Letters To The Editor: Hypnosis-Assisted Childbirth
I would like to respond to Kathryn McGlynn’s letter to the editor concerning my article “Are Hypnosis-Assisted Birth Techniques for Everyone (Nov/Dec 2002) in an attempt to clarify the issues raised in both the article and the letter.
Let me begin by stating that I am a proponent of non-interventive, natural birth and have been active politically and professionally in this regard for quite some time. I am past president of Massachusetts Friends of Midwives. I am a supporter of homebirth and the midwifery model of care. I believe that women have the capacity to birth powerfully and beautifully without the aids of technology and medicine. I believe Hypnobirthing is a wonderful tool for some women and have had many clients come back with pride and joy as they tell of their experiences using Hypnobirthing during their births. However, I feel strongly that birth preparation cannot be generic and that there is no one way to prepare for birth. I believe that for some women, their histories and current stressors need to be integrated into their preparations for birth and parenting.
My clinical experience is that for some women, and trauma survivors in particular, certain forms of hypnosis, and in some cases, all forms of hypnosis, raise anxiety. This is because hypnosis asks that the subject relax, breathe steadily, and visualize images, colors, imagine sensations, sounds, smells, etc. While these may be benign requests for many women and, in fact, can promote deep relaxation, for other women these requests trigger fear and dissociation. Dissociation is a coping mechanism often employed by trauma survivors at the time of the trauma. It can involve a numbing of physical sensation. It can feel like leaving the present moment. It can induce an experience of feeling that the mind and body are separate. It can feel like a physical and emotional disconnection from a partner. Dissociation can feel terrifying.
Because each woman’s experience of abuse is different and each coping style is unique, we can never know which words or suggestions will trigger an anxiety response. For some women, it will be the renaming of bodily sensations or even the mere mention of a body part. For other women it will be the suggestion of images of a scene, a color, a sound, etc. For some women, dissociation can be triggered simply by imagining being somewhere other than where they are at the moment. For other women it can be triggered by anything that involves trying to ignore or rename what is happening. For women who have done healing work and are trying not to employ dissociation any longer, any suggestion that could feel like dissociation to them may be frightening or feel risky. For women who have not done healing work and still employ dissociation, hypnosis can trigger memories and flashbacks of their abuse. This is not due to any mal-intent on the part of the hypnosis method but rather a reflection of where the woman may be in her healing process. Again, though the suggestions may seem benign to many of us, for some women who are vigilant about anything closely similar to their abuse experience and how they coped with it, hypnosis techniques seem to raise anxiety rather than quell it.
I speak from my clinical experience as a psychologist, based on the hundreds of women I have seen in my private practice over the years. My wish is that past history and issues wouldn’t interfere with the birthing process, but they sometimes do. I know that some women can experience birth without what they would call “pain.” However, I also know that many women will experience some form of sensation they would name as “pain.” I am not here to say whether “pain” is or is not avoidable. Rather, my goal is to help all women find their own birthing center, as creatively as possible, in order to birth themselves into motherhood and their babies into their arms. As a psychologist first and foremost, my goal is a healthy emotional outcome for the mother. I will always encourage all forms of preparation, including Hypnobirthing, encouraging the woman and her partner to find the right fit.
My ideal would be that we could raise young girls to be in awe of the birthing process so that when it is their turn, it is greeted with openness and joy. We need committed birth professionals and educators to help change the course of birth in this country. We need people who can encourage and empower women to believe in themselves. We also need to have room for a diversity of styles and viewpoints that all, at their roots, believe in women and facilitate growth and empowerment. And we need to have a range of processes for birth preparation to fit the range of styles and psyches that women possess.
Deborah Issokson, Psy.D.
I generally love your articles for their thoughtfulness and insight. I was, however, deeply disappointed in reading this issue’s “Musings.” [Mar/Apr 2002] I find it odd that in an article that discusses people feeling marginalized for cultural and economic reasons you would make (more than once) a statement referring to “our” European ancestors. Surely, you must know not all of your readers are of European ancestry. Some of us are the Indians and descendants of slaves that you also mentioned in the article — not to mention any number of other ethnicities. I am sorry that, in an article that was so otherwise understanding and sympathetic, that is the phrase that most sticks in my mind.
After five readings of “Amazing Grace in Gander” (Jan/Feb 2002), my understanding of why I am here hit me like a ton of bricks! I am here to serve Creator by taking each problem of humanity or experience I have on a daily basis, run it through my mind, take it into my heart and look for someone else who needs my help. These conclusions from “Amazing Grace in Gander” came about by analyzing and taking into my heart the following facts about this article: The people of Newfoundland did not ask for 6,000+ visitors. They made the best of humanity’s needs by extending their warmest, caring and sharing hand to those 6,000+ unknown people. The population of their small town almost doubled overnight! If you live in a small town of 10,000 in America, would your town take on the needs of 6,000+ visitors the same way? Feed them, wash them, drive them, do whatever you can to make them feel welcome. Take off your blinders! Watch for and give your best. Extend your “Hand of Gander” and thank the person you helped for letting you do so. Also thank our Creator for letting you serve humanity’s needs one more day.
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