I have hear from several sources that something happens when you become a parent in which the normal rule of other people minding their own business suddenly gets replaced by other people imposing their advice and words of wisdom on you as though it is their God-given right. Fortunately, my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law have blessedly refrained from doing so thus far. However, two nights ago, at knit night, I was whacked upside the head with unsolicited advice in a surprise attack by a friend who is the mother of a 5 month old. Let me give you some background.
I have thought quite a bit about the sort of childbirth I would like to have. Primarily the words “calm” and “pain-free” come to mind. “Natural” makes it on the list, but it’s somewhere after calm and pain-free. I have pretty much rejected whatever method it is that has you breathing short, gasping breaths (popular on TV shows) because it does not seem to be pain-free. Ever since I heard of it in college, I have been intrigued by the notion of self-hypnosis as a means of coping with childbirth. Therefore, I picked up a hypnobirthing book at the bookstore and have read it cover to cover and looked up childbirth and hypnosis on pubmed (not too much data there, unfortunately). There is a lot that makes a very great deal of sense in the book. The basic premise is that childbirth does not have to be an extremely painful experience and actually isn’t in many non-Western cultures, and, indeed, a woman’s body is designed for childbirth. However, the notion of childbirth as a horrible, excruciating experience is so ingrained in our culture that women (whether they realize it or not) experience quite a bit of fear going into childbirth.* During the fear response, blood is directed away from non-essential organs (such as your uterus) to essential organs. Therefore, the muscles in your uterus will not be able to function at an optimal level and this causes you pain. If, however, you can teach yourself to relax and remain calm during the birthing process, your uterine muscles will function better and you will have an easier birthing experience. The exact mechanism of how this all works is mostly supposition, of course, but it seems as though it does work for quite a few women. The relaxation necessary is achieved via self-hypnosis, though I suppose how you become relaxed is less important than being relaxed and staying relaxed.
Given that I have anxiety problems to begin with, I am all for learning techniques that will help me relax. Husband is on board with this approach as is my psychiatrist. Not sure how my OB will react, but hopefully, she will be supportive. My mom and grandma seem a bit dubious that it will work but are mostly supportive. In fact, my mother primarily experienced pain-free childbirth herself. She didn’t use any specific technique–she reports that, for whatever reason, she didn’t feel her contractions. Recordings showed her contractions were off-the-charts, yet she had to have a nurse put her hand on her stomach to tell her when she was experiencing a contraction so that she knew when to push. She felt very little pain overall except for when my brother was born and the doctor used forceps to yank him out (standard at the Army hospital at that time). So, there is hope.
So that is my reasoning. However, upon mentioning that I was going to be going to a hypnobirthing class, my friend, M, began to tell me what a bad idea it was. Apparently, she had some friends who tried hypnobirthing and it “didn’t work” for them. What she meant by “tried” is unknown (Did they attend classes or only read the book? Did they practice the relaxation exercises every day for several weeks as is recommended?) and I don’t know in what way it “didn’t work” (Did they end up using a different technique, getting an epidural, having a C-section, getting induced?). M said several times that she wasn’t trying to tell me what to do while at the same time telling me what, exactly, she thought I should do.
During the course of our “discussion” it became clear that M did not know much about the hypnobirthing method beyond the fact that it didn’t work for her friends. Her main point seemed to be that you should learn many techniques because “you never know what is going to work for you,” and, “you don’t know how you’re going to deal with childbirth until you are in it.” The ideas of using different positions, breathing techniques, visualization, and time distortion were all things she mentioned that were necessary and, although I pointed out that hypnobirthing incorporates all of those things, continued to try to convince me that hypnobirthing was not the way to go. In the end, I just smiled and nodded because it was clear nothing I said was going to register with her.
I think I would have been somewhat more receptive to what she said if it had been couched in terms of her experience (“this is what worked for me” kinds of phrases) and not absolute statements (“this is how it is,” “this is what will happen to you”). Or, if she was the mother of, say, five children instead of one.
I’m absolutely willing to accept that hypnobirthing might not work for everybody, that, in fact, it might not work for me. What I object to is being told that it absolutely won’t work based on the limited experience of one person.
*This reminds me a lot of panic attacks. Panic attacks are triggered by an automatic negative thought which can pass through your brain so quickly, you don’t even notice it. The panic attack then seemingly comes from out of nowhere. Cognitive behavioral therapy then often focuses on learning to become aware of these automatic negative thoughts.