"Surprises aren't my thing," Nicole West said.
Reflecting on her first pregnancy, well, that's just what she got.
"I wasn't ready for the pain I felt," West said. "I was young, unprepared, and didn't know what to expect from the experience. I didn't know I had options."
But she knew she didn't want to experience that kind of pain again.
"With my second pregnancy, I wanted to be prepared," West said.
In order to do that, it meant advocating for herself with her new OB/GYN, Maria Vandenberg of Women's Care of Wisconsin. It meant being brutally honest and upfront, right from the get go.
"I'm an anxious person. I mean, I'm literally afraid of everything," West said. "At my first appointment with Dr. Vandenberg the first thing that came out of my mouth was 'I don't want to die. Just don't let me die.' That's how scared I was. I mean, really, most doctors would have thought I was nuts."
With fears so deep, West told Vandenberg that she wanted to be put under and wake up with a baby ("pretty unrealistic, but now you know my mindset"), then waited for her provider to show her the door.
Then, a surprise-and a good one at that.
"Dr. Vandenberg not only assured me I wasn't going to die, but that I would also enjoy my birthing experience," said West.
Fear became a catalyst for West's self-advocacy, and she let Vandenberg know just what her worries were. Vandenberg made sure each was addressed, and the two planned it out, step by step.
"I wanted a plan, and that's just what I got," West said. "Best of all, I had the confidence that things would work out."
And for the most part they did. Except the part about the very large baby.
"At one of my appointments I found out if I went full term that I could expect a 13-pound baby," said West. "Telling a person with high anxiety something like that can bring back intense fears."
No worries, though. There was a tweak to the plan, and West was induced at 36 weeks. Her son, Mack, came in at a little over nine pounds.
"Dr. Vandenberg assured me that everything was going to be okay," said West. "I got an epidural at two centimeters, and everything went as planned-no pain whatsoever."
With Mack now 7 and brother Dylan 15, mom looks back on that initial appointment with Vandenberg (she's still a patient) as a seminal moment.
"She's just amazing. And I swear, it's her eyes. She looks at you and just automatically makes you comfortable. It was as if she held on to my fear, and from that moment on I knew everything was going to be okay. Even so, I cry every time I see her; she's been such a blessing in my life."