For this post I'll try to cover both medicated and unmedicated childbirth, and what helped me most with both. Of course, any other moms are welcome to add your own advice in the comments!
There are a few major things that I wish I would have implemented during my first birth experience - because they made all the difference with the second. Things will always come up that you didn't expect, but if you prepare yourself, you can handle whatever happens. With that said, here's "what I wish I'd done."
Home: Stay at home for as long as possible. Really. I knew that I should, and with Liam I thought I was waiting, but no. Checking in and hearing the words "You're a 1+" will crush your spirit like a cinderblock. You'll be anxious to get to the hospital - don't let it get to you. Time your contractions, eat and drink as much as you can (even though you won't feel like it), do projects if you need to distract yourself. I baked cookies for the nurses on the day I was laboring at home. Surprise! The nurses loved them.
Move: Don't just lie there; you've got to move around. Per my Hypnobabies training, with MG I changed my position after every contraction. It was tough. I'd get comfortable, handle a contraction well, and want to stay that way. But I forced myself to move and I am quite convinced it sped up the process.
With Liam, I discovered that I could handle the pain better if I was on my feet. I stood for every.single.contraction. until I got an epidural, even when I was on Pitocin and hooked up to IVs and monitors. That was probably 12 hours' worth. I don't know, I just couldn't bear to sit there.
Position of the Baby: I know, I sound totally paranoid about having another posterior baby. That's because I am. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. A posterior baby will cause more painful contractions and slower progress, back labor that the epidural may not anesthetize, harder and longer pushing, better likelihood of tearing/episiotomy, you understand me??
And really, it's quite preventable. There are ways to turn your baby, if you know that you need to, before you get an epidural and can't move. Ask your nurses, ask the doctor. If they check you and mention that "it's possible," you jump on that and demand a definite answer! Text me for ideas on how to turn her! Do what you have to do!
Relax: So, with all the moving and contracting and demanding answers from nurses, this may not seem like a high priority. But it really is. In hindsight, I think my lack of confidence may have hurt me more than anything (besides the posterior-ness) with Liam. Your body knows when you are scared, and it will work against itself if you're as terrified of childbirth as I was. You have got to believe in yourself.
You've got to believe that God created your body, and that your body is capable of giving life. No matter your character flaws or low pain tolerance or whatever, you are capable.
Relax and let your body do its work, then relax and relax again. Breathe. Focus inward. Talk yourself through it, talk your baby through it. Cry if you need to. Pray.
Lean on your husband.
And if you need to utilize the wonders of modern medicine, don't let it - or anyone - get you down. That doesn't mean you're less of a person. It means you made a decision. Praise the Lord that we even have these options.
Stand your ground. I wish everyone could have the awesome doctor/staff/hospital that I do, but unfortunately, most of you live in big cities with big-time hospitals and strict regulations and possibly uptight caregivers.
Anyway, don't be afraid to ask for what you need. And if something happens that you don't like, don't be afraid to ask questions. Like, why are you doing this? And, are there other options? Often nurses do things just to follow normal procedure - which doesn't mean they can't make exceptions for you.
(I can give specifics if you want.)
In the end, it's your body, your baby, your experience. I loved it when my doctor told me "There are lots of right ways to have a baby!" because it's true. The important thing is to get her here safe and sound. Once she's here, life as you know it is over.
Because once you're a mother, you are a different person. And you'll wonder how you ever felt like a whole person before you were a mother.
Next: The Nursing