Over recent years, the power of the mind to heal has become more recognised as a formidable force, with numerous stories of people with positive convictions who change the course of their disease. Mental attitude, whether it be positive or negative, can also greatly influence the experience of childbirth. One of the reasons some women are reluctant to consider natural childbirth is due to anxiety or fear about negative outcome for themselves and their baby. Sadly, this fear prevents what is potentially one of the most meaningful and rewarding events in a woman’s life – having a child.
Even when a woman does decide to have a child, many spoil the experience because they expect it to be painful. This is where the power of the mind comes into play. A therapy known as HypnoBirthing provides a method and philosophy of preparation and birthing that aims to reduce, and sometimes remove, the pain associated with childbirth. Many cultures don’t associate pain and childbirth at all, and most other mammals don’t experience pain at this time either – unless something is wrong.
The myth that all childbirth must be painful arose in the Middle Ages when some women, who were the traditional healers and midwives, were persecuted as witches and prevented from assisting childbirth. Without the help and support of these healers, and no other medical assistance, many women suffered the consequences of complications and giving birth became a time and an event to dread. This in turn created the Fear-Tension-Pain syndrome that we are still needlessly experiencing today.
HypnoBirthing is based on the work of Dr Grantly Dick-Read, an English obstetrician who, in the 1920s, developed the concept of pain-free natural birthing. His work was later revived and enhanced by the HypnoBirthing Institute and its founder Marie Mongan. The method teaches you that in the absence of fear and tension, severe pain does not have to be an accompaniment to labour. The therapy includes a range of techniques for both the mother-to-be and the birthing partner or companion, including hypnosis. The HypnoBirthing philosophy also helps parents-to-be with the uncertainty or anxiety surrounding the birth of their child. They gain an understanding of how the birthing muscles work in harmony when the body is sufficiently relaxed, and how to achieve this kind of relaxation.
Some people might say hypnosis isn’t natural, that it is an altered state, and this is partly true. It is an altered state, but it is one your own mind creates and so occurs naturally. People liken the hypnotic experience to driving on ‘auto-pilot’. You are relaxed and calm, aware of things like traffic lights and signals, but you aren’t focused on them or on your surroundings. Your mind – the part conscious of perceiving is doing something else and before you know it, you have arrived at your destination.
This is a trance-like state but you are not asleep so you will be as conversant as you want to be, totally relaxed and fully in control. Mothers who use the same techniques in childbirth will be awake throughout, aware of their body’s surges (the HypnoBirthing word for contractions), but, having been trained to reach complete relaxation, are able to determine the degree and manner in which they feel them.
A similar sensation sometimes happens to people who injure themselves playing sport but are so engrossed in the game they continue to play on. They are aware of their injury to some extent but don’t really feel its intensity – until later. The difference in childbirth is that there is usually no injury to feel later. So birthing can be experienced in an atmosphere of calm relaxation, free of the fear and tension that prevent the body’s muscles from functioning normally.
Australia’s first HypnoBirthing baby, Pia, was born in Brisbane January 2001. Pia’s mother Deborah was worried about her ability to have her baby without painkillers. Pia’s parents attended the HypnoBirthing classes, and practised at home, preparing for the arrival of their child. They had also been to their midwife and medical caregivers regularly and were prepared for a natural gentle labour and birth.
As sometimes happens, things did not go exactly as planned and Deborah’s labour had to be artificially induced. But the supportive medical care staff reassured Deborah she could still go ahead with her HypnoBirthing. Deborah says she’s sure she would have been insisting on drugs if she hadn’t learned the HypnoBirthing techniques. She said that doing the classes and the relaxation, practising and understanding what and how things were going to unfold, gave her more confidence in her ability to have a more serene, more comfortable and painless birth, which she did.
This kind of birthing also creates a special bond between the mother, baby and father (or birthing companion). Instead of being relegated to the role of helpless onlooker, the birthing companion learns how to be their partner’s support person by using hypnosis techniques. This forges stronger bonds and empowers the father/companion as well as the mother.
Written by Fabian Louise Foley
This HypnoBirthing article originally appeared in the WellBeing Magazine 2002 Issue 88.