Saturday, February 25, 2012

a book review mixed with some thoughts

Today I finished "Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method" for the first time this pregnancy.

If you are considering a natural birth, or even wondering at all about a different-than-the-norm-experience, this is definitely a must-read.  I really liked it the first time I read it back when I was pregnant with Jonah.  Now I love it.  Really love it.

It starts off with a note to the birthing mother and a separate note to the birthing companion (aka father) inspiring and motivating and just reaching out with loving arms to validate and explain the importance and amazing journey of a natural birth.  Then, the first of the book begins with a story about Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, a doctor living in the early 20th century, who accidentally discovered and subsequently became fascinated with what he calls the "Fear-Tension-Pain" syndrome in regards to childbirth.  Through personal experience (he was an ob/gyn), and extensive research, he theorized (correctly) that the only pain most women experience during childbirth is due to the fact that there is belief that childbirth needs to be painful.  He watched women in several other cultures give birth, quietly and calmly and without complication of any kind.  None of these women "pushed" the baby out, none of these women thought of the process as something painful, as was implied by the conversations he shared with them.  Later on, he concluded that there was something going on in the brain that blocks out pain - endorphins - much earlier than they'd ever been discovered.  We know know medically speaking that endorphins are over 200 times stronger than morphine as far as pain relief goes....isn't that amazing?!

The author, Marie Mongan, then shares her birthing experiences and those of her daughter (who had the very first official hypnobirthing baby).  They are though-provoking and inspiring.  I felt so validated realizing that there must be hundreds - even thousands - of women out there in the world today who believe childbirth to be a spiritual, uplifting, primal, sensual journey - a gift from God.  It was amazing knowing that how I've felt about bonding with my baby, feeling a connection to each individual child in the womb, feeling that extra spiritual connection to God, nature, and my baby, is not something only I am familiar with.  There are many, many women with similar thoughts and beliefs.

After the author shares her personal experience, she writes about a period in history in which childbirth was considered a punishment from God, a horrific experience, something shameful and terrible.  There are horror stories from that point in history on to where it's evolved today.  Today, much has changed for the better.  Husbands are allowed to be a part of the action.  Women can find a practitioner who will respect and honor her wishes.  There are many necessary medical advances that have saved the lives of thousands of babies and mothers alike. 

But, much is still lost.  I think women obsess over due dates.  They obsess over the fear of pain and plan on medicated births or even c-sections as a "normal birth".  I strongly believe there is a very real time and place for these kinds of interventions, but I also believe that they are terribly overused.  What is missing and continues to be missing for many women is sad.  (I am speaking as one....I felt there was much missing from each of my previous births.  I also feel that my recovery was affected by how I was treated and how the births were handled.)  If a woman want to go to the hospital, receive her epidural, spend the rest of her time birthing confined to a bed, hooked up to monitors, feeling like the birth of their child is a public event (seriously, did you ever wonder how many people really need to be staring at your you-know-what while you are pushing your baby out?), only to hold her baby after numerous "necessary" checks and interventions, (Goodness, I was stunned and left with much to be desired after every single hospital birth I've experienced.) she is the mother and it's her decision what she feels is best for her and her baby.

But I feel sad about the fact that that was me at one time.....only because of how little I knew, and also because of the "childbirth stories" that had been shared to me by many friends and relatives.  (Haven't you noticed that when one woman has a horrific birthing experience, the worse it is, the bigger the pat on the back?)  I was much too scared of the alternative - what I envisioned as screaming through the ordeal, wondering if I would survive, only to be more exhausted at the end of it all.  It seemed so easy for me to decide that I would get to the hospital at the appropriate time, receive my pain medication, so I could enjoy the process and receive a clean, bright-eyed baby in my arms while everyone around me worried about all the other details.  Who would choose a natural birth?!

Then, my best friend, who can't receive an epidural because of her fused spine, came across hypnobirthing with her second child.  Her two "natural" birthing experiences were so different I couldn't believe it.  Not to mention how quickly she recovered compared to me.  I decided it was worth trying when I was pregnant with Jonah, but didn't have a total belief in it actually being a possibility for every mother, not to mention a doctor who was very much against natural birth and got extremely curt, disrespectful, and unsupportive every time I brought the idea of an unmedicated birth up.  (I didn't realize at the time how that one thing - not having the right practitioner - would sabotage all the effort I was making in trying to do things naturally.)  But, even though I didn't get the birth I wanted, it was a better experience than the first two times, I felt more knowledgable going in, and my recovery was so much better I couldn't believe it myself.  It left me wanting to try "going natural" again rather than giving up.  Then, my best friend got pregnant again and had a waterbirth at home with a midwife.  It was such a special, spiritual experience for her and her family.  Her husband, who had been very much uncomfortable and frightened of the whole expereince (although willing to be supportive and let her do things her way), raved so much about it going even as far as saying that there should be an opportunity for every man (and woman) to be a part of the birthing experience (he "caught" their baby).  He was on a high - they both were - for months!  They totally inspired Wes and me.  It felt so right to choose a different route this time, and the farther along we travel, the more certain we are that we made the right decision for our family and our baby.

So, fast forward several months.  We are now in the 26th week of this pregnancy.  Only three months or so until the day arrives that we will hold our daughter for the very first time.  I am literally brought to tears when I read this book, watch videos of other hypnobirths (if you want to see what I am so excited about, check out my current favorite hypnobirthing videos here, here, and here.), and visualize the day I give birth.  I am soaking in the books, articles, and relaxation practice.  My heart feels so full of gratitude, anticipation, excitement, and joy.  I strongly believe that this is what the Lord wants for our baby as well as Wes and I.  I am eager to really "be there" on our baby's birthday and know that all of this is truly happening.

Back to the book:  there is a section teaching breathing techniques, a couple sections teaching relaxation and deepening techniques, a section for nutrition and one for exercise.  I skipped over the section about how to find a practitioner and writing a birth plan, but it's there, and it helped a lot last time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sections about preparation, labor, and delivery.  I also thought it was cute to add in a section about the "babymoon" for first-time parents.  Of course, the author brushed on breastfeeding as well.

All in all, a very thorough, fun-to-read, informative book.  I feel so uplifted and inspired when I read it!  One of my favorite chapters right now (that I forgot to mention before) is about getting to know your baby before she's born.  There are several studies shared about newborns and their interactions before birth.  Very interesting and endearing stuff.  Also common sense, but for some reason, that stuff didn't really have much of an impact on me until now.  Maybe I've stayed more connected with God, myself, and the baby this pregnancy.  Maybe I'm just better at the process.  Maybe I'm just paying more attention.  Who knows?  All I know is that right now, I feel so connected to my husband and my baby as we travel this road together.  I feel like we will know each other and the moment I first hold her in my arms will be more magical than about anything I've ever experienced (of course, the first three times were pretty magical too....just much briefer).  The thing that touches me most about the birthing videos I've watched is that you can see from the moment baby is born that he/she knows Mommy.  Oftentimes there isn't even crying for a few minutes.  It's been very moving to me.

Feeling so connected has had other advantages.  I've noticed more about what I need.  Lately, I've been moving at a slower pace throughout the day, taking breaks and resting when I need it.  I've been exercising and paying attention to how much water I am drinking.  I notice right away if something feels overwhelming or hard, and I deal with it immediately - sometimes that means sucking it up and doing it, sometimes it means delegating or accepting help, sometimes it means letting go.  I've always been slightly annoyed when people act like I can't or shouldn't do something because I'm pregnant.  I'm not broken, people.  I'm doing something that is completely natural and has gone on since the very beginning of life.  That means that people in all kinds of situations have "survived" this just fine.  But now I humbly realize that even though yes, I am not broken, I am pregnant.  And being pregnant does merit some caution and extra care.  (Especially since this pregnancy has been by far the hardest!)  My body is working hard to nurture a baby, and I need to help the process along, as well as understand that it is compromising some of my health (stretching and squishing all over, brain energy, sleep, mental focus, emotions, physical energy and abilities, breathing, digestion, etc.) to do so, and it is of utmost importance that I take care to notice my needs and abilities.  Not to mention that is makes the whole process so much more enjoyable and fun!

As of late, I've struggled with some pelvic issues.  As we all know, when you are pregnant, your cartilage becomes soft and stretchy - compare a zipper to a rubber band - and it can cause things to shift and move in ways that are not comfortable (to say the least!).  Sometimes the baby's position can affect things also.  Something I've had to really make myself do despite whether or not I feel like it, is to move less throughout the day (walking, picking up heavy things like laundry, toddlers, etc.), but exercise more - especially in ways that strengthen the muscles around my pelvis so they can help hold it in place.  There are times when I am in so much pain I can barely walk, but if I can grin and bear it and pull out those kettlebells, I am miraculously better afterward.  I feel so much better that I can't believe it myself, and it makes it easy to stay committed to it despite how much I don't want to do it at times.  I know this is going to pay off when the big day comes, and also as my body begins to recover from pregnancy.  :) 

Each day, I am more excited about giving birth and having a totally different experience.  The decisions Wes and I have made have truly been united (he feels as strongly - if not more strongly - as I do about all this.  He's also been much more involved in the preparation process this time, which has been such a blessing.).  I hear about and notice the bonding that goes in between husband and wife during natural birth, not to mention I feel it in our lives as we "practice" together and talk often about the process, and I can't wait to do this together!

I'm sure I've rambled on about this enough now, but I wanted to remember what I am learning and my thoughts about the process.  I feel very blessed to live at a time when there are so many options for giving birth, and that it truly is a safe and natural process.  I look forward to a beautiful experience that I will treasure forever.


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