Is Hypnobirthing for Me? 5 Reasons it May Not Be
For those that know me, you understand my stance that birth is not one size fits all. It is nuanced, not only due to the health of your baby, but your genetics, the baby’s genetics, physiology, environmental influences, and psychology too.
There is so much we bring to our births. Our dreams, expectations, self-image, unprocessed trauma, physical or sexual abuse, any patterned reaction of being pushed past your comfort zone, so much arises in this space.
Birth is so specific and individualized, the best way to really prepare is to become more mindful in understanding yourself and your needs. So as a doula, who has witnessed 100's of births with clients that have taken a myriad of childbirth classes I think I have a pretty good idea about how best to prepare for this moment.
Unfortunately, more times than not, I hear the same critiques about Hypnobirthing from clients after they have given birth. And, as this method gains in popularity, I feel it's important to understand why this course is not for everyone.
While I recognize that there are useful tools within this practice, it is imperative when deciding which course to invest in that one understands that Hypnobirthing is agenda-based and not inclusive. While this is one of the reasons many people are attracted to it (those who desire a non-medicated birth) we also must look at those who don't achieve this outcome (for whichever reason) and how this method creates shame when a birthing person should only be feeling pride.
What compelled me to write this blog post was my own bias on who Hypnobirthing serves best. I used to think that those who wanted an unmedicated birth, possibly practiced yoga weekly, and already had a well-established meditational practice, would benefit best from this method. However, most recently one of my clients, who fit this profile perfectly, felt lost in her birth experience and listed many of the same critiques that I have of Hypnobirthing.
In witnessing her story and how she processed it, I realized that my own assumptions about who is the right fit for Hypnobirthing were unfair and highlighted how this currently trendy birthing method is negatively impacting many birthing people just like The Bradley Method.
For these reasons, I will explain why I don't feel Hypnobirthing is for everyone. Again, this is my opinion as a childbirth educator and birth doula going on 9 years now. I understand that others have a different opinion about this method and honor that. For me, I have issues with any birthing “Method” as they are prescriptive and birth isn’t one size fits all.
First and foremost, Hypnobirthing is agenda-based (even if they claim they are not) and helps create a birth culture that is hierarchical placing one birth outcome as best over the rest. Plainly, Hypnobirthing favors “natural” (unmedicated) birth. And, while many of us may (or may not) desire that, it's important to know that just because you want a specific outcome and dedicate time and energy visualizing and manifesting that outcome, it doesn't mean your birth will magically unfold that way.
As a trauma-informed childbirth educator, language is important. We internalize these messages subconsciously. So the first thing I want to address here is the word "Natural." Believe it or not, ALL birth is natural, even cesarean birth. We live in a natural world where nothing exists that isn’t natural.
More so, as humans, we use tools to impact our lives. This is how we live naturally; building, adapting, and manipulating our environment to help ourselves. Tools are a natural human progression. AND, guess what, an epidural is a tool. That is all. It's not the enemy, it's not evil, and the risks are quite low for even complications from an epidural. It's just a tool that often methods like Hypnobirthing and The Bradley Method give too much power.
Moreover, cesarean birth is a birth where tools are used to ensure a healthy outcome for mom and baby. That too is a natural birth that simply needed extra assistance. Again, using tools to improve health IS a natural process for us. Nothing about cesarean birth is unnatural.
To the point, when we use words like “natural” to describe birth outcomes, what are we saying?
Is there an “unnatural” way to give birth?
If I needed or chose an epidural, was my birth unnatural?
If, for some unforeseen reason, I needed a cesarean was that experience unnatural?
And, how does that language feel in your body if this outcome isn't achieved?
I can tell you how this is internalized as many clients and birthing people, in general, feel they “failed” if they didn’t have a “natural” unmedicated experience. No birthing person, in the midst of postpartum, having just walked through one of the most challenging events of their lives (birth is challenging no matter how it unfolds) should feel shame at that moment. They should be wrapped up in snuggles of joy and beaming with pride.
When we look further at the language Hypnobirthing uses you will see that many of the stories they share literally use words like “I didn’t give up and have an epidural,” “I didn’t give up and go to the hospital,” or “I DID IT! I had a natural birth!” Again, such language is divisive and possibly traumatizing.
In using language like "I didn't give up," what are we telling ourselves? I have been to roughly 300 births and my team, over 500, and I have never known one person who "gave up" on their birth. That's actually impossible! Even on an epidural, there is a lot of work to do! Having a cesarean is not giving up! You still have to birth a baby and allow that experience to unfold!
This sort of language pains me to my core.
Again, birth is nuanced, there is absolutely no knowing HOW an experience will unfold until we are actually there. You can prepare, and you should, but ultimately you will not know how you will feel, react, or what you might need until you get there.
What birthing people need to hear and surround themselves with are stories where grace is the main focus. As a new mom, it's so important to be mindful of YOUR OWN needs in the moment. To offer yourself self-care that resonates with you and your body. To know yourself so well that you fill your labor toolbox with the tools that are best for you and no one else. We need to walk with grace into this moment because regardless of the process there are always hard decisions to make.
In this same regard, Hypnobirthing reinforces an “ideal” birth to such a high level that other possibilities or outcomes are not even explored. Along the lines of “think it and it will be so,” this course focuses exclusively on somebody's idea of what the ideal birth is. There are visualization scripts to reinforce this process. The course encourages attendees not to discuss, share, witness, surround your thoughts, brain, head, etc with any “negative” birth stories or outcomes. The reality of birth, again, is not explored or normalized.
Your childbirth class needs to normalize epidurals, cesareans, and inductions, even if you don’t want any of this. Not exploring the realities of birth leads to trauma and feelings of dissatisfaction and failure. The majority of the birth trauma clients I work with are trying to heal deep wounds from not normalizing specific unpleasant aspects of birth. Just because you learn about such things does not mean they will happen. Just because you prepare yourself mentally does not make it so.
What I have also noticed is that those that don’t achieve their "ideal birth" feel more isolated and alone. When I work with such clients there is a deep shame, guilt, and blame for not preparing enough or being open to the realities of birth.
I hear clients say, “What was I holding onto and not able to release? Was there something that held me back emotionally? What could I have done?" This is even when all avenues have been exhausted in order to achieve a specific outcome. They literally did everything they could to avoid the outcome that arrived and instead of feeling proud of their work and dedication, there is pain and internal blame.
This pains me so much when a birthing person blames themselves when difficult decisions need to be made during their birth. They should be feeling so proud of themselves for meeting that moment with grace and love.
I should also add that I very much believe in visualization and manifesting your experience BUT that doesn’t mean you can manifest an outcome. Because even with all your manifesting you can’t change your environment! The only thing you CAN change is how you respond to what is happening to you and how you choose to feel about it! We need to invest in how we want to FEEL in that moment, NOT an outcome.
Your mindset is the only thing you have control over. If you choose to meet this moment with JOY no matter what decision needs to be made - you will have a joyous birth! If you decide to be mindful and listen to your body, offer it what it needs at every turn, you WILL be empowered by your experience.
We need to STOP focusing on the HOW (outcome focused) and invest in WHAT (Feeling focused).
Lastly, Hypnobirthing uses euphemistic verbiage to describe labor pain. This is probably the most difficult one for me. Hypnobirthing changes words like contraction to wave, pain to something like pressure. Again, words are powerful and deeply connected to our subconscious. So, when labor becomes quite painful I have seen (first hand) many clients simply unprepared to process what is happening to them. They were expecting that labor would be calm and relaxing and when it wasn't they couldn't manage. They are left with little tools to manage as the relaxation tools for a “painless” labor flew out the window.
I will tell you, as a trauma-informed childbirth educator, I LOVE pain!
Pain is POWERFUL!
In my childbirth classes, we talk about how important pain is to your life and why you need to make it your best friend!
Pain is the way our body communicates with you and how amazing is that?
Why would we not want to embrace our pain?
Pain is our biggest teacher.
If you cut yourself, the pain draws attention to the cut before it can become infected. If you sprain your ankle, the pain will stop you from walking on it and encourage you to seek critical attention. If you are feeling emotional pain that is your body helping you process, understand, grieve and feel your way to helping yourself best.
In labor, your pain will actually guide you. It will tell you when you need to leave for your birthplace. It will tell you when you need to change positions. It will guide you when you need to bring your village near. Even on an epidural, low-pressure pain will let you know when you need to push. Pain is powerful and when we are mindful of it, not afraid of it, we can actually take better care of ourselves.
Moreover, life is never without pain. It is my goal as a childbirth educator to help people create positive ways to manage their pain and the first step in that direction is to understand that pain is powerful and serves a HUGE purpose in your life.
With all this said, I want to be clear:
There is no right or wrong way to birth.
There is no negative or positive way to birth.
There is no natural or unnatural way to birth.
There is no giving up.
Birth is birth - it's raw, it's glorious, it's challenging, it's complicated, it's a journey that is so individualized.
Your experience is your teacher and we need to embrace it however it may unfold with no judgment.
Birth is best when YOU attune to your individualized needs. When you become mindful of how you manage stress in real life. When you listen to your body and understand what your pain is telling you. When you know that your strength comes from understanding how to positively take care of yourself when challenged. When you embrace the possibilities and know that no matter how it unfolds you will meet the love of your life with joy, grace, and bravery.
If any of this has made you curious, I would love for you to join Connected Childbirth. It is a mindful birthing approach that is non-agenda based, created to support your partner and not burden them, and help you meet this moment just like it should be met, with self-love and compassion.