I put all fear aside and prepare for the birth of my baby.
I trust my body, and I follow its lead.
My mind is relaxed; my body is relaxed.
These are just a few of the “Affirmations for Easier, Comfortable Birthing” taken from the book, HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie F. Mongan.
Having read this book for a second time just last month, I can confidently say that this is the one book that every single pregnant woman should read before giving birth.
Even if you’re sure you want an epidural.
Even if you've had an epidural in the past and swear by it.
Even if you’re having a planned c-section.
Even if you’d never consider having a doula or a midwife assist with your birth.
Even if you think that hypnosis should be reserved for hokey Frosh Week performances that have people barking like dogs and jumping around like monkeys.
No matter what you believe—I’m telling you—this book will change the way you think about birthing. And, if nothing else, it will significantly put your mind at ease when you walk into the delivery room to have your baby.
I first discovered HypnoBirthing three years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Back then I was a bit of a stress-case. I had taken so many prenatal classes that I had become overwhelmed and anxious. While I was thrilled that I was becoming a mummy, I had no idea what to expect. Labour and delivery terrified me. And, since none of my close friends had had babies yet, my vision of childbirth rested primarily on overly dramatized scenes of labour from the movies and my mom’s stories that typically went something like…“It’s the worst pain you’ll ever experience, but once you’ve had a baby, nothing feels that bad.”
I could hardly wait.
I didn’t like hospitals. I felt queasy watching Grey's Anatomy. And, I hated the feeling of being out of control. The idea of having a needle shoved into my spine and then not being able to feel my lower body for hours terrified me—even more than the pain of childbirth itself.
Thankfully, I came across a poster advertising HypnoBirthing classes. This discovery changed my entire outlook on labour and delivery…and life.
A few weeks ago (now getting ready for the birth of my second child), my husband and I sat in the cozy basement workshop of Toronto-based HypnoBirthing Educator and Doula, Jennifer Elliott. I’d been directed to Jennifer by a number of people in the field, and was excited to expand upon my HypnoBirthing knowledge with her. (The teacher I took the HypnoBirthing course with the first time around is no longer practicing).
Jennifer's calm demeanor and extensive experience were reassuring—and I knew we were in good hands. “I loved my own children’s births so much that I decided to become a doula,” she told me. “Either that or I would have kept having kids.” While she’d been working as a doula and childbirth educator since the mid-90s, in 2005 her outlook on birthing changed when she discovered HypnoBirthing. She realized that the births she attended which utilized this practice were: “amazingly different, more in control, calmer, quicker, and easier.”
In becoming certified as a HypnoBirthing educator and instructor, Jennifer told me, she began to see childbirth in a new light. In believing that labour must be stressful, painful, and traumatic, we’re not fully embracing our abilities as women to birth babies in the way that our bodies are designed to, she told me. This is the premis upon which the Mongan Method of HypnoBirthing is based.
As is written on page 21 of the book: “The basic tenant 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. Like the bodies of our sister creatures in nature, the bodies of healthy pregnant women instinctively know how to birth, just as their bodies instinctively know how to conceive and how to nurture the development of the babies they are carrying.”
To better understand HypnoBirthing and what it’s really all about, I think it’s best to divide it into two parts: education and hypnosis (or relaxation).
The first part involves educating and empowering women to make decisions about their birthing experience. It’s about being informed. About being an active participant in labour rather than simply a patient who turns her experience over to the doctors and nurses.
For me, this part had the most impact on my own birthing experience. I went from feeling frightened and nervous to excited and ready to embrace childbirth and whatever came with it. I was knowledgeable about the stages of labour; about the medical terminology that would be used by doctors and nurses and what it really meant; about how things would generally (and ideally) unfold; and about which decisions I had a say in, and which I should leave up to my doctor’s discretion.
The second part involves the actual hypnosis, or getting yourself into a deeply relaxed state as a way of preparing for birth and experiencing birth. As Jennifer explains: Any hypnosis we do in the course is self-hypnosis, meaning it only happens because you allow it to. You always have control to go as deep as you like and to come in and out of this relaxed state as you wish. Hypnosis is a familiar state: it’s the same state you’re in when you’re daydreaming, when you’re in Shavasana during a yoga class, or when you’re really zoned-in to something and feel as though you’ve lost track of time and space completely. The purpose is to help you move past the barrier of your conscious mind and access your subconscious (where all of your habits, fears, and beliefs are stored). Once you’ve accessed the subconscious you can “re-program” it to let go of those fears that aren’t serving you and replace them with beliefs that are positive and more valuable to you during labour and delivery. In that very relaxed state, some women are able to give birth experiencing little to no pain.
What I found most helpful and most interesting was the notion that fear actually contributes to pain in labour. Whether you’re consciously aware of being afraid or you’re unconsciously reacting to the ‘energy’ of the hospital room, the stories you’ve been told about childbirth, or the reaction of the nurses/doctors to your situation—the fear that comes up causes your body to react in a certain way that results in pain. One of my favourite parts of the HypnoBirthing philosophy is the discussion of the Fear-Tension-Pain model, which was first written about by an early 20th century English obstetrician named Dr. Grantly Dick-Read. From his studies he found that fear causes the arteries leading to the uterus to constrict and become tense, creating pain. “In the absence of fear,” Dick-Read explains, “the muscles relax and become pliable, and the cervix is able to naturally thin and open as the body pulsates rhythmically and expels the baby with ease.”
So, how did all of this work for me? And, what’s my plan this time around?
First of all, I can say with complete confidence that what I learned in HypnoBirthing helped make my first birth easier, less stressful, and faster. I was not in a hypnotized state when I delivered my daughter. I did feel pain. Especially when I was in the “transition” stage. And I believe I yelled something like: “I’m going to die, get me an epidural” right before I realized it was time to start pushing. But, more memorable than all of that, was the confidence I had to ask the right questions of the OB delivering my daughter. The power I felt to make decisions that would help speed my labour along once it started. The calm and excitement I experienced when I was being checked in to the hospital. And, the inner strenght I knew I possessed to deliver Willow without the assistance of drugs. I was also calmly able to accept that anything could happen—and that I'd be ready for it. As one of the affirmations says: I am prepared to meet whatever turn my birthing takes.
Now that I'm just a few weeks away from baby number two's due date, I’m feeling even more calm and excited to experience childbirth again. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to be more present this time around. To really breathe into each contraction (or ‘surge’ as they’re called in HypnoBirthing lingo). To experience labour, from a calm, relaxed, state. To utilize the affirmations. To try out various positions to make labour more comfortable. To breathe my baby out, rather than pushing her out. And, to put into practice some of the tips and techniques that Jennifer passed along during our refresher session.
When it all comes down to it, the fact that I’m not afraid of childbirth is a huge feat for me. If I can go into this second labour and delivery experience with the same open mind and excited optimism—I know it will be a success.
I fully relax and turn my birthing over to nature.
I see my baby coming smoothly from my womb.
I welcome my baby with happiness and joy.
Trust me...you really should read this book!