Write a birth plan
Think about your specific desires for your birth and put them on paper. Give one to your doctor for your file, and send one to the hospital well before your estimated due date. That way it is clear, in black and white, what your wishes are. It lets the hospital staff know that you have thought through your birth and that you are informed.
The more you can relax, the less painful your birth will be. My goal was to give birth naturally. So in the months leading up to my birth I practiced relaxing when I lay in bed at night…from head to toe…every muscle…limp as a rag doll…breathed deeply, imitating sleep. For more complete instructions on how to do this, see one of the excellent books available on the Bradley method of childbirth, or take a Bradley class. I’m not strong willed enough that sheer determination could make me get through birth without pain meds. However, relaxing has helped me learn to manage the pain. I can honestly say that with Sarah’s birth I never reached what I’d consider my pain threshold. Yes, it hurt, but I didn’t get the point where I thought, there’s no way I can take any more.
Read, read, read--be informed
Some great books are:
Husband Coached Childbirth by Bradley (somewhat outdated…I’ve heard that more current Bradley method books are better)
The Complete Well Pregnancy Book by Samuels and Samuels
Parent Project by Dr. William Sears (and pretty much anything else in print or online by Dr. Sears)
Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International
(I don't have time to link the books right this minute, but I'll be doing that soon. Anybody else have good book recommendations?)