I don’t know if it was the pregnancy hormones or my Berkeley upbringing, but when I found out I was expecting my first child, I became obsessed with having a natural birth. This was only a few years after the release of Ricki Lake’s “The Business of Being Born,” and it only took one viewing of the said documentary to have me panicking about Pitocin and swearing off an epidural.
Giving birth naturally became the focus of my life. I read every Ina May Gaskin book from cover to cover. I interrogated potential obstetricians about their C-section rates and how many natural births they’d attended. I went to prenatal yoga every single day and breathed to my baby’s heartbeat while a guy dressed in white crooned in Sanskrit. I spent hours researching doulas and meeting with them over cups of Chinese tea that my acupuncturist swore would help open up my cervix.
When I finally chose my doula, she suggested that I take a Hypnobabies class. I’d heard about hypnobirthing from my sister-in-law, who used it for all four (!) of her natural births, as well as from another friend. Everyone I talked to who had used hypnosis for birthing swore that it was the only way to successfully make it through without pain medication. Never one to discount the expertise of others, I sought out a Hypnobabies class and signed myself up.
The idea behind hypnobirthing is essentially using self-hypnosis to manage pain. Every week for six weeks, my husband and I went to a three-hour class where we learned hypnosis techniques, as well as birth and baby care information. This was as natural as it comes—don’t even think about uttering the words “epidural” or “formula” at one of these gatherings [though we’re perfectly fine with both, of course]—but the information was helpful and the hypnosis techniques definitely worked. I received a workbook as well as six CD’s, which contained guided hypnosis exercises that I was expected to practice every day. One of the CD’s was just 90 minutes of positive affirmations, including “babies come on their birth days, not when doctors decide” and “giving birth is comfortable and easy.” It sounds cheesy, but the woman’s voice is soothing, and by the end of the six-week session my self-hypnosis game was on point.
When I went into labor, I was ready. I had been practicing my self-hypnosis, my hospital bag was packed, and I had my special Hypnobabies “Birth Day CD” queued up in the car. I let the nurses know I was planning a hypnobirth, and they were incredibly supportive. They kept the lights dimmed, they talked in low voices, and they never pestered me to check my dilation. My OB—the only one who had stood up to my interrogation—allowed me to not be hooked up to a fetal monitor, which made it easier for me to move around.
I’m going to be honest here: my labor was rough. It turned out that my son presented sunny side up (my OB didn’t do scans after 20 weeks so we had no idea), which made delivering him much harder. There is no way on God’s green earth that I could have white-knuckled it and done it without hypnosis. But when it was over, and when I was sitting in the hospital bed holding my gorgeous newborn baby, I completely forgot about the pain. I felt so empowered, so strong, and so amazed at what my body did with the help of my mind. Yes, it hurt, but it was so worth it.
Eighteen months later I gave birth to my second child, and used my Hypnobabies techniques again. Am I crazy? Maybe. Though I prefer to look at it as getting the biggest bang for my Hypnobabies buck—I feel a lot less guilty about spending the $1,000 class fee on two births instead of one.