What the heck is hypnobirthing anyway?
“You’re not going to make me cluck like a chicken, are you?”
I hear this sentence a lot! Most often it’s from men who discover I’m a hypnobirthing coach over a drink at some sort of innocuous social event. It’s the hypnosis bit that freaks them out. Not unreasonably; hypnosis has got a pretty out-there reputation thanks to the stage hypnotists that make people dance Le Chic every time they hear someone say ‘spaghetti bolognese’ . They think I’m going to get all Paul McKenna on them, or, maybe worse, get all evangelical and biological about natural birth.
This reaction is a bit of a problem for hypnobirthing – whether you’re a coach like me, or a pregnant mama who’s interested in whether it’s the way they can access a ‘good birth’. And honestly, it’s fair to say that some older hypnobirthing methods can be a bit preachy & weird. But let me reassure you; despite its name, hypnobirthing is really surprisingly practical & rational.
When women contact me to find out about courses, it’s usually because they’ve had a friend, relative or colleague who had a good experience using the techniques (there are several methods available in the UK, The Calm Birth Method, The Wise Hippo, Katherine Graves & the Mongan Method are the largest). But even these women aren’t always entirely sure what they can expect from the course. Sometimes they worry that aspects of the course content won’t resonate with them (translation: it’s going to be too hippy-dippy woo for them to really get on board with). The notion that hypnobirths are ‘pain-free’ might feel like too big a leap of faith. The financial investment in the course might seem too high (especially when they’re looking down the vast list of baby must-haves yet to buy).
Really, women come to me because they want to avoid the worst of labour & birth, and hypnobirthing rightly has the reputation as the most effective way to do that. Many women still simply view pain, suffering & indignity as natural characteristics of childbirth. And it’s tragically true that far too many women leave hospital carrying not only a new baby, but also a trauma that doesn’t heal as easily as the physical marks of birth. It’s always worth bringing our focus back to what birth really is; it’s a truly unique transformative moment. Not only do new people arrive in the world, but women become mothers, couples become families & children become siblings. That moment can set the pattern for all that is to come – and every women has the right to take a powerful pride in her ‘becoming mother’ moment.
So, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to have a ‘good birth’. You don’t have to ‘do’ birth in a particular way to feel good about it afterwards; an elective caesarean is as valid, impressive & awesome a way to give birth as any other. The factors associated with a ‘good birth’ are not physical, they are contextual. Good birth happens when women are confident about what is happening in their body, and know they are heard & respected, that they are safe & secure & cared for.
Here, then, are 4 things you’ll cover in your hypnobirthing course that will leave you feeling fearless, adventurous & pregnant-with-power;
Building your confidence in your body
Our bodies, thanks to evolution, are powerfully well designed to give birth. Hypnobirthing is a complete antenatal course - and then some. So in addition to the basic information about cervix’s, uterus’s & placentas, in your hypnobirthing course you’ll learn about the processes & hormones responsible for the effective process of birth, and how they are linked by the ‘mind-body’ connection. For example, oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the efficient functioning of your uterus, was ‘discovered’ in 1906 by Sir Henry Dale – he named it for the Greek meaning ‘quick child birth’. Oxytocin is also known as the ‘shy hormone’ because your pituitary gland produces it most effectively when you are feeling safe & calm. So you can see how being armed with this biological fact means you can take control of your labour, and coax that power to its full effect!
Boosting your mindset
OK. So we accept that running a marathon or being successful in business, or taking on any big challenge, is as much about attitude & mindset as it is about aptitude; but look at what we say about pregnant & labouring women! On TV & in the movies, birth is almost always painted as a dramatic ordeal to be suffered. It’s all fun & games when you’re not pregnant – in fact it’s so common we barely notice it – but if that’s what the prevailing culture tells us about birth, it sort of prevents us from even considering that it might actually, in reality, be ok.
Hypnobirthing guides you to your own personal & unique model of what a ‘good birth’ might look & feel like. We look at the history of birth, & why it is that it has such a bad reputation. On your course you will be able to honestly reframe your expectations of birth, by really unpicking what your best & worst case scenarios are. You’ll also see & hear positive birth stories – these are often far less dramatic than the births that make the editorial cut on One Born Every Minute.
For clarity; this is absolutely not about suggesting that one form if birth is ‘better’ than another, nor is it about setting women up with false expectations of what labour & birth can be like.
Learning habits & techniques
We know that feeling calm & safe is important to labour, because it’s only in those circumstances that the body can consistently produce the oxytocin & other hormones you need for labour to progress smoothly & efficiently.
Relaxation – like meditation, yoga & Pilates - is a habit & a skill. It’s a bit like riding a bike, once you’ve understood how it feels, practise makes it quicker & easier to get ‘in the zone’, and you feel more confident about how effective it can be. During hypnobirthing courses, couples learn techniques & habits they can use during pregnancy, on the day, and beyond.…and trust me, the only time you need to be able to access a state of calmness more than labour, is when you’ve got a busy 2 year old.
Practical advice on birth
Pregnant women have a lot on their minds; where’s the best place for me to give birth; who’s are my team going to be; how will I know when it’s started; what the hell should I include a birth plan & why are some people telling me not to bother; what the hell is a show; oh my god, am I going to poo; what happens if I go ‘overdue’; what should I pack in my hospital bag; what if I want a home birth…..
If you’ve been pregnant, or you are pregnant, you’ll know that is just the tip of the iceberg. A good hypnobirthing course will help you put that whirlwind of questions into a manageable order, and find the answers that are right for you. I don’t believe in making judgements about any woman’s birthing decisions – we’re as unique in birth as we are in everything else and we have the right to be treated accordingly.
The Calm Birth Method, Suzy Ashworth
The Positive Birth Book, Millie Hill
A Good Birth; Finding the Positive & Profound in your Childbirth Experience, Anne Drapkin Lyerly
Liberating Motherhood, Vanessa Olorenshaw
Women & Power; A Manifesto, Mary Beard
Charlotte Edun runs The Good Birth Practice in Sevenoaks.. She has 3 small children – each born after very different labours – and is not so much a birth junkie, as a women’s power junkie. She’s quite convinced that if men had uterus’s or grew placenta’s there’d be monuments to them on every street corner. Because of this, she’s committed to helping women find their own, unique, good birth experience.