Pleasant. Beautiful. Empowering.

I never thought I would describe my birth experience with these words. But then again, I never thought that someday I would give birth without medication.

I was so afraid of giving birth (let alone being pregnant) that I was sure I would need to give birth as pain-free as possible. However, once I became pregnant, the focus shifted from “me alone” to “us together.” I made it a goal to have an unmedicated birth, for both myself and my child’s sake. I wanted to be able to experience giving birth without any reservations. Just as I wouldn’t want to give up the feelings of pregnancy—those strange, painful moments and the lovely times of feeling my baby inside me so close—I wouldn’t want to give up this crucial time of bringing her into the world.

Related: Women share what they wished they knew about giving birth for the first time

Prior to my due date, I read numerous books and other resources that helped to ease my mind about the birthing process. What helped me the most was reading and hearing positive labor and delivery stories. I never knew such things existed!

We live in a culture full of negative images of birth. The process of giving life with your body is intense enough without heaping more fear onto the situation. So I was deeply grateful to find people and resources to encourage me as I prepared. And I hope more women find access to them.

We as women are given a great gift in our ability to birth babies and we should be actively encouraging each other through this life-changing transition and transformation.

When I talked with other women in my family and a close girlfriend about their experiences, it was a relief just to talk about it. And it wasn’t to share horror stories (though certainly some are), but to honestly embrace the full roller coaster ride of it all, the beauty with the mess. After all, these women had gone before me, made it through and given birth. Most of them did it without medication, too, so they were a great support group to have around me.

My experience with giving birth was actually rather pleasant. Everything went as close to our birth plan as possible. There is nothing I would have changed. When I refused an epidural and stated that I wanted to give birth naturally (as birth in and of itself is), the nurse and doctor said that I must be superwoman. After giving birth, I surely felt like it!

I was amazed at what my body and mind could do. I was shocked to witness that I was strong, courageous and capable enough to give birth. I never thought I had it in me.

After 35 hours of labor and 30 minutes of pushing, I delivered a healthy baby girl.

When my baby was placed on my chest I was so alert and aware of her presence. Those first moments together were magical. My husband stood there next to me, both of us gazing and laughing at this newborn who couldn’t stop crying. We were so focused on this surreal moment that the doctor had to ask us: “Did you see if it was a boy or girl?” We looked down and discovered she was a girl! Waiting until that moment to find out made the whole experience even more special and surprising.

I know that for some women, birth can be a traumatic experience. Indeed, there are many factors outside of our control, and no woman should be made to feel bad about how she births. But I’m grateful that some preparation, and quite a bit of luck, helped me to have a peaceful experience.

Related: 6 expert tips on how to prepare for your first birth

By aligning myself with my body’s natural signals, I was able to better experience and appreciate the abilities of the female body—of my body.

Now, when I think of that time, it is a fond memory.

I realize how extraordinary my body really is: Not only is it able to give birth, but it was, in fact, made to do so.

A version of this story was originally published on May 21, 2016. It has been updated.

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