From discussion with others, pain is only part of the labor/delivery story. It doesn't have to be the whole story. After taking a childbirth class (where I cried multiple times, and felt completely overwhelmed), I realized I wanted to take more ownership of the whole birth process, to open myself to the experience of childbirth, instead of fearing it, anticipating pain and stress.
Because of this we hired a doula to help us through the experience, so it's not just a medical procedure, but more. E, our doula, will help us create a peaceful, non-stressful environment that enables labor to progress as it should. Her job will be making sure that I'm in the right head-space and use the right coping mechanisms to make birth better for me, for Mr. Jem (but mostly for me).
We interviewed three women for this important and expensive (over $1,000) job. We chose the person with the most experience - she's attended over 100 births as a doula and is trained as a midwife - and who we clicked with the most. Plus, we liked her process - first meeting Mr. Jem and I had to fill out a questionnaire, answering questions about ourselves and each other so she could know us better, know our relationship, how we work together, our relationship with "pain" and stress and how we cope with them.
During the second meeting (on Friday), Mr. Jem wasn't there. I gave E a tour of our house (I plan to labor here as long as possible, especially how good I feel floating in our body-temp hot tub). We went over labor positions. I asked her to touch my back, massage me so I could be accustomed to her touch. She has strong nice hands. We also spend some time talking about the physiognomy of squatting during labor and delivery, what positions are better during the different phases of birth - for example, saving the full squat (on my feet or on the bed if I have an epidural) for pushing, as it opens the bottom of the pelvis. We discussed how relaxation, visualization and even vocalization can help with the labor. She said that when women get stuck, it's usually because they are afraid or stressed. She'll help me through this.
That said, I'm still open to being as medicated (epidural) or not as I feel appropriate in the moment and she (and Mr. Jem of course) support me in this.
So, in the battle of doula vs. pain, I'm betting on the doula (and me).
For those of you who have experienced labor and delivery, what's your take?