Something I quickly learned once I was pregnant with my first was that as your due date draws ever closer, a LOT of women feel compelled to tell you their birth stories. (Of course, now that I’ve had my first child and have my own birth story, I TOTALLY GET WHY, but it IS pretty disconcerting and sometimes outright terrifying when you’ve never been through it all yourself).
Later, as I’ve had the chance to be present at the births of some of my friends’ babies, I’ve been able to see new experiences that I didn’t personally have with mine, and I also was able to hear some stories from the nurses, as well.
With so many birth stories being shared, one theme I heard come up over and over again (especially from women who were going in to have second, third, fourth, etc.) babies was that they were TERRIFIED they wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time to get an epidural. (As one of the nurses quipped: “I mean, shouldn’t they be more terrified about making it to the hospital in time for the BABY?”)
As I awaited the birth of my own daughter (and before I took a hypnobirthing class), I understood the fears surrounding birth and delivery, especially as it was a then-unknown experience for me. Even though I planned to have my baby unmedicated through the hypnobirthing method, I was still nervous and anxious and just didn’t know what to expect.
As I signed up for a hypnobirthing class, however, and started attending the weekly classes with my husband, I felt my anxiety about the experience melting away, and instead of feeling fearful, I just felt empowered—not only did I understand MUCH more about what to expect when it came time to deliver, but, even more importantly, I had concrete strategies to help myself relax through it all and to draw upon when the going got tough. I also had a definite mind-shift when it came to how I felt about the whole process, which was just as important as anything.
Quick inserted note here, just in case you’re unfamiliar with hypnobirthing: It’s basically a method that actively promotes unmedicated, “natural” childbirthing that’s peaceful and without pain, through self-hypnosis (or, as I prefer to think of it, deep relaxation and meditation, as I’ve never been one who could actually BE hypnotized, self-induced or not.)
Now, this is not to say that I think every woman should decide to have an unmedicated childbirth. It’s totally a personal choice (and sometimes, when medical need intervenes, the choice is out of your hands anyway), but I instead want to share why I think that every woman would BENEFIT from taking a hypnobirthing class, even if she fully plans to have an epidural.
Taking a hypnobirthing class gives you a new way of thinking about birth, and one that’s not surrounded by fear, anxiety, or thoughts that it’s just going to be awful and painful.
- We live in a culture saturated with scenes in movies and t.v. shows that regularly portray birth as either terrifying (the woman is screaming out in agony and acting like she wants to die) or comedic (she shouts with rage-induced hormones to her husband that he’s never allowed to touch her again). With so much negativity associated with the birthing process, OF COURSE a new mom is going to go into it a little (or a lot) apprehensive. What I love, first and foremost, about the hypnobirthing method is that it teaches you not to FEAR the birth process, but to embrace it and welcome it. It also teaches you concrete, practical ways of conquering and overcoming any fears and anxieties you already DO have.
Taking a class gives you valuable insight into the birth process and certain signs to watch for when you’re in labor so that you’ll be more familiar with where you’re at in the process. It also gives you insights into the ways your body works to help you deliver the baby.
- Although I’d read the chapter on labor and delivery in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, there was something altogether more reassuring about being able to talk it through with a class and actually see footage from some births where the mother had used the hypnobirthing method. It made me feel prepared as I went into labor rather than panicky that I didn’t know what to expect.
- In my class, I learned a ton of super helpful information about the way the female body is structured to help you through the birthing process, the most helpful of which was the way that the muscles in the uterus and birthing canal worked. Basically, there are layers of muscles, each of which go up and down, or left to right (with the layers next to each other going opposite directions, which helps the baby move down). When the mother is relaxed, these muscles work in tandem to smoothly move the baby down the birth canal. When the mother is anxious and tense, it’s like wringing a dishrag—the muscles are squeezing against each other going opposite directions, which is why it’s possible to feel so much pain during childbirth. Therefore, the moral is—if you can make yourself relax, the pain will largely abate (and I can testify that it does from my personal experience). If you tense up and get fearful, you feel the pain more (which I also know firsthand).
The class alone is helpful, but what helps just as much (if not more) is the daily or nightly practice of deep relaxation.
- Along with the class, you’re given a book and a set of c.d.’s that you’re assigned to listen to every day in preparation for your birth. Each track uses a different strategy to help you deeply relax (and ideally go into a “trance state,” though I’ll admit that hasn’t really happened for me). These c.d.’s give you specific things to visualize and focus on, and they train you to harness the power of your mind to be in control of your body.
- Personally, I don’t love the voice of the woman on the tracks that I got in my class, so I use the tracks I got from my sister, which is a c.d. set called Labor of Love: Hypnosis for Childbirth by Wendi Friesen, which I like a LOT more. I know there are multiple people who have put out audio tracks you can purchase, so maybe listen to a few samples of them on iTunes where you can to see which one resonates with you the best.
- I listen to my hypnobirthing c.d.’s every night before I go to sleep, and I’ll tell you what—it’s REMARKABLE how much of a difference that daily practice of meditation and relaxation makes in my life.
- First, I tend to sleep WAY better. Pregnancy insomnia is a real thing, but when I’m regularly listening to my c.d.’s every night, it rarely strikes me, and I also tend to sleep much more deeply than I would otherwise (not so much tossing and turning). Also, fun fact—my husband listens to it too as I am playing it over the c.d. player in our room, and he’s remarked numerous times how much it helps HIM to sleep better, too.
- Second, I seem to be much more patient and relaxed the following day, and my emotions tend to be much more in check and and in balance than on days after I skip it. There are numerous studies that mark the health, emotional, and mental benefits of daily meditation, so this shouldn’t have been so surprising for me, but it really was amazing to see the difference for myself.
- Third, when I was actually in labor with my daughter, I brought the c.d. player and the c.d.’s with me, and it was calming to be able to have a meditation track playing that I’d heard so often before and practiced with so often before that my body seemed to respond automatically as a force of habit.
Sometimes unexpected circumstances come up that mean that you CAN’T have an epidural like you’d planned, such as your labor progressing too quickly, the anesthesiologist being far away or busy helping someone else, etc. If you go into your labor experience with no Plan B (or, especially, without tools and practices that will help you to keep your head), you will almost certainly feel a sense of panic and dread rather than a sense of peace and assurance that you’ve got this, no matter what.
- Hand in hand with this one is that sometimes, even after you’ve gotten an epidural, it won’t have been administered properly and you’ll STILL be able to feel everything, just perhaps in only one side. Once again, if you have the mindset of knowing you have other ways to help yourself through the process, this won’t be a reason to get anxious or panic, and you’ll be able to enjoy much more of your delivery.
- Even if you end up being able to get your epidural, you will likely still have some time experiencing the natural labor and delivery process (either before you get one or once they let it wear down a bit so you can feel yourself at the pushing stage), so I feel that having those extra tools and strategies at your disposal will only sweeten the experience for you, rather than making you look upon that “laboring” period negatively.
Knowledge is power, and fear often comes from the unknown.
- Taking a hypnobirthing class or hearing from other women who have had their babies without epidurals (and especially from ones who have had positive experiences) helps to assure you rather than to create an unnecessary cloud of fear around the idea of birth, which everyone can benefit from. I loved hearing firsthand accounts from women who had been there before and actually embraced and enjoyed the experience—it greatly increased my own confidence that I could have the same.
With my second child, I fully plan to have another unmedicated birthing experience, but even if something comes up and I need to take another route, I will STILL be glad that I’ve taken the class and that I’ve been regularly practicing the relaxation techniques I’ve learned.