Modern Childbirth, Hypnobirthing, and Catholicism

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Modern Childbirth, Hypnobirthing, and Catholicism

Modern Childbirth, Hypnobirthing, and Catholicism

Few life events are as transformative for women as having a child. And, no other expected life event has the potential to be so painful.

These days, everyone’s mission is to avoid pain and sacrifice. We all know about the triumphs of women in the work world, but the one thing that distinguishes us from men – childbirth – is commonly met with confusion and cowardice.

The majority of American women preemptively demand epidurals, before they even feel the first contraction. Some declare that they are “too posh to push” and schedule a C-section. Anyone who does minimal research knows that popular interventions carry some risks to both mother and child. Obviously, interventions should be used when needed, but we’ve somehow created a culture that expects easy and painless birth on demand.

Still, most childbirth prep classes are designed to help women cope with the pain without drugs. I initially tried the ever popular Lamaze. However, I was one of two weirdos who really wanted to go completely natural in that class, so I moved on to hypnobirthing, or the Mongan Method.

Hypnobirthing goes beyond mere coping and re-arranges your thoughts about birthing. Founder Marie Mongan challenges the popular notion of painful birthing through countless stories and linguistics. She points out that some translations of the Bible take the Hebrew word in Genesis 3:16, etzev, and tell us that it means “pain.” Women’s punishment for their role in original sin is supposed to include painful childbirth.

Interestingly, the very same Hebrew word is used to describe the punishment for men. Some translations will use “pain” in Genesis 3:17 as well, but others prefer “toil,” “labor,” or “suffering” for etzev. Either way, the acceptable translations for both verses indicate struggle. But the frightful “p” word is only one of several options.

Mongan moves beyond etzev and replaces common vocabulary with more palatable alternatives. The term “birthing process” is preferred to “labor.” Contractions were “waves” to me. The word choices sanitize any hint of discomfort and allow mothers to relax, which should theoretically lessen pain and allow babies (“hypnobabies”) to be born easily.

Hypnobirthing put me in an ethereal mental state of “nothing can go wrong” that helped me manage early labor at home. Self-hypnosis recordings enabled me to calmly travel to the birth center. Once active labor kicked in though, everything went out the window. At the end of it all, I felt disillusioned.

While I achieved my goal of having my son without so much as a Tylenol, the munchkin got stuck. He finally came out with his head sideways – a feat that our midwife said was uncommon. While Mongan tells moms to gently breathe their babies down, hours of pushing seemed unavoidable in my case. This unanticipated fiasco nearly caused me to black out. I felt duped. Was I naïve to expect a comfortable experience?

I know some women have an easier time than I did. The mom next door to us hardly whimpered as she had her baby. Mongan is correct. We cannot assume that every birth is all that bad.

But, some situations are just plain excruciating and maybe even scary. No amount of linguistic summersaulting will change that for us. While the Mongan Method helps women take pride in their ability to give birth and confidently avoid unnecessary interventions, it didn’t make suffering particularly meaningful to me.

To put it crudely, hypnobirthing can be like brainwashing yourself out of experiencing pain. How is that different from drinking away the pain of a loss? Either way, the experience is avoided and unprocessed.

Without question, pain is difficult to deal with and no one approach works for everyone. We’re all trying to figure it out as situations hit us. But to me, the reality of pain and suffering means that old school Catholicism is still relevant in a lucrative self-help and medical industry that tries to bypass sacrifice at all costs. Self-help too often treats faith-based wisdom as irrelevant, or even something that should be eliminated from our memory banks. This is a mistake. We keep crucifixes in our churches for a reason.

Sometimes, pain is meant to be experienced or conveys a message. Maybe God put it there for a reason. Easter’s resurrection isn’t as meaningful without Good Friday’s sacrifice. A few moments of agony can burn through all sorts of crud and leave us transformed forever. Who would we be without Christ’s suffering?

While some people cannot see a reason for women to endure real birth pangs in the modern world of technology, I am happy that I was able to skip drugs that could have somehow hurt my baby. Sacrificing for the good of another in that moment was a big lesson about motherhood to me.

I liked elements of hypnobirthing and benefited from aspects of it. It is an innovative approach to an unavoidable life event for many women. At the same time, I wish I had tapped more into my reservoir of Catholic treasures. We have some serious expertise on suffering. Our tradition can be used in conjunction with any new pain management method and can always help us with life’s biggest challenges.

Copyright 2013 Amy Bonaccorso

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4 Comments

  1. Anne Fennell on

    My oldest child is now 52 and my obstetrician spent time and energy working with me and a close pregnant friend so that we could use hypnosis for labor and delivery. I’m glad to see it might be coming back!

  2. I was too posh to push and it saved my baby and me. We found out that my daughter had not only turned head up, I had placenta previa that had been undetected on ultrasounds. While both of those conditions typically require c-sections, mine was completely medically unnecessary at the time I planned it, around 7 weeks.

    I think the most important thing that women can do is be informed and make the best choice for them and their baby.

    I have nothing but respect for women who go it naturally, but it certainly wasn’t for me!

  3. The best $500 I ever spent was on Bradley Birth classes. I had abdominal surgery at the age of 4 and was PETRIFIED of becoming a “statistic C” (the rate for c sections in my state is a whopping 40%, not all of those are medically necessary).

    I read about Bradley in “What to Expect” and saw that students of those classes had the lowest c section rate, discussed it with a colleague of mine and signed up. To tell the whole story adequately, I’d need to start a blog. God’s hand and the Spirit were really guiding me throughout from finding the class, through to delivery. There were too many “coincidences” just happened throughout the whole process.

    2 out of my 3 babies were delivered completely naturally, no medical interventions, my last w/o even an IV drip, on the Feast of St. Cecilia, Nov. 22, 2013, Thanksgiving. I offered up my labor pains for family, friends, souls in purgatory. I listened to Benedict Groeschel and Simonetta’s Rosary in early labor (I offered up pains for him as well).

    I highly recommend doing some research on it if you’re interested. The handmaid of the Lord in my case was my instructor, to whom I’m eternally grateful. She can be found here at: http://lunadoula.com/ and yes, that is my testimonial on the bottom of her page. Funny coincidence as well, I ran into her after my 2nd was born at Mass. Turns out, she’s a practicing Catholic! We attended the same mega-parish and just never crossed paths (no pun intended). As a Re-Lapsed Catholic, becoming a mother and nursing young nascent human life has been instrumental in my reconversion, Mary Lou, my instructor, played a part in just presenting the truths of motherhood in these classes.

    Blessings Sisters!
    Maura D.

  4. Maura: That is awesome! That is what I mean by blending faith with new methods for success. I have heard of Bradley, but because of what I have heard about it being husband-led, I didn’t feel like it was the right choice for us. That element isn’t for everyone. Glad it worked out so wonderfully for you! Very cool.

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