Why Did I Want to Try Hypnobirthing?
I’d like to grow into a highly conscious person. I’m definitely not there yet but I am generally trying to move in a forward direction. So this article may not speak to you if you have surpassed my level of human flaws but it might if you are keen to become calmer and more peaceful but, like most of us, you still suffer the frustrations of sometimes being thrown by unexpected emotions into states of fear.
In the early stages of my pregnancy I was meditating and practicing mindfulness as much as possible and was convinced I’d be able to wholeheartedly embrace the rewarding and earthy experience of a completely natural labour. I pictured myself humming and breathing calmly, gently swaying in time with my contractions with soft music and candles burning in the background. I was sure my baby would swim out of my body and into the warm, welcoming water of the birthing pool to meet me in a loving and gentle scene of soft apricot tones accompanied by gentle pan pipes and the scent of lavender.
So as my pregnancy progressed, I downloaded a bunch of hypno-birthing albums from iTunes and regularly sat on the beach listening to the deep and dulcet tones of various spiritual earth mothers on my iPod. I chuckled to myself as the speaker drawled in her Portland accent: “your ONLY job is to relaaaax your vagyyyyyna. That’s it, relaaaax your vagyyyyna”. I thought, hey, I’ve held down much more taxing jobs than that in the past so I’m going to be just fine.
However, as my bump grew larger with each month I started to notice a flutter of anxiety at the thought of the Being within actually getting from the inside to the outside of my body. That anxiety grew into a full-blown Big Bird of freak out as the weeks went by and my stomach expanded to an inflated size beyond anything I had imagined possible. I decided I needed to attend a half-day session with a professional hypnobirther to give me some real tools to give me some much-needed confidence.
Here I am going to explain the techniques she taught me in and then I will let you know whether or not they worked for me.
A key idea behind hypnobirthing is that it really helps to deal with pain or uncomfortable physical sensations when we understand what is causing them. After all, the unknown is scarier than something we understand right? We can then visualize what is happening so that, instead of attempting in vain to shut out an amorphous mass of discomfort, we can actively engage our minds to embrace the feeling to help the process along.
I’ve already diverted from one of the chief tenants of hypnobirthing as a key guiding principle is to not to refer to any part of the labour process with the word “pain”. Instead we are taught to challenge the idea that giving birth has to be painful. Using substitute phraseology such as “stretching sensations” can change our perception and stop us from fighting and freezing and shrinking up… we want to relax and open and that requires an acceptance and confidence in the natural and age-old biological process taking place in our body. We need to think positively.
We also need to understand what is happening physically and use visualization techniques to aid the process.
There are 3 stages to labour and it is important to understand all three so that we are not taken by surprise and can wholly surrender to the experience:
The first stage of labour happens in two parts. The first part is the dilating (or opening) of the cervix. This is the “painful” bit. The “stretchy sensation” bit. The cervix has to get to 10cm in diameter and this can take a few hours or a couple of days or even more. There is such variation in the time it takes from woman to woman that it is enough to just say that this is usually the longest part of labour.
With hypnobirth there is variation in the visualization techniques that can be used. The one I learned goes like this: on the contraction, or the “stretching sensation” the mother visualizes blue ribbons expanding around an inflating balloon to represent the longitudinal muscles of her womb rising enabling the cervix to dilate. Then, during the relaxation time between contractions, the mother needs to imagine yellow flowers opening to release that balloon. In preparation for this visualization, I was given soft blue ribbons to feel and observe and a DVD of youtube videos showing time lapse photography of magnificent yellow flowers opening to the sunshine.
The second part of the first stage of labour is transition which is when the cervix is/is almost dilated and your body adjusts to get ready to push the baby out. This is when many women will experience panic, nausea and a range of difficulties so it helps to know to expect it. But it is the light at the end of the tunnel though as it usually signals the end of the more challenging stage of the contractions.
The second stage of labour requires completely different visualization techniques. Now the baby is ready to move down the birth canal and out of the body, into your arms! In hypno-birth, we are told to “breathe the baby down”. We need to continue to concentrate on relaxing and opening. A trick is to open your throat as this has the effect of opening the other end of the tube – the bottom! Relax the mouth, jaw, throat and allow the baby to naturally move down the birth canal via the natural rhythms of peristalsis. As you inhale, imagine pure relaxation flooding your throat and as you exhale, think the word “peace” to feel the full release of all tension from the throat right down to the rectum. Then, and only then, when the body is ready, automatic deep and powerful pushing will take place without thought.
Once the baby has moved far enough, you will experience crowning which is when you need to just allow the baby’s head to push through the vaginal opening. Try to take shallow breaths at this time to minimize the pushing sensation and reduce the risk of tearing.
Finally, the third stage begins when you will get weaker contractions that birth the placenta. However, most hospitals just give you an injection that means you skip this stage and the placenta just comes right out without pushing. Just remember that the placenta needs to come out so you are not surprised when this part happens.
Hypnobirthing in Practice – Did it work for me?
NOPE, hypnobirthing did not work for me on this occasion. Not a chance. I hope you can learn from my mistakes!
Read on at your own risk. You may not respond well to hearing a negative experience if you are about to give birth for the first time. I just want to let you know to be prepared and have other options in addition to hypnobirthing ready in case you need them. Here is the detail that led to that conclusion and you may want to stop reading here. When I was pregnant, nothing was worse than hearing a horror story so please only read on if you are not feeling sensitive.
I had taken naps every day for the last month of the pregnancy to ensure my energy reserves were high. However, on the day I went into labour I had spent the whole day walking around the city, traipsing miles up and down the beach in hot weather, organizing the house, seeing friends and I missed my daily nap. Later that night I was watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and didn’t find any of the jokes funny. Although Larry David can often be a bit off in his humour, I still expect to get a small laugh here and there. I realized that the main reason the show was annoying me was because my stomach had started to really hurt; labour had begun.
A stag party in the house next door started to rev up and I worried that it would throw me from the calm hypnobirthing experience I was about to enter. I needn’t have worried – I ended up making more noise than anyone at that party and probably kept the whole house awake with each of my slaughtered-cow wails.
So, with shaky hands I took out my iPod, inserted the headphones and sniffed some lemon oil on a tissue. Just as the drawled instruction came to “relaaaaaax your vagyyyna” the next contraction hit much harder than the last. I would describe it as a million things but stretchy sensation would not be one of them. In desperation I violently yanked the iPod from my ears and threw it away from me. Screw this! There and then my hypnobirth experience was over. Blue ribbons my arse. Yellow flowers, go to hell and take your poxy balloons with you.
Choked with fear, I rang my midwife but was told that she had gone on holiday and the relief mid-wife was at home in bed over an hour from the hospital. I called her at home but the relief mid-wife refused to come into the hospital until my contractions were one minute long and three minutes apart without variation for an hour. She said that without her, I would not be admitted to the birthing suite and would be sent back home. I was not in a state to argue or to question. I was just hanging on and very scared as the pain was so unbearable at this point that I was confused and delirious. And so began 12 hours of a frightening torture without pain relief. I imagine it is something like the experience of becoming a vampire as described in Stephanie Meyer’s atrocious Twilight books.
When the relief midwife finally agreed to meet me at the hospital I was almost 10cm dilated. I very nearly gave birth in the car, but I was too wrecked to care at the time. The midwife finally rocked up at 5am in heavy makeup stinking of cigarette smoke and it was clear she had not been in bed – she had been out for a night on the town. I just did what this midwife said and when she told me to push, I pushed.
It is very important to ensure your midwife, doula or doctor is aware of the method you are using as it is standard practice to forcefully instruct a mother to push with each contraction during the second stage. It totally threw me as I had been expecting to “breathe my baby out” but I just did as I was told because I was so exhausted and disorientated that I was in no condition to argue.
So long story short(er), I gave birth naturally and without pain relief but I was not prepared for the wall of agony that hit me. I was not prepared for my midwife being on holiday. I was not prepared for being told I could not attend the hospital until my contractions were one minute long and three minutes apart. I was not prepared for pain because I had been expecting “stretchy sensations”. I had convinced myself that relaxing and opening was my only job. In fact, holding on was my job that night as I repeatedly moved in and out of consciousness. There is no other way to describe it. Even the Buddha could not have breathed calmly through that ordeal.
Which is why I want to advise you to be ready for different eventualities. Each birthing experience is different. Each woman is different. Each woman’s pain threshold is different and each baby is different. If you are 100% prepared for a beautiful and gentle hypnobirth experience, you may find the reality very frightening if there are any physical complications or if practical hurdles arise. Discuss all options with your birthing professional and make sure that they are working with you. And ensure that pain relief options are available in case of emergency or if you just cannot handle the sensations (as I couldn’t). I would recommend at least reading Ju Jin’s Birth Skills as well for some different methods to try managing the sensations – she mostly discusses vocalizing the pain and moving with it. Essentially, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket like I did.
Although I could be heard a mile away as I tried to escape my body with each guttural cry, yes, of course it was worth it. I am fine now and although I felt like a broken woman after that experience, I healed into a more complex being. There is no doubt in my mind that all the physical efforts of pregnancy and labour are overshadowed by the joy of motherhood. I just want to share with you that I could have made the labour process easier for myself had I planned for more eventualities instead of sitting back and hoping for the best.
Hypnobirthing is amazing in theory and if you can make it work for you then both you and your baby will surely benefit immeasurably. I will try it again if I have another baby. I just want to caution expectant mothers to have some alternative options prepared in case it is not enough for them because there is nothing worse than being taken by surprise at a time like that.
You need all your energy for that first magical moment you first lay eyes on your baby – the new and improved centre of your Universe.
Here are a few hypnobirthing books and CD’s to try:
And here is Ju Jin’s excellent Birth Skills:
If you had a better hypnobirth experience than me, I’d love to hear about it. Here you can share any helpful tips you have for others about to give birth.