I'm so happy to feature another post by guest blogger, Renee Lannan.
Hypnobirthing Experiment: Birthing Joy on Christmas Eve
At 38 weeks, I was pumped, ready to roll, rather than dreading labor. I’d interviewed a woman who spoke so glowingly of hypnobirthing—“When I was done birthing my baby, I wanted to do it again, right away!”—that when I found myself pregnant again, I bought the book Hypnobirthing: The Mongon Method by Marie Mongon.
For my previous delivery, I had taken Bradley classes and had a wonderful water birth. I valued the physiological info about natural birth that the hospital class never explained, and how to relax deeply, eliminating the muscle tension that creates pain. But was there more to learn?
|By the way, that's a deep red washcloth in the water, not blood!|
I loved reading the book’s descriptions of painless, joyous childbirth, free of anxiety. I went to sleep every night to the Hypnobirthing affirmations and rainbow relaxation CD. I’d been anxious about so many things—everything from worrying I’d go into labor while my husband was out of town, to worrying labor would be faster than the time it took to drive to the birth center an hour away. What if I had to stop at one of the closer hospitals and have to fight with MDs to have the kind of intervention-free birth I want? Hypnobirthing targeted a lot of my worries, and I was optimistic and in giddy expectation.
So the weekend I hit 38 weeks, December 16th, I expected my daughter to arrive any day, since her last brother was born at 38 weeks. Then Monday came and went. Then Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Each day that passed, I grew more depressed, losing confidence. My young sons asked why I was crying.
What was wrong? Then I realized: every day I didn’t go into labor increased my chances that my mom would not be free to come to help, as she was hosting the family Christmas hours north of me.
Then in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, I awoke with mounting contractions. But I did not want it to be the day after-all. I felt weary, not ready. My in-laws were coming at noon and my whole side of the family was leaving town.
At four a.m., I called my closest sister who hadn’t planned to leave for the holidays until around noon, and we left after she arrived to stay with our boys.
We were on the road by five, wasting no time. Many people want to labor at home as long as possible. I get that for a hospital birth. But for us, due to the long drive there and the fact that neither my husband nor I could really relax until we were there, we had no goal but to get there fast, even if it meant wandering around stores for hours until I progressed enough to check in. Plus, the Birth Center was a friendly place to labor, not bent on speeding things up or pushing interventions.
Everything was so quiet, like we were stuck in movie with the sound turned off, traffic lights fuzzy in the pitch blackness. The only sound I could hear was my own crunching, trail mix in my teeth. I relaxed, breathing through contractions that grew sparser. I thanked God for granting many prayers: my husband with me, no traffic, no ice, my kids safely with my sister. We passed outlet stores with quaint Amish buggy pictures. Then we turned onto narrower roads, horse and buggies real road mates as we drove deeper into farmland.
We arrived at the center around 6 a.m. I breathed relief.
In the room that looked like a Lancaster county bed and breakfast, I got in the Jacuzzi tub right away, my husband managing the CD player looping my hypnobirthing affirmations. The voice I’d heard every night for three months was familiar, comforting, its words speaking about my body’s natural ability to do this work and about the joy set before me: this is the day I would meet my daughter.
I thought, “If this labor goes like the last one, my daughter could be born by seven a.m.” I relaxed in the water through steady contractions, my limbs floating; my husband scrolled through stuff on his phone. I used the bathroom. He made me a microwave burrito and I ate half.
As eight o'clock passed, then nine o'clock, I couldn’t believe I was still doing the same thing. The nurse said, if I wanted to get things moving, I could get out of the tub, walk around, try different positions.
Here I should confess. I only halfway practiced some of the hypnobirthing exercises. The book is full of beautiful stories of how the husband gives the wife cue words or certain touches, practicing again and again so that the wife has completely trained her body to go limp with relaxed muscles. It was a dream, but I was so tired the one or two nights a week my husband actually slept in our house, and with everything else that had to be crammed in such a short time period for our whole family, involving him in what I’d been learning just didn’t occur very much. And honestly, I’d birthed three times before, and not yet had my husband been that kind of involved. I was not counting on my husband; I was counting on the water and the relaxed state of hypnobirthing to help me not need to rely on him. My husband is not comfortable with birth. I’ve always wondered if my first labor, a terrifying surprise labor for a 10.5 week miscarriage, with me vomiting out the window of the car and going through transition and delivery in the ER waiting room, both of us clueless about what was happening and why, had something to do with his dislike of the process. My next labor, a grueling 24-hour hospital birth where every intervention made my experience awful, leaving him feeling incapable of helping me, didn’t help. And my third birth was so fast there wasn’t much opportunity for him to be of much assistance and redeem previous bad experiences.
So here I was, in a labor that was obviously going to be longer than my last, and I hadn’t put in enough practice. My worries about a lightning-quick birth had eclipsed the idea that I should’ve prepare for a long one.
My husband helped me walk up and down stairs, where I bent over with contractions each time I reached the bottom or top. While I wouldn’t say the next one-to-two hours were fun , I will say I wouldn’t trade the memory of my husband helping me, kneading my back during a contraction as I leaned into a wall or on the birthing ball. This was the only labor where we worked together as a team. I was truly struggling with anxiety at this point—the number one cause for painful labor, physiologically—and my husband’s support helped calm me.
I ended up lying on my side in the bed. Everything else became too demanding. I needed all my energy and focus to be on relaxing my whole body, and this side-lying position was the only way I’d practiced it. That is what I learned about hypnobirthing: what I practiced worked.
Around 11 a.m., I got back in the tub, feeling a distinct change in what my body was doing, everything in me was about outward movement. But after a few contractions, I could no longer handle an unexpected pain—my tailbone felt bruised from sitting in the tub for hours before! With no plan to birth in any other position, I asked my midwife for suggestions but really didn’t want to follow any. I didn’t want to try anything new. My husband said I needed to hear my CD again; he could tell I was weakening in my thoughts, feeling anxious and cross.
Hearing the affirmations again did help, and I took courage from feeling my body was getting ready to push the baby out. I slowly moved to all fours, to take the pressure off my tailbone. And with each contraction, I began to feel the bearing down, the kind my body did involuntarily. It did not need me to tell it to start this part of the process; my body was doing it, with or without my help!
For my first son, I thought the pushing part of the 24-hour Pitocin-induced hospital birth was the easiest part; there were breaks and it was controlled. With my last labor, I remember being shocked by how fierce and unquestionable that pushing feeling was, with no breaks at all, just seven intense minutes and out flew a baby! This time, my experience was a mixture of the two; the feeling was intense, but there were breaks, and it took longer than 7 minutes.
I was sort of trying hypnobirthing, but honestly, I’d stopped really trying to relax properly. I hadn’t practiced it enough in different positions for it to be second-nature, and I didn’t have the power of concentration at that point to try something new. I was pretty tense. I had told my midwife that hypnobirthing taught that you didn’t even need to push your baby out—that if you were in a coma, your body would expel it anyway, no help from you needed. I got a variety of responses from midwives. One said, maybe since I was experienced, I could overcome and control the pushing urge. I was doing the downward J-breath Hypnobirthing taught, just trying to slow things down and avoid another tear along the scar line of the episiotomy from my hospital birth. As I was in the throes of the unbelievably strong urge to push, my midwife said I had to push with it to get my baby out. And honestly, I was done with trying to follow a method to see if it worked. I wanted the baby out, now! So I pushed maybe two or three pushes at the height of the intensity. I was told the head was out. Then I remember the midwife saying, “Get your baby! Renee, get your baby!” I was disoriented—wasn’t that what she was supposed to do? I shifted and put my hands in the water until I felt a little body in the water, still cozy in the warmth that felt to her like amniotic fluid. I scooped her up into my arms, crying, “My baby! My baby!” with tears sprouting from my eyes. A sense of unspeakable awe filled all my senses.
The happiness flooding me was a full-body sensation. Relief, release and joy transformed my whole body and all discomfort was gone. My baby was in my arms, all six pounds, thirteen ounces of her, her face pink, her eyes locked on mine from the moment I lifted her out of the water. We knew her first name from the beginning, but we were considering Christmas-y names for her middle name. We decided on Joy. We named her for what I felt: pure, awe-inspiring joy.
My midwife said I had done a very good job and managed my birth well, and was “in control.” On our slow drive home through a snowstorm, Christmas carols on the radio, my husband said, “Well, that was your easiest birth.” I looked at him in disbelief. It had been ten hours and exhausting, though certainly not awful like my first son’s birth. He said I made it look easy then, remaining relaxed and in control. I thought about it and realized it was true; I’d never remained in control so well before, not losing confidence that everything was as it should be.
Now I recommend any pregnant woman take a hypnobirthing class. I befitted a lot from the little I gleaned from the book; what would my birth have been like if I’d taken the classes, been a good student and really practiced?
Renee Lannan is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist and stay-at-home mom. Many of her online articles are accessible here. She also blogs about her "Nap-time Writer" experiences of trying to freelance while raising three little ones.