‘Are you going to get on a stage and act like a monkey?’
That seems to be the reaction when I tell people I’m doing hypnobirthing. The ‘hypno’ element leads one to think of those awful hypnosis shows with three people sitting on chairs and another standing over them, saying, ‘Sleep, sleep, sleep,’ before directing them to behave like fools.
No, I’m not going on stage, and I’m not going to think, or pretend to think, I am any kind of animal, or anything at all. I'm actually nearing my eighth month of pregnancy and am taking a course in hypnobirthing, which is, in very simple terms, preparing me to enter a state of deep mental and physical relaxation, kind of like meditation. Hypnobirthing uses breathing techniques to do away with fear, tension, and pain, thereby allowing the mind and body to feel calm and relaxed for childbirth.
The technique dates back to the 1940s, when English obstetrician Dr. Grantly Dick-Read published his ground-breaking book Childbirth Without Fear, and has been more recently reborn thanks to US hypnotherapist Marie Mongan. Reported benefits include lower pain levels, speedier delivery, and less surgical intervention.
Does it work? That’s the burning question. My answer? It already has, and will serve me going forward, not only in the birth of my first baby in two months’ time, but after that, too.
We all breathe, obviously. But, are we breathing properly? Chances are the answer is no.
Hypnobirthing breathing and relaxation exercises, which are described in several widely available books on the topic, really show you how to breathe. You feel yourself breathing in life, and breathing out stress and tension. Your shoulders drop as your stomach grows like a balloon and deflates, grows and deflates. You learn to appreciate deep, nutritious breathing.
I believe that I can do this, that I am in control, that I will be the guide of my birth experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a control freak. And yes, I'm aware that unforeseen circumstances can change the trajectory of labor, and – let’s face it – that a Caesarian could potentially happen.
But that’s OK. I am at peace with whatever happens. But if everything goes according to my birth plan, it will be a calm, joyful, medicine-free, and pain-free experience. I will be able to share it with my husband and remember it fondly.
Oh, how the body changes in pregnancy. It’s hard sometimes to recognize yourself in this new, larger, maternal mass with – in my case – larger hips, a wider bum, larger-than-life breasts with larger-than-life nipples that are seven shades darker than usual, a growing tummy that changes your center of gravity, and a line of hair to the now non-existent belly button.
It can be hard to come to terms with growing thighs and boobs, baby or no baby. Hypnobirthing affirmations, which I receive and read daily, have helped me embrace every change and understand they're taking place in order to make a home for my little one. They remind me that this is the way it's meant to be.
‘I love my pregnant body’ is one such affirmation, and I say it to myself while swinging my hips along the street. I have new respect, understanding, and admiration for my body and its design. I will take this forward and not take it for granted after I've given birth.
In the months leading up to the big event, we've been preparing together, as true partners. Thanks to hypnobirthing, my other half will have a key role in the birth of our child he wouldn't have had otherwise. I will rely on his voice, his touch, the massages he will give me.
A new mum told me recently that the midwives thought her partner was actually a professional coach. That's a long way from a mother feeling alone, and a father left watching from the sidelines wondering what to do.
Thanks to practicing our exercises at night, my husband and I both tend to nod right off. We wake up feeling rested in a deeper sense – calm, collected, and ready for the day. The relaxation exercises take us off on magic carpets, or on walks through a forest, or into the air with flocks of birds of different colors. They take us away from the day’s stresses and transport us to another place.
These techniques are practice for reaching a deep state of relaxation, which you will put to good use at birth. But you can use them any time.
When feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, imagine the benefits of sitting or lying quietly, eyes closed, relaxing the muscles in your body, and going for a little walk to your favorite place in the world – a childhood garden, that beach in the Seychelles – while focusing only on breathing.
I've avoided vomiting in public places several times thanks to hypnobirthing exercises. And I use them regularly to calm myself down in moments of high stress and panic.
You hear all sorts of things when you’re pregnant. From terrible birth stories to insults to judgements. Anyone who has been pregnant or the partner of a pregnant woman will tell you that. And it can wreck you, fill you with fear and uncertainty, and generally knock you for a loop.
Surrounding yourself with power and positive intention helps keep all that negativity at bay. You can rest easy and reassured in the knowledge that you are doing the best for you and your baby.