Hire a Doula
When you go to the hospital to deliver, you have no choice on which nurse you will get.. and for all you know you might get the one that will just rub you the wrong way. The L&D nurses also tend to come and go throughout your labor.. they will check on you and stay with you if necessary, but otherwise you'll labor a lot on your own especially in the beginning. A Doula is your own personal labor support person - someone who has experience and training attending births and helping the laboring mother. A Doula is not a doctor or a nurse, and will not make medical decisions, give medical advice, or deliver the baby. She is strictly there to be your personal cheerleader and coach you on ways to make your labor more comfortable. By choosing your doula, you decide who will be there to support you and can pick someone you feel comfortable with and enjoy.
Our Doula came armed with a bag of "labor tricks" - which included aromatherapy, relaxing music, spiky rubber handles for you to squeeze (the discomfort of squeezing them with your hands is supposed to help distract you from the discomfort of your contractions), tennis balls to massage your back, and LED candles to give the room a relaxing atmosphere. She also was a certified lactation consultant and had a certificate in hypnobirthing so she knew all the relaxation techniques.
Create a "Birth Wishes" List
I say Birth Wishes instead of Birth Plan here because nothing about your labor and delivery may go "to plan." If you have a "plan" that tends to fall in the mindset of expecting your birth to go exactly a certain way and that's almost never the case... but by having "wishes" you set yourself up to be more flexible with the whole situation. When you write your Birth Wishes list make sure to phrase it all as wishes too, in order to keep that flexible mindset (for example, don't write "I will not have an epidural" or "I will do skin-to-skin", but instead say "I would like to labor all naturally for as long as possible, hopefully the entire time. I hope to have a natural birth" or "I would like to do skin-to-skin immediately after the birth").
Definitely write out a "Birth Wishes" list as it will help you visualize how you'd like things to go, and will give your medical team an idea of what things you do/do not want to do - but keep in mind it can all change at any time, some things are just beyond your control.
Start Relaxing from the First Contraction
In the beginning of labor your contractions can start out slow and not bothersome. You may be able to move and talk through them at first or at least stop and easily let them pass over you. Even if they're easy to deal with in the beginning it's important to set yourself up for success for the remainder of your labor and start relaxing now. Relaxing when something hurts seems counterintuitive (after all, if you stub your toe you tend to tense up, right?), but by totally relaxing during contractions they will actually hurt less because you're not fighting it and you're letting your body do it's job. The best way I can describe this total relaxation is letting yourself "melt." When you're having a contraction just let yourself become a puddle on the bed or in your chair, etc. And if you're standing, have your husband support you and just let yourself melt.. let your knees go soft and your arms and head drop and have him hold you. It's so important to not hold any tension anywhere in your body during the contractions, and the more you're able to relax the easier it should be. Having a Doula really helps here because she can help coach you through the relaxation ("relax your jaw, relax your fingers, let your shoulders drop..."). After a few hours of coached relaxation, my body went on autopilot and I honestly didn't even feel the contractions anymore and was even able to doze through some of them.
Don't Watch the Clock
Once you're safely laboring in the hospital, put your phone away and pay no attention to the clock. Time means nothing in labor... some women labor for minutes, some for hours, and yes.. some even labor for days. The important thing is to take each contraction one at a time - it doesn't matter how many contractions you've had or how many more are to come, all that matters is the moment you're in now. Taking it one contraction at a time is the easiest way not to feel discouraged or overwhelmed, just take it one step at a time.
Save the Tub as your Last Resort
If you have access to a labor tub, it's heaven. The warm water and being able to let yourself float during contractions is just such a huge relief. However, you don't want to play that card early in your labor since the relaxing effects of the tub tend to wear off the longer you're in it. Instead save the tub until you just can't take the contractions anymore (like during the Transition Phase of labor), then savor all the warm relaxation the labor tub has to offer - it'll feel like heaven.
Realize that Sometimes Decisions are Made For You
Above all, go in with a positive mindset and ready to relax yourself through labor but understand that ultimately sometimes decisions will be made for you in the best interest of you and your baby's health. For us, I was lucky enough to successfully hypnobirth our first baby and have the incredible all-natural birth experience I always wanted. However, for our second pregnancy baby #2 stayed breech and just would not turn. For us this time, I did not get the opportunity for an all-natural birth but instead had a planned c-section - and guess what? It was still incredible! No matter how your baby is delivered it's an amazing experience - enjoy and savor it.
Best of luck, Mamas!!