Hypnobirthing is growing in popularity amongst parents to be, but is it any good? Or is it just middle class hippie mumbo-jumbo nonsense? As a 30 something down-to-earth Yorkshire girl I wasn’t sure hypnobirthing was right for me, I thought it was just for hippies and celebreties. But after lots of recommnedations from mum-friends I decided to give it a try. So here is what happened when me and the slightly sceptical Mr gave it a try.
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The first time I heard about hypnobirthing was on my very first visit to the midwife. I spotted a poster advertising a local hypnobirthing and pregnancy yoga weekend. I had never heard of hypnobirthing but I’m a fan of yoga, so looked it up on my phone. It suggested your birth partner joins you on the course. I chuckled at the thought of the Mr trying to shuffle himself into downward dog. He is an old school Yorkshire bloke; his idea of mindfulness is taking 15 minutes to focus on his Super 6. I’m also not sold on the whole hypnotism thing and so decide it’s probably not for us.
Halfway through the second trimester I had settled into pregnancy. Everything was pretty much textbook, and I was genuinely enjoying it. The major stuff was sorted and I had worked out my plans for maternity leave, so it was time to start contemplating a birth plan.
There is no time in your life quite like pregnancy. It is possibly the only time in life when the rest of the worlds seems to feel they can bombard you with unsolicited advice and absolute horror stories. It’s like every mum has her own battle story to share. From 76-hour labours to infected episiotomies, by the second trimester I had heard it all. I am always happy to listen, as imagine one day I will be that woman sharing my own war story with pride. Despite listening to all these stories of birthing, I realised I had no idea how the hell I was going to survive it. So, I turned to social media and asked for recommendations of books or websites about labour and birth.
Isn’t Hypnobirthing just for hippies?
Hypnobirthing was instantly thrown at me from all angles, and by so many different mums. I was really surprised by some of the ladies who recommended it. I had assumed hypnobirthing was for the kind of people who use terrycloth nappies, breast feed their toddler, regularly meditate and puree their own organic baby food. In some ways I like to believe this is me, but in reality, I know the power of rice cakes to keep a screaming baby amused whilst you belt around Tesco picking up formula and nappies.
With so many recommendations for hypnobirthing, I decided it had to be worth investigating. I looked up local courses, but there was none we could get to. A few people suggested an online course which looked good, but I knew I would never find the time to do it if it wasn’t booked in my diary. Then by chance I receive a message from an old friend Leigh. Turns out she had done a hypnobirthing course prior to having her second baby. Leigh had found it so incredible, that she had re-trained to be a hypnobirthing instructor. As she had only just set up her business The Family Pod, she made us an offer.
In exchange for our honest opinion in a blog after birth, she would give us a good deal on a private course, done at our own home, at a time to suit us. It was a great opportunity, but I warned Leigh I would have to be honest. My grammar is terrible, and I tend to waffle, but if there is one thing my blogs always are and that is wholeheartedly truthful. She seemed entirely unphased by this, and said; yes that is fine. So, we book in two Saturdays for her to come over. I quickly realised the first hurdle; how am I going to convince the Mr this is a good idea?
The Mr is a blokes bloke and not particularly attuned to his spiritual side. I was dreading telling him and wondered if he might just refuse. Surprisingly he was reasonably co-operative and said that if I thought it would help, then he was happy to support. I am of course incredibly surprised and slightly touched by this, but then I have come to realise people are reluctant to argue with a pregnant woman.
Last minute doubts
As the course drew closer, I realised I was a little embarrassed and reluctant to tell people our plans. Probably because I was not entirely sure what it is going to involve. I had only briefly looked into hypnobirthing before booking in with Leigh at Family Pod.
My vague understanding of hypnobirthing was that it would help to keep you relaxed in labour, and possibly something to do with breathing techniques?! As a Personal Trainer practicing breathing control made sense. I spend about half my life correcting peoples breathing to get the best out of exercises, so I could see how that will help in pushing a baby out. But beyond that, I wasn’t entirely sure. I had read some vague stuff about mantras, but I kind of hoped that wasn’t true (or at least not necessary). Whilst I am a fan of a good meme, I reckon I will feel stupid chanting anything.
Of the people I do tell, reactions are mixed. Some people are intrigued, whilst others are outrightly sceptical, but I try stay optimistic. I reason we will take from it what we want and forget the rest. The Mr hadn’t really questioned it since I told him, until the night before our first course when he came home from the pub and asks; exactly what it is we are doing, and do I to chant? I can’t really offer any reassurance, and he seems slightly sceptical about what I have potentially dragged us in to.
The morning of the first course Hoglet woke me at 5am with a swift kick to the bladder. Within 20 minutes my insatiable pregnancy appetite kicks in, and I realise the chances of getting back to sleep are almost zero. Since the Mr was out last night for a few beers, and is already sceptical about the day ahead, I decide its best to not disturb him and sneak downstairs. I hope snuggling under the blanket and watching some mindless TV will put me back to sleep.
I grab myself some cereal, crank up the heating and head for the couch. I scroll through our recordings and find a BBC documentary called ‘The Baby Has Landed’. Seems a fitting time to watch it so I settle down. Within minutes, I am confronted by scenes of a woman (already mother to 3 kids) in early labour. She is leaning over a birthing pool battling a contraction whilst her partner reads out clues to a crossword puzzle.
All I can think is how much I would want to punch him in that situation. Jesus mate, have you not seen the pain your wife is in? She doesn’t care for a “4 letter word, name for sword handle.” Whatever it is, I reckon she is wishing she had one to beat you with! A few seconds later, scene cuts and she’s bent over the end of the bed groaning into a pillow in agony. The midwife tells her to breath but not push! Don’t push? I thought that was the whole point of labour?! A few minutes later out plops this blood covered, soggy mess. None of me feels at all moved, and the reality of it all hits me.
Its 6.15am on a Saturday morning, the cat has got its face in my momentarily discarded cereal bowl. I realise that laying on the couch like this will soon be a distant dream (unless of course you count the times I lay there trapped under a feeding baby). I will spend my days drinking cold coffee wondering which of the three cats has had their face in it, whilst simultaneously not caring as I try to drown out the wails. And before that joy…I have to squeeze this thing out. Suddenly I am petrified, anxious and doubtful all in one.
It is safe to say; the Mr and I are not the most willing students. Despite being initially supportive, the reality of giving up a Saturday has hit, and he seems dubious. And despite numerous recommendations that hypnobirthing is amazing, I am suddenly filled with dread and worry and not convinced any amount of breathing or chanting will help. Good luck Leigh. This hypnobirthing had better be good.
Our first day at hypnobirthing school
When Leigh arrives, we have a quick chat over a brew. My doubtful brain can’t help but grill her on why an earth a qualified accountant with two kids has decided to train as a hypnobirthing instructor. She tells us how she had quite a traumatic labour with her first child, so had tried hypnobirthing when pregnant with her second. The story of her second labour couldn’t be any more different. She recounts how she calmly waltzed into the hospital, to find she was almost 8cms dilated and delivered her son with minimal interventions. She was so inspired by the whole thing; she decided to retrain and help other expecting families.
I am impressed and intrigued, so we settle down to crack on. Leigh explains some of what we will be doing over the two days, before clearing up a few myths on what hypnosis is and isn’t. We discuss some of the science of labour, such as the different hormones and physically what happens in your body. As a Personal Trainer, I have a good understanding of anatomy and everything she is saying makes perfect sense. I am surprised how much science there is and feel assured that we have done the right thing.
Leigh also explains how all the horror stories we are told about labour, and the dramatizations we see on TV have made us believe labour and birthing must be horrific, when it can in fact be quite an empowering experience. I am sceptical, until she shows us a video of a women in labour looking more like she’s waiting for a bus than pushing out a baby.
By the end of the morning, I am feeling really reassured, even the Mr seems to be into it. We stop for lunch, at which point the Mr looks at me slightly concerned and whispers ‘how long are we doing this for?’ Despite me telling him several times it was all-day, he seems surprised to discover that we have an afternoon of this ahead. We are now facing a small dilemma. It is Saturday afternoon and the Mr is a huge sports fan. It’s the peak of football season and his beloved Sheffield Wednesday are playing. I can tell that his attention is going to be very tested.
In the afternoon we practice some guided hypnosis. We make ourselves ‘as comfortable as we can be’ on the couch and tune in to the soothing sound of Leigh’s voice. She is telling us to imagine a safe place, somewhere we are happy and comfortable. I am feeling quite calm and relaxed as I imagine myself on a warm beach. Until a sudden dull buzz shatters my focus. The Mr has obligingly put his phone on silent, but the alerts are on vibrate. I know that is an update on the Sheffield Wednesday score and he will be desperate to check it. There is no way he can possibly concentrate now, and I imagine his happy place is at Hillsborough watching the game.
He shows impressive self-discipline for the rest of the afternoon and manages not to check his phone, but I know his focus is being tested. Leigh teaches us some relaxing breathing techniques and encourages us to practice them as much as possible before the second part of the course. She gives us a copy of the workbook to read and shows us where we can access the guided hypnosis MP3s to listen to together. We say our goodbyes, and Alan practically dives for his phone the minute Leigh is out of the door. I leave him to catch up on BBC sport, and decide we will debrief on it later.
Life quickly gets in the way, whilst I had found the course interesting, I didn’t get around to downloading the tracks or practicing my breathing techniques. People asked how it went, and I realise I am maybe still a bit embarrassed to talk about it. I give a vague response about it being interesting and mention some of the science stuff we learned.
Then about a week after our first instalment of hypnobirthing I found myself awake in the early hours. I tried to stay in bed, but my tossing and turning eventually awakens the Mr. He pulls me in for a cuddle and suggests I use the breathing techniques Leigh taught us to help me relax and clear my mind. In my sleep deprived state, I may have snapped at him, something about how many times has he used them. And much to my surprise he says; all the time. He says how they have helped him get back to sleep a few times, and he has even used them on the train to and from work to help relax and control his stress. He then calmly starts guiding me threw a 5-1 countdown technique Leigh taught us. I don’t make it past 3 before I am snuggly back to sleep.
I wake up the next morning a little ashamed, seems the Mr had taken in much more than I had given him credit for, and it was maybe me who had been a little dismissive. There is still a week and a bit until the second instalment of hypnobirthing, so I download the guided hypnosis and make a pledge to listen to one that evening when we get in to bed. Neither me or the Mr make it more than 5 minutes into the guided relaxation before we are both fast asleep. We try again on a few more nights and sure enough, each evening we both drift quickly and easily off to sleep. I even listened to the birth mantras driving to work a few days. Some seem a bit too mushy for my liking, but lots do resonate. As the second part of our course draws closer, I start getting excited. Maybe this could just help us after all.
Tying it all together.
The second part of the course was even better. We start the day of talking about our birthing preferences and some of the decisions we might have to make. Leigh explains that hypnobirthing isn’t about having a drug-free, natural labour, it’s about being confident with all the decisions you make and remaining in control on the day. She reiterates how important it is to remain calm and keep those oxytocin levels up, and we discuss techniques for doing this including some relaxing massage techniques (which I loved). We even discuss all those practicalities to consider before the day, which could lead to unnecessary stress. Things like doing a trial run to the hospital at different times of day, knowing where to park and how much it costs.
We practice some more guided hypnosis, watch more positive birthing videos and by the end of the day I am inspired. By the time Leigh leaves we feel positive and motivated. We decide to treat ourselves to dinner out, so we can debrief on the whole hypnobirthing shenanigans. We both admit that we feel fine about labour, no worries at all. Not that we imagine we will have a perfect labour, but confident we can cope with whatever happens.
We are by no way perfect students. We listen to the guided hypnosis when we remember and use the breathing techniques in times of need rather than proactively to practice. I feel much more confident telling people about what we learned, and I inwardly dismiss any criticisms or sceptics. My mantra has become I trust my body knows what to do. And I firmly believe in the power of remaining positive to keep oxytocin levels up and labour moving.
Of course, we still have the real test to come: putting it in to practice! Maybe those sceptics will be right, maybe once the discomfort of contractions start (sorry Leigh but I still can’t bring myself to call them surges) then maybe I will forget everything and be begging for an epidural and all the drugs. Only time will tell on that, but in the meantime, I hold no worries about the inevitable process of labour, which has saved many a sleepless night.
Hoglet is due 13th Feb 2020, and I have promised to do a follow up blog sharing our birth story, and how (or if) hypnobirthing has helped. Make sure to subscribe to find out how it goes.
In the meantime, if you are in the West Yorkshire area and expecting, I would strongly recommend Leigh at the the Birth Pod. She was incredible; down to earth, friendly and not even remotely the mother-earth-hippie type we imagined a hypnobirhting instructor to be.