Hypnobirthing — in which hypnosis is used for pain management during childbirth — has been gaining popularity in recent years. Dedicated to my drug-free birth plan, I dragged my husband to an eight-hour comprehensive one-day class so he could learn how to hypnotize me, trusting that he would use these powers for good and not just to get more blow jobs out of me.
Hypnobirthing is used as an alternative to other natural childbirth techniques such as the old standbys of Lamaze and the Bradley Method. In fact, last year hypnobirthing was incorporated into the services of many NHS hospitals in the U.K. Many women swear by it.
I don't know if it was the hormones, or the peer pressure I felt after watching Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born, but for some reason I decided that I was going to get all hippie-ish, all-natural and drug-free for my birth. It was so out of character for me. I don't like anything "natural." I prefer concrete to grass, Lucite to wood, mascara to inner-beauty. If I'm "crunchy" it's because of Doritos, not granola. And "drug-free"? Please. One time I took two Vicodin because my new shoes had given me a blister. I hate any feeling that deviates even the slightest from complete comfort. Nevertheless, I signed up to deliver, drug-free, at a birthing center for which one of the requirements was to take a birthing technique class. As someone who wore Skidz in the '90s and jeans that were so low-cut that the fly was about half-an-inch long in the '00s, I've never been one to shy away from inane trends. So I signed up for hypnobirthing. How bad could it be?
The class was held in a conference room of the hospital that was home to the birthing center. It was filled with about a dozen other couples, who were similarly college-educated thirthysomethings having their first kid. (I'm pretty certain, though, that my husband and I were the only ones who didn't bring our own BPA-free reusable water bottles.) But basically everyone there was willing to try this relatively new method that promised to help provide us with the Best. Birth. Ever. As I looked around the room at all these other happy pregnant women I realized that I wasn't nearly as optimistic as they were.
What are they smiling about? Why are we speaking so casually about getting our pussies torn inside out?
And that was part of my problem with hypnobirthing. I think you have to really believe in what you're doing in order for it to work. Because it takes an incredible amount of concentration. They give you and your partner this "script" that, when properly utilized, will take you out of your physical situation and into some la la land in your head. It involves a lot of breathing and mental scene-setting. You're expected to practice it everyday until you give birth to really get into the moment. It's basically like method acting. My husband's no Lee Strasberg and I'm no Marlon Brando. (Although I did kind of look like him in his later years by the end of my third trimester.) It was evident pretty early on in the class that we would fail.
For example, my husband was required to say this, in a relaxing, soothing tone, multiple times during the script:
Take a large, slow, deep abdominal breath and exhale it to your belly, to your uterus, to your baby, and out your rectum and your vagina.
That's a fart and a queef.
We weren't mature enough to not laugh every single time.
The rest of the script was about setting up this relaxing place somewhere in the wilderness. I wasn't aware that there was such a thing. People in my class were all talking about walking out into a forest and feeling cool dirt between their toes and twigs snapping under their feet. Ugh! I'd rather give birth than go camping! Since the script dictated that we were supposed to submerge ourselves into a warm pool of water via a staircase that we find in this weird netherworld we'd happened upon in our brains, I decided to make my happy place a giant marble room with a tub. Sort of like Teresa Giudice's bathroom, but all white instead of onyx.The script goes on:
Now begin to project way out into the universe, a big ball of crimson red light. As you look at the light, it comes closer and closer until it fades away, leaving you looking once again into your third eye.
…emerald green light…
Now you project way out into the universe, a big ball of blue light. This ball is different from the others. As it comes close to you, it bursts into a magnificent, warm, healing white light, much like the healing soothing rays of the sun. The white light begins to surround you, envelop you and soothe you even more. You feel caressed by it.
All of this talk about the universe kept making me think of Scientology and FLDS celestial marriages and Heaven's Gate and then about cults in general. I thought about Jim Jones and Kool-Aid and how I could really go for a glass of Kool-Aid and then I was like, Oh my God, I want to drink the Kool-Aid. Am I being indoctrinated into a cult right now? A cult of psycho people who want women to embrace pain? I opened my eyes and looked around at the couples swaying against one another and making loud vowel sounds. Yeah, pretty much.
"You are so fucked," my husband said as he drank the dregs of his BBQ potato chip bag. He was in direct violation of rules No. 4 and No. 20. (Shown left.)
Then we had to practice a script that we were supposed to recite to our unborn child:
Your head is down, your face towards my sacrum. You will begin your journey that day, easily, flowingly, descending down the stem of a flower. As you travel down the stem the chord flows freely, upright and unencumbered—like a vertical line from from your belly button to the placenta. It flows loosely about you as you descend. A golden oil makes your descent easy—the oil lubricates your path and helps the flower to open and pen, easily—hugely wide.
I don't know. I just felt silly saying it. I was pretty sure that my baby didn't know English.
Later, we had to "draw our emotions" using crayons. This was right before our lunch break and I was hungry so I just wanted to get it over with. I grabbed a black colored pencil and pooped something out in 20 seconds while everyone else literally took nearly 20 minutes, like they were all fucking Rembrandt or something. In comparison to their colorful images of babies and rainbows and grassy knolls, my black and white sketch of a stick figure pregnant woman staring at an empty crib looked like it was drawn by an abused child.
Toward the end of the day, we went around the room and shared our biggest anxieties about giving birth. Most people said they were concerned about "staying in the moment" and not succumbing to the pain. Liars, I thought.
When the instructor got to me I blurted out, "I don't want to shit in front of my husband!"
Things got super awkward at that moment. Everyone went silent and no one would make eye contact with me. I guess my concerns were too base for them? I mean, we just spent an entire day together, trying to psych ourselves into thinking that our vaginas are "hugely wide, pliable and translucent flowers that are the path into the garden of love." Why was poop too gross but "hugely wide" vaginas were totally cool? I guess I just wasn't evolved enough. I was left hanging and felt so petty and alone with my ignoble concern.
"I have the same exact fear," my husband said, reminding me that I'm not alone. We will always be horrible people together, forever.
We went home and never practiced our script, although every once in a while he would lean over and whisper in my ear, "Breathe out through your rectum." It didn't matter, anyway. I got disqualified from the birthing center because my baby measured too big. I got another size assessment just before my water broke and I was told I had a 12-pound baby in there. After I got to the hospital I told my midwife that I wanted a C-section. She was all, "I believe in you and your pelvis. You can do this!" And I was like, "Look, I'm not interested in being your anecdote." I got the C-section. My baby was 11 lbs. 5 oz. and I'm really glad my "flower" didn't get that "hugely wide."
I'm sure hypnobirthing works for some people. The kind that are very focused and don't get bored after three minutes on the elliptical. But I came to terms with who I am. I am a person who knows her limits and has her feet planted on the ground. I'm not floating around in a technicolor universe of exploding lights. Unless I'm tripping. And when it comes to giving birth, you need to get real and stop tripping.