So last Thursday evening was the first Introduction to Hypnobirthing Workshop I've run for a little while - and it was lovely to get back into the swing of things. It was a slightly smaller group than I'd anticipated, but just as lovely for it. We talked about birth expectations, about why women are freaked out about birth, and some practical techniques for keeping & controlling the calm.
The top question from the evening? What does the hypnosis bit of the course actually do?
Great question. Really great question. Because I'm still reticent to tell people that I'm a Hypnobirthing Coach - I know it doesn't sound like a 'proper' job, and it almost inevitably leads to some ribbing about the 'woo'. AND I know that the 'hypno' bit was what put me off when I was newly pregnant & looking for ways out of the blood bath of suffering & panic that I had been conditioned to expect birth to be.
The answer falls into two parts. I actually think the second is the most important, but I've addressed the thing we all associate with hypnosis first.
1) Despatching old & unhelpful beliefs
It's the same principle as hypnosis to stop smoking, or lose weight. You know that smoking 40 fags a day isn't good for your lungs, and you know that 12 cream cakes for breakfast won't help you slither into a pair of size 12 jeans. And yet. There's a part of your pesky old brain which just won't let go of the habit.
For pregnant women, hypnosis allows them to release negative cultural norms & personal anxieties around birth, and replace them with a realistic framework of positive births - something you can create a picture of what you would like your birth to be like*.
And how does hypnosis help? It's really just a description of an extremely relaxed state that you & your brain can learn, when your critical faculties take a back seat, and you simply allow the information to wash over you. It's similar to the 'willing suspension of disbelief' described by Coleridge - you know that it's a drama you're watching on tv, and that the people are actors, and that the plot may be somewhat implausible, but, nonetheless, you can experience the same emotions the (good) actors portray - and the story remains with you.
2) Optimising the Oxytocin (did I mention I think this is the most important?)
This is the MOST important one for me. Oxytocin is the critical hormone for labour. Produced in your pituitary gland, it is responsible for the for the smooth & efficient functioning of your uterus (a muscle that you have no direct control over). Oxytocin production is controlled by a positive-feedback mechanism - which means that when it's working well, it'll work better. It's nicknamed 'The Shy Hormone', 'The Love Hormone' or 'The Cuddle Chemical' because we produce it in greatest volume when we feel safe, secure & protected.
However. If you start feel anxious, vulnerable, exposed or under-threat, your fight or flight reflex kicks in. Andrenaline & cortisol replace the oxytocin, and in labour that can have a tricksy effect. So. Hypnobirthing teaches you skills & techniques you can use to control your mental environment, how to manage your emotions, how to support your partner, and practical skills to adapt to circumstances.
* This does not mean tying yourself to a objective of a particular type of birth. It means having the confidence & the means to navigate the day positively, however it happens for you.