by Marion Badenoch Rose, PhD
I had been terrified of giving birth. My own difficult birth had led me to research birth and babies and receive therapy, yet the fear remained. When I came across HypnoBirthing on the Internet it was as though a light went on inside - I was so relieved to hear that birth could be comfortable and fear-free.
Two months later, I travelled to Sydney to train as a HypnoBirthing instructor. Marie Mongan, it’s American founder, had come to train practitioners in Australia for the first time. I was surprised how quickly and thoroughly my old beliefs about birth changed. Other trainees told me that in addition to the fear-release techniques used in HypnoBirthing, Private Subconscious-mind Healing (P.S.H.) could help people make changes at a subconscious level. After the training I drove up to the Gold Coast for three sessions of P.S.H. and experienced a deep shift in my feelings about birth. I was then ready to embrace motherhood and conceived on the first attempt.
Preparing for the birth
At home I prepared for the birth. I recorded a tape using HypnoBirthing and P.S.H. and listened to it daily. Moving into a profound state of relaxation became second nature. Doing this once or twice a day was a treat. I enjoyed the new sensations of letting go; my arms and legs felt deliciously warm and heavy. The ability to deeply relax helped in other ways: to sleep at night, and to relieve headaches and backaches. I realised that relaxing could free me from pain and I felt even more confident about the birth itself. I read and reread the HypnoBirthing book and was inspired by reading many their stories on the web. Learning about others’ experiences demonstrated that it really was possible to have the calm and comfortable birth I longed for. Discovering that language can create powerful suggestions, I changed the words I used. Rather than “contractions,” I said “surges,” “breathing down” rather than “pushing” and “birthing” instead of “labour and delivery.” Soon my husband was soon using these terms too!
Birthing time arrives
The practice all paid off when birthing time came, despite quite an unusual experience. My birthing took place in 40 degree heat, so wet towels were draped over me and fans were blowing full pelt. I had hoped for a three-hour birth, because this is what many HypnoBirthing mums experience. Instead, I had a three-day birth and the baby was in a posterior position with her head cocked to one side (I didn’t know this until she was born). So I had ample opportunity to practice HypnoBirthing and really test it out! I had a couple of moments of fear and doubt. However, with some encouragement from my husband I soon felt confident again. The rest of the time I felt a consistent trust and security in my body’s ability to give birth naturally. I experienced the surges as strong sensations, and found that they were less intense the more deeply I relaxed. I used many positions and places including the birthing ball, the lounge, the bath, the shower, and our bed. I kneeled, squatted, and stood, yet I felt most calm and comfortable lying on my side, listening to my tape, using the breathing techniques, and allowing the powerful forces of my birthing body to do their job.
I was able to change focus at will, to be either in touch with the outer world or to become absorbed deeply within. My daughter’s heartbeat remained pretty constant throughout the experience. HypnoBirthing babies are rarely distressed. When finally her head appeared, my husband was amazed to see her open her eyes and look around before her body slipped out on the next surge. I will never forget my joy as she made her first sound, “waa”, then looked at me and shouted a triumphant, “maa”!
In the hours and days afterwards I felt an overriding sense of empowerment that I had handled the birthing as I did. When I look back now I feel awe at the level of trust I felt, despite the unusual circumstances. I know that the outcome would have been very different without HypnoBirthing. There are no certainties with birthing, and this way offers no guarantees. However, feeling calm, centred, and more in control is what the majority of women gain, whatever turn their birthing takes.
The idea of HypnoBirthing is a revitalisation of ancient birthing philosophies. These were rediscovered in the 1920’s by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician working in London’s East End slums. He attended women who experienced comfortable and often pain-free labours, leading him to rethink his beliefs about the necessity of pain in labour. Marie Mongan, an American teacher, used his book in the 1950’s to birth her own babies. Inspired by the desire that her own daughter would have the most satisfying birthing possible, and with a hypnotherapy training under her belt, she developed the HypnoBirthing programme in 1989. Since then there have been over a thousand such births in America. Here in Australia, there are a small but increasing number of practitioners.
How it works
HypnoBirthing gives women confidence in the ability of their bodies to give birth. They learn how the uterine muscles work, they transform old beliefs, release fears, and gain birthing skills. Techniques include deep relaxation, self-hypnosis, breathing and visualisation.
Around 5000 years ago, in the time of the Goddess religions, birthing was revered as a spiritual event. Hippocrates and Aristotle gave no indication from their 5th century B.C. writings that there was pain associated with childbirth, except in the case of special circumstances, where women could be helped with herbs. Later, Western religions focused away from nature and the feminine and a cloud of darkness hung over Europe. Witchcraft and the use of healing arts were seen as tools of the devil, which culminated in the burning of thousands of women in the 13th to 16th centuries. Midwifery was abolished and only field hands and goat herders were allowed to attend a woman in labour. Back in those days, complicated births were terrible experiences. Fear of complications became generalised to fear of birthing itself. Extreme fear created extreme pain and thus the generalised belief in the necessity of pain in labour. These beliefs are commonplace today. What a relief to discover that they can now be replaced by new ideas, with confidence again in women’s ability to give birth naturally. Learning about the action of the uterus and how it is affected by fear, many women find that an easier and more comfortable birthing becomes obvious and thus attainable.
HypnoBirthing teaches that in the absence of fear and tension in birthing, calm and comfort can prevail. This is because the fear-tension-pain cycle (a term coined by Dick-Read) is prevented. When a woman has unresolved fear, stress hormones called catecholamines are released in large concentration before and during labour. Blood and oxygen are diverted from the uterus to the arms and legs in the fight or flight reaction. With limited blood and oxygen, the muscles of the uterus become constricted. The baby’s head gets pushed against a constricted cervix, leading to pain, lengthening of labour, and sometimes infant distress. Fear leads to tension which leads to pain.
Where a birthing woman has released conscious and subconscious fear and is able to be deeply relaxed, there is no need for the fight or flight reaction to operate. The vertical and horizontal muscles of the uterus work in harmony. The relaxed horizontal circular muscles open and are pulled up by the wavelike surges of the vertical muscles, which draw up, flex, and expel. The cervix is thus opened, and the baby’s head and body moves through smoothly.
Profound relaxation and self-hypnosis allow a woman to give her birthing over to the natural instincts of her birthing body. She can harmonise with the flow and the rhythm of the surges, trusting her body and letting it do its job. HypnoBirthing breathing patterns and visualisation techniques maximise the efficiency of each surge. Subconscious techniques increase the release of nature’s tranquillizers, endorphins. Breathing patterns also have powerful links with these natural opiates. Endorphins have an anaesthetic effect many times that of morphine, creating an even more comfortable birth for mother and baby.
HypnoBirthing is based on a healthy pregnancy, mother, baby, and birthing, with the premise that 95-98% of births could be normal and without medical intervention. It can be used in any setting. It is designed so that a woman and her birthing companion (who is an integral part of the process) work together without the need for the instructor to be there during the birthing. Working in harmony with her body and her baby, a woman can choose when to go deeper into relaxation. She is awake and aware of her body’s surges. When women come to classes and watch a video of a HypnoBirthing mother, they are amazed. “Can birth really be like this?” they ask. “Yes it can,” I say. My dream is that many more women will take advantage of this empowering method and enjoy safe, comfortable, serene births.
A doctor’s story
I began delivering babies in 1983. I believed in
the use of medications and saw many complications. This included
babies with compromised breathing. I had a 25% C-Section rate.
Patients began demanding natural births. I then performed hundreds of
deliveries using pushing, blowing and holding off analgesics until the
mother could no longer take the pain. Babies were exhausted and quite
often needed respiratory support, but my C-Section rate had fallen to
5%. I began using hypnosis. Mothers still had pain but it was
significantly managed. Babies were less often compromised and very
rarely needed oxygen. I still had a 5% C-section rate.
I have now made the transition to HypnoBirthing and have attended over 100 births where it was used. I realize that I no longer perform deliveries; I attend births and observe as the birthing companion receives the baby. I have given absolutely no analgesic drugs since I have used HypnoBirthing with mothers. Every mother has been excited about the birth event and there have been no complications. No babies have needed oxygen or any support other than warming by mother’s body. My C-Section rate is one. I am more than happy to talk to any health care professional (or anyone else) about my experiences.
Lorne R. Campbell, Sr. M.D is a clinical professor of family medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine. She is also an Assistant Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
Dick-Read, Grantly. (1953) Childbirth Without Fear. 2nd Edition, Harper Brothers, N.Y., N.Y.
Mongan, Marie. (1998) HypnoBirthing®. A celebration of life. 2nd Edition, Rivertree Publishing, Concord, New Hampshire.
Pert, C. (1997) Molecules of Emotion. Why you feel the way you feel. Scribner, N.Y., N.Y.
HypnoBirthing® is a registered trade name.
This article was first published in byron child magazine in 2003. www.kindredmedia.com
Marion has since moved on from HypnoBirthing to calmbirth (see Sunny's calmbirth article on this website)