Some practitioners, however, espouse very specific methods which differ in some key points from the class given at their hospital. And many parents choose not to give birth at a hospital, giving them an endless array of options when it comes to labor and birth education.
For me, even though I'll be doing a hospital birth for Lil' Feisty, I wanted to find a birth class that fit well with someone seeking a non-medical birth. My first thought was of the Bradley Method, a very popular and highly-praised method of education for parents seeking natural birth.* But when I checked for classes in my area, I couldn't find anything closer than 3 hours away. And considering it's a 12-class course, that's a bit too much to do.
I asked my midwife, because I knew from her website that she's a proponent of HypnoBirthing. I was hesitant, mostly because the "hypno" part of the word comes from, well, hypnosis, and we all know that that means people clucking like chickens onstage in Las Vegas, right? Wrong, but we'll get to that in a minute. When I asked her if she had any classes soon, she sadly shook her head, saying she was so swamped she couldn't find a time to put together a class; the book, however, was an excellent resource and the first place we should start, anyway. So I bought it.
And I finished it this week.
Here are my thoughts on HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method.
*"Natural birth" is one of those terms that can mean any number of things. Some people use it to mean a vaginal birth. Some use it to mean a birth without pain management medication. Some use it to mean a birth without any medication whatsoever (without pitocin inductions, for example). And some use it to mean a birth without any intervention (medications, surgery, physical manipulation), meaning no manipulation of the cervix, membranes, or entry of the baby into the world. For our purposes, and for clarity's sake, natural birth will mean a birth without any sort of intervention.
First of all, let's just get this out of the way. I tend to be a bit cynical and prone to scoffing when it comes to the way people name certain things, so seeing that this book (the 3rd edition) comes with a relaxation CD called Rainbow Relaxation prompted a bit of eye-rolling, sadly. I had to suppress a lot of those impulses while reading this book, for the language is very emotional and touchy-feely. This fits in with the entire philosophy about labor and birth found in this method, but it's sometimes hard to swallow if you're more of a to-the-point person like I am.
That being said, I really enjoyed this book, and I've decided to use the methods, techniques, and visualizations outlined in it.
Who is this Mongan, and what is the method?
Mongan is Marie Mongan, the Director of the HypnoBirthing Institute in New Hampshire. She is licensed by the state of New Hampshire as a counselor and holds certification as an advanced clinical hypnotherapist, a hypnoanesthesiologist, and an instructor of hypnotherapy. She is a recipient of the National Guild of Hypnotists President's Award and the Charles Tebbetts award.
Her method was developed through her own experiences giving birth to her 4 children and through her research into the history of birth in western culture and the different approaches to birth around the world. It is based on the Dick-Read method, a method for pain-free birth developed in England in the first part of the 20th century. As she puts it in the beginning of her book:
HypnoBirthing is as much a philosophy of birth as it is a technique or method for birthing. The basic tenet of the program is that childbirth is a normal, natural, and healthy function for women. As such, birth can be accomplished gently and calmly for the very large number of women who are not in a high-risk situation.
Where does the "Hypno" part come from?
As you might have guessed already, the "Hypno" portion of HypnoBirthing comes from hypnosis. If you're looking for the full, medical explanation of hypnosis, try this link from the Mayo Clinic. If you'd rather learn a bit about hypnosis in layman's terms, read about this woman's experience when she tried hypnosis.
Hypnosis is often used as a therapy, and individuals are guided into a voluntary hypnotic state by a professional hypnotherapist. HypnoBirthing relies instead on self-hypnosis, which we actually do to ourselves all the time--just before we fall asleep, while we drive long stretches of highway, as we sit through a lecture, etc. As Mongan puts it:
During self-hypnosis, the brain and nervous system are saturated with a picture of a specific, ideal sensory vision that seems so real, it becomes imprinted on the brain. This occurs exactly the way that real experiences become embedded within the memory of the subconscious. When a person is in a relaxed state, the mind more easily adapts to the imagery and accepts the suggested vision as being real. The assimilation of the repeated image causes the belief in the desired outcome.
For those who say hypnosis is just a mind trick, well, in a way, they're right! How do we feel the heat and the pain if we grab a curling iron by the barrel? It's actually not through our skin or the contact or the object. It's because our brain receives information from our hand, processes that information, then sends out a response--in this case it's pain and a quick release of the curling iron. If there was an interruption in the information flow, the brain wouldn't tell us we were holding a hot object and that it hurt, so we'd keep holding it until some other sense (sight, smell, sound) told us we were being burnt.
If we can condition the brain to respond a certain way to certain stimuli (say, for example, contractions), or to respond a certain way when we make the conscious choice (using the techniques in the book), then we can control not only our own responses, but also that actual physical sensations our body feels.
HypnoBirthing is all about overcoming fear.
This applies to birth because our culture has so ingrained into our heads that birth must be painful, and that it is often something to fear. In the early 1900's a doctor named Grantly Dick-Read was called to attend a lower-class woman's birth. She refused pain relief (chloroform, at the time) and birthed her baby with quiet breaths and gentleness. When he asked her why she hadn't wanted pain relief, she said, "It didn't hurt. It wasn't supposed to, was it, Doctor?"
He would mull over this statement for decades, and he would see it in action with other women--mostly women who were lower-class and didn't attend hospitals. He eventually developed a theory called the Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome. The primary premise is that fear is the cause of tension within the body, and in particular the uterus, and that tension inhibits the natural birthing process, prolonging labor and causing pain.
This is also the basic premise of HypnoBirthing.
A history lesson.
One of the most informative and helpful portions of the book for me were the chapters at the beginning that outlined the history of birth in Britain and America. It truly is fascinating to trace the practices of doctors through the centuries and the different ways culture influenced these practices. I definitely feel like I've gained a greater understanding of why birth is viewed the way it is now, and why some assumptions (like physically agonizing labor) feel so TRUE even when history shows a progression of thought rather than a constant TRUTH.
It would be way too much to get into here, but the book is worth a read just for that part!
What does the female body actually DO in labor?
Another extremely helpful portion of the book details the anatomy of a woman's body and the physiology of labor and birth. You learn about the different muscle layers in the uterus and how contractions in those layers of muscles prepare the body for birth. It's amazing how so many things work together to open up the birth canal for a baby to enter the world. It's also amazing to realize that this process is actually designed to be smooth and rather swift (at least, compared to how long labor takes today).
How does all of this fit together?
The middle of the book focuses on the way fear affects the body. We've all felt moments of fear, and we've felt the superficial effects--the increased pulse, the quick breathing, the cold sweat. The book delves deeper into the body's response to fear and how the various systems of the body are affected. Like most organisms, when humans feel threatened or fearful, all energy and resources are directed toward essential life-support systems. This is why people who are terrified are faster and stronger than normal, and why people experiencing active fear can go for much longer periods of time without a need for food.
Unfortunately for a woman in labor, the uterus and the reproductive system are not an essential life-support system. The greater the fear, the more the body cuts off the resources for that system, like blood/oxygen. This fear also creates great tension within the body and the uterus. This lack of blood/oxygen and this tension causes intense pain as the uterus still attempts to do its job, and it can even shut the whole process down, a.k.a. "stalled" labor.
This is where self-hypnosis comes into play. Using breathing and visualization techniques that she has practiced ahead of time, a laboring woman consciously relaxes her body and releases her fear, encouraging blood flow to her uterus and relaxed and supple muscle tissue. This allows the labor process to progress without excess tension and time.
So that's a lot of information. Are you going to do it?
It is a lot of information. And yes, I'm going to use it.
My mother told me about the differences between her two births (me first and then my younger sister), and it sounded remarkably like HypnoBirthing. She was filled with fear and reluctance when it was time for me to come, and she found that all her breathing exercises failed her. It was a painful and long process. She knew what to expect with my sister, however, and she made some changes. She fixed a single, positive image in her mind, and sang hymns in her head. As she "sang," she would breathe through the song's phrases during her contractions with her chosen image fixed in her mind. Her experience with my sister was much more peaceful and gentle overall--not to mention faster. The only time she cried out in pain? You guessed it. It was when she tried to move between contractions and wasn't prepared with her visualization or breathing before another one hit.
Sadly, I've experienced painful labor before. It was during my first miscarriage, which I had at home with no pain relief. It goes without saying, but I was consumed with fear and sorrow, and I felt totally helpless and out of control (how could I not be?). I know labor can hurt. I know it very well. I know that I can survive it, but I'd rather not go into the birth of Lil' Feisty with the mindset that I'm just going to survive the process.
I've already tried some of the breathing exercises, and in the course of one night I was able to relax myself enough that I fell asleep quickly and easily. This is unheard of for me. It usually takes me at least 30 minutes to get to sleep, and that's only after I have the room dark, quiet, and cool. Using the breathing technique called Sleep Breathing, I was able to lull myself to sleep while Levi was sitting up next to me watching a TV show.
This one attempt was enough to push me into giving this method a try.
I'll be writing two more parts when it comes to HypnoBirthing. In a couple months I'll write an update about my practice with the techniques outlined in the book, and that will go into more detail about the method than this initial post. And, of course, I'll write part #3 after giving birth to Lil' Feisty, letting y'all know how it all turned out.
What methods did y'all use? How did they work? Have any of you had experience with HypnoBirthing or it's cousin, HypnoBabies?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Keep it real, y'all,