This is part 2 and follows last week’s blog Why I LOVE hypnobirthing.
Before I start I want you to understand WHY I’m writing this.
If you are familiar with my Head Trash work, then you’ll know about the importance of opposites, and acknowledging the parts of us that LOVE and HATE the things that are important to us.
Every thing in life has good and bad aspects. When we can only see one side – the good or the bad side – it tells us that we have a lot of emotional energy tied up in The Thing. This prevents us from considering all the angles which makes it harder for us to connect and communicate with others who don’t feel the same way.
Someone who is emotionally invested in something has a tendency to get evangelical or ranty about it. They have an emotional need to bring people around to their way of thinking which can often have the opposite effect.
If you’re a hypnobirthing practitioner or a mum who had a great hypnobirth, the chances are that and you want to persuade people to go with hypnobirthing. If that’s the case, then you would benefit from releasing the emotional hold that hypnobirthing has over you*. Otherwise people will just switch off to your message and your efforts will backfire.
*I do this using the Head Trash Clearance Method.
For those of you who, like me, are passionate about improving birth for women, then we need stop being ranty and evangelical about it. It’s only then that we will be truly heard. This is part of what I’m doing here with this post.
So I’m basically doing some public healing here. And, if you know anything about me, then you’ll know that if I feel there’s a chance that others could benefit from the kind of healing that I’m going through then, I’m going to be open and honest about it. No matter what ton of shit it might bring my way.
Why this is more than just a rant
One thing I noticed as I was coming up with this list was the learning that we can all take by engaging with the hate aspects of something. And I feel there is something for all of us to learn when it comes to birth prep here.
So, yes I might get ranty, because getting ranty tends to feature when we’re purging our shit. But, I also want to take this opportunity to dig into some aspects of hypnobirthing that I feel need exploring.
In doing this we might find ways of making hypnobirthing even better (well, those of you who do hypnobirthing things can!). I want birth to be better for everyone, don’t you?
But, we can only do this when we get deep, down and dirty with its flaws.
Why I hate hypnobirthing
Are you ready?
Let’s do this!
#1. I felt let down by it
When I was pregnant I was terrified. I didn’t know it at the time but I had tokophobia – the extreme fear of pregnancy and birth.
Early on in my pregnancy I remember telling someone how terrified I was of labour. They told me all about hypnobirthing and how it would be perfect for me. So I bought a book and dived right in. I learned a ton reading that book. And for that I am grateful.
I quickly realised that this wasn’t going to be what I needed.
I hated that at the time. I felt let down and alone. There didn’t seem to be anyone who understood how I felt, and anything that could help me. Looking back I’m grateful for that because it’s what ultimately lead to launch the Fear Free Childbirth podcast.
But at the time I really hated hypnobirthing for letting me down. Hence why I now need to heal myself of this. I need to let this shit go!
The more my pregnancy progressed, the more conflicted I was feeling. Everyone around me was saying how amazing hypnobirthing is and I kept being told to check it out. When people found out I was scared, it was re-inforced. Apparently, if you’re fearful, then “hypnobirthing will be just perfect for you”…. “Just listen to some fear-release meditations” they said.
Well I did and it wasn’t working. So now what? What else could I turn to? This was apparently The Thing that was going to help me. I realise there was no one person who was letting me down; it was the sheer absence of something that could help me which I found difficult to handle. I had nowhere to turn.
This was when I knew I needed to take matters into my own hands.
It was this experience that forced me to develop my fear-clearance method, which I then used to clear my tokophobia while I was pregnant. This has now become my Fearless Birthing method which I’ve written about in my book Fearless Birthing.
What still really bothers me today is when I read some fearful first time mamas’ requests for help in Facebook groups. The go-to response from others in the group is still ‘hypnobirthing’.
Before we can direct anyone to an appropriate source of support, we need to understand a lot more about what is going on for them.
Hypnobirthing is fine if you have mild or moderate fears, but if you have strong or phobic fears, then it probably isn’t the right thing for you. At best it will provide birth education – which it did me – but that’s where it stops.
And given that up to 80% of women experience of fear of childbirth on some level and that it’s estimated that up to 40% of these women have strong to phobic fears, then it’s clear to see that there could be a lot more women out there feeling the same as I did.
#2. The meditations
Where to start! Sure they were nice for a while. Like a Bucks Fizz is at wedding reception. But after a while they were a bit much.
And more importantly for me, I quickly realised that they weren’t going to get near my fears.
When I say I was ‘scared of birth’, I mean I was proper terrified. My fears were so strong that I had my heart set on a c-section. Ideally, I would’ve liked to have been knocked out cold for the birth, but that wasn’t an option as far as I could tell.
I now know that my tokophobia wasn’t as severe as it is for some of the women who I work with today, but it was still strong enough for me to feel panic rising within me at the sight of a diagram of a birth canal in my pregnancy book. Or to cry uncontrollably on reading a story in a paper on the underground train about a birth in a taxi. Or to freak out at the site of a baby moving in a bump.
So, yes I was suffering!
These meditations weren’t touching my fears. Not even a tiny bit. And I knew that. I knew that I could listen to these things for months and they still wouldn’t touch them. And I didn’t have months!
To be honest, I’m not sure I could have coped listening to them more than a few times anyway. As much as I love a bit of woo (I use it all the time with my clients), guided meditations are best used occasionally in my world.
Actually, the meditations come across as woo, but actually they are not woo enough for me. By that I mean they don’t have the woo power that I’m used to dabbling with.
And anyway, who wants to listen to the same meditation every day for 5 months? Not me!
And it seems I’m not the only one.
#3. Not being able to use certain words
I hate the idea of being told NOT to use certain words… of being told what to do!
I’m sure you’re aware that the words ‘pain’ and ‘contractions’ are sniffed upon in the world of hypnobirthing.
‘Surge’ is often suggested as a replacement for ‘contraction’. But why is this any better? When surges happen out at sea, they can be deadly. Not the kind of meaning I’m a big fan of. Contractions is a word that describes the movement of a muscle. I’m not even clear how that could be horrid to hear.
But, it’s not just the pregnant person who shouldn’t use them, but their support team too.
So, basically you have to tell other people what words they can and can’t use in your presence.
This makes NO SENSE to me whatsoever. *fetches soapbox*
I’ve got two bees in my bonnet about this particular hypnobirthing quirk.
It’s not very empowering!
Since when does getting other people to not use certain words in your presence become empowering?
There are so many things to be mindful of during your pregnancy and birth. The idea of asking the people who support you to NOT to use certain words in your presence whiffs a bit of a Mariah Carey.
Respectful language? Yes!
Asking people not to use the words ‘pain’ or ‘contraction’ in case you get offended or emotionally triggered? Umm, no! I draw the line there.
Trying to control everyone else’s language in case you get offended or triggered is not empowering. In fact it’s the opposite.
I’ll tell you what’s empowering.
It’s being able to listen to WHATEVER the hell is being said and NOT GIVE A SHIT.
Being empowered means if someone IS being disrespectful to you, that you’re able to stand your ground calmly and confidently.
Being empowered means feeling strong and confident in your ability to stay strong and confident.
Which, by the way, you won’t be if you can’t handle hearing the word ‘pain’ or ‘contraction’.
As with everything in life, you can’t choose WHAT happens to you, but you can choose HOW you respond to it. And if you’re going to be affected by words like ‘pain’ and ‘contraction’, then I think that’s probably the least of your worries.
If you can’t handle the words, how are you going to cope with them when they ACTUALLY start affecting your body?
Badly, that’s how.
How do we know what words will be triggering or offensive?
The truth is that ALL language is loaded with meaning and associations for us.
Just think of the word ‘mother’. If your mother is alive and lovely then you probably have positive associations with it. If your mother is no longer here, or is a bitch from hell, then you might have conflicted feelings about the word.
But I bet someone uses that word with you in the lead up to the birth of your baby.
Has anyone ever checked with you whether this is a word you’re comfortable with?
The point is that we all have internal meanings that we associate with words, and these meanings are often personal to us.
Not everyone will be affected by the words that you’re affected by. How can we possibly start to create a list of ‘words to be avoided in our presence’?
You need to decide what language, if any, is going to trigger you in the birth space and clear the emotion from it.
Then, you don’t have to worry about being triggered by someone who missed the memo and started talking to you (perhaps with good intentions).
Your emotional state is your responsibility, not a midwife on the late shift, who’s in her 10th hour on her feet.
And the only way you get to protect your emotional state is by NOT giving the power to others to trigger you with words.
My tip? Clear all emotion out of any words that might trigger you*. Then you can focus on protecting your birthing bubble and emotional state in other ways.
*You can do this very quickly using the clearance method that is at the core of Fearless Birthing, the Head Trash Clearance Method™.
#4. Women feel failed by hypnobirthing
I find this sad.
This happens a lot more than many would admit.
Like for this lady…
And for this lady too…This uncovers a flaw in the approach which I think is important to raise.
How is it possible to prepare women for something that is as unpredictable as birth, and for them to come out feeling like they’ve failed?
If you were planning a trek across the jungle, a whole heap of shit could go wrong on that trip, and you’d know it before setting off. You might lose your tent, you might get bitten by a poisonous snake, you might fall off the boat. Who knows, right? But you’d plan for it. At least you’d try to as best you can knowing full well that’s impossible to plan for everything.
Let’s say you made it to your destination. Would you wonder if you had failed your jungle trek? No you wouldn’t. You’d think “bloody hell I did it! It might have been bloody hard, but I did it!”.
So why are women feeling like they’ve failed their births? They bloody did it!
Something somewhere is not right.
Are we being sold a dream?
Are teachers and practitioners being a bit loose with the guidelines?
Are key aspects being misinterpreted?
I don’t know the answer.
Here’s one perspective;
“They feel failed by it because they don’t fully go within. they’re still giving the power of the words and the trance to the audio provider, to the midwife.
They’re not OWNING IT.”
Julie-Anne Mullan. Birth Energetics
#5. Women getting tranced out during birth
The birthing bubble is a special place where time disappears and you go inward. Or at least it was for me.
But I remember being in control. I was alert if I wanted to be. I chose to go inward. I chose to block out things around me. And I flitted between ‘being there” and ‘being inside’. What I’ve heard too many times are stories from women who ‘disappeared’ into their trance and barely noticed the arrival of their baby.
And I can’t say I’m a fan of this at all.
I want to be connected to my body and baby while labouring.
I want to feel what’s going on.
I want to be aware and alert enough that if I notice that something’s not right I want to be able to spot it and tell someone.
I don’t want to be tranced out not noticing anything.
I don’t want to appear so calm on the outside that it appears as everything is fine, when it’s not.
Unfortunately some women – like the lady above – experienced this. And she’s not alone.
I’ve had many doulas say to me in private that they’re not huge fans of hypnobirthing for this very reason. They’ve witnessed it a lot in the births they’ve attended.
I wanted to understand why this was, because you also get a lot of hypnobirthing women who don’t experience this.
When I spoke to a clinical hypnotist about this they offered this as a possible reason why this might be happening;
“Sometimes the practitioner of the hypnosis or the audio has forgotten to add the
hypnotic suggestion that if something is wrong, the mama can bring herself out of trance to be able to
communicate issues. But if this suggestion was missing from the hypnosis track, then mama won’t do that.”
This is worrying. And I don’t know how you’d check whether your hypnotrack has been done correctly.
So those are my reasons.
What do you think?
Are you a birthworker who has reservations about hypnobirthing? Did you have a hypnobirth that didn’t work out brilliantly for you?
Perhaps you’re a massive fan and think I’m talking crap. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- How partners can support women during pregnancy & birth, with Souvereign - 22nd August 2022
- Scared of birth? Fear is not the only problem. - 1st December 2021
- How to clear your fears yourself - 28th May 2021
Hi – I just wanted to let you know how desperately this article resonated with me. I’m only 13w pregnant but already friends/relatives/strangers have been extolling hypnobirthing with seemingly no alternative/I’ll ‘fail’ at giving birth if I don’t use it, and I really don’t think it’s for me (read: yes I’m terrified). It’s been refreshing to realise I’m not alone. Thank you.
HI Laura – I’m so pleased this resonated with you. At least you know now there is an alternative 😉
I love this. I haven\’t tried hypnobirthing because it honestly sounds like a bunch of whoey. But I do love yoga and I have a lot of experience being in the \”zone\” as an athlete. I also used to work in a university lab where we studied pain and we were constantly each other\’s trial subjects. So every couple of weeks I\’d be put through a new experiment where the goal was to cause me pain and see how I\’d react. Pain and I became good friends. Birth didn\’t scare me in the least, I\’ve seen hundreds, including the worst of the worst. I went into the \”zone\” during labour, didn\’t say two words for hours. My midwives thought I was doing awesome, but the actual truth was I could barely breathe, let alone say anything. My baby was big, I\’m quite petite, she was posterior so my contractions were coupled, all back labour. I didn\’t even flinch when they did the hypertonic saline injections. But eventually, I just couldn\’t anymore. Two failed induction attempts to knock the contractions apart were followed by an epidural, but my cervix just wouldn\’t dilate any further. I\’d seen the writing on the wall, and I remember feeling like things didn\’t feel right at all. At first my emergency ceasarean made me feel like a failure- similar to the hypnobirthing rhetoric I\’ve heard. But now I think about all the deliveries I\’ve seen, the joyous ones, the complicated ones and the tragedies. I would never, in my wildest dreams, tell any of those women that they \”failed\” or were anything short of spectacular humans, so why can\’t I tell myself the same thing? I know now there was no other way my birth was going to end- the deck was already stacked and I don\’t think anything I would have done would have changed that. But I healed so quickly after my ceasarean and my baby was the picture of health, so at the end of the day, it really all worked out. Anyone who wants to call another woman\’s pregnancy or birth experience a failure for any reason is someone who needs an empathy check and probably a new personality.
I’m glad you loved this 😍
Hypnobirthing isn’t all bad though – it works brilliantly for some. But I don’t think it’s right for everyone. We all have such different needs – whether that’s emotional needs, medical needs or other. But one think I think we can all agree on and it’s that no birth is ever a failure!