To say that my first baby's birth didn't go as planned is a huge understatement. I planned to have a magical, serene birth experience without pain medication because, well, that's how I thought birth was "supposed" to be. When that didn't happen, and I begged for an epidural after 16 hours of back labor, I felt like I had failed. So the next time around I was desperate to do things "right." That's when I tried hypnobirthing... and OMG it was a disaster. What I had hoped would give me the birth experience I wanted ended up making everything worse.
For those who don't know, hypnobirthing is a a term coined by Marie "Mickey" Mongan, M.Ed., M.Hy., a hypnotherapist and Harvard University Ford Foundation fellow, that, according to Fit Pregnancy, uses "deep breathing, visualization, prompts from partners and labor comfort measures" to help "mothers train their brain to elicit a deep relaxation response on demand." The goal is to not feel pain but pressure during labor, and contractions are often described as "surges" or "waves" that help the laboring mom stay in a meditated state.
Hypnobirthing focuses on the act of childbirth as a natural process that we, as moms-to-be, should trust. They theorize that if you can relax during labor you can stay in control and, as a result, your body will do what it's supposed to. According to their official website, that includes being able to have a pain-free, "natural" childbirth and without outside interventions.
Sounds great, to be sure, but the practice did not work for me. Now, to be fair, I might not have done it right. This particular birth technique is essentially based on the premise that if laboring people are able to stay calm and give up their fear about birth, they can have a pain-free labor without any outside interventions. Apparently I wasn't able to stay calm or give up my fear.
Under normal circumstances I am pretty zen. I practice yoga, I meditate, I try to parent peacefully, and I'm generally able to keep my cool in most situations and regardless of how chaotic they are. If anyone could find the mind-body connection necessary to have a pain-free birth, I truly believe it's me.
As I walked the halls, wearing those stupid headphones and trying to repeat my affirmations, I screamed so loudly that the nurses asked me to quiet down. I was scaring the other moms.
I was still skeptical of hypnobirthing, though, and perhaps that's where my problems started. After enduring over hours upon hours of back labor in order to bring my first child into the world, I was pretty damn sure that an unmedicated labor was synonymous with pain. I told myself my second labor could be different, though. I tried to picture a calm, relaxed, peaceful labor and delivery. I did my very best, I assure you. I listened to hypnobirthing CDs religiously for weeks, repeated daily positive affirmations, and constantly envisioned the birth I wanted. I did what I was told I should do, and hoped that, finally, I would have the birth I wanted.
Then I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, and learned that I had to have my baby early. I was scared — more scared than I had ever been in my life — but I told myself to trust my body, trust the birth process, and get over my fears. I told myself that if I could just relax I could get over the pain and continue down the hypnobirthing path.
But when I was admitted for induction, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find that place of zen and calm. I put on my headphones, repeated positive affirmations, and imagined myself as a birthing goddess or superhero, capable of anything. But back labor was my Kryptonite, and before I knew it I was experiencing the worst pain of my life. No amount of trust in my body or positive self-talk could change that. As I walked the halls, wearing those stupid headphones and trying to repeat my affirmations, I screamed so loudly that the nurses asked me to quiet down. I was scaring the other moms.
In the end I wish I hadn't spent money and time trying to experience a birth method that ended up making me feel less than.
I didn't feel in control of my body, because when you think about it I wasn't in control of my body. Labor isn't something you can control or talk yourself out of feeling. It can be intense, exciting, scary, painful, short, long, exciting, boring, emergent, or any combination of those and thousands of other emotions and experiences.
So while some people love hypnobirthing, I hated it. It made me feel weak because, in the end, I ended up getting another epidural. It made me feel like I wasn't "strong enough" or "dedicated enough" to do things the "right" way. And it made me feel like my valid fears regarding labor and delivery weren't valid at all, and that I was somehow defunct for not being able to get over them.
Hypnobirthing had convinced me that there was an "ideal" way to give birth, and essentially tried to gaslight me about my labor pains, my wants, and my needs. In the end I wish I hadn't spent money and time trying to experience a birth method that ended up making me feel less than. I wish I wouldn't have put so much pressure on myself.
I'm not saying that hypnobirthing doesn't work for anyone, or that the women who credit the program for allowing them to experience their magical, serene labors are lying. Labor is personal, and I would never dare invalidate someone else's experiences or tell someone else how to get through childbirth. But, for me, it was the wrong way to go, and if I could do it all over again I would leave hypnobirthing behind.