By Heather Ostman

Having a Baby?Relax ….

  |  Women's Health  

: “Through labor, I felt no pain at all,” says Amy Moore of Riverside, describing the delivery of her second child nine months ago. “And I didn’t always practice my visualization.” Regardless, Moore’s participation in a self-hypnosis birthing program called HypnoBirthing seemed to help anyway. After the painful delivery of her first child five years earlier, a delivery that left her with permanent nerve damage caused by complications from an epidural, Moore and her husband sought alternatives to drugs for their next child. HypnoBirthing appealed to them for its promise to alleviate the fear and tension that often accompany childbirth and which contribute to the experience of pain, and in some cases, lengthen labor time. HypnoBirthing is taught by trained instructors in a class setting or in at-home sessions. Expectant mothers and their birthing partners learn the techniques of self-hypnosis, which include relaxation, visualization, and guided imagery. Denise Vigna, R.N.C., a nurse at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, a Lamaze teacher and trained HypnoBirthing instructor, says, “The difference between Lamaze and HypnoBirthing is that the self-hypnosis technique focuses only on positive things.” To emphasize positive thinking, for example, instructors of HypnoBirthing reframe the language of childbirth. A “contraction” is referred to as a “surge”, which HypnoBirthing advocates claim affects perceptions of the childbirth experience. Kathryn McGlynn, a certified hypnotist and motivational coach in Sturbridge, MA, expresses the effects of changing the language: “Many HypnoBirthing women birth without ‘pushing’ at all. They ‘breathe their baby’ down, letting their baby and their body do all the work.” Based on the earlier work of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, who wrote Childbirth Without Fear in 1944, the term HypnoBirthing was first coined by its founder, Marie F. Mongan, in 1989. In Westchester, St. John’s Riverside Hospital offers classes with nurses trained in its techniques, and one nurse at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center in Sleepy Hollow has been trained. At St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Theresa McGarvey, R.N.C., has high praise for the technique. Trained two years ago in HypnoBirthing, McGarvey has already begun to see results in the delivery room, and notes a significant difference in delivery experiences for the women who arrive relaxed and those who arrive tense. Michelle Diamond, of Larchmont, hopes she will have a similar experience now that she and her husband have been participating in HypnoBirthing classes. Expecting her first child, she, too, was looking for ways to make natural childbirth more comfortable. Diamond listens to guided meditation tapes between classes, and explains, “The visualization helps you to connect to your baby, as if you were welcoming your baby, and you were both working together.” Importantly, Diamond notes, HypnoBirthing offers an alternative, but does not exclude the use of other options. Vigna agrees, saying: “Using the HypnoBirthing technique doesn’t mean you can’t have pain medications.” Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the idea of being hypnotized for childbirth. Despite a difficult and prolonged natural delivery a year ago, Bethany Nelson of New Rochelle says, “I honestly can’t imagine it. It’s too New Age for me.” McGarvey acknowledges: “Some people think hypnosis is not for them. They think it means having no control, although actually hypnosis allows for complete control.” Moore agrees, and says that instead of losing control, “I turned into myself, and didn’t need my husband as much during delivery.” Until St. John’s began to offer HypnoBirthing, instruction was minimally available through organizations that offer alternatives to hospital deliveries, such as Informed Maternity Alternatives (IMA) in Suffern, where midwife services are available, and The HypnoBirthing Institute of New York in Manhattan. Here in Westchester, doctors had few comments on HypnoBirthing, and many had not heard of it. Dr. Patricia Devine, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, admitted that she had no experience in the technique and preferred not to comment. Dr. Lawrence Mendelowitz, senior attending director of obstetrics/gynecology at Phelps, also had no experience with the technique; however, he said he “wouldn’t dissuade a patient who was interested in HypnoBirthing, but would consult with colleagues for more information.” He suggested that patients’ responses during the delivery could vary, “because in pain, not everyone can relax.” A relaxed mother makes for a relaxed baby, according to many supporters of HypnoBirthing. Moore says she still feels the effects of her HynoBirthing experience today: “The lessons you learn about relaxation are still useful. You can take five minutes and get ‘into the zone,’ which is important in our present times.” For more information about HypnoBirthing, contact Theresa McGarvey, R.N.C., or Denise Vigna, R.N.C., St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Yonkers, (914) 964-4529.