Photo by Angela Gallo

When I first met one of my gorgeous mum friends, we talked about our babies and our births. When she learned I was a Hypnobirthing Australia practitioner she had a look of wistfulness mixed with a flash of disappointment. She explained that she’d completed hypnobirthing classes during her pregnancy, but felt she failed at it. “When it came to it, all the techniques went out the window. I’m a hypnobirthing failure!” she said.

I was floored by how much she blamed herself for choosing an epidural. How can a mum think she’s ‘failed’ her birth? She trained in a different method to the one I teach, and while I respect different modes for different folks, her reaction was telling. In Hypnobirthing Australia classes, there is no such thing as a ‘failed’ hypnobirth.

Our birth culture is already peppered with so much language around failure (as I discuss in this video). Phrases like “failure to progress”, “incompetent cervix” and “false labour” do nothing to encourage birthing women to feel confident.

Sometimes, women and their partners can be wary of hypnobirthing. They worry that it’s about preaching ‘natural birth or nothing’. Certainly, I promote that physiological (some people call it “natural” birth) birth is optimal. I encourage my clients to question the need for intervention and do some research before their births. Australia has quite high rates of intervention (e.g., cesarean rates), and, given the interruption to natural birthing hormones on mum and baby, it’s a warranted discussion. However, in the Hypobirthing Australia course I also spend time talking about special circumstances. The end goal does not necessarily have to mean a “natural” birth. It means having choices and having clear headedness to navigate choices before, during and after birth.  It’s about calmly meeting whatever journey your birthing takes.

Some clients worry that all of us Hypnobirthing Australia practitioners have had these amazing births and we all have to birth in the same way. Our births ARE amazing, but not because they are “natural”. Please don’t think that anything less than a home birth in water with no drugs, a baby born en caul and Ina May riding in on a magical unicorn is not good enough. In our group of 100+ practitioners we’ve had inductions, scheduled c-sections, emergency c-sections, babies who flipped posterior at the last minute, epidurals and post partum haemorrhages.

As birth workers, it’s often too easy to get swept up into black and white thinking – that there’s only one “good” kind of birth. I will tell you a secret. In both of my own hypnobirths I’ve had moments of worrying that other practitioners and clients would judge me. That there were elements where I wasn’t doing hypnobirthing properly. Whatever that means!

With my first birth, I ended up being induced due to gestational diabetes. I had a very speedy labour (1.5 hours total), and some difficulties  post-partum including a large internal tear, significant haemorrhage and I quickly went from having no pain meds to going under a General anaesthetic and having loads of drugs. It took some time to even want to share my birth story because part of me felt it didn’t represent exactly the “natural” birth I wanted. I was worried that my fellow practitioners and birth worker friends would question why I was induced and that I’d done the wrong thing.

The second time around, I found it hard to find the middle ground. As a birthing woman going past her 42nd week, opinions were quite divided. I had one group of people who were horrified that “they” were “letting” me go past my due date and are full of warnings and concern. The word “just” kept coming up. Just get an induction, just get a caesarean. Then, on the other extreme I felt like some people were saying I should keep waiting, let nature take its course, free birth next to a whale in the ocean…you get the idea!

In my second birth I toyed with the idea of a home birth, but I did a LOT of meditating and soul searching, and my instinct kept saying it wasn’t the right choice for me and my family. I didn’t know ‘why’ exactly (how could I?), I just trusted my intuition. After 42 weeks and 2 days I decided to agree to my OB breaking my waters after being in spurious labour for a few weeks. My gut said my baby needed some help to come earthside.

While I was in early labour I did all the things I knew not to do – I watched the clock, I stared at the medical equipment and generally was feeling quite agitated. I remember even having a moment where I thought “hypnobirthing is bullshit. I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be teaching this. It’s all bullshit”. It didn’t last though! The breathing techniques, affirmations, acupressure and focusing on a calm birth totally helped. I birthed a 5kg baby with severe shoulder dystocia (stuck shoulders). It took the OB 5-6 moves to get her out, but we did it with no drugs and no intervention – so hypnobirthing definitely works!

In the book, How to Heal a Bad Birth, the authors talk about the importance of finding something positive in any birth circumstances, and I think that’s true. A “good” birth is often not one in which everything went perfectly, but in which the woman and her birthing partner are able to reflect on their strengths, bravery and resilience. I definitely don’t mean “at least we’ve got a healthy baby” rhetoric. I mean focusing on things like use of coping statements, that you were persistent and patient, and did the best you could with the circumstances.