Sunday, October 16, 2011

HypnoBirthing: Preparation makes perfect.

A few years ago, my husband and I ran a half marathon together to celebrate our anniversary. For months, we trained tirelessly (and sometimes tiredly!). We were on a strict regime that included eating the right balance of foods to fuel our runs and incorporating cross training with our running schedule. Were there some days that I wanted to trade my running tights for fat pants? Sure. Burn my running shoes? Yep. Curse the sidewalk I ran on? Ok, I'll admit to that. But we knew skipping workouts would be the difference between a successful race and a major fail. So we stuck with it, and it paid off when the day came for the race.

I think a lot of us would be quicker to whip our bodies in shape for our 10-year high school reunion to make our high school boyfriend eat his heart out than we would for childbirth, but with any physical event that our bodies go through, it’s crucial to prepare.

I approached childbirth the way that I would have any race I’ve run in the past. I knew success depended on how in shape I was, both mentally and physically. The steps I took to prepare physically for labor were pretty simple: eating right (as right as I could when the only food that would stay down was doughnuts); staying as active as possible by walking (even when I walked like I'd been riding a horse for hours), doing prenatal workouts, and utilizing an exercise ball; and getting plenty of rest.

But just as important as the physical preparation were the ways in which I prepared my mind for what was ahead.

Hear no evil…

I learned very quickly that, for some reason, a woman’s method of childbirth is a point of interest for friends, family…even the checkout girl at the grocery store. But when I’d answer honestly and say I was planning a natural childbirth, it was usually countered by something like, “Well, you know, my cousin’s brother-in-law’s old roommate’s new wife had her baby natural, and she had back labor for 43 hours before birthing a 13-pound baby…and you can’t come back from that.” 

Why do women soak up the drama of childbirth? I hate drama, and I realized quickly that in order to stay calm about my impending labor and delivery, I had to avoid drama and horror stories at all costs. And I knew that no two women are the same, so no two birthing stories are the same; I had the opportunity to create my own experience.

So I decided to come up with a story of my own. When someone asked me if I was having the baby naturally, I’d say something like, “I’ve signed up for the stork option,” or “They say my delivery date is September 20, so I guess FedEx will drop him off sometime that morning,” or “I’m planning to have the baby in a field of goats, where we wear ceremonial headdresses and beat on drums and eat the placenta.” Horror stories averted. I did get some weird looks, though.

I also got to the point where I’d cut them off mid-story and cover my ears and start humming (for humorous effect). I’d sometimes go to drastic measures to avoid negative speech about birth because I couldn’t afford the distraction.

See no evil…

For us Type As, relaxation is something that has to be practiced in order to get good at it. Sometime in my second trimester, I started practicing relaxation with the HypnoBirthing music and breathing techniques. I would practice the slow breathing that I was going to utilize during labor while I was driving down the road, in my office at work, or drifting off to sleep at night.

A large portion of HypnoBirthing is visualization. There are several visualization techniques that trained me to focus on a picture in my mind. It took me through a lengthy description of that picture, whether it was imagining that I was cutting a lemon in the kitchen or floating on a cloud. It may sound silly, but I couldn’t be focused on two contrasting thoughts at once; these scenarios required my complete concentration, so I wouldn’t be focusing on the sensations I was experiencing during a contraction. And the more I practiced them, the more easily I could distract myself. So I practiced A LOT during my third trimester.

Speak no evil…

It’s undeniable the power of positive speech. If you declare something often enough, your mind starts to accept it as fact, and your body will eventually respond.

We all use this principle, even if we don’t realize it. How many times do we build ourselves up before a workout, a job interview, et cetera? Why should childbirth be any different?

The words we speak are so important! A friend of mine once challenged me to go through the entire day adding the phrase “and I want that” to the end of every statement I made. For example: “Oh my gosh, I feel like death warmed over today…and I want that.” “I just think I’m too short to deliver a baby naturally…and I want that.” I learned very quickly to keep a tighter reign on my tongue and drop the negative speech!

Pregnant women learn a different language when they participate in HypnoBirthing, which replaces a lot of the common labor and delivery terms with ones that have more pleasant connotations. For example, instead of saying my water broke, I would say my membranes released. Instead of saying “contractions,” I would say “surges.” These are subtle replacements, but they make a big impact in the way I viewed childbirth.

HypnoBirthing also outlines some positive affirmations regarding childbirth in the book, and the book includes a recording of these affirmations on a CD. I listened to them and stated them out loud almost every day in my last several months of pregnancy, and I even listened to them on the way to the hospital after my “membranes released.” (It takes some getting used to, I know.)

Here are a few of them:

I put all fear aside as I prepare for the birth of my baby.
I am relaxed and happy that my baby is finally coming to me.
I am focused on a smooth, easy birth.
I trust my body to know what to do.
My muscles work in complete harmony to make birthing easier.
I breathe correctly and eliminate tension.
My baby’s birth will be easy because I am so relaxed.
My baby is the perfect size for my body to birth easily.

I even made sure I spoke positive things about my care providers. When others would say how controlling and rude L&D nurses could be, I'd respond with, "The nursing staff at Erlanger are phenomenal; they really know how to treat a pregnant woman." I purposefully built up everyone who'd be involved in my birthing experience so I didn't go into it with a skeptical, untrusting attitude.

I realize that picking out baby bedding is more fun than practicing breathing techniques, but did all of this work pay off? You betcha. I cringe a little when other women ask me about my birthing story, and then respond by saying I just got lucky. I’m not the exception to the rule. I had a pleasant childbirth experience because I learned how to create the experience I wanted. This kind of experience is not out of reach for any woman. You can read some other HypnoBirthing stories here.

In my next post, I’ll share my birthing story with you.