Hypnobirthing, for men.
When my wife Sarah said she was going to sign us up for Hypnobirthing lessons I wouldn’t necessarily say my mind was closed to the idea. But, at best, it was ajar. I didn’t have a clue what it meant.
I guess my pre-conceived (boom-boom!) ideas about what it might be surrounded the first part, ‘Hypno’. I honestly pictured pocket watches being swung in front of our eyes, and, well, running around pretending you were a horse or something. Oh, and Kenny Craig the hypnotist from Little Britain, I couldn’t get him out of my head.
The first thing Sarah did was order Judith Flood’s book on the subject and get me to read the first chapter. In it Judith describes her own introduction to the concept, working as a midwife and encountering a woman in labour in a zen-like state, seemingly oblivious to the pain she should be experiencing. Still no particular indication as to what ‘it’ was and to be honest I was perhaps even more skeptical at this point, but our first lesson was arranged and put in the diary for a couple of months before our due date.
This was to be our second child. The birth experience with our first, Jessica (now a happy, healthy four year old) was, to put it mildly, stressful. As a man I was woefully unprepared for what I was about to go through. We’d signed up for antenatal classes, but this was 90% to try and meet some people in the same position as us who might become friends, or at least pub-lunch companions. Those classes had lulled us into a false sense of security about how the birth would go. Instead of the aromatherapy pool and no pain relief we’d imagined, Jessica eventually arrived in an operating theatre after 36hrs of gruelling labour, during which I had at times feared I was going to lose both her and my wife.
The painful memories of that experience were still with us both when we discovered we were expecting our second, but Sarah was determined to find ways to improve things this time around.
And so the evening of our first Hypnobirthing session came. Our instructor Alexis came round the house one weekday evening and hooked up her laptop to our TV. So far not a pocket watch in sight.
Within a couple of slides I was starting to get it, this wasn’t hypnotism as I understood it, but was all about controlling your thoughts, letting your subconscious take over, and most importantly suppressing adrenaline. It’s probably this last bit that resonated most with me having read Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers earlier in the year. In that book the author describes how the fight/flight stress response that was meant for keeping us alive on the plains of Africa is having all sorts of negative physical effects on us in the modern world.
If you’re giving birth and a sabre-toothed tiger comes along (ok, ok, I know this was never actually possible) then it’s quite good for the stress caused to slow down the labour so you can get to a safer spot. Both you and the baby have much more chance of survival because of it.
But bring that evolutionary response into the 21st century and the lights and sounds and smells and fears of a hospital can cause the same stress response, because we have only one of them. The release of adrenaline slows down the pregnancy and this creates an undesirable feed-back loop which can cause all kinds of havoc.
Looking back we realised there were many times during the labour with Jessica when Sarah’s anxiety and stress levels rose. Each time this happened things slowed down, which in turn caused more anxiety.
Alexis went on to describe more of the things we’d learn in the subsequent sessions, such as light-touch massage and breathing techniques but the highlight was the final 20 minutes when she read to us. These prepared readings are one of the key elements of Hypnobirthing and happily the man gets to experience them too!
The carefully chosen words are designed not to tax your brain too much, and a very light trance-like state is induced. By the end you’re floating between just awake and just asleep and it’s a lovely experience.
Alexis left us that night with a CD of ‘mantras’, read by Judith Flood. These were repetitive, encouraging statements that we were to listen to each night as we fell asleep. These were very much for Sarah’s benefit, I’m happy to report that drumming into my subconscious that I have a nice stretchy cervix has had little effect on me!
We had immediately ‘clicked’ with Alexis on that first session and by the second I was really looking forward to her visit. On this and her final visit we practiced more breathing, more massage and more reading. What she was giving us was a kind of ‘toolkit’ for the day of the birth. It wasn’t a recipe we had to follow, just things we could try out as-and-when and she assured us we’d know what was appropriate.
As the due date got closer we listened to more mantras and practiced more reading (delivered by me this time).
Another part of Sarah’s plan to improve the chances of a smoother birth was to aim for a home-birth. On the morning she went into labour the midwife visited and left again, we spent the day listening to more Judith, reading more readings and generally staying pretty calm at home.
The labour progressed into the evening and I filled up the birthing pool in the living room. Sarah got in at about 11pm and gradually got into the rhythm of deep, controlled breath. And slowly and surely, despite all the pain that her body was no-doubt delivering to her, she drifted off into a trance, breathing through each contraction.
It was amazing to watch, and a million miles from the frankly traumatic experience we’d had 4 years previously.
So, my message to men is this — don’t be put off by the hippy sounding name, don’t think you’ll feel silly, do go into it with an open mind. And, don’t get this guy stuck in your head…!