A lot of you have been asking me about what our plans are for labor and delivery when Annabelle finally decides to make her appearance. Many of you already know we are trending towards the slightly hippie-earthy version of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, but I thought I’d talk more specifically about our journey into this thing known as Hypnobirthing.
I hate medical stuff. Always have. As a kid, whenever I felt sick or injured myself, I was always terrified of having to face the possibility of stitches or casts or medicine-taking or anything of that sort. I have a SEVERE aversion to needles in particular. Whether that stems from just a physical incapability of handling pain or a really bad blood-draw experience as a young teen, I don’t know. What I DO know is that when it came to the thought of childbirth, I have always felt that there couldn’t be a pain bad enough to make me actually desire to have a huge needle inserted in my spine. NO THANK YOU. I also knew myself well enough to know that I am incredibly uncomfortable when I am not able to move my body, so the idea of having an epidural and being stuck on my back in a hospital bed seemed like a fate worse than death to me. So when we decided to have a baby, I knew that there was no way in hell that I was going to do this whole childbirth thing unless I could figure out a way to make it through without a bunch of medical implements poked into me. But I also knew that it must be a painful experience, because if it wasn’t, then millions and millions of women wouldn’t be willingly signing up for epidurals upon entering the hospital, and no one would ever talk about how much they wanted to kiss their anesthesiologist after the epi was placed. Yeah – given that information, I concluded that childbirth must really be a big damn deal. Problem is, I also felt like I had a very low pain tolerance. I really thought I was stuck between a rock and a hard place – either deal with the worst most painful experience of my life, or figure out a way to be okay with the idea that a gigantic needle was going to be poked into my spine.
So in true Katie fashion, I started looking for a way out of this whole mess. First, I started researching childbirth in general, what happens during, how people get through it, what possible interventions occur, and so on. I learned everything I could about what a normal childbirth experience looks like (and by “normal” I mean a birth that occurs without major emergency or complication). I also learned about what happens when things go wrong during birth, why people have episiotomies, what types of situations necessitate a c-section, and why IVs are administered. I talked to everyone I could think of who might be able to offer some insight. I read and listened to birth stories. I sought out like-minded people that had gone “all-natural” and asked how they did it. I interviewed no less than 5 OBGYNs to find one that would be supportive of someone wanting to deliver without medical intervention or drugs. I read, read, read, and read some more, and quizzed every doctor within a 20 mile radius about statistics and the specifics of each and every birth intervention that could possibly occur. You know that student that sits up at the front of the class and questions the validity of everything the professor says? The one that has obviously read just as much on the subject as the instructor has, probably more, and refuses to take anything anyone tells her at face value? The one that has to research everything to the nth degree before forming an opinion or accepting another person’s assessment of a situation? That was me. Whenever a doctor said something like, “Oh, epidurals don’t increase the chances of c-sections” I’d immediately respond, “Really? On what do you base that assessment? Because I have read XYZ study and so-and-so’s book and according to the articles published on that study….” And so on. (Sadly, I was like this in college, too. No wonder people were always rolling their eyes when I raised my hand in class…) Anyway, bottom line here is I just refused to accept that childbirth, one of the most natural and normal events in a woman’s life, had to be treated like an illness that required drugs, anesthesia, and surgery.
And so, enter the childbirth technique known as Hypnobirthing. I must admit, I was skeptical at first. I mean, the name leads you to think that your spouse is going to be dangling a stopwatch in front of your face until you’re completely hypnotized, and that you’re in some kind of trance for hours until lo and behold, your child is born. Having also read Dr. Bradley’s book (The Bradley Method of Husband Coached Childbirth), I was a little bit leery that Hypnobirthing was going to be an even granola-crunchier version and that we were going to have to do things like chant in tongues or eat our placenta or something. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s actually a pretty sane and logical approach to childbirth. The gist of it is that your body is built to have a baby, and if you allow nature to take its course (pending any major medical drama), then childbirth can be a relatively pain-free, calm, and peaceful experience.
I don’t know how far I can go in believing this whole thing is going to be painless, but the things I’ve learned in class I know will help me in many aspects of life, not just childbirth. Mostly we spend a lot of time practicing relaxation techniques – the idea here being that if you consciously relax all other parts of your body, then you are allowing all your energy and focus to be on the parts of your body doing the actual laboring and pushing, i.e. your uterus. Deep relaxation can keep you from being afraid or panicking, which would only make labor pains worse. The other element to the relaxation is that it allows you to fully rest in between contractions (called “surges” in Hypnobirthing), which means that you can hopefully maintain your stamina for a lot longer than someone who is constantly keyed up during their contractions as well as in between them. Basically, the more relaxed and restful you can be, the easier the labor is to handle and the more efficient your body can do the work of opening and allowing baby to move through the birth path.
So picture this: you’re in labor, you’re relaxed and happy and moving around, working with your body as it does it’s thing. You don’t need to go to the hospital right away because you’re still able to manage things relatively well, since you are resting every chance you get. Once you do get to the hospital, you don’t need an IV because you’ve been hydrating yourself and snacking on light, nutritious things like bananas and soup broth. You don’t need pitocin or any drug augmentation of labor because you’re allowing your body to do its job by not fighting the surges and working and moving around to let gravity work with your body. You don’t need an epidural or pain medication because you are allowing your body to slowly build up to the more intense stages of labor instead of going from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds as you would have if you’d had pitocin. You trust that your body knows what it’s doing, and you don’t fight it. It’s a beautiful thing. Of course, this is all assuming you have no major complications and that both mom and baby are holding steady with good heart rates and plenty of oxygen. Should complications arise, the Hypnobirthing approach is to assess the situation with the practitioner and figure out the path of least resistance. For example, if labor “slows down” and the doctor wants to start pitocin, a Hypnobirthing family would first ask, “Is Mom okay? Is Baby okay?” and if the answer to both those questions is yes, then the next question is “What happens if we do nothing; or what happens if we wait 30 minutes/1 hour, etc.?” In many situations it is likely that if given an hour and a chance to try some natural labor augmentation, change position, or use an alternative to whatever intervention is being suggested, the laboring mother will progress just fine. Not always, but it is worth a try! I am extremely comfortable with and very relieved by this approach to labor. I don’t want to force my body to do something it’s not ready to do, and if I’m handling labor well, not dehydrated or exhausted (remember I’ve been eating and drinking all that time!), and the baby is doing well, there should be no reason to “move things along” or “get things going” with unnecessary interventions. Luckily, I have found a doctor and an OB practice that fully supports Hypnobirthing and is very reluctant to intervene in situations where there is little medical necessity. They are the only practice in Austin that employs full time Certified Nurse Midwives, and the only practice in Austin where the midwives have hospital privileges and can deliver patients at the hospital. I’ve heard stories from other patients about my doctor and her midwives literally lying on the floor underneath a squatting mother delivering her baby! Amazing! And so encouraging and comforting to know that I’m in the hands of people who want me to have the most comfortable, gentle, and easy birth possible.
So there you have it. My Hippie Hypnobirthing Manifesto. If you didn’t already think I was crazy, you probably do now. But I’m okay with that. 🙂