I first met Carolyn in my first trimester of pregnancy. I was thirty years old and extremely excited about being pregnant with my first child. The only problem was that I am completely terrified of medical procedures. I mean full-blown panic attacks and thinking I would pass out during a simple blood test, a procedure I was recognizing would be one in a long list of medical procedures that were part of a typical pregnancy. On top of this, the experience of the pregnancy (having my body turned over to a force that was not in my control, invasive medical tests, etc.) had brought up some painful reminders of a sexual assault I had experienced as a teen. Although I was working with a therapist I became increasingly fearful I would lose it completely in labor if not before.
In an effort to find people to support me through pregnancy without feeling judged I switched from my ob/gyn to a midwife practice at the hospital and on my first visit my husband saw a flyer for Wellspring’s hypnotherapy birthing classes.
At work some of my co-workers had mentioned an incredible 20/20 show on a new style of childbirth using hypnotherapy, they said the women were ordinary women, scared of labor as many are, who with the help of hypnotherapy had gone through labor amazingly calm and seemingly pain free. So, we took the number down and, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I called Carolyn. I knew I wanted to feel calm and confident throughout my pregnancy and not let my past get in the way of a beautiful experience. I also knew I needed to get working long before typical birth classes started (typically,the third trimester). I called Carolyn and we discussed my hopes and made an appointment.
My first visit I was nervous. Although I was beginning to feel more confident, it felt vulnerable to go through my history with someone and tell them pregnancy was bringing up feelings that weren’t “the maternal bliss” feelings I felt I was supposed to be experiencing. In our first session, Carolyn and I talked for a long time and she helped me create a concept of how I wanted to experience my pregnancy. Carolyn ran some relaxation “ideas” by me and let me choose the words I felt fit me the most and then she sat with me and created a relaxation tape. The first time I experienced hypnotherapy I felt fully aware and totally relaxed. I had listened to relaxation tapes in my work as a mental health provider and was surprised to find out that this was essentially what hypnotherapy was. Deep relaxation.
After the session I felt like I had been through an incredible massage, which was really wild since it was a result of listening and having my body respond to the suggestions, not being touched. I listened to the tape Carolyn made me at night and during the day I listened to a five minute hypnotherapy tape (with the cue to “let go” and feel “calm and relaxed”) on my walkman once or twice. After a few weeks I could practice my “calm and relaxed” relaxation without using the tape and continued only to listen to my longer tape at night.
Throughout my pregnancy I met with Carolyn intermittently, fine-tuning my tapes as my needs changed and the pregnancy progressed. We also worked on techniques I could use when I was at medical visits. Although I continued to be anxious, my panic attacks subsided and I felt a general sense of peace and well-being.
During my third trimester my husband and I attended hypnotherapy birthing classes with Carolyn. I loved the classes. Part of my medical anxiety is listening to long, detailed, medical explanations that include all the possible things that can go wrong. I begin to feel overwhelmed and frozen. The classes were nothing like that. The focus was on relaxation and finding a style that would allow me to get relaxed and comfortable during labor and to work with my body. Labor was described as a natural, healthy process that we could work with, not fight through. The class was small so we could talk about our fears and take lots of time to practice.
My husband and I spent a lot of time figuring out what verbal and physical cues were the most helpful for me to get to a deep state of relaxation and which cues to avoid. We worked on helping me experience him as a cue for relaxation and on being able to use his voice to let go. This was hard work and towards the end of our birth classes we practiced at least every other night. He read a script at first and eventually could improvise a relaxation script. It was tricky switching from experiencing a person you discuss bills with, dinner, love and annoyance to the person who creates a pervasive feeling of calm and relaxation, but we got there.
Throughout the classes I listened to my hypnotherapy birthing tapes at night as I was falling asleep (at the end I listened to my favorite every night, a progressive relaxation with counting backwards to ten set to the music “musical massage”). Usually my husband listened too. It definitely helped for him to be as relaxed as possible through this process also. As time went on I responded to the tapes by becoming more and more deeply relaxed. Shortly before labor there were many nights I thought I had fallen asleep but woke up when the tape instructed me to “shut it off if I wanted to sleep” so I knew I had been in a state of complete relaxation, not sleep. This was something I had never believed was possible given my experience of myself as a somewhat anxious person. I also listened to the positive affirmation tape every morning in my car on the way to work.
Towards the end of the class we decided it would be helpful to have Carolyn be our birth coach. Although we were really ambivalent about having someone else in the labor room, she assured us she would be only as present at the birth as we requested. As the time for birth grew close, we met and made plans. I had a simple birth plan asking that in the event that the midwives wanted to perform a medical intervention, they would discuss it with my husband and Carolyn and let me discuss it with them so I could process it in my own time and way. We also let the hospital staff know I would be using hypnotherapy and requested as few general medical interventions as possible (e.g. no interns or residents, minimal fetal heart rate checks, etc). I had no idea what my experience of labor would be so I left any ideas about anesthesia open to be decided during labor.
Labor, holy cow! My water broke one evening as we were making dinner. At first I thought that on top of all the wild experiences of having a body in the third trimester of pregnancy, I was now also losing bladder control! After a few minutes I realized it was my water breaking and my husband and I called the midwife practice and were sent to the hospital to meet with the midwife. Carolyn met us there. I wasn’t in active labor so we decided to go home and rest.
At one o’clock that morning I had the sensation that Mike Tyson had given me a jab to the stomach. Labor had started. From there things moved quickly. By the time we were up, showered and packed, my contractions were coming every four minutes and I was scared I wouldn’t make it to the hospital. Most scary was that I was struggling to try to get into any sort of semblance of a relaxed, calm space.
We arrived at the hospital at 3 a.m. and Carolyn met me at the door. I was so relieved to see her and let go and cried and told her I was scared and I couldn’t find a place that was “pain free”. Carolyn told me what I needed to hear. I was not one of the 20% of women who would have a pain free labor but my contractions were telling me my body was doing the work it needed to be doing and doing it well. She helped me get settled in the room (I sat on the couch and we turned on our tape player with my “musical massage” and water/nature sounds tape) while my husband checked us in. Then she and my husband helped me gain my focus.
Sure enough by the time the midwife arrived I was already seven centimeters dilated. My husband knelt in front of me, while I sat on the couch, and gave me my cues..”calm and relaxed, relaxed body”. Carolyn sat behind me and rubbed my back and reminded me that everything was going well and I was doing wonderfully. Whenever I tensed up with a contraction they reminded me to let go.
At nine centimeters (around six am) I felt like the contractions were coming so close together it was difficult for me to regroup before the next one so I requested nubain. The nurses had me try the shower and when I asked again offered to let me try a half dose injection so I wouldn’t need the IV and could move freely. That little bit of aid helped me slow the process down enough to get centered more easily.
Now, when the contractions occurred, I asked my husband to count from ten to one. Not only was this my cue to relax, it helped me remember that the contraction would be over soon. While he counted, I hummed a deep, from the depths of my diaphragm, hum. A guest speaker at our class had told us she used this during her labor and it popped in my head and really worked to help soothe me and stay focused while doing something active. No contraction took more that two ten counts.
At nine and a half to ten centimeters. the midwife told me I could push, which felt great. Finally I could do something with my body when a contraction hit!!!! I was encouraged to push aggressively, through and after each contraction and this didn’t feel right in some strange way. Carolyn suggested having me use the toilet, a place where your body is conditioned to let go and asked me if I wanted to request being able to push in my own way, which I did.
We had time alone in the bathroom for an hour until the baby’s head became visible. From there we moved to the bed and I continued to push for an hour with the nurse and midwife. When I felt tired, Carolyn reminded me I had all the strength in the world, and I began to feel it and I moved that baby out into the world !!!
Our baby boy was born at eight thirty, just five and a half hours after we arrived at the hospital. He weighed eight pounds eleven ounces and was beautiful. I had stayed calm and in control of my birth experience. There had been no episiotomy, no epidural, hardly any medical personnel and throughout my labor the room had been calm, quiet, and loving. I felt like I could climb K2. I want you to know that not only did I come through the personally difficult task of creating a safe, calm birth, but my birth rocked!!!!