ABSTRACT: A prospective study of 825 women booked for delivery in six hospitals in southeastern England was conducted to determine their expectations of childbirth. Women completed three questionnaires, two before the birth and one six weeks after. Questions covered both objective and subjective aspects of birth, and gave particular attention to control, its importance and its relevance to psychological outcomes. Four different indices of psychological outcome were considered: fulfilment, satisfaction, emotional well-being, and the words that women used to describe their babies, which were shown to be related to different patterns of independent variables and of intra-partum events. Our results did not support popular stereotypes: high expectations were not found to be bad for women, although low expectations often were. Information and feeling in control were consistently associated with positive psychological outcomes.