I wasn’t sure what to think when I first heard the term “HypnoBirthing.” I had visions of weird men in turbans dangling pendants over pregnant women in the delivery room. I initially encountered the term when I saw event listings for HypnoBirthing courses on our website (see here and here). Taking place throughout this month at Beijing United Family Hospital, the courses are taught by certified doula and HypnoBirthing practicioner Duette Maxon. I reached out to her via email to find out more about her courses.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am from America – most recently Atlanta, Georgia. I currently live in Jinzhou, Liaoning with my husband, who teaches at a university there. I am a certified HypnoBirthing practitioner with the Hypnobirthing Institute and a certified doula with Childbirth International.
My two daughters were born at home about 30 years ago. At that time, I also was apprenticing as a home birth midwife and attended over 100 births at the homes of some amazing couples, all of whom had safe, unmedicated births.
My interest in HypnoBirthing occurred last year in Shanghai when I attended a luncheon with birth professionals interested in natural birth. I got a copy of the book HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A Natural Approach to a Safe, Easier, More Comfortable Birthing and realized this was a wonderful tool for modern women who have a desire to birth in a hospital, but want an unmedicated, gentle, and safe birth for their little ones. I went to Singapore and completed the training requirements. This is my first time giving courses in Beijing; the first class took place on April 20.
How does HypnoBirthing actually work?
Hypnotherapy would be used to cure an ailment of some sort. In HypnoBirthing, we teach self-hypnosis or self-relaxation skills to bring oneself into a deeply relaxed state. When a woman feels fear during childbirth, her body releases stress hormones that trigger the body’s fight or flight response. This causes muscles to tighten and perturbs the hormones that regulate the entire birthing process.
By training the subconscious mind to expect a safe, gentle birth, women can lessen or avoid the fight or flight response. HB also uses touch trigger techniques for endorphin release, allowing for a smoother – some even describe it as painless – birth. In the deeply relaxed state of mind, we may give suggestions; the partner may repeat affirmations and visualizations of gentle and calm birthing or the mother can play a recording with gentle music and repeated poetry of beautiful birthing imagery.
Can anyone practice HypnoBirthing?
Yes, anyone can practice the skills taught. In fact, I used them myself when I fell and broke my arm the first day of class in Beijing. These skills can be used any time you are in a stressful situation and need to bring yourself quickly into a deeply relaxed state.
How widespread is awareness about HypnoBirthing?
In America, there are several hundred certified practitioners, including a few medical doctors! But generally, when people search for birth classes, they may also choose from the Bradley Method, Birthing from Within, or HypnoBirthing.
In China, the expats I meet have already read the book by Marie Mongan and are eager to put things into practice. There is one hospital in Beijing (Beijing Antai Maternity Hospital) whose staff received partial training in 2007 from the HypnoBirthing Institute, but in practice their English is not at the level needed to teach. Other than that, I think most Chinese doctors and expecting couples are not aware of the possibilities HypnoBirthing can offer in helping to achieve a calm and relaxed state for mom and baby during labor and birthing.
What kind of misconceptions do you encounter when it comes to HypnoBirthing?
Many people have think of hypnosis on stage and people doing silly things under a hypnotic trance. This is the most common misconception about hypnosis and we talk about it on the first day. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and it is said that everyone experiences hypnosis several times each day. For example, you get lost in a good book or conversation, or drive home and forget how you got there. These are all examples of being in a highly focused state where you are unaware of other distractions, yet able to function fully. Different states of mind can be quantified and measured, and the brain wave frequencies are called Alpha, Beta, Theta and Delta.
Tell us more about your classes.
We talk about expectations and the importance of choosing a care provider that matches your expectations. Too often, couples may express a desire for an unmedicated and calm birth, but they have hired an obstetrician as their care provider without realizing perhaps that most obstetricians are trained surgeons who are not very well-versed in normal, physiological birth. We have a birth preferences list that parents review. Often, after understanding the choices they really do have, they may choose another provider or birthing location.
We spend a good deal of time learning and practicing deep relaxation skills, visualization and affirmations about gentle calm birthing, viewing real births by couples who have used HypnoBirthing, and seeing a tremendous difference between these women and what modern television and other forms of media portray birth to be. We teach the partners a special kind of light touch massage to help release endorphins, our own very powerful pain relievers. We learn a different way to "breathe the baby down" into this world without having to hold your breath and push the baby out. We talk about releasing fears, negative thoughts and beliefs about birth and/or parenting, and spend the last part of the last class going through a fear release exercise.
Do you often have to manage people’s expectations about HypnoBirthing?
Not really; most couples have some knowledge of HypnoBirthing either because they read the book or a friend recommended it. Most people are afraid of pain, and that is usually the first aspect we talk about. When moms hear about the fear-tension-pain cycle and how we can intercept it with relaxation, I see much relief and nods of understanding from both moms and dads. Simply put, when we are afraid, our muscles tense; when the muscles are tense, we feel pain differently and more intensely. The HypnoBirthing philosophy is that unbearable pain is not an essential aspect of birthing.
What’s the best way to communicate to one’s obstetrician or delivery hospital a desire to include HypnoBirthing?
This is really a major point. We recommend that couples discuss their wishes at every visit and with every practitioner they meet, since they often do not see the same doctor or nurse at every visit. It would be wonderful if doctors and OB/GYN nurses had the opportunity to take a seminar where they can observe birth that is undisturbed, joyful, calm and empowering for all involved.
Short of that, we encourage parents to be informed and remain calm, and give them some sentences to use when something that they did not want is being suggested during the birth. For example, a nurse might say: "You are not progressing fast enough, how about we augment with pitocin?" The husband could ask: "Is my wife in any danger? Is our baby in danger?" Probably the nurse will reply no. The father can then say: "We would like to wait another hour or two, and stick to our birth plan."
The couple will have tools they would have practiced over a few months, during which they can allow labor to unfold in its own time. Whether the couple chooses other options during their labor that they originally did not want, they usually don’t regret their decisions if they made an informed choice without pressure, in a relaxed state of mind. Many couples have told us that the skills they learned in class helped with all sorts of unexpected situations – and this is really the aim.
Duette Maxon’s Recommended Resources
- HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A Natural Approach to a Safe, Easier, More Comfortable Birthing by Marie Mongan (good starting point)
- The official HypnoBirthing website
- “HypnoBirthing, What A Great Way to Arrive” (a dad’s perspective and one of Maxon’s favorites)
- Youtube videos (search “HypnoBirthing” for couple testimonials)
To sign up or find out more about Maxon’s HypnoBirthing classes, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Duette Maxon