I started writing some of this information on my website and I thought I would write a blog on it as well. And then I started writing it all down and it turned into a very long article! So I am going to do it in parts. Here is part 1...
Firstly, a brief history of HypnoBirthing®
HypnoBirthing® was created by Marie Mongan in the early 1990's. Her daughter, Moira, fell pregnant in 1989 and she came to Marie and asked her to tell her everything she knew about giving birth.
Marie had had 4 children in the 1950's and 60's - a time when women were heavily sedated, forced to labour lying down, isolated from their husbands and family, and more often than not had their baby by forceps. Marie instinctively knew that this is not the way women should be having babies. So she 'fought' the system and by her fourth child (Moria, who was now pregnant) won on most of the points - she didn't want to be medicated, she wanted her husband present, and she was going to give birth naturally. Marie became the talk of the hospital!
So Marie sat down and wrote down everything she knew. Two of Moira's friends were also pregnant and they joined the 'class'. In June 1990 the first HypnoBirthing® baby was born to Moira.
Now HypnoBirthing® - the Mongan Method is taught in 50 countries by about 2000 practitioners. Its methods have been studied and found to reduce intervention and increase satisfaction of the labour and birth experience.
The basis of HypnoBirthing® is that birth is not to be feared and that a woman's body is designed to grow and give birth to a child.
"But its so painful!" I hear you cry. "So many of my friends have had caesareans/assisted births, something must be wrong!"....Yes, something is wrong, but its not with a woman's body.
The HypnoBirthing logo and Gold Seal which certified practitioners are allowed to display
Fear in childbirth
In the 1950's a doctor by the name of Grantly Dick-Reed wrote a book called 'Birth Without Fear'. In the book he talks about a number of women he witnessed giving birth without pain relief. When he asked them why they refused analgesia, the majority of them answered 'because its not painful'. Over time he realised these women did not FEAR birth, therefore they did not find it overly PAINFUL. Hard work, yes. Uncomfortable, maybe. But NOT painful.
He surmised that because these women accepted that birth was just a natural bodily function, and allowed their bodies to go through the process as it needed to, they did not fight it, and this allowed them to remain calm and relaxed. Unfortunately his theories were ahead of his times and his theories were dismissed by his peers. We now know that there was a lot of truth in them!
Why fear effects labour and birth
When we fear something and that something happens we release adrenaline. Click here to read an article I wrote about the effects of adrenaline on oxytocin. The function of adrenaline is to prepare the body to either fight a danger (real or perceived) or flee from it. Adrenaline dilates blood vessels in organs that are necessary for this to happen, and constrict vessels in organs that are not. The vital organs include the heart, lungs, and muscles of the legs. The uterus IS NOT needed to flee or fight! Therefore blood flow is re-directed from the uterus.
The uterus is made up of muscles. When a muscle contracts its blood vessels are constricted and this lessens the amount of the oxygen flowing to it. When you get a cramp it hurts because of this decreased blood flow. When you touch your fingers to your shoulder your bicep contracts, but not enough to constrict the blood flow and therefore it doesn't hurt.
So if you release adrenaline during labour and oxygen is already decreased because the blood vessels are being constricted, the oxygen supply decreases even further, thus increasing the sensation of pain. This will make you fear the next contraction even more. Your body will release more adrenaline - because it thinks something is wrong and it has to fight or flee from it - and the cycle starts all over again, and it builds until you are actively fighting what your body is just naturally trying to do.
So why do we fear birth?
Childbirth can be dangerous. Poor hygiene, lack of access to trained health professionals, poor nutrition - these can all increase your risk of being seriously injured or even dying during childbirth or soon after.
Before the introduction of good hygiene, during times of war and famine, and before the increase in research, women died by the thousands. They still do, but the vast majority are living in the poorest countries of the world, and those currently experiencing wars and civil unrest. The World Health Organisation says the number one way to prevent maternal mortality is to increase access to well trained health professionals - because they know the importance of good hygiene and good nutrition and should be able to recognise if/when something is not right. (Note that the WHO does not say that this has to be an obstetrician - midwives are qualified to care for pregnant women who are considered 'low-risk'.)
The fear of dying during childbirth will increase your fear of actually giving birth. "But I'm not afraid of dying" I hear you say. No, that's probably not your conscious fears, but decades ago women were afraid of this and their labours became painful. It started to become accepted that labour was painful. Painful labours are now commonly depicted in TV and on the movies. And it makes for much better drama to having someone screaming and something going wrong!
Just the act of going into hospital can release adrenaline
"White coat syndrome" is well known among health professionals - your blood pressure rises just because you are sitting in front of a doctor. A hospital is a very different environment, one where sick people usually go, and where some people never leave.
You might not be sure of what is going to happen, not sure who you are going to meet. Labour and birth is a very intimate time, and now strangers want to look and touch you in very intimate places? Who wouldn't be afraid of that? Even if you have continuity of care with a midwife or doctor, there is no guarantee that they will be at your birth (they may be sick or on holidays or may just not make it in time). And if you're under the care of a doctor chances are you won't see them until its time for the baby to acturally come out.
There is a high chance you will meet at least 1 or 2 or more new people during your labour
As a midwife it is common to see women who have grown up on farms or who work with animals have 'easier' births. Talking to some of them afterwards they often say things like 'well I've grown up seeing animals give birth, and they don't fear it, they just get on with it'. The same goes for women who have grown up in 'traditional' cultures (Africans who still live in tribes, Maoris, and Aboriginals for example) also have the same experiences. Most probably because they have grown up seeing, or even just listening to stories of, their elders giving birth. Click here to read about my experience of working in a labour and birth ward in Ghana.
If you consciously fear something, or are not sure of it, you will physically tense up. We all know that tensing while our body is trying to do something does not make it easier. Weight lifters and martial artists know that they have to breath and 'relax' when doing a movement and this will actually make them stronger.
Wouldn't this make you feel vulnerable and a bit afraid?
Women's bodies were designed to give birth
A women's pelvis is the right shape for a baby's head to fit through. The bones of a baby's skull are not fused so that they can move and come together and therefore make a smaller diameter to come through the pelvis. The uterus contracts to push the baby down and out. The uterus also pulls up the cervix and makes it open to allow the baby out. The muscles of the pelvic floor and around the perineum will relax as needed to allow the baby to come out.
During pregnancy your cervix is hard and closed. This helps keep the baby in. Towards the end of pregnancy, hormones are released to help soften the cervix and therefore make it easier for it to thin and open. Oxytocin is released and this causes the muscles of the uterus to contract. Oxytocin is also the 'hormone of love', so it can make you sleepy and feel a bit 'spacey' (and it is the hormone that is released when you have an orgasm!). If allowed, your body can release endorphins which can be up to 200x stronger than morphine - think of the soldiers who were given placebos when the morphine ran out and who honestly said their pain was gone.
The bones of a baby's skull can move and mould to fit through the pelvis
Yes there can be situations where there is something wrong with a woman's body which won't allow the baby to come out naturally. Just as your kidney's may fail, or you may have a heart attack, or you might get cancer. But I'm sure the majority of the population doesn't walk around in constant fear of this happening? And that's why you want see a well trained health professional during pregnancy, labour, and birth. But the best thing they can do is leave everything alone if there is no evidence of anything being wrong (you wouldn't have an organ removed on the 'off chance' that it was going to fail, would you?*). Very few of us worry that we are not going to get pregnant until it actually happens, so why should we fear an inability to give birth until it happens?
In summary, we have lost our faith in our body's ability to labour and give birth, and this causes us to fear giving birth. Our bodies respond by releasing adrenaline and essentially prevent it from happening. It's like a self fulfilling prophecy!
In part 2 I go through how HypnoBirthing® can help and why it's worth the time and the money of doing an in-person class with a certified practitioner.
In the meantime please visit www.cherishedparenting.com.au/hypnobithing-classes-perth for more information or contact me on 0405427998 or firstname.lastname@example.org
*I am in no way implying that women who have preventative mastectomies or hysterectomies, or men who have their prostates removed because they have a strong family history of cancer in these organs or who carry a gene that predisposes them to cancer are doing anything wrong. I am saying that you wouldn't remove an organ without a strong reason to and the same should go for inducing labours or conducting caesarean sections