The phone rang at 7:30 a.m. and I stumbled out of bed, bleary-eyed and eight months pregnant, to find a message from Dan Gilman: his wife Laura Beth was in labor. I had never met the Gilmans, but they had generously invited me to witness the birth of their third child. They were using a pain-control technique I was learning myself: hypnobirthing.
There is evidence that “hypnobirthing” works. At the University of Florida, Professor Paul Schaubel and his colleagues showed how women who learnt self-hypnosis before giving birth needed less medication, had fewer complications and were more likely to deliver healthier babies. They also suffered less stress and anxiety in the weeks before birth.
Water birth, homebirth, HypnoBirthing – when Marion McCartney started as a nurse-midwife 30 years ago, none of those were popular, and birth was just birth. Women didn’t get to choose their method of labor. If they were lucky, their doctors let them choose who stayed beside them as they pushed. “It was a medical event, not a personal experience,” McCartney says. “Women were chaining their husbands to the delivery table so they’d be allowed to stay in the room. They didn’t have any control.”
Twenty four hours after going into labour, I gave birth. For delivery I used the technique ‘breathing the baby down’. I just imagined breathing the baby out. In the end I gave birth in my lounge, squatting down on some duvets and plastic sheeting. I didn’t tear. It just felt so natural, the way it’s meant to happen. When Lana was born I put her straight to my breast and she licked me like a cat. She was perfect. She started feeding the next morning.
Ms Mongan, by contrast, insisted that “men do feel wonderful” being present at the birth, and that being on hand is, “part of completing what you started as a couple” and that my prespositionedence was necessary to pass on the right “energy” to the child.
Breakey used HypnoBirthing® for two of her three children. HypnoBirthing® teaches women how to hypnotize themselves to manage their labor, helping them to relax and let their bodies take over. The theory is that, in the absence of fear and tension, severe pain does not have to accompany labor. In this calm state, endorphins — naturally occurring chemicals in the body that can relieve pain — replace the stress hormones that contribute to pain, proponents say.
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In Marie Mongan’s day, child birth meant a sterile, medicalized birth with drugs, and if you happened to be awake, lots of painful pushing. “Most women were totally anesthetized and out cold, and their babies were taken from them with forceps, except for the very few who didn’t make it to the hospital and had them by the side of the road,” said Mongan, now 77.
The Associated Press covers HypnoBirthing® and the many benefits it offers parents and those assisting the birth.