The Book Every Woman Should Read Before Giving Birth

Or How HypnoBirthing Completely Changed My Perspective On Labour And Delivery

The Book Every Woman Should Read Before Giving Birth

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 really should read this book!


A Guide To Making Your Princess-Loving Toddler Happy

Or How I'm Embracing The Whole Princess Obsession...For Now!

A Guide To Making Your Princess-Loving Toddler Happy

My 3-year-old daughter is slightly princess obsessed. She's got dolls, stickers, colouring books, dresses, nightgowns, even a mini-princess couch in her room. But, she finds the actual Disney princess movies really scary. And so, she's selected her favourites based strictly on the colour of their dresses: Sleeping Beauty (pink!) and Rapunzel (purple!). No big surprise there!

I've bought her more princess paraphernalia that I'd like to admit. But it makes her happy–and these days, it seems that's what I'm in the business of doing. My husband has adopted the, 'if you can't beat them, join them' attitude, and recently came home from a trip to Wal-Mart with one of these...

I know there are many parents who are concerned about the princessification of little girls and in many ways I totally agree. I'm not thrilled that the princesses my daughter adores, all rely on strong, charming men to rescue them from some sort of disaster usually imposed upon them by an evil spinster. I'd much rather read my daughter books like this one...

However, I don't mind indulging her infatuation with Disney while she's a little girl. After all, she has her whole life to grow up and think about things critically. For now, why not dance around the house in a dress with a magic wand and believe in the power of dreams coming true?! There could be worse things, right?

And so, if you have a kid who loves princesses as much as mine does, here are some awesome ways to make her HAPPY!

1. Take her to see Disney On Ice, Rockin' Ever After,  in Toronto this March Break.  I wrote about our last Disney On Ice experience in December...something my daughter won't soon forget. (She still takes imaginary trips to see Disney On Ice and re-enacts the show with her Barbies and dolls). And, while one could argue that no one really needs to see TWO Disney On Ice shows within a three-month period, when I found out that this new show features Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, and Merida—I could hardly refuse. Besides, the music sounds great and it seems like it will be a really fun show. Check it out...


Plus, there is this great opportunity to teach your kids the value of giving back while also taking them to see Disney On Ice. On March 15, the Rockin’ & Reading Book Drive at Rogers Centre is being held in support of the Children's Book Bank (an amazing charity/book shop that provides free books to children in Toronto's low-income neighbourhoods). The first 300 people to line up and donate a book will receive a free ticket voucher and will have a chance to meet one of the princesses in real life!

2. Throw her a fabulous Fantasy Fables birthday party! My daughter turned 3 in February, but she started talking about her birthday in November. She told me, back then, that she wanted to invite all her princess friends to her birthday party. How could I refuse? I was referred to Fantasy Fables by a friend, and must admit, even I got pretty excited about throwing a party that would feature Sleeping real life! We were thrilled with the whole experience. The princess was charming! She stayed for an hour and kept all the kids (even the little boys) entertained with singing, dancing, stories, makeup and tattoos. Though my daughter was a bit afraid of her at first, she warmed up pretty quickly and had a blast. Next stop: Fantasy Fable's Boutique and Royal Party Room in Burlington where the kiddies get dressed up and made up like little princesses.

3. Take her to the Disney Store. I realize that taking a toddler to the mall might seem crazy (and costly!). But, the reaction my kid has when she sees the Disney Store in Yorkdale is priceless! She typically spots it from across the mall and starts running and yelling: "Disney World!!" And, as I like to say, it's the cheapest trip to Disney World we'll ever take. She would spend hours in this interactive, magical store if we'd let her. She especially loves standing in front of the mirrors waving various wands and watching the princesses come to life. And, even when we do cave in and buy her something (which isn't at every visit, I swear!) the prices are actually quite reasonable (considering what we spent on dolls at the real Disney World).

*Note: I was offered media passes to see Disney On Ice, Rockin' Ever After this March break. Otherwise, no compensation was provided for this post. All princess opinions in this post are my own. And, don't blame me if any of these suggestions turn your kid into a fanatic!


My Cord Blood Banking Journey: Part 2

Gearing Up To Bank My Baby's Cord Blood With Confidence

My Cord Blood Banking Journey: Part 2

I woke up a few weeks ago to an email from Baby Centre telling me that I was 30 weeks pregnant. I could hardly believe it. While I’ve certainly been aware of my expanding belly—unlike my first pregnancy, I’ve been much less focused on tracking the weeks and milestones this time around.

But 30 weeks could not be ignored. My daughter was born at 38 weeks. That’s just 8 weeks from now. Or two months. Or 56 days.

I have a great big ‘to-do’ list to tackle before baby arrives, and this 30-week reality check was the incentive I needed to get started.

Book tour of Sunnybrook in preparation for delivering baby at a new hospital—check.

Schedule Hypnobirthing refresher course—check.

Finalize cord blood banking paperwork.

It was time to review the registration package I’d been given by CReATe, when I made the decision in early December to bank my baby’s cord blood with them.

In order to complete the paperwork, my husband and I each had to answer 50+ questions about our medical history—all meant to ensure that nothing that would contaminate the umbilical cord stem cells. (In follow-up to this questionnaire, I will have blood taken within seven days of baby’s birth to test for infectious diseases and other potential contaminates).

The next step was to decide which banking package we would select. CReATe, is unique to other Canadian banks, in that it offers parents the choice of banking just the cord blood or the cord blood and Peristem stem cells (scientifically referred to as mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs). These stem cells which are found around the blood vessels of the umbilical cord are the building blocks of the body’s structural tissues (bone, cartilage, muscle, and fibrous tissues) and could be used in the treatment of conditions such as degenerative arthritis, heart disease, traumatic injuries, burns, liver disease, MS, and more.

According to CReATe’s founder, Dr. Clifford Librach, more than 50 percent of families are now opting to bank both, recognizing great potential and future possibilities in the use of Peristem stem cells. The only barrier for some would be cost. The Peristem and cord blood package costs about $600 more up front, plus another $95/year in storage fees.

Now that our paperwork has been submitted, we wait for our collection kit to arrive in the mail. This kit must be kept at room temperature and must be brought with us to the hospital, as it includes everything the doctor or midwife needs to collect the umbilical cord blood and Peristem, plus some final paperwork for us to fill out at the time of delivery. Luckily, if you happen to forget the kit at home or are nowhere near home when you go into labour, most hospitals have emergency cord blood collection kits on hand.

When I wrote my first post about my journey through cord blood banking, I received many questions and comments, via social media and from friends, about cord blood banking and the logistics and ethics of deciding to bank or not bank baby’s blood. I decided to check in with Dr. Librach to see if he had answers to some of these questions and concerns.

Dr. Librach is the founder and director of the CReATe Fertility Centre, and has spent more than 20 years in the field of reproductive medicine. Because of the centre’s expertise in the area of cryobiology (or freezing things: namely embryos), it was a natural extension to move into cord blood banking, which required similar freezing technology. That, and, Dr. Librach was extremely interested in stem cell research and the ability of these cells to be used in the treatment and support of various diseases and conditions. He opened the CReATe Cord Blood Bank in 2005.

When it came to the preservation (or freezing) of stem cell samples, Dr. Librach said he was committed to finding and utilizing only the most advanced technology—in order to ensure the best possible results for his clients. On a previous visit to CReATe I was granted an insiders’ look at their state-of-the-art robotic Bioarchive system which is currently used only by the top banks in the world (namely The New York Blood Center, the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke and soon, Canadian Blood Services One Match Cord Blood Bank).

“I knew that this technology was going to be more expensive, the reason why most banks in Canada aren't using it, but I didn’t want to sacrifice quality for profit,” Dr. Librach tells me. “I’m a perfectionist, and I knew if I was going to do this, I’d have to do it right.”

What’s really cool (don’t mind the pun) about this freezing technology is that it’s equipped with a robotic arm that allows only one sample to be put into or removed from the tank at a time. This means no other samples are disturbed or exposed to what Dr. Librach calls a ‘transient warming event.’

While all of this seems a bit technical, considering I'm totally suffering from a case of 'pregnancy brain' right now...I do think it's good to really know what you’re investing in, especially when it comes to the future health of your family.

But, I digress. Here are a list of questions I posed to Dr. Librach–and the answers he provided.

Q: Is all the hype about cord blood banking legitimate or is it simply a way of playing on parents’ fears at a time when they’re especially vulnerable?

A: When you start to research cord blood banking online, you’ll begin to see all the uses for these stem cells that are being uncovered. To me, that’s extremely exciting. Of course, we all hope and pray that our children will never need to use the stored stem cells, but many parents think of it as biological insurance—an investment in your family's future wellbeing. We know it’s not for everyone, but our goal is to educate parents so that they’re able to make informed decisions—based on knowledge, not fear. What I think really excites people now is seeing that cord blood stem cells are being used to treat adults, not just children, and that new forms of treatment are being uncovered consistently.

(A few examples of how cord blood stem cells are being used in clinical trials can be found on the CReATe Facebook page. At the end of December, the Shanghai Daily reported that a five-year-old Chinese boy with a serious blood disease would receive a cord blood transplant—setting a record of 200 stem cell transplants in the city of Shanghai in 2012. Another post showed how cord blood stem cells are currently being tested in the United States as a potential treatment for the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Yet another post detailed the world’s first study (out of Sydney, Australia) to try to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes by treating children with their own umbilical cord blood.)

Q: Is it necessary to bank for both (or all) of your children, or is banking for one child all that’s actually required?

A: This really depends on what the cells are being used to treat. There are some diseases where it’s going to be more effective to receive a transplant of your own cells, while there are others where the cells of a sibling (as long as he/she is a match) will be far more effective. If you were treating Cerebral Palsy, for example, you’d want your own cells; but, if you were treating Leukemia you might want the cells of a sibling. That’s why we recommend parents harvest and bank each of their children's cord blood.

Q: Does cord blood have a shelf life? I’ve heard it can only last 18 years.

A: No, it can be stored indefinitely as long as it’s kept in the tank. The current estimate is that it remains effective for 10,000 years. 

Q: What about public banking? Once that becomes available in Canada why would you pay to bank your baby’s cord blood?

A: At CReATe we call ourselves a Family Bank. We believe it’s completely up to the parents as to whether they want to buy insurance for their family specifically (by banking with us), or donate their cord blood for public use. We think there is value in both options. There will always be those who are happy to donate their baby's cord blood (assuming the hospital they deliver at has the infrastructure in place to do so), and others who make the choice to invest in the protection of their own family.

CReATe Cord Blood Bank is funding this journey for me and my family; all opinions are my own.