On the "path" to giving birth, Elisabeth Bentz imagined her contractions as "little hills" rather than steep slopes, and the spaces between as gentle dips in lieu of deep ravines. Techniques learned in local HypnoBirthing classes helped smooth the way for her delivery of son Rye.
"It was just not at all what I was expecting," says Bentz, 33, of Ashland.
She credits HypnoBirthing with her ability to deliver her first child — weighing 10 pounds, 11 ounces — vaginally, without pharmaceutical painkillers or other drugs, at Ashland Community Hospital. Seven months later, Bentz joined five other new mothers in Ashland to share the positive outcomes of HypnoBirthing with an audience of pregnant women, their family and friends.
"I had heard 'pain-free' — that sounds good," says Ginny Stuart, who attended the five-week course last spring and gave birth to daughter Vivian in October.
While the HypnoBirthing method doesn't guarantee a painless delivery or other positive circumstances, it is intended for women who want to have a natural childbirth. The trademarked approach can be used in settings from homes to hospitals under the care of midwives, medical doctors or other practitioners. Mothers' experiences of labor while practicing HypnoBirthing vary as widely as the choices available for managing childbirth.
"It's about your choices," HypnoBirthing instructor and licensed midwife Rhione Zeixchel tells the group assembled at Ashland's public library. "Having a HypnoBirth doesn't need to look a certain way or sound a certain way."
"Sometimes people do have an intervention or choose to have an epidural," says HypnoBirthing instructor Jae Rowan, a licensed midwife and doula — or childbirth coach — who works with Zeixchel.
Zeixchel learned about HypnoBirthing about a decade ago and shared the information with Rowan. Both obtained certification from founder Marie Mongan. The format isn't new, according to Mongan's website, but rather a return to concepts of childbirth as they existed millennia ago and recast in the 1920s by British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read. Mongan, a certified hypnotherapist, hypnoanesthesiologist and instructor of hypnosis, is the author of two books used to teach HypnoBirthing.
Dispelling common stereotypes of hypnosis, Zeixchel emphasizes that HypnoBirthing doesn't involve a pendulum. It's not about controlling someone's psyche, she says, and it has no religious associations.
"You're actually just enhancing your ability to allow your body to do it," says Rowan.
Achieving a state of relaxation that enables the body to work naturally without being constrained by pain and fear is the ultimate goal of HypnoBirthing. The techniques make the biggest impact for women afraid of labor or who previously had painful or traumatic childbirth experiences, says Rowan.
"We're promoting calming yourself ... so you can respond rather than react."
Learning HypnoBirthing starts with a historical context, explanations of female anatomy and an overview of the mind-body connection. Relaxation and visualization exercises follow, as well as instruction in bonding with infants, massage and drafting a birth plan.
After Stuart, 28, and 29-year-old husband, Chad, agreed on a natural birth, the Eagle Point couple practiced HypnoBirthing six days per week until the onset of labor. All went according to plan, down to the moment Ginny Stuart's water broke, just after arriving at Rogue Valley Medical Center.
"It didn't break in my car; it didn't break in my house," she says.
While Stuart spent much of her labor in a soothing tub of water and closed her eyes to maintain focus, she says she was so relaxed that she didn't even realize Vivian had arrived until Zeixchel said "open your eyes and catch your baby." Stuart needed no stitches and refers to the physical sensation of labor as "discomfort."
"I was very happy with just the whole process."
Stuart's happiness extended to her husband's "integral" role. A companion is highly encourgaed in HypnoBirthing, says Rowan, but that person also can be a woman's mother, sister or friend.
"It's not really something you get coached in; it's something you get supported in."
Most class participants come as a couple, and usually five to 10 couples make up the classes held several times annually around the valley in hospitals, naturopathic clinics, public libraries, clients' homes and chiropractic and acupuncture offices between Grants Pass and Ashland. HypnoBirthing instruction can potentially be started at any point in a pregnancy.
Even long after children are born, the principles of HypnoBirthing can be applied to parenting and other stressful aspects of life, says Rowan, citing clients' praise of the method.
"There's definitely consistent interest."