When a woman learns that she is expecting a baby, she experiences immense joy but this jubilation is quickly replaced by panic and extreme fear at the inevitable end to pregnancy - giving birth.
Women who have given birth before seem to excel at sharing horror stories of their labour, where they endured long, seemingly endless pain and almost died. This coupled with myriad portrayals on television and in popular films of sweat covered women, cursing at by-standing husbands while begging for epidurals, alternate to traditional anaesthesia, has set the scene for how women will give birth. Many young women today decide in favour of an epidural or even a ‘planned’ caesarean section (C-section) in order to avoid what they are taught to believe is the inevitable agony of birthing. “A C-section is however, a major abdominal surgery and not an alternate to normal deliveries. This surgery is associated with a longer recovery period and many complications, including bowel/ bladder injury, haemorrhage, infections and blood clots,” says Dr Zeryab Setna, Senior Obstetric Gynaecologist at the Lady Dufferin Hospital in Karachi. “Caesarean sections also increase perinatal morbidity and mortality (disorders in or death of the baby). At the Lady Dufferin hospital we encourage a natural birth whenever possible,” shares Dr Setna.
The epidural spinal block is a standard procedure for labouring mothers and is usually not administered until the mother has reached a certain stage in her labour. This may mean that mothers are labouring for several hours without any pain medication. Additionally, the epidural does not always work and those who were sure they wouldn’t need any alternative ways to deal with labour discomfort are left in a very compromised and fearful situation.
But does a drug-free, natural child birth have to be intensely painful? Are there alternative methods of pain management during labour that do not carry the risks of an epidural or general anaesthesia? Hypnobirthing - the use of hypnosis as a pain management technique - may be one solution.
Much has been written about the power of belief. Modern medicine confirms that emotions can impact the body in a physical way. Patients with hypertension and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are routinely asked to ‘relax’. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety often manifest as physical symptoms. The mind directly affects what the body ‘feels’.
Marie Mongan, the founder of the present day Hypnobirthing movement, was influenced by the work of a 20th century English physician, Grantly Dick-Read whose seminal work ‘Childbirth Without Fear’ explored the concept that when women were able to release their fear regarding childbirth, their bodies were able to easily, safely and comfortably give birth to their babies.
Hypnobirthing is first and foremost a philosophy that believes that women’s bodies are designed to give birth and that every woman possesses, as Ms. Mongan succinctly puts it, “The power to call upon her natural instincts to bring about the best possible birthing for her baby and herself.” Hypnobirthing techniques use self hypnosis - extreme deep relaxation to overcome the fear of childbirth, which in turn allows women to relax into their natural birthing instincts. Because the lack of fear leads to a lack of physical tension in the body, Hypnobirths are often quicker and more comfortable.
While Hypnobirthing as a philosophy strongly advocates natural child birth, the ultimate goal is to prepare parents for whatever turn the labour may take. As long as there is no risk to the mother and child, parents should be in control of their birth experiences and make informed decisions about their births.
This method allows for a calm and comfortable birthing environment and while it doesn’t promise a lack of pain, the majority of mothers who have used this technique report feeling strong sensations rather than pain. A study shows that mothers who use this method are far less likely to use pain medications during labour.
Now taught in thirty-four countries, this method consists of five sessions of two and a half hours in which parents learn tools to prepare the body for birth. This incorporates both physical as well as breathing and relaxation techniques.
Art work: Open Hearts by Katie m. Berggren
-The Mongan Method is now being taught in Pakistan.
Zohreen Murad, MSW, CHBE is a Psychotherapist and HypnoBirthing Instructor who has been working in mental health since 2002. She can be reached at [email protected]