When I first met up with our NCT group after the birth of our children, it stunned me (and them) that I was the only person out of the 8 or so couples who had had a positive birth experience.
I was also the only one who had used hypnobirthing and had had no intervention. Not exactly scientific but my experience is representative of many people who look for a better way of approaching childbirth and choose hypnobirthing.
Hypnosis is powerful stuff
Many moons before, when I was at university studying Psychology, I did my third year dissertation on hypnosis. I hypnotised people and studied the effect on their inability to problem solve in a hypnotised state. I also learned in my lectures on hypnosis about its use for pain relief. Hypnosis was first used by dentists and doctors in the UK in the 1800s but it was also used by the Romans and ancient Greeks. More info here.
The first thing to say is that hypnosis in this context is not the entertainment ‘dance like a chicken’ that you see on the stage. Hypnosis in this context is basically the combination of concentration and focus, with the ability to use your imagination. It can be described as meditation with intent and triggers a relaxation response that can be seen as Alpha or Theta brain wave frequency in an EEG. It feels like day dreaming.
Could hypnobirthing be for real?
Never one to follow the crowd, when I became pregnant with my DD1 (first darling daughter), I started to look into my birthing options. When I came across hypnobirthing or natal hypnotherapy, I was really excited, though skeptical at the same time. In ‘One Born Every Minute’, or in fact any birth on TV, women are screaming with pain so how could it be peaceful and pain free? Surely there must be some voodoo magic involved, which didn’t sound my thing at all.
Well, it turns out that just by regular relaxation practice and use of affirmations, a peaceful, less painful birth is possible. I specifically say ‘less painful’ here, you could say ‘pain free’ but this may be a bit misleading, and I’ll come to this in a bit*.
The relaxation practice helps you learn to come into a relaxed state more quickly and easily than someone who hasn’t practiced, and the affirmations are really to rewire your brain in a more positive way. The relaxation is important because it is the tension that people hold in their body that works against the birthing body. It also helps you maintain the focus you need. The affirmations are important to banish the fear that is really the source of any pain.
How simple hypnobirthing is!
I used the Marie Mongan method and started by listening to the relaxation CD once or twice a week and increased it as my pregnancy progressed. To start with it seemed difficult to make the time, but as I became bigger and had more trouble sleeping, I used the CD as I went to bed, which helped me get to sleep. Part of the relaxation is a breathing technique called sleep breathing, there are two other breathing techniques but these are just needed for the birth, you can practice these once or twice so you remember them. I also I taught my husband so he could remind me if things went a bit off track, which was very useful when the time came. I listened to the affirmations towards the end of my pregnancy, they help to build up courage and self-belief that your body is both capable and ready and that you can tackle whatever comes your way, useful if it doesn’t all go according to plan.
I think its also useful to add here that I am the kind of person who finds it very difficult to make a commitment to something. Although at times it was difficult to make the time (and for my second, this really was a struggle with a 3 year old to keep entertained) as my pregnancy progressed the instinct to ‘nest’ and take care of myself kicked in. I think most pregnant people find their body starts to self regulate as they get bigger and can’t move around so much, so once you start to do the relaxation, I think you will find it becomes easier and easier.
Get positive, take control
A central part of the hypnobirthing ethos is to banish the negative words. Instead of talking about ‘pain’, for example it is more helpful to talk about sensation. If you think about it pain is subjective, it is all about how you perceive the sensation. It is self fulfilling, if you think it is going to be painful you will be fearful and if you are fearful you will feel more pain. Break that cycle and you have less ‘pain’. The other important word is ‘contraction’, that is just going to lead to pain isn’t it? So instead hypnobirthing uses the word ‘surge’ because that is what your body does, it uses a rippling effect of your muscles to move the baby, and it really does move in waves.
Your relaxation and positive thoughts make the sensations you feel manageable, which alters your perception of the sensation as something that is unbearable to the sensation of opening, movement and progress to the ultimate goal, which is meeting your baby. The former is something akin to torture i.e. passive, something that is inflicted on you; the latter is like entering and running a marathon i.e. active, something that you are taking on for yourself.
There are lots of other ancillary tools that hypnobirthing gives you, but for me the relaxation and affirmations were the most useful. It might be useful to mention one in particular, the perennial massage – though some might find it embarrassing, I found it helped – just a few little scratches for both my births – and it has solid scientific research to support its use to minimise the need for an episiotomy.
I built up this set of tools from hypnobirthing and when I went into labour, I used the relaxation track until the surges become more powerful. I then switched to the affirmations. I listened to the affirmations over and over and it really is best described as a trance-like state. My husband did all the communicating and problem solving (see the reference to my dissertation above about not being able to problem solve at the same time) and I just concentrated on my breathing and staying with it. If my concentration broke, I could really feel the difference, the surges became more intense so that I felt like I was being pulled along by a rip tide, but once I regained my focus, it was more like white water rafting – I suppose it is the difference between being in control or not. However big the wave gets, you can ride it.
And so, to the results. I have had two natural births without any pain relief or intervention whatsoever – no paracetamol, not even gas and air. I feel really proud. I get a lot of comments about how ‘strong’ I must be, but it isn’t a physical or even mental ‘strength’ it is just about building up the confidence and self belief, which the CDs help you to do.