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Are You Ready for Pregnancy

Prenatal experts offer advice to parents-to-be on emotionally preparing for a baby.

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The night before I went into labor, I came down with a severe case of jitters. My husband held me close as I sniveled my fears into his shoulder. Would I be a good mother? Did I know how? Would I learn before doing irreparable harm to my helpless baby?

My trepidations followed into the hospital. At least three times I called the nurse to my room to demonstrate yet again how to diaper my baby, how to bathe her, how to take her temperature and the myriad of other tasks that awaited us -- alone -- just hours away.

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It's not that we hadn't thought ahead of time about having a baby. We'd spent hours fantasizing about what she would be like, attending a childbirth class, following the stages of fetal development in our books.

But in all our rose-colored enthusiasm, my husband and I simply couldn't fathom that we were getting a real live baby out of the deal, for keeps.

Of course, no parents-to-be can completely prepare themselves for the profound experience of becoming a first-time mom or dad.

But prenatal experts say that the more nitty-gritty that couples can discuss about what it really means to be parents -- before they even get pregnant -- the easier the transition can be.

Here's their advice on that emotional and philosophical preparation, including 12 questions that prospective parents should talk about first.

What to Do Before the Stick Turns Blue

"Most couples don't deal with the cold stark realities before they have a baby," says Dr. John Queenan, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University and author of "Preconceptions: Preparation for Pregnancy" and "A New Life: Pregnancy, Birth, and Your Child's First Year." "They don't think about the loss of freedom, the increasing financial burden, or what they're going to do if they're both working and the child gets sick."

But the whole approach to getting ready for a baby is changing: Doctors and midwives now view pregnancy as a yearlong endeavor. Along with the physical and lifestyle preparations to consider even before conception, parents-to-be would do well to contemplate emotional readiness before jumping into a pregnancy, too, says Dr. Larry Culpepper, chief of the department of family medicine at Boston Medical Center and an expert in prenatal care.

Many hospitals and childbearing centers are even adding special preconception classes to their repertoire. They discuss issues such as juggling career and family, how kids affect marital relationships and attitudes toward discipline.

The conclusions couples draw will vary. For some, the insights might mean bracing themselves for heavier negotiations. Others may decide they're not ready for the lifestyle changes parenthood takes. Some might want basic parenting instruction before assuming the responsibilities of a newborn.

"Getting it all out in the open in the beginning, letting that partly make your decision about whether you're going to have a child or not and trying to resolve the conflicts can head off some of the problems that might develop," says Diana Taylor, a nurse midwife who conducts preconception and breast-feeding classes at The Maternity Center in Bethesda, Md.

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