If there was only piece of advice I could give Pregnant Mamas about Childbirth, it would be hire a Doula.
It doesn't matter what kind of Birth you are planning, every woman should have a Doula.
You may have the most supportive partner in the World, but they can only do so much. A Doula has been there and done that and seen so much (my Doula had attended over 400 births by the time she had attended my first Birth). A Doula's only job is to support you!
A Doula is particularly important in the hospital because they can be your advocate when you are at your most vulnerable. A Doula is worth their weight in gold!
Here is an interesting piece on understanding statistically how having a Doula at your birth can positively affect your out-come.
During my first pregnancy, I interviewed several Doulas/Birth Assistants; it was one of our Midwives' requirements for a Home Birth.
It's essential that you meet with several and find someone whose personality fits your own. Listen to your Gut...is it a good fit? If not, keep interviewing...
I ended up going with a Doula I thought I felt comfortable with but then I started have a little doubt at the very end. The Universe works in mysterious ways because she ended up having to call in her substitute.
I met Gwen for the first time when I was completely naked and had been in active labor for 8 hours. She had a motherly presence, an awesome white streak in your black hair and didn't mind when I kept calling her "Glen" instead of "Gwen."
For the next 12 hours, she was my Rock, my Anchor, my Savior. I don't think I could have spent 2 1/2 hours pushing out a malpositioned 9 lb baby with no drugs, if she hadn't been by my side.
My husband was great.
My Midwife was great.
But, Gwen was my Life-line.
She showed my husband how to do a hip-press and took over when he needed a break. She was with me through every contraction, every breath...using a myriad of visualizations and mantras. She made sure I was constantly sipping enough water. She held my hand and got me through the most intense pain I have ever felt. She was just what I needed.
And, I was absolutely thrilled she was at my side for my second Birth.
I was only at the Birth Center for two hours before the baby was born, but Gwen was still a huge help. Even though my Labor was much faster and I had already had an un-medicated Birth...it didn't make any of the contractions easier. It was still really, really HARD WORK. Having her hold my hand and work through each contraction was AMAZING.
It was also wonderful having Gwen there the 4 hours afterwards, while I recovered.
Having her attend both my two very different Births was very special and very healing.
Buy your Maternity clothes second-hand, don't go on that expensive Baby-moon, scrimp on other things...but do yourself a huge favor and hire a Doula.
Student Doulas are ALWAYS looking for more experience, so you may be able to hire one for free or for a reduced rate.
For tons more information and names of Doulas in your area, check out DONA International.