The Toxic Positivity of 'Hypnobirthing'
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
This might seem quite an unusual title for a Hypnotherapist who offers Hypnobirthing classes, but it’s something I come across so often with Birth Trauma (PN PTSD) clients.
‘Hypnobirthing’ involves using Hypnosis in childbirth, hopefully leading to a more relaxed and positive experience without the need for intervention.
In theory, it works excellently. Hypnotherapy is particularly useful for pain management (Elkins et al. 2007) and for altering perception of effort (Williamson et al, 1985), which makes it a great tool during childbirth.
So what’s the issue?
Certain Hypnobirthing packages (often found as online courses) are pretty generic offerings. They treat all women the same and often push this idea of a pain-free natural birth. There’s nothing wrong with that idea exactly, it is 100% true you can alter the sensations during childbirth, it’s also true that ‘natural’ births are the dream for most women.
The thing is, many of these well known, branded courses offer up certain ideas, such as vaginal births/home births/water births are the success stories that every woman is capable of having. Don't get me wrong, yeah sure, they are successful, everyone had fun, mum and baby are safe and sound, all good. But when this kind of birth forms the main theme of the programme, then things may begin to go wrong. Also, if you look into hypnobirthing you will find lots of positive affirmations, lots of body positive statements, such as “my body is built to do this” or "I relax and my baby relaxes with me", and indeed a whole load of excessive positivity! Sounds good, right, what's the problem, you say?!
What do you think happens when, despite the best intentions of mothers (they’ve read all the books, been practicing their self-hypnosis and have followed EVERY bit of advice!), they suddenly end up in an emergency situation that requires a c-section in the theatre room? Or maybe they haemorrhage, or maybe they are so exhausted they ask for the epidural?!
They feel like failures.
A huge contribution to many Birth trauma stories that I hear are unrealistic expectations, that have been sold to them by generic hypnobirthing companies.
It is absolutely true you can adjust your comfort level in childbirth, it is absolutely true that you can feel relaxed and confident throughout, and it is absolutely true that you can enjoy the birthing experience. I am not trying to say otherwise.
However, a woman who has been prepared for a magical, effortless birth, may end up disappointed, through no fault of her own. All bodies are built to birth, this is true, as in we have uteruses and birth canals. But in this progressive, modern society, things have changed, some babies may be bigger than average, some hips may be smaller. If you don’t manage to have an idyllic natural water birth with candles and whale music playing, then that is OK! Trust me, all births are valid! Even if you didn't deliver vaginally, even if you didn't get skin to skin, even if you don't remember the birth due to General Anaesthetic! Yup, still 100% Valid.
Sometimes, in life, things don’t go to plan. And it is not your fault. If you have experienced a pregnancy or birth that didn't go to plan, then you are not a failure, you are a successful woman. All pregnancies and births, whether the outcomes were good or bad, should be celebrated and women should be properly supported. Guess what else? If you haven’t experienced pregnancy or labour, you are a still a successful woman too. Your value as a person is not dependent on your ability to hold a fertilised egg, the location your baby was born or any other personal decision on motherhood. Plus, without sounding too cheesy, just to live life as a human being during this period of human existence on Earth is pretty mind blowing, don't you think?! Anyway, going off tangent here...
So, where does that leave my Hypnobirthing programme then? Do I leave out all the positive stuff?
Absolutely not!! My Birth Hypnosis course is filled with lots of positivity! But you know what else it’s filled with? Information! I discuss all the eventualities with my clients. I teach them the BRAIN acronym, so they don’t sign themselves up for unnecessary interventions. I teach them to trust their body and show them their body's natural birthing skills. I teach them all the things I think they will need to have a relaxed and comfortable birth.
But you know what else I teach them? To trust medical professionals when required. That it’s OK when things don’t go to plan. The reasons why we choose birth preferences, instead of birth plans. That it’s ok to ask for help during their labour, if they need it.
I also teach them, that however their births happen, it is still magical.
Women are incredible creatures, we create life (with a little help) and then grow a tiny egg into an actual real life human being. Then we birth the human through a pretty small passageway, generally produce enough milk (mostly) that sustains the human baby until he or she is a fully functioning person. Isn’t that incredible!? What an amazing piece of machinery we own! We should be so proud of ourselves, for all our capabilities.
On a similar (but different) note, I could add that toxic positivity in all shapes is pretty harmful. There's not a day that passes that I don't see an advert for a manifestation or mindset coaching course, which I think encourages guilt and victim blaming sometimes (Did you attract everything that happens to you, really?), but maybe I'll save that discussion for another day...
If you need advice or anything else about Birth Trauma or Birth Hypnosis, please contact me for a no-strings-attached FREE consultation.
Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287.
Williamson JW, McColl R, Mathews D, Mitchell JH, Raven PB, Morgan WP. (1985) Hypnotic manipulation of effort sense during dynamic exercise: cardiovascular responses and brain activation. J Appl Physiol .