I had a very clear image of what I thought my first birth would look like: soothing music, everyone smiling, me — giving birth like it was no big whoop, preferably in my bathtub. I saw the documentaries. I knew what I wanted. And when I saw a hypnobirthing class advertised at the birthing center where I was getting my prenatal care, I instantly knew it was for me:
HypnoBirthing is a tried and proven method that guides and prepares a woman in giving birth in a peaceful and extraordinarily beautiful manner.
“Cool!” I thought. “I want to give birth in a peaceful and extraordinarily beautiful manner. Sign me up.”
A few months later my husband and I found ourselves climbing the stairs to a hypnobirthing class located atop a yoga studio in downtown Brooklyn, because of course. We were greeted by a very calm-looking woman with a nice smile. We handed over our $350 check, removed our shoes, and took our places in the circle of couples that had already begun to form in the studio.
The first couple of sessions involved listening to our hypnobirthing instructor read aloud from the book Hypnobirthing Made Easy. I had it at home so I was kind of bummed, but she had a very pleasant reading voice so I figured it was preparing me for the initial descent into meditation. By session three, one of the other moms-to-be whispered to me, “What the hell? Are we going to learn how to hypnotize ourselves or what? I didn’t come her to be read to.” I nodded my head in agreement, thrilled that someone there was bitchier and more skeptical than I was. It was as if the instructor read our minds. That session, she stopped reading aloud, and showed us a bunch of birth videos.
I’ve never been as calm in my life as the women giving birth in these videos. Seriously. I have a more pained expression on my face when I do sit-ups than any of these women did while having a child pass out of their vaginas. One of them actually had an orgasm, which is something I really didn’t need to see and have spent years trying to erase from my memory. I began to think, as I was watching these videos with my husband horrified next to me, that maybe I really wasn’t the woman who was cut out for a calm birth.
Finally session four arrives and there is talk of hypnosis. The instructor tells us she will be guiding us through an exercise and I am thrilled. She begins:
Close your eyes. Relax your lids, relax your jaw. Relax into your seat. Now imagine, visualize, or pretend that you are standing on a staircase. There are ten steps that you will walk down-each step will take you deeper and deeper. There’s a hand railing for you to hold on to-staring at step ten going deeper and deeper. Nine, deeper and deeper. Eight, deeper and deeper. Seven, deeper and deeper…
Now, look down at your hand. You are aware of your hand. You know it belongs to your body. Notice that you cannot move your hand. You are unable to move your hand, but this does not scare you. You approach this with acceptance.
Meanwhile, back in reality, I’m waving my hand wildly because I can. I peek, of course, expecting to see at least a few other people waving their hands, too — nope. I’m the only one. I’m the only one who still has total control of their hand. My husband is fucking sleeping, so I guess he doesn’t count.
I am now going to count back from ten. When I finish, you will open your eyes, be in this room, and regain full control of your hand. Ten, nine, eight…
I elbow my husband to be sure he’ll be “in this room” with everyone else. I’m actually a little jealous he was able to relax so much that he actually fell asleep. The instructor encourages everyone to share their experience with the self-hypnosis exercise. One by one, they begin saying things like, I can’t believe I couldn’t move my hand! I felt like I was walking into a lake. What? I wasn’t going to admit that I was waving my hand wildly the entire time, because I hate to fail. But I spoke up anyway:
I could move my hand. I could totally move my hand. In fact, I can’t imagine a time when I would be conscious, and not be able to totally move my hand. That would never happen. Unless I had some horrific accident and was somehow paralyzed.
The instructor looks at me calmly and says,
Maria, have you always had issues with control?
Touché, lady. Touché.
My control-freak self ended up with an emergency c-section. Also – I totally couldn’t move my legs, but I’m pretty sure that had something to do with the epidural. Moral of the story: don’t worry if you feel out of place in your birthing class. They aren’t for all of us.