If you'd asked me back when I discovered I was pregnant with our first baby, what my birth plan was, the answer would have been simple. An elective Caesarean, please. No natural birth process for me. Too posh to push? Er, yes actually. However, since then I've had a bit of an epiphany. The first time she (we're having a girl) kicked in my tummy, I was faced with an overwhelming desire to begin motherhood with the least trauma possible. My feeling was that taking the all-natural route would give us the opportunity to bond, unencumbered by unnecessary medical interventions and major surgery.
I immediately began looking for an alternative to the standard, medication-fuelled options and I came across something called Hypnobirthing. A quick scoot through Google brought up cheery stories of women who had used the technique and claimed to have experienced comfortable, pain-free and, in some circumstances, orgasmic births (yes, really!). I'm a cynical Brit through and through so anything slightly happy-clappy usually sends me shrinking into a corner, but in this case I was interested to learn more and investigate whether this particular technique could coax me away from the epidural needle and the possibility of elective surgery.
About the technique
Jasmine Collin is a Dubai-based Hypnobirthing practitioner who teaches couples according to The Mongan Method - a technique founded by American hypnotherapist Marie Mongan 30 years ago. During the 1950s and 1960s, when it was common practice in the US to forcibly anaesthetise mothers in labour and deliver their babies with forceps, Marie was pioneering gentle, calm and natural birthing. She was inspired by the theories of English physician Grantly Dick-Read who published Childbirth Without Fear in 1933, which proposed that it is fear and tension from preconceived notions of child birthing that actually causes labour pain. It is this belief that sits at the core of Hypnobirthing, which Jasmine describes as "a childbirth preparation-method that helps women to connect with their natural instincts, enabling them to have a safe, gentle and comfortable birthing experience, whilst feeling calm, confident and in control".
Having discovered The Gentle Birth Method by Dr Gowri Motha when she was pregnant with her first baby, Amber, Jasmine prepared for her daughter's arrival by listening to a self-hypnosis CD every day for the entire third trimester. "I kept an open mind regarding pain relief but found on the day that I didn't need it at all," she said. "In fact I didn't even realise I was in labour for most of it. I was amazed at how my body just knew what to do and how it completely took over. My first labour and birth left me with a newfound respect for my body as well as an extremely empowering and positive experience. I was able to physically recover very quickly and easily bonded with Amber, which made my transition into motherhood a smoother one."
Determined to share her positive experience with others, Jasmine used her second pregnancy with son Indiana to enhance her training as a practitioner in The Mongan Method. She says, "Although he was there at my first birth, I found my husband was much more able to be emotionally involved with my second [labour] as he had been to Hypnobirthing classes and had practised with me in the weeks before. The sound of his voice during the birth was what really helped me to relax and the whole thing was much more of a team effort."
Far from playing the helpless onlooker, fathers have an important role as a birthing partner at Hypnobirths and are educated as such during classes. Couples are taught breathing and relaxation techniques together with affirmations, visualisations and self-hypnosis to help keep them calm and relaxed for the smoothest possible births. Fathers are encouraged to practise these skills at home with their partners, reading relaxation scripts and prompting correct breathing.
It's this inner calm and focus that seems to be the very cornerstone of the successful HypnoBirth. "From very early on we are inundated with negative images and stories about birth from films, soap operas, stories from well-meaning friends and family," observes Jasmine. In one Hypnobirthing exercise, couples are encouraged to address their preconceived fears about birthing and parenting and replace these beliefs with positive and empowering thoughts.
These UAE-based mums swear by Hypnobirthing
When Elena Malone took Jasmine's HypnoBirthing classes in preparation for the birth of baby Ruby, she found the fear-release and visualisation exercises particularly helpful. "I heard about Hypnobirthing from a friend who took Jasmine's classes and delivered her twin babies naturally with no drugs. I was amazed when I heard about it," she says. Of her birthing experience she adds, "I wanted to celebrate my pregnancy and birth. I also wanted to try to do it without drugs. I can't say that I didn't feel any pain, but the Hypnobirthing classes gave me tools to use when I found the birth difficult."
Another Hypnobirthing advocate, Monika Goss, used HypnoBirthing during both of her pregnancies to deliver daughters Isabelle and Emily. "With Emily's birth, in particular, the whole experience was just amazing thanks to Hypnobirthing," she recalls. "Both my husband and I worked really well together on relaxation, breathing and visualisation."
Concurring with Elena's experience Monika comments, "I can't say that either of the births were pain free, but the Hypnobirthing techniques allowed me to manage that pain quite well," and she is happy to recommend the birthing method to friends who seek a positive and natural birth experience.
While the aim of couples who take classes is to experience as natural a birth as possible, Jasmine says, "Sometimes there may be circumstances where they may need medical assistance or have to compromise on their birth wishes but women who feel calm, in control and consulted, rather than having things done to them, will have an overall positive feeling about their births, and this is the most important thing."
Having read and heard of others' positive birth experiences it's difficult not to be converted to the Hypnobirthing philosophy. The statistics are clear; women who practise Hypnobirthing have fewer incidences of interventions including episiotomy, inductions and surgical births, and experience shorter, more comfortable labours with faster recovery times and even lower frequency of post-partum depression. Babies with a calmer birth are immediately more alert and sleep better. Fathers play a key role in birthing, which enhances their bonding experience with the baby. Far from being the 'hippy-birthing' I anticipated, I now feel confident that, when the day comes, I have the tools to remain calm. My body will know what to do and I can look forward to meeting my baby without fear.