I had heard about HypnoBirthing before I was pregnant with S, but hadn’t looked into it that much and didn’t look into it much during that pregnancy. It seemed like it would be weird and new age, so I avoided it. But a friend that teaches it said that while some people use it that way, it really isn’t, which got me interested in it, especially after I talked with her about S’s birth and how much I hated pushing. She looked at me and said “you didn’t have to push at all,” and talked about HypnoBirthing’s breathing the baby out technique. So I borrowed the book from her to learn more.
HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method is not hard to read, and not that hard to understand, but like Bradley Method, would take a lot of practice if you’re really going to utilize it. I was reading it more from curiosity than with a plan to utilize it in labor, and many of the concepts were familiar to me from Bradley Method, Childbirth Without Fear, and Ina May.
Its basic philosophy is that childbirth is normal, natural, and healthy, and therefore can be calm. It focuses a lot on the power of the mind and words, neither of which can be denied, and are things that are emphasized by many other birthing methods. It sees the birth provider as a lifeguard, there for problems but otherwise as uninvolved as possible.
HypnoBirthing traces the history of childbirth, especially how it became negatively stigmatized in the 2nd Century AD, and with that fear of it increased and so did pain, and when chlorofoam became popular, birth moved to the hospital so that it could be used, and from there anesthesia, analgesia, and medicine to speed and ease labor became the norm. It focuses on the fear = taut cervix= pain idea, that a perceived threat puts our bodies into flight/freeze/fight mode, which when you’re in labor leads to tension and thus more pain as the baby needs space and opening to get out.
This all leads to the method part of HypnoBirthing: teaching your body how to relax so that your muscles can do their thing and the more relaxed you are, the less painful birth will be – some HypnoBirthing mothers say their births were painless, which I don’t think is contrary to the curse as what we often translate “pain” is the same word used for Adam that is usually translated “toil.”
HypnoBirthing teaches relaxation through breathing patterns, massages, music, etc, that will help you relax, and having an “anchor” to help you go into relaxation mode (think Pavlov’s Dogs). It reminded me a lot of the Bradley Method’s emphasis on relaxation, at least at first.
My biggest surprise while reading the book was how little of it was anything beyond relaxation. It defines hypnosis as the same thing we go into when we daydream or are so absorbed in something we lose track of time or stop paying attention to what’s around us. This is consistent with a lot of the techniques in the book, as the teaching is on how to deeply relax and not how to hypnotize yourself in the way most people think about hypnosis. But while the book uses “hypnosis” and “relaxation” synonymously most of the time, it does eventually move from deep relaxation techniques into things that would be more generally considered as hypnosis, so its definition isn’t completely accurate. Later on, there are exercises for “numbing” parts of your body and things like that which are more of how we generally think of hypnosis, a transition into an alternate reality. This seems to be the danger with hypnosis, where the lines between what is real and what isn’t are blurred, and in a state where you are so deeply relaxed you are unaware of a lot of things, this could lead to acting on things that aren’t true (like a woman who, in hypnosis, thought her pain was gone and began to run around, damaging her spinal cord and dying). HypnoBirthing’s use of hypnosis is more than just what you find yourself in when you zone out and does get into a slightly altered state of consciousness – not one that we find so completely altered that the method should be thrown out, but altered enough that caution is urged.
Another word of caution: I had already returned the book before I was made aware of this so I can’t remember how it was talked about, but HypnoBirthing does mention Harmonious Attraction/the Law of Attraction, which is a New Age version of Karma.
While hypnosis and relaxation have more to do with the mind and body, HypnoBirthing also focuses on the power of word. This comes in having a positive view towards birth (mentioned above, with pregnancy and birth being normal, healthy parts of life) and knowing that the female body was designed to birth. It also includes “birth affirmations,” which some people use as mantras, but they don’t have to be used in a repetitive/mind emptying way. Some of them are also odd and things that I would debate the truthfulness of (“your birthing will unfold exactly as you see it now. You have defined your birthing in this way, and your birthing will happen as you have defined it”). This can be taught and used in a new age way, with the idea that you can not only affect your body by what you say, but even alter reality by your words, especially when you are in hypnosis, which is something we are not comfortable with.
That said, the idea that words are powerful and can affect the physical body is not wrong, but we need to make sure that they are TRUTH. As Christians we should be preaching truth to ourselves whether we are in the pain of labor or not!
With this, I want to note that HypnoBirthing talks a lot about the design of the body for birth, and how our bodies are not flawed. I agree with this in part: the design of the female body to birth a baby is not flawed. However, we live in a fallen world, so we do have to be careful in how we think about all that. That said, the uterus is a powerful, well-designed muscle and the way the physical birthing process works is amazing to study. Ina May says that if men had such a muscle they would brag about it… and while I don’t usually do that it IS my favorite muscle.
A third aspect of the HypnoBirthing method is visualization, picturing things like the opening of a rose (in relation to your cervix opening, etc), which I would categorize similarly to words and the effect words can have on our physical bodies. However, I don’t think I would give words and visualization quite as much power as HypnoBirthing does.
The book is also full of other stuff:
– pre-birth nurturing and connecting with your baby
– Nutrition (pretty standard recommendations)
– Exercise (again, pretty standard for pregnancy, with an emphasis on posture/positioning)
– It talks about perineal massage as “mandatory,” but more recent stuff has shown that it may or may not really help.
– Sample birth preferences (love the wording choice there – preferences, not plan)
– Breathing the baby out instead of pushing (see video here).
– some talk about postpartum – breastfeeding, fourth trimester, etc.
It brought up a lot of wondering for me about S’s birth and the way it progressed – especially if her birth was so easy because we were on our own and unhindered for most of labor and really quite unaware of how far along I was. But also it has me wondering about pushing and tearing – since I hated pushing so much, and I know that rather than loosening when she crowned my reaction to the midwife saying “this is the part we talked about where you stop pushing,” was something that caused more tension and thus tearing. So I am hoping to “breathe the baby out” but we’ll see what my body wants to do… with S the natural expulsive reflex got pretty strong and there were times I definitely wanted to push!
HypnoBirthing was a helpful book for me to read, and I think it definitely could be a very useful, pain-relieving method. But it did leave me with questions, mostly as I worked through the feeling of hypnosis being wrong, which led to really thinking about WHY it is viewed that way in Christian circles and if it’s a proper view for the self-hypnosis in HypnoBirthing that goes beyond deep relaxation.