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The (re)birth of a better way

By Beverly Barna

South Florida Parenting Magazine, April 2004



Sixty years ago, Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, a British obstetrician, heeded laboring women’s screams and wrote Childbirth Without Fear. With that book, he blazed a birthing trail, claiming that pain does not have to be a part of the labor experience. In fact, he argued, the only thing pregnant women have to fear is fear itself, since the body responds to fear by redirecting blood and oxygen away from what it considers to be nonessential organs – including the uterus – leading to increased pain and discomfort.

In short, unchecked, fear of the pain becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The good doctor has since passed on, but his efforts to help expectant moms overcome the fear-tension-pain cycle live on.

Hypnotherapist Marie “Mickey” Mongan, a former college dean and mother of four, wrote her own book on the topic in 1989, HypnoBirthing® – The Mongan Method, and trademarked the term HypnoBirthing®. Her New Hampshire HypnoBirthing® Institute teaches the technique and disseminates her philosophy of “taking the birthing world by calm.”

The notion that childbirth need not be an endurance test is actually thousands of years old. And the reverse assumption is largely a Western perception. But the use of relaxation techniques to alleviate the stress of childbirth is experiencing something of a rebirth itself, here and around the world.

Is That An Endorphin In Your Bloodstream (Or are you just happy to see me?)

Here in South Florida, expectant moms are learning to expect a more congenial path down the birth canal, too. And boy or girl, boy are those new moms happy. In speaking with those involved in the process, words like “amazing” tend to pop out like the belly of a woman five months along. One technique that is growing in popularity – Mongan’s HypnoBirthing® – relies on a naturally induced state of concentration to encourage subconscious communication and release endorphins, the body’s natural pain fighters. The endorphins replace stress hormones and ease the birthing process, resulting in diminished fatigue during labor and less hyperventilation and emotional and physical strain during childbirth, says Rina Lichtinger, a HypnoBirthing® and childbirth educator and CEO of Healing Light in Fort Lauderdale, where she teaches HypnoBirthing® techniques.

Alternative approaches to birthing are gaining popularity among women who want to forgo or be less reliant on epidurals and episiotomies. “I wanted a natural childbirth and to avoid unnecessary procedures,” says Michelle Soudry of Boca Raton. “Birth is normal. It’s a natural process. You get very nervous toward the end of pregnancy. But I had four hours of labor, from start to finish.”

Day Of Birth Can Be A Day At The Beach

Michelle, had spent all of four hours in labor – and only 13 minutes at West Boca Medical Center.

“There was no screaming,” says Soudry, who underwent a HypnoBirthing® class at Fit For A Mom in Boca Raton. “I had no pain during my labor. I did have some pain in my lower back when I was having contractions. I was breathing properly and listening to relaxation CDs. I experienced something passing through me like a brief pulse. “There were no meds, no tears. You relax; let your body go limp and breathe the baby down. I clearly remember her just sliding out.” So unalarming was Soudry’s experience that her in-laws were at her house – asleep – while she was in labor and did not find out about their new granddaughter’s arrival until after her birth. Soudry says her daughter is living proof that her relaxed state did more than enable her in-laws to get a good night’s sleep.

“My child came out very relaxed,” she says, crediting HypnoBirthing® for her bundle of joy’s laissez faire rite of passage into the world. “I listened to relaxing CDs and I think it affected how she came out, and she’s relaxed right now. I’m a mommy. I’m a hypno-mommy and I have a hypno-baby. It made a believer out of my husband, too. He was amazed at how the labor went.”

Lichtinger says it’s not unusual for the training to have a positive impact on the entire newly-formed family. “You communicate your emotions to yourself, your baby and your partner,” she says. “The husband learns the same techniques as the woman. They learn how to relax. It’s very, very positive. I see them getting along better as couples. “They are released from fear and really, really ready for a change in their lives. It’s not just one person. It’s how they are going to be as a circle. Mind, body and body.”

Lichtinger’s own husband is an ob/gyn affiliated with Holy Cross Hospital, whose partner in practice is counting on Lichtinger to help her through her own first pregnancy. A Certified Healing Touch Practitioner, yoga instructor and Reiki master, Lichtinger wishes she had known about the process when she brought her two children into the world some 20 years ago. Like many women of the day, she relied on the Lamaze method, which she credits with making the early stages of labor easier, but which she feels fell short of producing the extent and duration of comfort brought about through HypnoBirthing®.

“I didn’t know how to relax,” she says. “HypnoBirthing® is the safest way of having a baby, because you’re in control – it’s a surrender of your body.”

The relaxation techniques, she says, can help with the entire birthing experience and beyond, from shorter labor, to decreased or eradicated dependence on epidurals and episiotomies, to meditative nursing sessions and a diminution of “postpartum blues.”

Fear Factor: Just A TV Show

Israel Maya, a master certified hypnotherapist who conducts a Painless Childbirth course for moms-to-be at the Miami Beach Maternity Center, agrees that the right preparation for the birth experience can have positive repercussions in the years ahead for those who master relaxation approaches.

“The techniques can be used for the rest of their lives,” he says of his clients, explaining that anger, hate and “any negative emotion,” can be managed through his teachings.

While Soudry’s HypnoBirthing® experience drew on practicing relaxation, guided imaging techniques and an adjustment in her attitude about labor (think “surge,” not “contraction”), Maya first hypnotizes his students, then teaches them to hypnotize themselves. Moms also learn physical and mental relaxation techniques during his four-week course.

The first order of business in banishing the birthing blues, he says, is to eliminate the fear factor and give his clients tools to enable them to relax when the going gets tough. Words like “pain” are verboten, replaced instead with “discomfort.” The difference, Maya points out, is that pain cannot be conquered, but discomfort can be managed. Rather than dreading contractions, students are taught to frame the experience in a positive way, by remembering that, “Every contraction brings your baby closer to you.”

“By the time we’re done with the course,” Maya says, “Mom is very excited and totally positive about how she is going to have a baby.” Maya was excited, too, when he started the program with his first client – his wife. The couple today has a 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Dina. But life isn’t always a beach for hypnosis practitioners. Just as clients have to overcome misperceptions about the implications of conception, so, too, do they have to overcome misconceptions about hypnosis, he says. “Some people say, ‘Is hypnosis brainwashing?'” he says. “But they have already been brainwashed to think in terms of pain. We’re just showing them the other side of it.”

Beverly Barna is a freelance writer and mother. She lives in Lake Worth.

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