The videos were all professionally done with smooth piano and pan flute playing. The birthing parents were in a state of bliss slowly exhaling and inhaling, drawing a power that seemed to come from some deep place. They would moan and (laugh?!) as their baby plopped out of them to a quiet murmur from their support team. These people were freakin strong, their clear skin and perfect hair exuded confidence and a smile that seemed to say “I knew it would be like this” as their baby looked up at them, completely aware and quiet.
As we watched those videos in my #Hypnobirthing class that day, I slowly raised my hand. “Um….is it okay for me to make noise? Because I know I won’t able to be that quiet!” The rest of my class laughed at my “joke”, but I was dead serious. I am an outgoing and passionate person. I knew that the Hollywood version of babies being born to hysterical parents, minutes after their water broke dramatically on a court room floor were not accurate. But I also knew that all of the visualizations in the world wouldn’t be enough to control the f-bombs that were sure to flood out of me on my birthing day. “OH yes, you can make noise” replied my teacher, “but remember to draw on your meditative scripts to help get you back into a state of calm so as not to hinder the process”. We then did a couple of exercises where we imagined our uteruses were balloons and I pushed the doubt that had come creeping in, out of my mind. I was completely and utterly convinced that “my body and my baby would work in perfect harmony” and that I would gently breathe my baby out. But the reality was much different.
Hypnobirthing is based on the philosophy that because we are brought up to fear birth and expect pain, our bodies and brains naturally experience these things during labour. Using visualizations, meditation, affirmations and music, Hypnobirthing teaches birthing parents labour and childbirth doesn't have to be painful. In fact, parents and their support team are encouraged not to use the word “pain” at all. Pain becomes “pressure” and contractions become “surges” in an effort to rid any negative or clinical words from the process.
Here’s the thing. Hypnobirthing does work for some people. Many birthing parents will use the techniques as their main comfort measure and will be like the birthing parents in those videos. But a huge majority will not have the painless, intervention free labour they desired. Many will have longer, shorter or more intense labours than they prepared for, change their minds about interventions, need to be transferred from their birthing place of choice or be induced, among a ton of other variables. And this can lead to a lot of guilt and shame for the parent whose birth is not what they planned. This is the biggest problem I have with Hypnobirthing. That it leaves birthing parents feeling like they are failures, when really they are incredible no matter how they birth their babies.
On the day my contractions started with my daughter, Hypnobirthing worked like a charm for early labour. But back to back contractions lasted two days (darn posterior babies!) and by the time my water broke, I was exhausted. We had spent about 10 minutes talking about physical comfort measures during the class and beyond affirming “I’m prepared for whatever path my birth will take” were given very few coping strategies on what to do when the plan changed dramatically. After a transfer to the hospital for meconium in the water, Pitocin on the advice of my midwife, a transfer of care to the OB and eventual C-section for failure to progress and abnormal fetal heart rate, the whole thing was about as far from my dream Hypnobirth as possible. It’s only now, almost two years later that I am recovering from the birth trauma and guilt of that disappointment.
In the end I am grateful for my experience birthing my daughter because I feel it’s made me a better birth doula. I know the intense longing that comes with wanting an intervention free birth, but I also know that changes to the plan can happen. When I work with my birth doula clients now, I genuinely am excited when I hear that they took a Hypnobirthing course. I think it’s awesome that Hypnobirthing teaches us to feel confident going into child birth and to have strategies to deal with the mental intensity of the process. But I also feel it’s my job as your doula to prepare you for different outcomes, educate you on the risks and benefits of medical interventions, and show you how not only to deal with the emotional and mental side of childbirth, but also how to support your physical needs. And through positional changes, counter pressure, hip squeezes and other physical comfort measures I am here to help you through the pain…or pressure…whatever you want to call it.
When Hypnobirthing courses begin to focus more on the strength and beauty of birth, no matter the outcome, I will jump on board wholeheartedly. But for now I hope all of you birthing parents out there know that whether you danced your baby down, birthed them out of your stomach, or any variation in between, you were awesome, you birthed a baby and you are more powerful than you will ever know.