Short version: I talk about hypnobirthing techniques. Yes, already, yes, I know. There is a request for music suggestions at the bottom, specifically, music that has a similar sound to Portishead.

Last pregnancy, I didn't start thinking about birth until I was into the third trimester. This time, in a different part of the world, immersed in a different culture, I have been forced to start thinking of it already. A midwife rung a couple of weeks ago to conduct my pre-admission interview. The paperwork for the hospital is in. I was advised that the prenatal refresher classes are almost all booked out from now until well after baby's estimated due date, and have therefore already reserved a place. And I was told that, from now until the end of the pregnancy, any emergencies will be handled not by the general emergency department, or even the antenatal unit, but by the labour and delivery ward itself. Because although s/he's barely half-cooked, s/he's big enough that the only way out is via an actual, honest-to-goodness birth.

I guess I may as well start thinking about it then. Especially since it takes me about ten thousand times longer to read up on things these days than it used to.

Last pregnancy, I considered taking hypnobirthing classes, but when it came to the crunch, I couldn't go through with it. I was all on board with the concept of using relaxation and visualisation to help deal with the process of birth - however that might come to be - but I was scared off by the rah-rah woman-power talk. There was a lot of rhetoric about how producing a child was an entirely natural event that my body would instinctively navigate, the half-spoken caveat being that I had to believe it hard enough. After years of infertility, IVF, and pregnancy loss, I didn't think there was any way I could be made to believe that it was all just mind over matter. More than that, I was a little insulted, as if Mongan had given me the old "just relax" and started going on about how low sperm count was simply a manifestation of widespread cultural conditioning and perhaps some sort of subconscious expression of fear. I guess I just couldn't bear to learn a method which might - in the event of a less than calm, natural, and uncomplicated birth - leave me feeling as if I was personally at fault for any sort of calamity*. Plus, when I first heard the term "rainbow relaxation" I couldn't stop sniggering for days.

However, in many ways (I realise, now that I am reading Mongan's book for the first time), infertility was the perfect preparation for hypnobirth. Had I gone for it, I may have had to forcibly stop my instructor from referencing the "effortlessness" and "intimacy" of conception as either a) evidence that the body knows what it's doing or b) a model for how birth should proceed, lest I collapsed into the puddle of helplessness and despair I was specifically hoping to avoid, but I nearly laughed out loud when reading the techniques for breathing. How could I have made it through nearly two years with a fertility clinic if I hadn't figured out how to keep inhaling and exhaling, slowly and deliberately, learning to welcome each wave of treatments as bringing me one step closer to the child I so earnestly looked forward to greeting?

For that matter, how could I have retained any sort of paralysing awe in the face of complicated medical terminology - or, for that matter, personnel? How could I have failed to master the art of choosing a suitable practitioner, or negotiating an acceptable approach to to my treatment, drawing on the expertise of my specialist to make properly informed decisions? How could we - Mr Bea and I - have come through infertility treatments without discovering how to work in harmony together, even though the physical burden fell exclusively to me**?

As for fear of childbirth, and especially the pain of childbirth - there wasn't really any there to release. Temporary physical pain seemed far too trivial a thing to concern myself with, and the rest was squeezed out of me, not so much by positive affirmations that all would be ok, as by the sheer emotional exhaustion that came from having finally used up my almost limitless supply of anxiety over things I could not, ultimately, control***.

I'm not sure that I will attend an actual hypnobirthing class. It would be a big logistical effort with our current lifestyles, including the need to arrange childcare, and I'm not convinced it'd be worth the expense. There's too much I have to rephrase in order to make the philosophy work for me****, and I daresay that'd be much harder to do in a live class than whilst reading from a book. Also, the relaxation CD irritates the absolute fuck out of me, which is not at all relaxing*****.

But at its core... well, there's a lot of tricks I really believe will help with labour and birth, and a surprising number I've already tried out and found to be highly useful. And I'm really pleased to realise that, thanks to infertility, I've had a lot more practice than most couples out there.


--

*I have to give Mongan her due. I didn't read the text the first time around, or attend a class. A lot of this came to me through the filter of various marketing materials or internet forums, and some of it is just my own baggage. Mongan does acknowledge, explicitly and repeatedly, that some couples will find themselves facing "special circumstances" through no fault of their own, and that this is a good place to bring on whatever manner of intervention is required. Couples can still use self-hypnosis to aid them in these circumstances, and proceed as needed without blame or guilt. But she says this, and then in the next breath she displays a degree of confidence about a couple's level of control that makes me catch my breath. I am having to mentally edit the bravado into more of a zen-like acceptance of fate in order to make it work for me.

**I get that wanking in the "men's room" must be difficult, but I can't really see it as a physical burden.

***I also used to use visualisation a lot to get me through infertility treatments. Mainly, however, I would visualise the people who upset me with nasty or thoughtless comments tripping over and falling flat on their faces, so, I'm not sure if that counts.

****Nothing, for example, makes me more nervous than someone repeatedly assuring me that it's all going to be ok. Not a person on earth today actually knows that, and when they make me point same out with their perkturdy optimism, it just magnifies the negative possibilities in my mind because all of a sudden I'm having to talk about them. Forcibly and, perhaps, a lot. Admit you have no idea, that it could all fuck up and everyone could die, and then we can all gain some appropriate perspective and move on - that's what I need. I'm not certain hypnobirth practitioners roll like that, but I'm guessing not.

*****I actually have a question for you on the subject of music. Last time, I really found Portishead (Dummy and Portishead) to be exactly the right mood. Slow-paced, with that absorbing baseline; gentle, yet emotionally powerful. The music wasn't dismissive of the occasion, lightheartedly saying to sit back and take it easy, like a lot of 'relaxation music' tends to do. Instead, it was inviting the listener to quietly succumb to something too big to fight against. Plus, it sounded like something you might want to listen to, and not fucking irritating.

However, two CDs don't last that long, even if you do repeat them a few times over. On the offchance the style seems appropriate again - and if it doesn't, I'll still have some worthwhile music for general listening purposes - what can you think of that sounds a bit like Portishead?


9 Comments

foxy said...

awesome post Bea.

In regards to the music, I've never heard portishead before, and thank you for the link. Here are my additional suggestions: Sarah McLaughlin, George Michael, or something a little heavier/electronic like Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Particle - I listen to those cds when I just want to lose myself in the sound.

xoxo-foxy

Vee said...

I love the sound of hypnobirthing and was going to give it a go myself but in the end had no time for it, unfortunately.

Re music Beth Gibbons the lead singer of Portishead did an album with another guy, his name escapes me which you may like. Also you may enjoy Lamb. Have a listen on itunes.
I will let you know if I can think of anything else. Oh how about Tricky?

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I'm going to suggest Sufjan Stevens for the music. I like how he has a lot of repetition that changes slightly. I think he'd be a good sound to have around during a birth.

Ellen K. said...

I've always thought hypnobirthing sounded cool and would have considered it in different circumstances (i.e., singleton pregnancy). I like guided imagery and give it some credit for my successful cycle.

I'll second Lollipop's Sufjan recommendation. It's good chilling-out music.

Betty M said...

I handed the music request to the husband. He suggests the Portishead live album for a variation on the theme you already know. As for other trip hop stuff as I am told that that is the genre he recommends:
Massive Attack - Protection or Blue Lines
Air - Moon Safari
Zero7 - Simple Things
moorcheba - Big Calm

Sebas said...

Thank you for this great article ! More about conditioning in my blog http://improvingwonderfully.com/2010/10/17/conditioning/

Not on Fire said...

I did hypnobirthing with someone in Portland and she was great. She did not exactly follow the Mongan script and I don't recall anything related to conception ever being discussed. It was all about the relaxation and letting go. I guess different practitioners go different ways.

I found it very helpful and used it extensively during labour. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in a non-medicated birth. That being said, be aware that it does not always work, you need to be rested to be able to concentrate on relaxing.

MrsSpock said...

I took Hypno last go round. I will say I didn't "require" anything during my 36 hrs labor, but did get an epi 8 hrs before my c-section, erroneously thinking it would mean I could have a night of sleep before having a newborn.

I didn't give a toss about Mongan's scripts, but wanted my husband to understand the techniques I'd been using for years with my chronic pain, and what I planned to use during birth. My pain from my other issues had been at such a high level by the end of my pregnancy, that even with a 36 hr labor and contractions on the monitor every two minutes, I still have curiosity about what a contraction feels like. I do several things to live with the pain, sometimes imagery (imagining a big syringe sucking the pain out -seems to work for me), and listening to music and daydreaming myself somewhere else. I'm actually a bit jealous of women whose pain only has to last a day or two, and who don't have to gird their loins for the next 40 years. Which is another reason why I am so fond of the idea of a repeat c-section- the idea of being numb from chest down for a good 24 hours sounds heavenly.

Rachel Inbar said...

Still no clue what hypnobirthing is, but my ex-SIL used guided imagery very successfully (actually, TOO successfully - she ended up having the baby in the elevator).

My method (aside from breathing) was finally understanding that once the pain was so bad I'd prefer death that I was very close to delivering. That, and laughing gas for the last 10-15 minutes...

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