32 Weeks Pregnant: HypnoBirthing and Anxiety

My psychiatrist gave me a grade this morning. A B- in fact. It was actually pretty funny and not something she regularly does. Her point was that when I do well, I do very well. When I break down, I really break down.

Example break down: The details aren’t important, but something happened that freaked me out. I cried for two hours. I wanted Nathan to comfort me, and Nathan was not available. Rather than use any of the other tools I have at my disposal, I sort of regressed to toddlerhood and cried until I got what I wanted (Nathan came home). Two hours of tears and hyperventilation? Not fun. Doesn’t feel good.

Example good day: I practice the relaxation techniques I learned in my HypnoBirthing class. My “baseline” anxiety level drops. When something unexpected/unpleasant happens, I talk to someone about it or get some perspective somehow.

There are many more good days than bad. But here’s the brilliant question my psychiatrist asked me about those panic-filled days: “If you encountered an actual two-year-old child who was behaving this way, what would you do?” No hesitation–I would get down to this kid’s level and ask, “Can you take a deep breath with me?” I would then demonstrate until I got the kid’s attention. That’s where I’ve learned to start. Do you know anyone who listens to reason in the middle of a full-on “ugly cry?” I don’t know why on earth we expect toddlers to be able to listen when it seems like the world is falling apart. So the genius idea is to sort of treat myself like that toddler whose world is totally falling apart, to give myself that empathy and that time to breath. Yelling at a toddler throwing a tantrum does no good, so why would beating myself up and telling myself to just be quiet do me any good?

Brilliant, right?

Now, I’ll talk a bit about HypnoBirthing, which is now a huge part of my life. I want to address some misconception about this particular birthing method.

  • There is no “going under.” The “hypnosis” consists of relaxing yourself. That’s it. Deep relaxation.
  • You can hear what’s going on around you and open your eyes and engage with it if you choose to do so.
  • There is some of what feels like craziness to me in the official HypnoBirthing book by Marie Mongan, but the actual basics of HypnoBirthing are very much in line with really standard meditation or relaxation breathing techniques you might learn from someone with a background in psychology.

That said, I highly recommend, if you’re looking into this method, talk to an actual HypnoBirthing instructor before reading the book. We talked to Kate Sullivan, one of the most practical and down-to-earth women I have ever met. She goes into an extremely calm place when she talks about birth and HypnoBirthing. When Nathan and I left our meet-and-greet with her, we both said that she is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have around in a crisis. Honestly, now that I’m reading the book, I can’t say that the founder of HypnoBirthing, Marie Mongan, comes across quite this same way. There’s a lot of stuff, especially in the first half of the book, that seems aimed more at selling this method than explaining what practitioners actually do. Now that I’m in more familiar territory where the text matches what we learned in class, I like it much better.

I love HypnoBirthing because it relies on several basic principles that tap right into some comforting and familiar experience I’ve had with meditation and anti-anxiety relaxation exercises. By now, these principles have thoroughly-researched foundations in both medical and psychological research. Science has no problem agreeing that focusing on breathing and on slowing the breath relaxes both body and mind. No one disagrees that the uterine muscles tense and relax just the way the diagrams in the book shows. Psychology has long understood that the language we use has a powerful impact on our emotions and attitudes. So here’s the good stuff that I love and that my therapist and psychiatrist agree are totally awesome:

  • Practicing healthy breathing. There is an unhealthy way to breath, and it’s what we do when we panic: short, shallow breaths. Try a few. Feel lightheaded? That’s because you’re not getting enough oxygen. It’s not comfy. There are several different kinds of breathing techniques that I practice to prepare for giving birth, but they one in particular is nearly identical to a breathing technique I learned at church summer camp to calm the body and mind in preparation for meditation. Bottom line: breath slowly and deeply, don’t force anything, and you’ll feel more relaxed. The book comes with one CD and we received another during our class with Kate, and each has a one sort of guided meditation. I usually pick one and practice one each day.
  • A positive attitude towards birth as an experience that is difficult, yes, but not necessarily viciously painful. One CD also has some great affirmations about birth that help me visualize this kind of birth. All of the literature and CDs and, of course, Kate herself, use a different set of language that feels much more comforting to me. At first, it was a little odd. Now, I totally love it. Example: no “contractions.” Instead, “surges” or “waves.” And this is, I am told, a much more accurate descriptor. Yes, the uterine muscles contract or tighten. But any monitor in any birth in any hospital will show that there’s a beginning, a peak and a dropping off in the tensing of those muscles. And what does that mean? It will end! One of the key breakthroughs I had in dealing with my panic attacks was telling myself over and over again that “this will end.” In the middle of panic, it feels like I’m going to die. I am told that some women feel like they will never make it through a contraction/surge/wave when the muscle tension is at its height. For me, calling it a surge is a way of keeping in mind that it will end. The word is also not scary the way “contraction” has become scary after a lifetime of stupid birth scenes on TV and in movies and hearing scary real-life birth stories. Now, what’s this thing about birth not needing to be painful? Well, those uterine muscle surges are so intense because those muscles are pushing a seven pound-ish baby out of your body.
  • My body and my baby and my instincts will get this baby out of me; I just need to get out the way by not tensing up and by paying attention. One set of muscles in the uterus that contract during a surge, as I just said, push down on the baby. Another set opens up. What do muscles working very hard need in order to keep going? Any athlete will tell you that oxygen is pretty important. So the way I’m learning to breath during labor and birth is helping me get out of the way of my body and my baby and will give me a) something to do and b) a way to focus on the pretty freaking amazing stuff my body is going to be doing. It is a huge relief to me that I do not have to know what to “do.” Women in comas, I am told, have given birth undetected. This will happen. I can fight it (PAIN) or I can work with it. I’ve seen about eight videos of women using HypnoBirthing techniques who make birthing look like something I want to do. It doesn’t look easy. It looks really intense. But it looks like the most rewarding experience ever. And no one looks like she’s going to die in pain.

There’s a lot more to this, but it’s all copyrighted and I’m not trained to teach it to you anyway. (Yes, I am thinking about learning how to teach this to other women.) If you’re interested, just take the class. Don’t start with the book. And I’m happy to answer questions.

To return to my original point about the good days: practicing the relaxation techniques I’ve learned has been incredibly good for my anxiety. I have fewer high-anxiety days. Things that used to set me off immediately register negative emotions but do not send me over the edge. Whether or not I have the kind of peaceful birth I visualize for myself, I will have this in my life forever. (And yes, mom, I am seeing why meditating every day is really good for us. I understand why they emphasize that so much in church. This counts as a start, right? A start towards meditating the way I learned in church?)

Prenatal depression gets some attention. And why I’ve been hiding.

I have been hiding for these past few weeks. At BlogHer, I overdid the walking in the no-support-but-very-cute ballet flats and got myself some seriously swollen ankles and feet. Ouch! Then I came home and slept for about three days. In the week that followed, I had time to think about all the amazing women I had met and their amazing blogs and feel, well, not so amazing by comparison. I was so pumped while I was there! And then I felt so inadequate when I came home. I still feel inadequate. But, I love my little blog with few readers and no advertisers, so I am going to keep writing. That is the beauty of this whole enterprise. No one can stop me!

First, I want to let you all know about an amazing series of articles written by Jessica Grosse for Slate called Not Just the Pregnancy Blues. There are three. They aren’t very long. Do read all three!

I really have nothing to add to the brilliant reporting Grosse has done, except that I am so grateful to her for bringing this to the public eye. Many of you have written to me with stories similar to those she shares; my hope is that one day, no woman will stand for it when a care provider brushes off her concerns and feelings. Which brings me to the other reason I have come back…

You. Those of you who come back here, who have shared your stories with me in comments or email or on Facebook or Twitter–you are amazing. This has been a gathering place of sorts, and I do not want to give that up. Especially when the comments sections that adorn any Slate piece attract any and all variety of mean and nasty. If you want to talk about Grosse’s writing, I suggest you send her email if it’s about her or comment here if it’s on the general topic. Do. Not. Look. At. The. Comments.

For anyone curious about pregnancy news: there is no real news! Which is good news! I am 30 weeks, 4 days, so we’re in the home stretch. My belly is beautiful and round and getting bigger every day. I can feel my baby moving a lot, which is really reassuring. I’ve been super lucky to have had, well, almost no symptoms. No heartburn, no constant aches or pains, just glorious pregnancy! I think more pregnant women would feel good if they could sleep whenever they wanted and never had to leave the house except for midwife appointments… I’m very grateful that, physically, I am darn good at this pregnancy thing. Mentally, I’m doing well. I have my days. My therapist has been on vacation which I do not like! But I suppose therapists are people, too, and probably need vacations more than most. I suck at leaving the house. I suck at getting enough exercise.

I am loving HypnoBirthing–the class, the book and the CD. That deserves a whole post of its own, but it actually relaxes me! I know, I was shocked, too! I put on the relaxation CD and I relax and fall asleep and wake up relaxed! I was feeling very scared of the birth and of life after my sweet baby was no longer so deeply connected to me. But our instructor/doula and the affirmations that are part of the HypnoBirthing technique have helped me become very excited and confident.

Finally, here’s a picture from early July that shows off how fabulous I look in general and how round and awesome my belly is. I had to cut out the other people, because I don’t have their permission to put pictures of them here, so I apologize for the poor quality.

BlogHer 2012 Conference: Saying YES!

Oh, dear readers, you would be so proud of me! Some of you are even here, which is the coolest experience ever. (*Enthusiastic wave* to Kate aka @littlelegal, the only person so far to recognize me as “Do Not Faint” and call me that! Sounded pretty good…) There are 5,000 people at this conference. Nothing could have prepared me for what that looks like. Loosely organized chaos. Twice today I thought I was going to just sit on the floor and have a panic attack from claustrophobia, but sitting on the floor is really hard at 28 weeks pregnant anyway, so I’m glad I found other coping strategies.

I’m really proud of myself for a few reasons. Let’s break them down, as an exercise in me being awesome and in coping with anxiety in fast-paced environments.

  • I say “yes.” I said yes to coming, even though it was expensive and a long weekend away from my husband Nathan, which is always hard. Now that I’m here, I am saying yes to meeting new people, learning new skills, hearing new ideas. I said yes to rooming in a hotel with a stranger! (We’re friends now already. I think we talked about 10 topics most people never talk about within hours of meeting each other. Also, check out her amazing photography. Oh, and she’s Canadian. I love Canada, so that’s points for her.) Anxiety often tells me to say NO WAY! to things like talking to new people or going to places where there will be a lot of people. So, take that! Ha! Anne-Marie 1, Anxiety 0!
  • I take breaks. During the day today, which was the first day all 5,000 attendees were here, I just stepped away during the crowded times, put my back to a wall a few feet away from others, and took a time out. Once, I had been in a super warm room feeling dizzy, so I got myself a beverage and some ice, too, and sat on a windowsill for a little bit, just watching people go by. Listening to myself when I need those little breaks? That, my friends, is SELF CARE. I get on my own case a lot for sucking at self care (yes, I see the irony), but I have been awesome at it this week.
  • I ask for what I want or need. I asked the hotel clerk for directions to a drugstore when I got blisters from wearing shoes without socks in the heat–I had forgotten about how much humid, hot Manhattan sucks in August. I have been going up to representatives from the conference sponsors I like and asking them for samples and information. I am tweeting or texting people I previously knew only online and making an extra effort to connect. It feels awesome! In our amazing HynoBirthing class this weeks, our instructor talked to us about saying “Thank you,” and letting that practice tell you “I’m worth whatever this other person just did for me.” So when I met Diana from Onya and she gave me an amazing Onya Outback baby carrier (the best “buckles and straps” carrier EVER!) I said “Thank you” a bunch and I felt both gratitude and pride. I am grateful, and I deserve this gift. When I thanked Kate for reading or when I have thanked people for showing an interest, asking for my card, etc., I have felt gratitude at the way they value my voice and pride that my voice is worth listening to.
  • I do things by myself when I could tag along with some new friends (or old friends I just met in person for the first time!) because I am interested in “Blogging for the Love of It” or “Bootstrapping Your Book Promotion.” I feel 100% ok being into something that doesn’t apply to the people I’ve gotten to know. And then I meet new people who are interested! It’s a little scary every time, I won’t lie, but so worthwhile.
  • I have spent a lot of time and energy absorbing information about writing and promoting a book, because I want to write a book. I own that. I want to write a book so that something in print finds women in need the way this blog has found many of you. When I say “in need,” I mean that we are breaking ground here talking about planning to have a family while knowing in advance that mental health is going to be a factor. I have heard over and over again at this conference that I am right–no one can think of any book or blog that really talks about this. I don’t want to write a book to make a lot of money (apparently, that’s a rather dim prospect for any author). I’d like to be compensated for my time with an advance or something. But my book is a labor of love and a love letter to all the women out there who need to know that we can have babies, too. We may make different decisions or face different risks, but we absolutely deserve respect. And advice. And the advice that’s out there? Most of it is pretty crappy. It’s been really rewarding to attend so many events (all day yesterday and a couple hours today) about getting a book out there–it’s helped me “own it.” I am going to write this book and do my darndest to make sure it reaches as many people as possible. That’s not naive or silly. It’s real and important and MINE.

I want to share one more thing with you all before I try and sleep again after an accidentally-five-hours-long nap: over 10% of the people at this conference are here because they want to start blogging. They don’t have blogs yet! You don’t need to come to a conference, but many of you have written email to me or left comments, and I know you have more to say. Start a blog. Add your voice. If, in this crowd of 5,000, my voice can matter and even help a few people, then your voice matters, too. Please don’t worry about writing well or getting famous. I have met so many people with fabulous blogs and almost no followers. And if their writing just stopped? Those few readers would feel sad and miss them. So please, if you’ve even thought about it for one second, give it a try. Use a pseudonym if you want to. Don’t tell a soul, if you don’t want anyone to know about it. Just start writing. Speak up. I’d love to read anything you write.