Unsolicited, unwanted advice–check!

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.

6 thoughts on “Unsolicited, unwanted advice–check!

  1. I did hypnobabies for my second baby and it was great. With my first unmedicated natural birth I discovered I really liked to hear words during contractions to help get my mind off them, hypnobabies was much better than my tired husband saying whatever popped intohis mind for …many hours. It didn’t make the experience painfree, but I was able to relax so much easier the second time and it went quicker. Also, I could be in the tub, which was AWESOME!! Please feel free to email me if you want more info on hypnobabies. I couldn’t take any classes where I live and it seemed like hypnobabies had a better home study program and lots more hours of recordings to listen to! (no commercial interest, in fact i could send you a recording sample if you want.)

  2. Oh, one more thing… I think you are so smart to understand that relaxation is important! I think some women decide they 100% want drugs (which is a little weird to me to begin with— if you’ve never had a baby you don’t know what it feels like for you so why are you so 100% sure that you’ll want or need drugs??) but anyway, even those that know they want drugs should be prepared with a way to relax yourself because you can’t get drugs the second you feel something and it is also possible that something could happen to you medically during labor that would make it medically unsafe for you to get drugs. I think the option of drugs for well-informed women who are aware of the risks etc is great, but everyone should know how to relax too!

  3. Oh, yes, the opinions. My official plan for the birthing process is to use the various techniques that I’ve learned through reading and in my childbirth education class, but to be open to drugs if necessary (and by necessary, I mean that I want them). However, I’ve been told by a variety of people how awful I am to consider using drugs, crazy to not automatically want drugs, stupid to deliver in a hospital, smart to deliver in a hospital, and many other contradictory things. Funnily enough, all of these opinions have been given to me by people who only have one or two children and not by any professional.

    In case the above doesn’t make any sense. I completely sympathize about the opinions thing. I think it’s great that you’re looking into hypnobirthing. It’s something that I wish I had looked into before my childbirth classes, when I started thinking about this whole labor thing. (I’ve got a little over two weeks until my due date. I’ve been looking into the relaxation techniques, which may be too little, too late, but it’s better than nothing!)

  4. Well, that was annoying of this other woman. I mean, how the heck would she know what your labor’s going to be like? Nobody knows. And if it doesn’t work you’ll try something else.

    I saw something I really liked on a midwife’s blog lately: a scale, not for pain (pain is part of life, and of course labor!) but how well the mother is *coping*. Like: NOT OKAY AARGH AARGH all the way down to “I can totally deal with this”.

    My N=1 experience was that yes, being afraid OF COURSE makes it hurt more. Because then I was in pain, and afraid of the pain, and afraid that the pain wasn’t going to get better! I’m sure the physiological things don’t help, but the psychological aspects alone are plenty to make you feel rotten.

  5. First, I think that this sounds like a good choice for you, and if it makes you feel most prepared to be following one particular ‘style’ or book, that’s almost certainly a good call (this will happen for parenting too- there is always more advise out there than you could ever follow. just picking one thing that sounds best *for you* and going with it has a lot to recommend it).
    Of course, it’s possible the woman just wanted to make sure you had multiple ‘tools’ at your disposal (the bit about not knowing what it would be like until you were there is accurate enough, as far as it goes). But expressing the negative attitude toward your primary tool, without even realizing how versatile it is… yeah. That would be annoying.

    That said, from a scientist’s perspective I feel compelled to note that, strictly speaking, I am somewhat skeptical that this technique would actually enable your body to redirect your blood flow. Yes, during normal stress your body directs blood away from less essential organs, but during pregnancy your uterus is incredibly vascularized… and, at least for my own part, my uterine muscles worked so strongly that I can’t imagine them not. If they were that strong without maximal oxygen, I don’t think getting them any more would have helped!!! (that said, I was not hypno-calm during birth, but I wasn’t panicky or anything either) . Even though I have a compulsion to note this kind of thing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it won’t work, just that the explanation of how it is working doesn’t seem to be quite logical to me…. I mean, to me it sounds a bit like if someone told me you need to be calm while drowning, so that your arms and legs can get more blood and you can swim to the surface better. It’s very true that panic is your worst enemy in many drowning situations, and that being ‘more calm’ is good, but very few people drown because of too little muscle strength in their arms and legs.
    With hypnobirth, I’d wager that getting the non-panicky mindset is the key.

    • As a scientist who tried it, I think it’s biggest benefit is in mentally relaxing you to deal with whatever. However, if you’re not relaxed, you can ‘tense up’ more – even down there, and this *might* make it harder for the uterine muscle to open up the cervix, thus taking more time and causing more pain. Again, I don’t know that this is really what it does, but I definitely noticed a difference from my first birth (no hypnobabies) to my second with hypnobabies as far as how relaexed down there I felt. Both times I was calm and dealt with the pain without drugs (though if someone wants/ needs drugs that’s cool – it’s their body, not mine!) but the second time my whole body felt more loose. Did that help things go quicker and easier? I don’t know… things certainly went quicker, but they usually do the second time and of course I don’t have a good control group!

Comments are closed.