Tackling a taboo...
We aren't supposed to talk about p*in in hypnobirthing, right?
But we extol the virtues of hypnosis as safe, effective pain relief. Then we don't mention the dreaded 'P' word again and use lots of euphemisms like 'intensity' and 'discomfort'. That doesn't quite add up. You will need effective natural pain relief for something that...isn't painful? I think that there is an element of confusion in women preparing with hypnobirthing that isn't serving them and reduces the true efficacy of the techniques.
Once someone has had their baby and they talk about whether or not it was painful and how much so and at what points, the discussions seem to become a lot more honest. Because they are the other side of labour looking back we become normal again and discuss pain and how they perceived it practically. Sometimes I think that we can get scared of scaring women if we are open about labour pain.
Is it possible to prepare for pain?
Of course the biggest issue with this is that pain is such a variable, shifting, personal creature. We do not experience the surges, or rushes, or contractions, or whichever word feels best to you in the same way as the next birthing woman. You can read my totally subjective, personal reflections on labour pain here.
Before birth, women can get stuck between two camps. One insists that birth is excruciating and that tackling this with drugs is a no-brainer. The other won't admit that birth can be painful and focuses instead on ecstatic surrender or stories of painless birth. From the first camp you might hear the dreadful phrase 'you don't get a medal' bandied about. I have heard this said to a mother during an intense phase of labour. And no, you don't get a shiny piece of silver or gold but that has sweet f-all to do with it. Your pain relief choices affect your experience of labour physically, emotionally and hormonally - not all choices are right for all women. So it does matter because your birth experience will matter to you both in the moment and for years to come. You and everything you think and feel matters.
How not to become a cross ostrich
When women are preparing to give birth pain is not great to think about. I certainly stuck to reading Ina May Gaskin (who changed my life but didn't prepare me for painful contractions) and telling everyone who would listen that birth didn't have to be painful when I was pregnant for the first time. When it did get painful I was pissed off! But breathing and visualisations helped me to ride through the pain, to dig deep and to birth my baby with a huge sense of empowerment that still makes me well up nearly 5 years later. And of course it isn't necessarily painful - women who report painfree labours are not lying.
I would love to see those of us working with women as they prepare for birth start to take back 'pain' and de-fang it. We can't claim to prevent pain in birth and there are reasons why we might not want to if we could. Pain has positive purpose during the birth process, triggering the release of those magical endorphins and guiding a birthing mother's movement and positions. What we can do is work to prevent excessive pain that is being exacerbated by fear, tension or unsympathetic environmental factors (I include unhelpful people in these).
So how can we embrace pain in hypnobirthing?
Some of my favourite helpful ideas/questions when addressing pain are:
What is the aim here?
If hypnobirthing of all styles takes pain back into the fold what might that achieve? Well, on a personal level I am hoping that as I talk to local mothers in the parks, playgrounds and markets I never hear someone say that hypnobirthing failed for them, or that they failed at it, because they had a painful labour.
Let's make a purposeful peace with pain and get cracking on making sure feelings of failure are eliminated from birth.
What do you feel we could achieve by reclaiming pain? Do you agree that we should? I'd love to know in the comments below.
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I am Olivia Southey and I teach hypnobirthing in group and private workshops in London and beyond and support mothers throughout their birth journey as a doula.
If you would like to prepare for birth using grounded, realistic and effective hypnobirthing techniques, take a look at how I work with my clients