Christine’s Birth Story: A Drug-Free HypnoBirth

Before reading Christine’s birth story,  I wasn’t familiar with the specifics of hypnobirthing. I had heard of it, yes, but wasn’t sure what it meant exactly (turns out that there’s no hypnotizing involved. Whoops.)

Hypnobirthing is a program that “considers the psychological, as  well as the physical, well-being of the mother, her birth partner, and the newborn, independent of context, whether that be in the quiet of a home, a hospital, or a birth center. It is built around special breathing, relaxation, visualization, meditative practice, attention to nutrition, and positive body toning” (

Although our birth philosophies (deep breathing/relaxation was how I got through Liam’s birth epidural-free!)  and experiences were very similar (in the birthing tub during transition, especially), Christine’s story truly inspired me — talk about a positive birth! Above all, it reminded me why I love writing about natural childbirth. So thank you for that.

To the future mama reading this: I hope this story gives you more confidence in your body and mental strength. I know I needed to read stories like this one when I was pregnant with Liam. I grew with every single one and my image of childbirth became more positive with each one as well. It is so important to surround yourself with positivity! Our society has convinced us all that childbirth has to be this excruciating, dramatic moment in our lives, but it can be peaceful if you want it to be. You, your partner, and the support people you choose (family, friends, doctors, or midwives), are the ones who can make it that way. I’ve said this before, but a natural birth is all about willpower. If you want it, truly want it, you will without a doubt achieve one.

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 Michael and I first learned about hypnobirthing in general after watching the documentary series, More Business of Being Born. We knew that we did not want the typical hospital birth, and were very concerned about being just a number in a room and pumped full of unnecessary drugs to get us out the door as fast as possible. We wanted a natural birth and to have ownership over the process, but we were concerned about the safety of doing it at home. Based on what we had seen in media, we had two unappealing choices: A) To give birth with no assistance whatsoever in a cave by candlelight or B) under horrible fluorescent lighting in a loud hospital where I would proceed to scream my head off while everyone else yelled for me to PUUSSSHHHH!!! After watching the documentary series which introduced us to the concept of hypnobirthing and the countless benefits of natural childbirth in general, we felt empowered that we had more than two choices.

Thank God.

We purchased literature on hypnobirthing (The Mongan Method) and Michael and I were even more sold on the idea that childbirth didn’t have to be a scary, painful process – that by ‘rewiring’ our brains to think about pregnancy and birthing in a positive way (while also physically preparing my body for nine months with exercise and a high-protein diet), we could have a MUCH more peaceful birth than is portrayed by media in the U.S.
As luck would have it, we found out that Mercy Hospital in St. Louis offered a six-week HypnoBabies course – even better, Mike’s cousin had just taken the course a few months prior and had an absolutely lovely experience and provided us with all of the reassurance and background information that we needed (thank you, Bryanne!).

After a one hour interview process with the program leader, we were accepted into the program at about 20 weeks into our pregnancy. The course was a very large commitment, as each weekly session was four hours long with about an hour or two of additional daily homework (excuse me, homeplay!) Michael only has one day off of work a week with inconsistent hours – thus, our HypnoBabies classes became our ‘date night’ for the week. We looked forward to our HypnoBabies/Date Night which allowed us to catch up on each others lives, and also become closer together as a couple due to the partner questions and conversational prompts that Michael and I had to complete for the course.
The partner questions were my favorite part of the Hypnobabies process; they were important building blocks, as Michael would be my birth coach and discussing any fears or desires was necessary. However, many of the questions led to other discussions that we wouldn’t have had otherwise; our own childhood experiences, how we envisioned our parenting ‘roles’, how we would handle ‘x, y, and z’. Getting to know my husband on a different level was such a beautiful part of our Hypnobabies journey and it gave me confidence that we could remain solid despite his challenging work schedule.

We started the course much earlier than the other couples in the class (I think most of the women were about eight weeks further along than I was), and I would recommend going ‘early’ to anyone that is interested in the program. As much of the preparation has to do with diet and exercise, I was able to apply what we learned to about half of my pregnancy rather than learning specifics with only a couple of weeks remaining.

Though we played around with the idea of hiring a doula, we ended up asking our mothers to be our support in the delivery room. They understood our ‘vision’ completely and educated themselves on natural birthing, read all of the HypnoBabies literature, and even went to our last class with us; to say they were amazing and supportive would be the understatement of the year. We wouldn’t have had it any other way; they are both amazing caretakers, and I know Michael felt more solid having them by our sides and was reassured by strong family support on multiple occasions once our birthing time began.

On the evening of September 2nd, I began to feel pretty intense pressure in my lower back/tailbone when I was laying down on the couch; I had always thought that the pressure waves would come from my belly/uterus, so I wasn’t sure what was happening. After about a half an hour of this pressure starting and then stopping, I had Michael track the times of each wave. An hour into this process, I was 100% convinced that our birthing time had begun and that I was going to be a mommy by the end of the night. I went upstairs to check to make sure we had our bags all ready to go, I brushed my teeth, and was considering getting into the shower when the pressure stopped. Had we not been told over and over that staying at home for the majority of our birthing time would help to prevent the hospital staff from inducing labor (if we were taking ‘too long’), I guarantee you we would have gone to the hospital that night. Those Braxton Hicks are tricky tricky!…it was indeed a false alarm. These pressure sensations happened the next evening, again when I was laying down and disappeared once I got up and started moving around and going up and down the stairs.

Because of these two experiences, when I began to have the same lower back pressure in the late afternoon of September 15th, I didn’t think too much of it even though we were five days past our guess date. At about 4:30pm, I realized that there seemed to be the same amount of time between each pressure wave, so I began tracking…they were about 9-11 minutes apart. This continued for about three hours with no shortening of time between; when Michael asked if he should come home or stay at work for the evening shift, it seemed so silly for him to be with me while things weren’t really progressing and I still wasn’t 100% convinced it was ‘for real’.

At 8:30pm, my thoughts on that shifted a bit and I asked Michael to come home ASAP…we were DEFINITELY starting our birthing time . The waves had only gotten slightly closer together at this point (8-10 minutes apart), but I had gone from being able to text friends casually and check my email during waves to having to stand up, lean against something while rocking back and forth, and focus on counting down while I breathed peace in and exhaled any tension out. Thankfully, Michael was able to come home soon after I had called him, and then I hung on to him each time a wave peaked. We spent the next few hours focusing on activities to get us through the waves: we (okay, he) made cookies for the nurses at the hospital (note for future reference: there’s no real good substitute for oil in a recipe, sorry nurses!), took showers, and listened to the ‘Easy First Stage’ track on repeat. By 10pm, the waves had increased to every 6-7 minutes, though every time I tried to lay down on the couch they went back to 8-10 minutes…movement was key for my progression. Just as I was trying to convince Michael to lay down and take a nap so he would have energy for the hospital, WHAM, the contractions increased to 2-3 minutes apart (this was around 2:45am). In the span of about fifteen minutes, we had texted our parents, called the doctor, had the bags in the car, and were on our way to the hospital.
The half an hour drive seemed to take five minutes as I kept my eyes closed and listened to Easy First Stage (again) on my headphones. During each pressure wave, I breathed peace slowly in and breathed tension out even more slowly while counting down and visualizing anesthesia going to my tailbone. As we entered the hospital and walked to the correct department, I would stop each time I had a birthing wave and rocked back and forth, quietly holding onto Mike; I was determined to be the ‘Hypnobabies example’ that nurses commented on later: “Did you see that couple? They didn’t even look like they were in labor!”

After getting checked in at 3:45am, the nurse asked to give me a quick exam to see how dilated I was; she looked pretty convinced that we would be sent back home. She told us with some surprise after checking me that we were at 4 cm and were being transferred straight to Labor & Delivery. The journey was slow and steady as I walked, rocked, walked, rocked my way there between pressure waves. After we were shown our room, Michael and I quickly organized all of our birthing time tools; our wireless speaker was turned on and we began playing the Early First Stage Track almost instantly, the lights were dimmed down as low as they could reasonably go, we set up our diffuser and added our blend of essential oils, and we handed out copies of our birthing plans to our mothers so that they could review our preferences with the nurses as we got settled. While we had full intentions of taping our HypnoBabies signs to the outside of our door, Michael and I aren’t sure if this actually happened with all of the hustle and bustle. Luckily, our family was there to spread the word to anyone that entered.

We were set up in our room by 4:15am or so, and Savannah was born at 7:17am – just three hours later. It was an absolute blur…time didn’t exist and in hindsight feels like a total out-of-body experience. I had started out on all fours on the bed during my first pressure waves in the room, tried to get into using the birthing ball, but we quickly moved into the bathtub. This is where I thought we had spent the majority of our time; after reviewing pictures that my mother had taken of our birthing, it blew both Michael and I away that we were only in the tub for an hour. By this point, I was in the Transition Period and it was…intense… to say the least. I went from one pressure wave straight into the next without a pause or break in between…one big, long wave for about two and a half hours until Savannah was born. I could not help but begin pushing almost immediately once in the tub. During one large push, my water broke…rather, it POPPED like a water balloon with the pressure of my push. I had NO idea what the feeling and sound was and I thought something had gone terribly wrong. When my eyes flew open with surprise, I saw a that a team of about four other people were in the bathroom with us (I had thought it was just me and Michael with others just going in and out as they checked on us).

The nurses eventually had to remove me from the tub at 6:15am because the devices that they were trying to use to monitor my progress (only 20 minutes every hour) couldn’t read correctly with the way I had positioned myself. My doctor checked to see how far I was dilated before I got out, though I told her we didn’t want to know (since the doctor had complied and didn’t announce our progress out loud, I came to find out a few days ago from my mother that I had only progressed an additional cm…she prepared herself for a VERY long morning).

After I was moved back to the bed, I instantly went into the sidelying position with a pillow between my legs and stayed in this position until Savannah was born (while grasping onto the bed handrail the entire time and Michael positioned right in front of my face). I know our speakers were on throughout our birthing with the HypnoBabies tracks in the background, but I couldn’t tell you which ones were playing; it was a comfort to hear the familiar music in the background of the tracks, though I wasn’t able to concentrate on the words. Michael, however, went back and forth between saying “Peeeaacceee” to me while using our nonverbal relaxation cues and echoing my low, oh-so-attractive cow grunting noises. To say it was a ‘quiet’ birthing would be the farthest from the truth. I had envisioned myself breathing deeply and slowly through my waves and pushing quietly as I had done during the First Stage. From the moment I had laid down on the bed when we entered the delivery room, I was VERY vocal, grunty, and loud.

Okay. Time for confession. The fact that there were no breaks in between each wave was a lot for me to handle. I was experiencing back labor, and having taken no other courses or information in aside from what was discussed during HypnoBabies courses, was not prepared to know if this was normal or not. So….I did it…I asked for ‘something’ for the discomfort. About halfway into the ‘bathtub experience,’ I was asking Michael and the nurses for ‘help’. They stuck to the birth plan as discussed and were very positive, saying that I was almost done and could handle it. By the time I was back on the bed for the second time, my ‘requests’ were a lot more eager; however, it was too late for an epidural (thank goodness), but they could offer nitrous oxide. This was not something that was discussed during our HypnoBabies courses either, so I wasn’t quite sure what would happen to me or to Savannah if I agreed. In my situation and level of discomfort, I still said that I wanted any medicinal assistance I could get (hmm…it might not have come out of my mouth quite like that at the time). This was around 6:45am. The anesthesiologist came in and told us that I would need to sign a consent form and that no one else could be in the room as they administered the gas (aside from my husband); by the time they returned at 7am, nitrous oxide ready and consent forms in hand, I couldn’t even open my eyes while bearing down and grunting my way through the pressure waves. Signing a consent form was just not going to happen…I don’t know if my hands would have released themselves from the bed handle even if I tried.

At that moment, the delivery team announced that they could see the top of the baby’s head…such wonderful, wonderful timing! As Michael dismissed the anesthesiologist and her team, they were clearly unhappy that they had prepared for no reason. I, however, am so thankful for my supportive hubby, our delivery team, and mothers for helping me put their entry off for so long that they didn’t get the chance to follow through with my request. I pushed for about another ten to fifteen minutes, mothers and Michael by my head, one nurse holding my top leg up in the air, and another OB Resident providing perineal support with a blend of olive oil and essential oils that we had provided. After my last big push, Savannah slid right out and was laid directly onto my chest. My placenta followed not even five minutes later without any assistance at all. Our doctor inspected my ‘nether regions’ and I was overjoyed to hear that I had not one tear – no episiotomy had been given and I didn’t need a single stitch (of all things, this was my biggest area of concern before our birthing time and what I had focused on during the Fear Clearing track sessions).

Our birthing plan was followed exactly line by line: the team left Savannah attached to her umbilical cord until it stopped pulsating (about ten minutes and then Michael got to cut it), they left the vernix on her, and they didn’t announce the sex of the baby so that Michael was able to do so (though the sweet grandfathers and auntie that were anxiously waiting outside could hardly stand the suspense after they heard Savannah crying!). It was fast, oh so fast, but perfect.

Though the actual delivery of Savannah had not gone exactly the way I had envisioned during my 4 months of HypnoBabies courses and homework (I was definitely louder than I had expected and canNOT believe I asked for drugs after all of that training!), I truly believe our experience went as well as it did because of our preparations. Our birthing time, from first pressure wave until Savannah was laying on my chest was 14 hours and 45 minutes. We spent eleven of those hours at home, and were only in the delivery room for 3 hours.

I used the deep breathing and counting down techniques we had learned and focused on breathing anesthesia to where I needed it during the early birthing time. Michael used our cues to coach me through the experience and didn’t leave my side for a second. Having our mothers well-versed on our birthing plan and HypnoBabies in general was one of the best decisions we have ever made; while I still don’t remember the details of what they did in the background, I felt them there with us and know they helped to direct the nursing team as well as providing Michael with emotional support.

Our baby girl came to us without the use of any drugs and was completely alert from the second she came out; she ‘pinked right up’ within minutes and didn’t come out with the typical newborn ‘squish-face’ because the delivery was so fast. The birthing plan that we wrote during our HypnoBabies course was followed to a ‘T’ and the birthing team even used the HypnoBabies language and phrases that we had been using for our entire training.

As Savannah sits here happily in her swing next to me at two weeks postpartum, both of us healthy and physically 100% back to ‘normal’, I know the exercises and protein-heavy diet outlined by HypnoBabies are to thank for that. To top it all off, the techniques I learned during our courses are not going to stop now that Savannah is born; I will continue to use deep breathing, daily affirmations, and Bubble of Peace in my daily life to help me stay balanced.

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The moment I’ll remember about my HypnoBaby birthing forever? The fact that not two hours after Savannah was born, she smiled. Not even kidding. When I saw the picture that was captured of that moment, I knew that all of the long hours of classes and homeplay, counting grams of protein, falling ‘asleep’ to hypnosis tracks and listening to pregnancy affirmations every day on the way to work for four months were worth it. Our baby was alert, I was alert, we were both healthy and had gotten through the experience relatively quickly. Yes, I’d say the program worked, and I look forward to being able to internalize it even more for our next pregnancy.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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