Book Review: Holy Labor

Last summer I wrote a lot about HypnoBirthing and other birth methods and books (you can read that here, here, and here), and while in the end there were useful things gleaned from all the books I’ve read on birth, overall I was left with a sense of having to piece together my own “method” to practice and prepare for a natural, God-centered birth.

But I knew this book, “Holy Labor,” by Aubry G. Smith, was coming out and was so sad it wouldn’t be out until after Ellie was born. My parents gave it to me this year for Mothers’ Day and I devoured it pretty quickly and wanted to review it on my blog because of the way I ended my posts on HypnoBirthing so dissatisfied with birth books.

Holy Labor is a theology of childbirth: what scripture says about it (is there really a curse on women? Does Genesis 3 mean labor has to be painful?), how we should approach it because of who God is, and how it changes who we are.
She talks about relaxation in labor and some about the fear/pain connection.
Each chapter ends with spiritual disciplines and exercises to help apply what was talked about and prepare for labor and facilitate further, deeper worship of God, in and out of childbirth.
There is a lot of focus on natural childbirth, but I felt that she handled it well so that someone who didn’t have or didn’t want a natural birth wouldn’t feel judged (but I don’t have that experience so may not be the best person to speak on that).

While not designed to be a week-by-week labor preparation guide, I do plan on using it in the first part of the third trimester if we have another baby.

What I didn’t like
I didn’t fully agree with all her theology, but overall there wasn’t anything major I disagreed with, only the way she phrased some things or a rare paragraph. The biggest place this was an issue was in her chapter on justice and birth, but in reading the exercises part after the chapter I think it was more of an issue of wording than actual theology.

I wish it had included thoughts on more of pregnancy (morning sickness, for example) and postpartum (PPD), but it is about LABOR. I also wish it had been more, shorter chapters to make it easier to use across a trimester of pregnancy.
Those are the only ways I felt it was lacking anything talked about in Redeeming Childbirth (further comparison in the next section), along with that I really liked the emphasis in Redeeming Childbirth about building a God-centered birth culture and mentoring others in that (implied in Holy Labor, but not explicitly discussed).

What I liked
I feel like overall it contained a lot of the same thoughts as Redeeming Childbirth but in a way that was more concise and theologically grounded, drawing from scripture more than personal experience and encouraging further study and worship, again, from scripture more than personal experience.
Holy Labor grew my understanding of both the physical and spiritual side of childbirth, and I know that if I were pregnant the exercises would have been so helpful to me in dealing with fears, body image, changing seasons, etc. by bringing me to God in prayer and worship, meeting those struggles with His character.

Highly, highly recommended!


Ellie: After the Birth

Ezra left around 6 AM to go back home to be there when S woke up, and brought her over around 7:30. S was so excited to see the baby (even more excited to see me, though), and loved pointing out all her body parts, kissing her, asking to hold her, etc. Throughout our hospital stay she would go home with Ezra for bedtime and nap but otherwise was mostly there with us and would play in the room, with Hannah, etc. She would get jealous when I nursed Ellie, but we reminded her that it was Ellie’s turn and she would have her turn later, and that she had just/would soon eat some food Ellie couldn’t eat. Mostly she was just excited, protective, and proud, though – she got upset when the nurses would come check the baby’s vitals, and when friends came to visit she would say “baby Ellie!” and point to the baby. We had snacks and some toys/books for her, as well as a stuffed camel that was “from” Ellie and a Melissa and Doug reusable sticker book that kept her occupied for a while.
After a few days at home, she is definitely feeling the change. I kept thinking “what special thing can I do with her right now?” but finally realized she doesn’t want special she wants the normal she had last week… so we are trying to do our normal stuff as much as possible… even when it means snuggling my deflated belly (she was definitely snuggling it for skin to skin and not baby the whole pregnancy…). It’s been hard for me to not have as much time with her but her doing so well has made it much easier on me and I know it will be even easier when I can pick her up and get out of the house with her again (though by then Ezra will be back at work and my mom gone so that will be its own new hard!).

Recovery has been SO much easier this time around. I really have to work at resting, since I feel good but know I have an open wound. The hardest part has been not being able to pick S up or really hold her. Nursing has been a breeze – Ellie is great at it and it helps that I was/am still nursing S some, especially when my milk came in. Afterpains were definitely worse (I didn’t really even have any after S), but otherwise it has felt more like resting than recovering. I didn’t really enjoy the hospital stay, mostly because it was so hard on S and so I wanted to be home. It certainly did help me rest more completely for the first 36 hours postpartum, though, which was good because we had to go back the following two days for Ellie’s bilirubin to be checked and those were rather long and exhausting trips out for the first week postpartum. It was still a few days before I really got any quality time with Ellie, though.

As for emotional recovery – the first week (which is where we are at as I write) was good. I struggled a lot in the weeks leading up to the birth, feeling like God wasn’t listening to my prayers in the way things were working out, especially as it seemed Hannah and/or Ezra wouldn’t be there for the birth, etc. But now that we are on the other side it’s so clear how He really was listening and answered those prayers how we asked and then some! The first night in the hospital lots of memories of PPD were filling my mind as I tried to sleep, but I was equipped with prayer and verses and songs. It has often felt “right there” but so far I have felt pretty stable – the postbirth high was not quite as high, which was a little sad, but if it means the low isn’t as low, then that’s okay. Adding another child is just as exciting but less “monumental” than becoming a mother for the first time, and I think that’s made it an easier adjustment this time, especially emotionally.

I have been so overwhelmed by His grace to us and everything working out how we asked and then some. It’s especially overwhelming because the next day my friend was being induced for preeclampsia and after a long, hard time of labor she had a C-section – and with an induction on the calendar for us I often wondered “why wasn’t that us?” in the first few days – and still wonder it sometimes. But then I was reading in Daniel, and seeing again and again how God rescued people or brought them down so that they could (or because they didn’t) give Him glory. That’s why He gives us times of ease – not to wonder why it is there and why life is so different for us than for those suffering in Syria, but to glorify Him for how He has worked in our lives and use His blessings to love others. If I had to sum up Ellie’s birth story in two words, it would be “answered prayers!”

Specific prayers answered:
Hannah and Ezra here
no heplock
water intact till end
delayed cord clamp
immediate crying, easy nursing
negative blood type
a Doctor whose name I was familiar with and nurses I knew (one a believer!).
S’s excitement and protectiveness
short pushing
S sleeping so well post-birth, especially with Ellie’s nights being a mess

Ellie’s Birth Story

(This is a birth story… so there’s lots of stuff about bodily functions that are normally TMI. It’s also a somewhat condensed version, so if you want all the details just let me know)

Ellie was due either the 13th or 19th of September. S came early so we assumed Ellie would too, but also knew we couldn’t count on it, and leaned toward the ultrasound due date of the 19th. With Ezra’s schedule we weren’t sure if he would be able to be here for the birth or even very soon afterwards, but Hannah was going to be with me for most of the time he would certainly be gone. Even with that, I had felt that I should pray for both of them to be there, knowing it was a long shot, but knowing that God could totally work it out.
Hannah arrived, and still no baby, so we kept busy exploring some and doing odds and ends. A few days later, Ezra surprised us by showing up at home!
Within a few days I was really starting to get antsy, since Hannah only had a week left and we were running out of things to do while we waited. We (mostly jokingly) tried natural induction stuff like eating pineapple, long walks, bouncing on my exercise ball, letting S nurse longer, etc. (NO castor oil, don’t worry) but it was apparent baby just wasn’t ready. I was often having excruciating round ligament pain, but otherwise was really comfortable and not having any signs of labor being imminent. I was feeling much more rested, though, due to having both Hannah and Ezra around to help cook, clean, and take care of S.
Thursday (Sept 15) afternoon Ezra and I spent a while talking and praying since I was feeling so stressed and nervous about the timing of everything. At one point I was curled up on the floor crying and he was just reading to me from the Psalms. I felt so much better after that that I was hoping that (like Hannah and Ezra’s arrivals) it would send me into labor, but nope.
At my 40+ week appointment the next day the midwife had us schedule an induction and NSTs for the next week (this was where having 2 due dates was really frustrating, because even with somewhat of a compromise it was still a few days earlier than we would have liked, so thankfully we never had to decide if we wouldn’t show up). I did let her check me and do a membrane sweep, neither of which I liked or really wanted, but figured it was worth a shot, especially since Hannah only had 3 days left. But it was mostly painful and disappointing, since I wasn’t really dilated at all, so we didn’t think the sweep would do anything. I had some cramping and spotting, but it stopped a few hours later.
Partway through the evening I had a strong contraction and then about half an hour later another one, and was having excruciating round ligament pain. I took a bath after S went to bed, and during the bath the ligament pain lessened and I was able to tell that I was having some lighter contractions in the midst of it, and was seeing some bloody show in the water like I had while I was in labor with S.
But I didn’t say anything before bed, in case it was all just because of the membrane sweep. I rested for a while, but couldn’t get comfortable, again mostly due to ligament pain. Soon I was starting to pick out contractions and then had to breathe through them, especially to stay quiet to not wake up S or Ezra.
At 12:50 AM (Sept 17) I got out of bed and went to the bathroom, and went again and again, which along with contractions getting stronger told me I was in labor. I timed contractions, nervous because of how strong they were even though it was so early in labor… but then found they were 1 minute long and 3-4 minutes apart.
At 1:16 AM I woke Ezra up and we went to the living room. I was on my hands and knees but also somewhat leaning on the birth ball, rocking back and forth while Ezra rubbed my back. I threw up a few times and we turned on music, turned down the lights, and he got me some of my red raspberry leaf tea concentrate and some coconut water.

I was staying quieter than I had with S, really just focusing on breathing and relaxing. Just like with S timing the contractions myself was so important to me so I could see where I was at. But even still, I was starting to get overwhelmed and was commenting to Ezra on how much it hurt and that I couldn’t do it. Which said to us “transition!” but I was also in denial about that because it felt too early, I was still getting a clear break in contractions, and I was thinking so clearly – with S it had all been a blur when I was in transition. I knew it was likely to be a fast labor but it still felt too soon, and I was terrified at the thought of getting to the hospital and being sent back… after all, that morning I wasn’t dilated at all, so I doubted an hour and a half would have gotten me to a 6.
By this point Hannah was awake, and we filled up the tub and I got in, but didn’t get any relief. We decided to call the taxi as soon as we could get ahold of childcare for S, or if we couldn’t, then just call the taxi and Hannah would stay instead of coming to the birth. Finally at about 2:30 AM a neighbor (not on our original childcare list!) said he would be over and the taxi said it would be 5 minutes, so I got out of the tub and got dressed, still wondering if we should go yet since I was thinking so clearly, and in the excitement of getting ready to go was starting to feel more on top of things again… but I was also starting to feel more downward pressure, so we ran down the stairs and out of our apartment building, where I had a contraction on the ground just as our neighbor was walking up, and the taxi driver was getting out of the taxi. The poor guy was so worried – he kept asking if he should call an ambulance while Ezra loaded up the car and assured him we didn’t need an ambulance. A few minutes later we got to the hospital and the driver ran inside to tell the front desk we needed a wheel chair (which was sweet but no way was I going to sit down again) – and one of the desk people ran off to find a wheel chair while the other pushed the elevator button for me and it arrived just as Ezra ran in with all our stuff. We made it into Labor and Delivery, where I had another contraction on the floor while nurses ran up and started asking Ezra questions.
They got me a bed in triage and I threw up again, then after a few minutes of trying to get on my back in between contractions they finally were able to somewhat check me and said they couldn’t totally tell but I was close, so they would get a room ready. Somewhere in there Hannah came, and we moved into the labor room where they hooked me up to the monitors (which never got taken off, which was fine in the end since they didn’t bother me much – sometimes they did increase the round ligament pain, but otherwise I didn’t notice them). They asked if we wanted the heplock (which we had forseen as our biggest battle) and when I said “no,” said that was fine for now and they would just monitor more closely. They also asked what I wanted to wear and I couldn’t think about changing so just said “THIS!” (tshirt and maxi skirt) which they were fine with. I was on my hands and knees in the bed, and the lights were mostly off. Hannah was coaching my breathing and I would often make comments about the pain or not being able to do it to Ezra, but both he and Hannah would encourage me. Each contraction started really horrible but then as I got into my “zone,” breathing and focusing on relaxing, they would get more bearable.
One of the nurses suggested supporting myself on the head of the bed, which was almost upright, and that felt really good. I could feel the baby moving, turning (something I had been nervous about; she was always on the right side and I knew that meant she would need to turn more), and descending, which was excruciating but wonderful at the same time.
The doctor came in and checked me and said I was at 9 cm. It was a doctor I had heard really good things about, so I was glad that that was the case even though it wasn’t one of the midwives. Our main nurse was also the one who had given me the tour of Labor and Delivery and I had really liked her, and another of our nurses I had just met at Bible study a few days before and knew she was a believer and a friend of one of my good friends here.
The downward pressure was increasing and so was the urge to push, but they kept telling me not to yet, so I just tried to do the J-breathing from hypnobirthing and redirect my breathing gently downward.
The nurse checked me again when it got even stronger but said I was only at 8 cm… that was the lowest point for me and I remember saying “no!” The nurses said to call them again when the urge to push was even between contractions.
I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but soon the urge was there all the time, and the next thing I knew the doctor was in the room asking if I wanted her to break my water. I had always said I wouldn’t let them break it because having a baby en caul sounds like one of the coolest things ever… but all I could think at that time was “get this baby OUT!” so I said yes. At 4:40 AM the doctor broke my water and her hand was still inside when I could really feel baby moving down FAST. I said “SHE’S COMING!” and after that time seemed to speed up.
Pushing was one of my biggest fears going into labor this time around because of how much I hated it with S. I had read a lot about hypnobirthing’s J breathing/breathing the baby out and that was my goal – and while I definitely did push with the most intense urges, for the most part I was able to breathe through the contractions and it really helped. I felt in control of my body (unlike pushing with S), and could tell where baby was and knew when she was crowning – which once more was awful but this time I knew that that was going to be the end, and was able to fight my instinct to tense up/scream and instead managed to keep my voice low/open. Then her head was out, and they were telling me to push for the shoulders – I momentarily freaked out because S’s body had just slipped right out without a push so I was nervous about shoulder dystocia… but she came right out and then I felt her body slip out and she cried almost right away. She was born at 4:50 AM, September 17, after only 3 pushing contractions (10 minutes, but to all of us it felt like 3!).
After putting her on my chest, they asked if we wanted the cord clamp delayed, and we said yes, surprised, since they had previously told us hospital policy was to not delay it! The placenta came really quickly and then they gave me a shot of Pitocin (which I didn’t really want, but since they hadn’t given me the heplock I didn’t fight it, especially since the placenta had come on its own already). The doctor checked and said I had a small tear, and we could leave it or she could stitch it, but if we left it I would need to be really careful and take good care of it… and I figured that as much as I hated being stitched up it would be better to have it done then than have a complication later, so told her to stitch it up. I stayed pretty calm throughout that – I think in addition to all the hormones the decision having been mine really helped – but all those hormones and adrenaline also had me shaking like crazy.
Ellie latched on well very soon after and nursed for a while (another answered prayer! Nursing with S was rough for the first 6 weeks). Then they did her newborn exam – 6 lbs, 13.8 oz, 19.5 inches.
After about four hours (and lots of food… unlike after S I was STARVING) they moved us upstairs.

Overall, I felt more aware of the pain and discomfort than I remember being with Soraya, but I also felt much more in control of my body and response to the pain (staying lower/quieter/directing tension out), and my thinking was much clearer than it had been with S, even sharper than usual at some points. Except for breathing the baby out, I don’t feel like I used stuff from Hypnobirthing as much as that the wording of some stuff in Hypnobirthing helped me apply the stuff from Bradley Method more. It was hard… but God’s hand was so clear throughout and He heard all our prayers, both before and during labor.
The hospital was definitely different than the birth center, but I felt it more in the lack of education we got at the hospital than I did in procedures. Maybe that’s just because they didn’t give us as much info because we were second-timers, but I am SO thankful for how much information and preparation and postpartum teaching and support we received at the birth center.

{I will post more later about recovery and postpartum… this is long enough!}

HypnoBirthing: Comparing other methods

Whenever I read a book about birth, I often find myself thinking “that’s just like in the Bradley Method” or “Ina May says the same thing!” There often are a lot of similarities in natural birth books. Much of this has to do with the influence of people like Ina May Gaskin, as well as Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, who influenced Ina May, Marie Mongan, and Dr. Robert Bradley. His book is “Childbirth Without Fear,” which I read while pregnant with S. It was geared more towards birth providers, but was still very interesting and focused mostly on the fear  tension  pain connection.

HypnoBirthing, Bradley Method, and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth all center on the fear/pain connection, with part of that including being informed about birth and your options and what is actually medically necessary, as well as building a positive birth culture. TV and movies most often portray birth as dangerous, frightening, and painful, which influences people’s view of it, although the media portrayal of birth was influenced by the medicalization of birth.
I was surprised the first time I read about how our culture views birth, since my mother had four natural births and didn’t talk negatively about them or about pregnancy, and that mindset was further solidified for me by my mother-in-law, sister, and sister-in-law before S was born.
But it brings up a good point – why don’t we teach our daughters and talk to our friends positively about birth? The opinion of friends and mothers are huge in how a pregnant woman looks ahead to birth, both things that are said in passing and the often lack of any sort of mentoring and teaching in that area.

Some more similarities: a focus on learning to relax your body, visualization, finding good positions to labor and deliver in, and pre-birth exercises to prepare your body. They also talk about pain and how our expectation of what labor will be like greatly affects it (because I had learned through Bradley method to really assess pain and think about whether or not something was painful or just uncomfortable, the only time I would say I was in pain during labor with S was the second half of pushing). All hold that our bodies are designed to birth, and one thing that is not always clear but implied in all is that birth pain doesn’t say flee, but relax, and with that, to remember that the pain of contractions is not BAD but is GOOD and is your body working to get the baby out!
Some of the differences:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is not a method like HypnoBirthing and Bradley are. It is a collection of birth stories – not picture-perfect or all the same, but very truthful and raw yet still positive, and then chapters on birthing naturally. There is a lot in there to help you prepare and be informed, but not a lot towards practically practicing for labor.

HypnoBirthing was covered in detail above so I won’t go into it more here. The biggest difference is that HypnoBirthing is less physical and more mental, and that they don’t have you actively push.

Bradley Method goes into the physical processes more than HypnoBirthing, and the visualization in Bradley Method is also more physical – imagining what your body is doing rather than imagery of a flower opening, etc. I couldn’t stand the side-lying/lateral position recommended for labor, and after labor felt like we didn’t really use the method in general, but everything on pregnancy, preparing your body for birth, the husband’s role, and the physical side of what is actually happening in labor were all SO helpful to us, as were the emotional road map (the only way we had any idea I was in transition), and the Six Needs of a Laboring Woman (since then I’ve read numerous articles that support this, especially the darkness part).
My personal preference would be Bradley Method, but would want more info on different labor positions, emphasis on the power of reminding yourself of truth, and breathing the baby out instead of pushing.

However, they all fall short regarding spiritual preparation for birth.
I read “Redeeming Childbirth” during both pregnancies, and while there is a lot I really don’t like about the book, the overall message of viewing difficulties in pregnancy and birth as a time to grow in your relationships, particularly with God, and worship Him is very true and important. I re-read it after reading HypnoBirthing, hoping it would be the “renewing your mind” part I was looking for, but I found that aside from the big-picture ideas, it was even less helpful to me than it was when I read it while pregnant with S.
But I think that learning how to focus on God in birth or any other painful or difficult circumstance is not something that can be taught like a birthing method, as it is so much more individual, and applies in whatever kind of birth you’re having.
Some things that can be helpful to encourage that mindset:
– having a birth playlist of Christian music (I didn’t use this in labor with S, but it was so helpful with minor complications afterwards and also for struggling with postpartum depression)
– verses or phrases up where you will be laboring or for your labor partner to remind you of
– Praying and journaling through fears and worries, and then having truth to remind yourself of when those fears come on, in or out of labor.
In many ways, I feel like this is the “Christian HypnoBirthing” – renewing your mind, by submitting the whole person to the truth in prayer, reading the word, and meditating on truth. And if you’re going for a natural birth, it can easily be paired with techniques found in HypnoBirthing or Bradley Method.

Ultimately, our goal should not be a natural or painless birth, but to birth in a way that turns to God for our help and strength, no matter what our circumstances are.

HypnoBirthing: Some Thoughts on Hypnosis

It seems that when a lot of Christians hear about hypnobirthing, they immediately write it off because of hypnosis. I had felt the same way myself, but also had never been able to articulate scripturally what was wrong with the kind of self-hypnosis put forth by hypnobirthing, before or after reading the book. So we did some research.

The most common arguments against hypnosis:
-The Bible condemns hypnosis directly (I have yet to find a verse condemning hypnosis itself as much as hypnosis-like things that are condemned because of their use in pagan worship)
-Hypnosis opens a person up to demonic influences (If it a self-hypnosis that is controlled by the person being hypnotized, and is not pagan or “mind emptying” this argument may not be valid, but is still a big concern).
-Hypnosis is a step away from the alertness and self-control that Christians are supposed to operate under (However with self-hypnosis you are in control and aware of what is going on, thus less likely to be influenced by bad teaching or thought. But in a state where you are withdrawn from reality and have altered perception, there is still need for great caution).
– The way it has been viewed historically. (Often associated with the occult, why is it only now becoming fine for the church? Or has it always been linked to new age/occult, or is that the new thing?)
– It closely parallels mysticism, which is also a tough subject for Christians. We don’t believe that mystical experiences are wrong (if defined as simply supernatural experiences), but we do believe that the kinds of mystical experiences in oriental and catholic mysticism, not to mention the occult, etc. are evil. Paul was a mystic; he reaches places in his epistles where the logic goes away and gives way to doxology. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is a mystic experience in a sense; it is supernatural. Having a deeper sight of the glory of God or the love of God can lead to a mystic experience. But these are truth-driven spiritual reality-drive experiences, not simply good-feeling experiences or vague spiritual experiences that we then later define as having been a gift from God. And we are not seeking these experiences so much as we are seeking God, and sometimes it may cause such an experience.

Arguments Christians make defending hypnosis:
-The bible contains positive examples of hypnosis (often referenced is Paul’s vision in Acts 10, where he falls into a trance, but there is no indication that this was any form of self-hypnosis – the only physical indication we have is that it may have been hunger-induced)
– Jesus wants you to have an abundant life, and we have studies showing that this helps, so we should use it. (This is used more in reference to using hypnosis for weight loss, etc. But that’s not what Jesus meant when he was talking about an abundant life, nor is it the most biblical way to change your life).

Some critique of self-hypnosis applies less to birth than to other things it is used for (like weight loss, breaking habits, etc). In those cases, hypnotherapy does not match up with the biblical system of sanctification and mental/spiritual healing. It would seem to “short circuit” the process of the renewing of the mind, which involves submitting the whole person to the truth in prayer, reading the word, and meditating on truth, so we would urge Christians to step away from using hypnosis beyond an analgesic.

For HypnoBirthing, I’m totally on board with deep relaxation and reminding yourself of truth to speed and ease labor (while remembering it’s not a magic bullet!). The shady area is when it gets into altered consciousness (discussed more in my previous post) and repetitions that aren’t entirely true and become the mind-emptying mantra-like meditations related to eastern religions. It also becomes dangerous when it is used as escapism (a pitfall I see more outside birth/pain) – our first resort and our escape should be crying out to God and looking to Jesus, not self-hypnotizing. I think that if the focus within the hypnotized state is God (ie, the “affirmations” are biblical truth) then the two can become intertwined.
But if you aren’t comfortable with the self-hypnosis part, there is still much that can be learned from HypnoBirthing, not just the information in the book, but even the method itself.
The idea that our minds affect what our bodies are doing, especially with regard to fear/stress/tension making birth more difficult and painful (something that is common throughout Ina May’s book, Bradley Method, HypnoBirthing, Childbirth Without Fear, and Redeeming Childbirth) so reminding yourself of truth is going to help, like it would calm any anxiety or stress (“My body is designed to do this,” – however one disagreement I have with most crunchy birthing method stuff is that it doesn’t take into account the fall, “God is in control,” etc).
However, to me this falls more into the prayer and renewing your mind category so I feel like it’s something that while it may have the same effect is entirely different at root. Our goal shouldn’t be a result of pain-free childbirth, but the truth. For the Christian, truth brings peace, whether it brings relief of suffering or not, and any discomfort in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum can be met with worship if we have prepared ourselves to do so (I’ll give some ideas in my next post).

HypnoBirthing: Summary

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.

Why I’m Not Anxious about Postpartum Depression

One of my first thoughts when I found out I was pregnant with #2 was “will I have postpartum depression again?” And that’s continued to be my biggest worry regarding this pregnancy and birth, to the point where I felt it coming on just from how much I was worrying about it. I knew that if I was expecting it it would be more likely to come, but I also knew I needed to be prepared this time because it’s a very real possibility, especially with circumstances that will be likely at the time of the birth and immediately postpartum.
Then I found a verse reference I had scribbled down to memorize: Jeremiah 17:5-9, 14. I read it again and wondered why I had wanted to memorize it, but decided I should go ahead and memorize it anyway. Not too long later, I was struggling not only with fear of postpartum depression, but wondering if I was having some prenatal depression, mostly due to my worrying about PPD. And that’s when it clicked.

This is the passage:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without in habitant.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is in the LORD, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit.’
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?
“Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for Thou art my praise.”
(Jeremiah 17:5-9, 14).

For me, this verse has been the key to PPD – not in preventing it but in not being afraid of it, giving both spiritual hope as well as guidance to prepare. Certain phrases were pivotal in that.
Cursed is the man who… makes flesh his strength. Earthly things like vitamins, placenta pills, rest, and nutritious food shouldn’t be what I place my hope in for preventing or getting me through another bout of PPD. Those may all help and could be a part of the “water” and “stream” to plant myself by but are not the stream itself.
Blessed is the man… whose trust is in the LORD. Because when my trust is in Him, then even in the heat and drought that is PPD, I will be rooted and nourished.
PPD is a sick heart for sure – and while there are physical and chemical things that cause it, He is the one that heals and saves in the midst of it.

So I want to spend the next few months extending my roots into the Water of Life, making sure I am spiritually rooted and grounded so I can fight it on the spiritual level (a list of verses, handlettering for strategic places in the house, a playlist to listen to to keep my mind focused), while making sure I am armed to tackle it on the physical level as well (nourishing meals and snacks in the freezer, placenta encapsulation, and a compartmentalized pill box so I keep on top of my vitamins, unlike last time). And in both of those categories goes the support of friends and family, both physical support here and the spiritual support that can be given up close and far away. Finding out a friend here has been through PPD twice was a huge relief for me, just to know there is someone here I know and trust that knows what it feels like.

One of the songs that is going on my playlist and will probably find its way into handlettering is Shane & Shane’s “Though He Slay Me.” Because even after I had had my revolutionary moments with the passage from Jeremiah, I was still struggling – and still do at times – but this is such a good reminder of His worth and faithfulness even in hard times, especially the chorus:
“Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.”