I was very much like you when Laura was 14 months - I loved her company (sounds silly, but she is basically my best friend!), and we had lots of fun home together.
We would get to the shops regularly, and to the park/library most afternoons where she would see and sometimes interact with other kids, but really she had very little contact with other children. I took her to playgroup once and was so uncomfortable that we didn't go back.
As Laura got beyond 18 months, I noticed a real change in her personality - she was suddenly more confident and always fascinated by other children when she saw them. I began to think about daycare part time (and hence, my returning to work so I could afford daycare!), for her benefit, as I was starting to think she was lonely for some company her age.
Step one for me was trying to work out what daycare involved, how much it would cost, and whether we could find a place (we'd been on waiting lists 'just in case' for over 12 months). For anyone in the same situation, this is basically what our daycare centres around here involve (we live in Brisbane). The centre we chose opens at 6, closes at 6.30pm. Costs for toddler room are around $47 per day, and you can get back anywhere from $6 to $45 or so in Child Care Benefit (depending on income of your family). We go two days a week, as I was lucky to find a new boss that was happy to have me only 2 days!
Finding a place was stressful. We were consistently told 'not this year' - and this was in February! Things suddenly got better when I followed my aunt's advice and rang back the centres to tell them my definate start date with work. It was tricky juggling this; we ended up deciding to hire a nanny until we got offered a place.. anyway suddenly we were offered 3 places in centres near our home! We checked them all out, (of course!), and it was a toss up between a brand new centre on the way to work, or an established centre further out from our home. It was no contest for me - went for the second one which had a much better vibe and which Laura was so much more content at from minute one. The staff were impressively attentive, caring, and helpful too. Definately a time for mum's intuition to help choose.
The first few weeks at the centre, Laura loved it - squealing in delight when we got to her room and racing around looking at everything. I was distraught leaving her, but found it much easier once I'd gotten to work and was focussing on other things.
Suddenly, around week 5, Laura began to resist going, and even crying when we pulled into the parking lot. I know that she has a great time when she's there - I can see it myself and I hear it from all her 'teachers' - but she hates to be dropped off and to see me go. I think it has more to do with her feeling a bit unsettled at home lately (we are trying to sell our home, I'm studying and there is a bit of stress), but it makes me feel awful to leave her.
There is also the big drawback that the whole family now comes down with every cold and tummy bug going around the centre. I hate being sick - so this is not fun. I'm now expecting my second child and am almost glad to have the option of leaving work again and bringing everyone home. We haven't decided, though, whether we will try to keep Laura at daycare for her 2 days a week so she gets some consistency and we all have a little break (and I have a chance to bond 1-on-1 with my second child).
Hard to say what the outcome has been so far - she was a confident kid before daycare and is still very much so now. I would just like to add the cautions about (a) being prepared for all the bugs, and (b) being careful not to start up daycare when other big things are going on (in our case, because of my pregnancy, poor Laura was weaned on top of everything else within a few weeks of starting daycare).
Anyway, best of luck. I agree with the other replies here that you are only trying to do what's best for your little one and you definately shouldn't feel guilty for that.
PS sorry for the long reply!
Laura (2), another on the way!