Just what is Gentlebirth?
I’ve written quite a bit about GentleBirth™ – Self Hypnosis for Childbirth and hypnobirthing in the past few months, but during an email exchange with Áine from AndMyBaby yesterday, I realised I’ve never actually written a blog post to explain in simple terms just what Gentlebirth is. Although, I’m a Gentlebirth affiliate, this post isn’t based on the official marketing materials of the Gentlebirth programme. I figure if you want those, the best place to get them is from the official Gentlebirth site. Instead, I’ve written this from my perspective, as a first-time mother, and user of the Gentlebirth programme.
So…just what is Gentlebirth?
Gentlebirth is a hypnobirthing programme that is geared towards an Irish market. It can be taken as a homestudy program, or as a weekend class. It prepares couples for childbirth, by teaching them self-hypnosis techniques for a calm, fear-free birth. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I first heard the term “hypnobirthing”, images of dodgy stage hypnotists waving pocket watches in front of goggly-eyed labouring women sprung to mind! Let me assure you, there wasn’t a pocket watch in sight throughout the course, or during delivery!!
Self-hypnosis is really just a type of deep relaxation. In the months leading up to the birth, you listen to your Gentlebirth CDs, which fill your mind with positive affirmations about giving birth, and help you to calm yourself and relax. Many’s the night, I’d settle in to listen to my Gentlebirth tracks, and the next thing I’d know the track would be over, and a half an hour would have passed! Through regular practice, you learn to quickly and easily get yourself into a state of deep relaxation, a technique which you then use during childbirth.
Why did I choose Gentlebirth?
When I first heard about self-hypnosis for childbirth, I was intrigued. It sounded too good to be true – learn a few deep relaxation techniques and then breeze through childbirth. Where do I sign up?! Okay, so the reality is a little different than that! But it’s still worth looking into!
As it turns out, there are two main forms of hypnobirthing being taught in Ireland right now. The first is the Mongan method, which is the original form of hypnobirthing as far as I know. Hypnobirthing Ireland provides a full list of certified practitioners of this method. And the second is Gentlebirth, which is a hypnobirthing programme tailored to an Irish market. I don’t have any experience with the Mongan method because I opted to go for Gentlebirth. The reason I chose Gentlebirth was because, as a trainer, I know how important it is to tailor your training materials for your audience, and I really got the impression that Gentlebirth had done just that, taking the nuances of the Irish maternity system into account.
Gentlebirth is pricey! It’s EUR69.95 for the home study programme. Or it’s EUR375 for the weekend workshop. Although apparently some health plans cover the full cost, or the majority of the cost. But, to be honest, considering how effective I found it, it was worth every penny and then some.
Both my husband and I were quite apprehensive before the class. If I’m perfectly honest, we were worried we’d be surrounded by a bunch of new-age hippies, and that’s we’d want to run out of there after an hour!
The class was run in a conference room in a hotel in North Dublin, and it took two full days over the course of a single weekend. When we got there, we were relieved to realise that most of the couples were just like us. There were one or two who seemed a little extreme to me – but they were definitely in the minority.
The class was professionally delivered by Tracy Donegan, the founder of Gentlebirth in Ireland. It was a mixture of presentation, video, discussion, first-hand accounts of Gentlebirth experiences, and then some practice. I think it was the practice I was most nervous about. I found it hard to let go of my “stage-hypnosis” ideas about hypnosis. But it was nothing like a stage show at all! No one suddenly felt the urge to run around clucking like a chicken or anything! Instead we all made ourselves comfortable, closed our eyes, and listened to a relaxing hypnobirthing track, complete with soothing music and calming affirmations. When we opened our eyes again, Tracy asked how long we thought we’d been listening for. A couple of minutes at most I thought. I was so shocked to learn it had been 20 minutes. That was my first introduction to “time distortion” – when you are really relaxed and concentrating on your hypnobirthing track, you are not aware of time passing in the same way. I was lucky in that I seemed to be quite susceptible to that particular side-effect, and when it came to labour, it definitely helped that those first few hours felt much much shorter to me.
The Workbook and CDs
Once the class was finished, our “homework” started. This meant reading my Gentlebirth workbook (which I did once, and then I only glanced at it for reference occasionally after that), and listening to my Gentlebirth tracks regularly. For the first few weeks after the class, I listened to the tracks a few times a week. At the time, I was commuting to work by train, and when the train was busy, I used to feel quite nauseous and even dizzy. So I started listening to my Gentlebirth tracks, and taking advantage of that time distortion effect to help the train journey fly by. From about 30 weeks on, I was much more dedicated about listening to my Gentlebirth tracks. I listened to them at least once a day, and in the final few weeks, sometimes twice a day or more. Anytime I had a hospital appointment, I took Tracy’s advice and listened to the tracks while I waited, so that I got used to entering a state of deep relaxation while in the hospital.
I think that, like anything, practice makes perfect. The more I listened to the tracks, the easier it got to put myself into that deep state of relaxation.
I joined the Gentlebirth Yahoo! group, and received daily updates with links to relevant research, positive birth stories, and other information from Tracy and other Gentlebirthers. I also emailed Tracy directly with questions once or twice, and she replied to me within the day.
I think the result speaks for itself. You can read my full birth story if you want all the details, but here’s the short-n-sweet version of it. I got a few niggly pains at 10.30pm. By 1.30am, I decided that something might be happening, so we made our way to the hospital. At 5am or so, the midwife told me that she knew by looking at me, I wasn’t in labour yet. But when I insisted she check me anyway, I was actually 6cm dilated. And by 7.55am, Little Man was born, after a couple of big pushes. I don’t remember how many exactly, but Charlie thinks it was 2 or 3.
Did it hurt? Oh yes. Was it the worst pain of my life? Not even close. I had a dry socket infection following a tooth extraction once. There is no comparison, believe me. Give me childbirth any day. Everything went well for us on the day. There were no complications, and labour moved quickly. So using Gentlebirth and acupressure was enough to make the pain manageable. During the transition phase, before I started pushing, I tried Gas and Air for a few minutes, but found it distracting more than anything else. The only time I considered getting an epidural was when the first midwife told me she knew I wasn’t in labour. I really felt I was in labour, and I just thought, “Oh God, if this isn’t even really the start of it, I’ll never cope.” But the minute I found out that actually I was over half way there, I knew I’d be able to do it.
Like I said at the beginning of this, Gentlebirth is not a magic fix – there are no guarantees with it, because there are no guarantees with labour. But if it works for you, it can help you have a calm, relaxing pregnancy, and on the day, it can help keep you calm, relaxed, and focused throughout your labour.