When I accidentally got knocked up, the first frightening thought I had was not, “OMG I’m not ready to be a mom,” but “OMG, this thing has to come out of me somehow.”
I am afraid of large needles, surgery, and pain, so obviously an epidural, C-section, or natural childbirth were all totally out of the question. The baby would have to come out via some sort of magic.
I started researching childbirth methods, and the one that seemed to fit me best was hypnosis. Which sounded odd. Even though I knew some people who had used hypnosis to quit smoking, at the time of my pregnancy I had not yet completed my transformation into the borderline-hippie crystal-owner who believes in naturopaths and ghost cats that I am today. I was skeptical. But my fear of needles, surgery, and pain outweighed my skepticism. I was willing to try anything.
And I am here to tell you: I wholeheartedly recommend hypnosis for childbirth (plus migraines, stress, and dental work, for that matter).
The childbirth hypnosis method I chose was Hypnobirthing. The premise of Hypnobirthing is that labor and childbirth is not meant to be painful, because pain in our bodies tells us something is wrong -- and there’s nothing “wrong” with us when we’re having babies. In Hypnobirthing, the language of childbirth changes: labor is called “birthing” (because labor implies that it is hard work), and contractions are called “surges."
Our hypnotherapist dedicated almost an entire class to talking about the muscles of the uterus -- that the uterus is composed of two sets of opposing muscles that help to naturally and gently birth a baby. Just as it does not hurt when opposing sets of muscles work to bend your arm, it should not hurt when opposing sets of muscles birth a baby.
In Hypnobirthing, what causes pain is fear and stress (which causes all your muscles to tense up, which is what causes pain). By removing the fear and stress through relaxation (which is really all hypnosis is), you remove the pain.
Now, when I first heard this, I thought it sounded crazy. But as our instructor led us through weekly hypnotherapy sessions, and I learned to put myself in a hypnotic state, I got really good at “turning off” parts of my body.
There was one exercise where Seth would stroke my arm and it instantly made my arm feel numb. There was another one where I imagined a giant light switch that I was using to turn off all feeling to my hands or my feet. In theory, this technique could also be applied during a powerful surge (that’s “painful contraction” to the non-hypnotized).
The class materials included a book, relaxation CDs, and daily affirmations like, “the tissues of my birth path are healthy and pink” (yes, really) and “my body knows what to do.”
We were also supposed to choose music that we wanted to use during childbirth, and practice self-hypnosis every night with that music. It was supposed to be wordless music so that there would be no lyrics to interfere with the hypnosis. I chose that “( )” album by Sigur Ros, which has words, but I don’t speak Icelandic so I figured that was fine.
To this day, I cannot listen to it without instantly zoning out -- which means if it comes up on my iPod while I’m driving, I have to change it real quick-like.
Aside from the deep relaxation and ability to numb parts of my body with my mind-powers, another really great component of hypnosis is time distortion. This is different for everyone, but for me, 30 minutes feels like 10 minutes when I’m under hypnosis.
This, my friends, came in super handy during my 40-hour labor.
My birth itself did not go the way I wanted it to. My labor was induced with the synthetic hormone Pitocin, and after 24 hours of no progress, I knew I had to make a choice: get an epidural and ask them to crank up the Pitocin, or end up with a C-section at the 48-hour mark. I chose the giant needle over surgery, and my son was born 16 hours later.
Even though I did not get to use the hypnosis for the actual birth part, here’s what it did for me:
1. Time distortion: that first 24 hours went by really fast for me.
2. I was able to stay relaxed, even though my Pitocin-induced surges/contractions were coming every three minutes. What I felt during that time was intense pressure instead of pain.
3. When I chose to have the epidural, I was able to make that choice with a clear head and without fear.
4. When it came time to have the giant epidural needle inserted into my spine (which I was really afraid of, remember?), I was calm and did not feel a thing.
5. The epidural actually wore off on the right side of my body at one point (the only time I experienced what I would call pain), and while I was waiting for the anesthesiologist to come back, I was able to put myself into a hypnotic state.
Since then, I’ve used hypnosis so many times that the Hypnobirthing classes have more than paid for themselves. I use it, in conjunction with acupressure and essential oils, to help get rid of headaches. I once used hypnosis for pain management during a dental procedure, when the novocaine didn’t work for some reason.
If hypnosis sounds too out there for you, consider this: It is all based on breathing, much like yoga or meditation. Hypnosis is really just entering a very deep state of relaxation by altering your breath. Contrary to popular belief, it does not put you in a trance -- you are fully aware of what is happening. (Although I don’t know, maybe eight years ago when I was doing the Hypnobirthing, my ex-husband programmed me to say nice things about him on the Internet after our future divorce. YOU NEVER KNOW.)
So there you go. Further proof that I am probably too New Agey for most people to handle, but then again, I live in Los Angeles, so it kind of comes with the territory.
I still have some unresolved natural-childbirth-failure guilt, and a hypnotherapist friend of mine offered to do a guilt-clearing session with me this week. She said, “We’ll give you the birth you wanted to have,” which I admit sounds a little woo woo, even for me. But I am willing to give it a shot, and I will let you know how it goes!
Anyone else have experience with hypnosis? Did you do it for childbirth? Are there any other childbirth methods you recommend? I have an Internet friend who did the Bradley Method and went dancing into labor and delivery with her iPod at seven centimeters dilated. (!)
Aren’t bodies great? And if you have any Hypnobirthing questions for me, let me know -- I’ll try to answer as many as I can!
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood