I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way I felt when we saw the word “pregnant” flash on the digital readout of the pregnancy test. My wife was only a few days “late” – so it was really a lark (or maybe a hunch) that propelled us to the local pharmacy to pick up a few sticks of “pee-on-me-cuz-your-life-could-be-about-to-really-change”. We stared at that little screen, waiting for the word “NOT” to appear, but after 30 minutes we figured out that there probably wasn’t going to be any change in diagnosis. “Oh. My. God.” never had such meaning. We were very excited – and, subsequently, a little nervous. Nervous primarily because going through a pregnancy and childbirth is a big deal. And what did we know about it? Enough to think that it was going to be big, scary, and, probably, painful. Then, out of the blue, came our friend Jessica Porter, and the technique that changed everything: Hypnobirthing.
Hypnobirthing. You hear the word and think “Hypnobirthing…now that sounds sorta woo-woo, doesn’t it?” – at least that’s what your grandmother will be saying. If you’re anything like us, however, you’re willing to put aside other people’s judgements in search of the best way to prepare for (and overcome your fear of) labor and childbirth. From our experience with Hypnobirthing, we can definitely say that we found a method that works for us – and that’ll probably work for you too.
Here’s the premise: Way back when, long before there was a “Natural Childbirth” movement, there was this British doctor named Grantly Dick-Read (insert chuckles here) who was called out of his hospital domain to attend a birth under a train trestle. When he arrived, he attempted to administer ether to the woman, who pushed him away with a “wha’ the ‘eck d’ya think you’re doin’?!?” When he told her he was giving her something to help with the pain, she replied “You mean this is supposed to be painful?”
Lightbulb flashed in Grantly Dick-Read’s brain. Subsequently he figured out that if a woman was relaxed during labor, her body could do exactly what it was designed to do – give birth without pain. On the other hand, if a woman approached labor with fear, her body would instead be in fight-or-flight mode, with the blood rushing from the places where it was supposed to be (the birthing parts) to the fighting-and-flighting parts. Thus the Natural Childbirth movement was born, with the notion that birth could be an intense-yet-painfree experience if a woman could eliminate her fear and stay relaxed during the process.
Since then, there have been all sorts of methods devoted to just that – helping a woman stay relaxed during labor, or, in lieu of that, focused elsewhere. Most of these methods focus on breathing techniques, and, from what I understand, have varying degrees of success. Without any positive role models around us, we were looking for something where we could be a bit more certain of our success, something that actually prepared us to succeed with a natural childbirth, and that’s what led us to Hypnobirthing.
In the creation of Hypnobirthing, Marie Mongan recognized that hypnosis could be a powerful tool for maintaining a relaxed state during the entire birthing process. Hypnobirthing also uses hypnosis to remove fears around the process of childbirth that would otherwise remain lodged deep within our subconscious. Through five 3-hour classes we went step-by-step through the method, re-educating ourselves about the physiology of birth, prepping our minds (both conscious and subconscious) for a successful birthing experience, and learning various techniques for maintaining relaxation that would be useful well beyond our time in the birthing room (care for a light-touch massage, Tonya?).
Another important aspect of Hypnobirthing training was how it gave me a role to play during the whole process. The birthing partner becomes a facilitator for the woman in labor, and for me it was really helpful to have some instruction in “what to do” – I knew that I was actually going to be useful for my wife. What I also can’t emphasize enough is how participating in a Hypnobirthing class really changed our mindset about pregnancy and childbirth, helped us relax despite the mystery of not knowing exactly what was going to happen, and left us feeling ready for when the fateful moment arrived.
And the moment did arrive – two weeks late. Surges (the hypnobirthing word for “contractions” – an important distinction) started early in the day, and yet we went about our business: an appointment with the mid-wife, a trip to the grocery store for some last minute supplies, back to the house for some R&R. We waited, and we waited. Tonya was focused on her own relaxation, listening to the Hypnobirthing CD that we got in our class (essential listening) and doing whatever she needed to do to maintain that relaxed state. It was intense, but certainly manageable (though you’ll have to check in with her for her perspective). I was getting things ready around the house, and finishing up our packing for the hospital (we were going to a local hospital’s birthing center). Our midwife had instructed us to wait until the surges were 4 minutes apart before coming in to the hospital, but they hovered around 5 minutes for quite some time, long enough that we decided that we should probably just go in anyways, to be on the safe side.
As soon as I hung up the phone (after telling our midwife that we were coming in), the surges increased in frequency and intensity, one right after the other, with barely a break in between. We live a mile and a half from the hospital, and it took us about an hour to get there – as we literally had to focus on keeping Tonya relaxed nearly every step of the way. However, I think that it was testimony to how well we were programmed for success that we managed to get to the car, pack the car, drive to the hospital, WALK to the birthing center and our room – all the while managing surge after surge after surge. It was definitely intense – once we were “comfortably” in our room we found out that we had already progressed all the way through to 10 cm (that means “baby is ready to pop out”, folks!).
When it comes to the “baby popping out” part, Hypnobirthing is a proponent of maintaining your relaxation, letting the natural action of your body do the “pushing” (for the most part – there was some appropriately-timed bearing down – when the time was right). Jessica, our hypnobirthing instructor, was at the hospital with us (along with our midwife), so together the three of us worked with Tonya to help her stay as relaxed and comfortable as possible, all the while monitoring little Boober as he prepared to make his appearance. Four hours later he was out, and happy. No drugs were involved, which meant that we could be totally present for the birth of our son.
It’s worth mentioning that the three other couples in our Hypnobirthing class all had similarly successful experiences.
There are all sorts of choices in the world of preparing for labor/childbirth (especially if you’re aiming for a natural, drug-free childbirth). Hypnobirthing worked great for us – check out the website (or the HypnoBirthing book) if you’d like more information, but definitely plan on going through a training with an instructor if you want to DO Hypnobirthing. We found the classtime to be invaluable, putting the info from the Hypnobirthing book into context and making it even more practical for our use. I think that you’d find Hypnobirthing to be a very useful pre-childbirth training to go through, preparing you for a very successful birthing experience. The relaxed state that it helps you maintain will help your birthing process be positive, no matter what twists and turns you encounter. For Dash, it was most definitely a great way to arrive.