A couple months into my pregnancy, my mom gave me and Andreas a gift certificate for 12 hours of private Hypnobirthing training with a certified instructor. The initial lessons were challenging, not because the practice itself was all that difficult (both Dre and I have had lots of exposure to and belief in focused breathing exercises, guided meditation, etc) but because the program felt, well, sort of silly…
The program can feel hokey, especially the language. It touts an alternative birth vocabulary, claiming it’s not a contraction, it’s a “surge”! It’s not pain, it’s “sensation.” It’s not a “complication,” it’s a “special circumstance.” You don’t push, you “breathe the baby down.”
The program also included some relaxation exercises that felt gimmicky, with lines like, “You can feel yourself becoming twice as relaxed.” I kept thinking, so what’s twice as much feel like? What about ten times more relaxed? What about 8 to the 12th power more relaxed?
Oh, and the music on the included CD was stereotypical twinkly new age stuff.
BUT! Despite our dubiousness, Andreas and I were both immediately recognized that the concepts and methods were going to be super valuable. It makes a lot of sense to me that anxiety and fear of pain are some of the biggest mental blocks in natural childbirth, and I know from personal experience that when I’m dealing with fear and anxiety, focusing on my breath is the best thing I can do for myself. It’s not really hypnosis — it’s just breathwork. Meditation, really.
So while I knew right away that hypnobirthing wasn’t really about hypnosis, it took me a while to recognize that it’s not really about birthing either.
Ok, let me back up. What is hypnobirthing? Basically, the program is just a series of scripts of guided meditations that you use during your pregnancy and labor. Ideally, your labor partner reads you the hypnobirthing scripts, but there are also CDs that you can use if your partner isn’t into it. The idea is that through the use of relaxing music and these scripts, you can keep yourself in a calm, meditative state during your labor, better managing your pain and having a smoother natural birth experience.
So if it’s just breathing exercises and guided meditation, why do they call it “hypnosis”? My theory is that the author doesn’t want to scare away people who might balk at the words “meditation” or “yoga.” Hypnobirthing is yoga breathwork for the mainstream; focused meditation that you can buy at the strip mall. I mean, it was on Dr. Phil and Good Morning America for godsake!
I doubted that Hypnobirthing would result in the “PAIN FREE BIRTH” that the hypnobirthing(tm) marketing materials claimed. But the way I saw it, focusing on grounded breathing exercises was an excellent practice for me regardless of the eventual outcome during labor. So while I hoped it would make the delivery process smoother, I recognized that my monkey brain could benefit from focused breathing.
I started doing the breathing exercises at night during my second trimester to help myself fall back asleep after getting up 6+ times a night to pee … and lemme tell ya, that shit worked LIKE A CHARM. Usually, my midnight wake-ups would find me spiraling into a brain-warp of little anxieties and fretting over work or the pregnancy. But thanks to the twinkly new age music that I thought I’d hate, I was able to reign my brain in and focus on my breath. I almost always fell back asleep within five minutes or so. I still woke up a million times a night, but I really did fall back to sleep quickly. I mostly used my own little mantra to follow my breath: Breathe, release. Breathe, release.
When, at 37 weeks pregnant, I tried doing External Cephalic Version to flip my stubbornly breech baby, I used the hypnobirthing methods to stay calm and focused through the 20 minutes of the doctor digging his hands into my belly and trying to wrestle the baby into position.
When it was clear the Version had failed and I would not be having the natural childbirth I wanted, I used the hypnobirthing methods to stay calm. There are those that say the mother’s state of mind influences the fetus, and I didn’t want my anxiety over a breech presentation and a hospital birth to stress out the fetus. Breathing, breathing. I just kept breathing.
And when I ultimately ended up with the most sterile, medicalized hospital birth imaginable, I used my hypnobirthing breathwork to stay focused and centered through all the beeping and fluorescent lights and masked medical workers. Spinal anesthesia? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The eerie sensation of my numbed lower body being sliced open and jacked around as they pulled the baby out? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The nausea that came when the doctors pulled my uterus out of my body to sew it up? Breathe, release.
It wasn’t the natural childbirth that I’d prepared for, but there was no denying that the hypnobirthing helped.
And in the months since Tavi’s birth? Waking up at 3am for the third nursing of the night, trying to fall back asleep … breathe, release. Breathe, release. It still helps me fall back to sleep easily. In the moments when he’s inconsolable, despite being nursed, changed, swaddled, and snuggled? Breathe, release. Breathe, release. The breathing helps me stay calmer. (Not always calm. But calmer.)
So, while I don’t think hypnobirthing is hypnosis, and I didn’t use it in the context of natural childbirth, it was definitely beneficial to my pregnancy, birth, and even parenthood.