrate on breathing through the pain, until Isabella was safely delivered. While I was being stitched up, Sarah cradled Isabella in her arms for 20 minutes. It means the two of them now share a fantastic bond.'
It was a huge honour to be asked-but also a little nerve-wracking. At times, I felt I wasn't making much of a difference, but when the going got tough, I took control and calmed Laura down. Being at Isabella's birth was one of the most emotional moments of my life.'
SARAH COOK, 29, from Manchester, is married to Terry, also 29. She asked her sister Catherine Taylor, 38, to be at the birth of daughter Annabelle, now 7 months.
I was there when Catherine gave birth seven years ago and share a strong bond with her daughter, Amelia. I wanted my sister to have the same bond with my child, so asked her to the birth alongside Terry, my husband.
Terry had told me he dreaded seeing me in pain but I knew Catherine would be more detached, so able to fight my corner if I needed her to.
During my labour, there was a nightmare moment when the baby's heartbeat couldn't be heard. I panicked, and although Terry tried to soothe me, I could sense his fear. Catherine stayed calm and reassured me it was simply a technical glitch.
Three days later and still no baby, so I was prepped for a C-section. I was hysterical as I was wheeled to theatre, but Catherine held my hands and helped me focus while she explained it was the best thing for my baby.
Unfortunately, she wasn't allowed in theatre but, minutes after Annabelle was born, the midwife took her out for her auntie to have a cuddle.'
It was awful to see Sarah in pain, but I knew I had to take control so she could concentrate on giving birth. Sarah was upset about having a Caesarean, so I had to talk tough and let her realise it was best.'
Mum's the word
, 22, from Manchester, lives with partner Jason Rowlinson, 24, a chef. She asked her mum Ann, 52, to be at the births of Dylan, 22 months, and Millie-Ann, 10 months.
Mum is my best friend so it made sense for her to be at the birth of my babies alongside my partner Jason.
I was only 20 when I became pregnant with Dylan, but mum didn't treat me like a child when it came to talking about the birth. She warned me that, at some point during labour, I'd probably say I couldn't do it. She was very matter-of-fact and told me: "No one else will do it for you so you'll just have to get through it yourself."
As Jason works long hours, mum came to most of my check-ups and scans and was a huge support.
Though mum had told us what to expect, Dylan's birth was still a scary experience. A lot of the time I was in such pain, I felt unable to express myself-except to mum. She talked to the midwives when I became desperate for pain relief. Unfortunately pethidine didn't agree with me and I kept being sick every few minutes. Mum was marvellous, mopping me up. But poor old Jason got the brunt of my mood-I'd shout at him to get off me, even when he was on the other side of the room! Of course, I never shouted at my mum - well, you don't, do you?
I wouldn't have been without Jason - it's important for him to have seen our babies being born. But Mum was the perfect birthing partner. She let me get on with it when I wanted to be left alone, but she was there when I needed support. She seemed to know just what I wanted and when. I suppose it's a mother's intuition.'
I tried to keep Claire going through the worst contractions. "That's one pain less," I'd say. Most of the time, though, I was just there for her, holding her hand and rubbing her back when she wanted me to, and leaving her alone when she needed to concentrate on herself. I saw both Dylan and Millie-Ann enter the world and take their first breaths and there is nothing as exciting and wonderful as that.'
Make the right choice checklist
Before you make the final decision about who'll be by your side in the delivery room, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I feel completely comfortable, safe and at ease with that person?
Can I communicate my needs easily?
Will our relationship cope if I end up shouting or swearing?
Can he/she cope with seeing me in pain?
Is he/she good at boosting my confidence?
Is he/she good at taking charge, if I'm not up to explaining my wishes?
Does he/she have some knowledge of giving birth-or could they learn by coming along to my antenatal classes?
Does he/she get on well with my partner?
Is he/she particularly squeamish?
Does he/she really want to be there at the birth?
Thanks to Andrya Prescott, an independent midwife based in Surrey