SO what of the ‘failed hypnobirth ?’
A while back when I first launched Doula Paris (sorry – I mean the GLOBAL PREGNANCY PHENOMENON that is now known as Doula Paris) a new mum posted a comment saying she’d had a ‘failed hypnobirth.'
I remember thinking at the time : ‘What IS a ‘failed hypnobirth?’ ‘Am I missing something?’ But mostly, what a shame that this woman thinks she has had a failed- anything- birth (equally worrying is the language of a ‘failed homebirth’, ‘failed vaginal birth’, ‘failed VBAC’…and don’t even get me started on the term « failure to progress» in labour….).
From where I was standing hypnobirthing to me was simply a ‘tool,’ and a set of exercises that could help parents-to-be to prepare mentally for their babies birth. It didn’t really seem like you could fail at it.
I recalled that during my hypno teacher training, the hypnobirthing DON herself – big up Katherine Graves -, said something like « hypnobirthing makes a difference to all births, but it will benefit different couples in different ways. »
This approach made sense, as it resonated with the Brownie Guide Law of Midwifery school : « every woman is different, every pregnancy is different - and unique. »
The idea that there could be any concrete end in itself to any ilk of birth preparation (hypnobirthing or otherwise) seemed sort of unfathomable and unrealistic. Only when you start introducing this idea of a fixed goal to ‘achieve’ do you introduce the possibility of failure. And when we fail we suffer.
Thus, if ‘natural birth’ is the goal then anything that deviates from the natural birth benchmark could be perceived as failure. And we all know that it just doesn't work like that with birth. Labour and birth – by it’s very nature - is much more fluid, ultimately unknowable, uncontronable, and unplannable…
It seemed to me that if it was taught well, and with an open mind, every woman and couple would integrate the hypnobirthing techniques in their own way, and in a manner that had meaning for them. In this sense, hypnobirthing has the potential to morph into a positive and empowering tool for all couples.
Fast forward a year of two and the more experience I have of teaching hypnobirthing, the more this rings true, and most importantly it is confirmed to me in the feedback I receive from parents.
Over in the Doula Paris towers (aka my living room), there’s been TONNES of positive feedback pinging into the Doula Paris inbox from parents who ‘didn’t get the natural birth they might have hoped for….but still found the hypnobirthing techniques mega useful for feeling confident and well prepared, and staying calm during labour and birth.’ And here’s the Bonus ball: many parenting newbies are also reporting back that they are using their hypnobirthing Ammo to navigate the challenges of new parenthood (and surely that is the ultimate wrestle right there?).
At the time of the failed hypnobirthing woman comment, however, I perhaps didn’t have the benefit of all this experience, SO I’m really grateful to this Mamma for her timely comment : her language and reaction to her birth experience really helped me to question and reflect on the way in which I presented & taught hypnobirthing to parents myself.
As always, I continue to learn the most from the women themselves.
Ultimately I decided I wanted to teach and present hypnobirthing in a way that NO WOMAN felt like they had failed.
Of course we all want a natural & pain free birth! Duh!!! And hypnobirthing definitely CAN increase the possibility of that happening – I have shed loads of emails from women who I’ve worked with who have experienced exactly THAT. HOWEVER, I feel it’s equally important that we keep it real, and broaden our perspectives to include the mutiplicity of unique and personal journeys that each women travel, so that eveyone feels like a winner.
The failed Hypnobirth - does it exist??
Looking back – in my quiet little reflections - the issue seems to me that Hypnobirthing has become too closely allied with the persuit of a ‘natural’ birth. Hypnobirthing teachers - or anyone- promising a pain free, normal birth Ipso facto introduce the concept of failure.
And I fear that if we’re not careful, Hypnobirthing could merely become another way in which we pull the wool over women’s eyes about the reality of birth.
My ultimate goal, in the work I do, is not to try to produce some kind of normal birth Shangri-la, but to reduce the suffering that has become synonomous with birth – and being a woman ; this Garden of Eden-style suffering (albeit a more modern form!) that appears to still exist due to the nature of simply being born with ovaries.
Whilst we used to speak of women suffering merely from the raw physical ‘pain’ of birth, it now seems that we have created a whole new wave of mental suffering that comes with this failure to achieve a given type of ‘natural’ birth.
As always we need to be ever-conscious and reflective about the way we speak to women about birth. If in doing so, we risk to trick or conceil to them the fundamentally uncontrolable and unknowable nature of birth itself, then we continue to do woman a disservice.
Not least, because there is a glory and a mystery in the reality of this other-worldy aspect of birth.
We so often speak of the way in which ‘the overmedicalised system’ itself tricks women during birth but I would invite you all to interogate the way in which we could each may be adding to this illusion.
If we start waving around promises of ‘natural,’ pain-free births and presenting them as the birth Utopia, we risk to paint some kind of mono-image or norm of what a positive birth experience looks like. And the truth is that a positive birth has many different manifestations and faces. Positive birth is more than just a birth outcome, it is a process, a continuum, a mindset, and a unique mix of each individual woman feeling supported, ‘heard’ and confident in a way that is meaningful to her, and her wider circumstances.
My suggestion is thus that we go back to day one lesson one of midwifery and hypno school and remember these all important basics « hypnobirthing makes a difference to all births, but in will benefit different couples in different ways. » and « every woman is different, every pregnancy is different - and unique. »
That’s personally what I always open with. And I am as yet to receive an emailing from anyone I have taugh hypnobirthing to saying they had a « failed hypnobirth. »
Keep it real people : )