Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan (2005) — I picked up Hypnobirthing because, of the major methods of dealing with pain in natural childbirth (Bradley, Lamaze, etc.), hypnosis sounded most attractive to me. I do believe that relaxation, visualization, and self-hypnosis can reduce pain, and I know all too well that psychological factors can cause muscles to tense up and trigger pain. That said, there were so many things I did not like about Hypnobirthing:
- The history chapter is almost entirely made up. To suggest that pain in childbirth is some kind of Western construct that was invented by early Christians is pure rubbish, and the idea of pain in childbirth as a Western construct has a rather alarming history steeped in racism.
- Mongan doesn’t document anything at all. Okay, she cites a study here or there. I think the entire book contained less citations than I could count on one hand. Not nearly enough for the extent of the claims she is making.
- In some places, Mongan is just plain ignorant of human anatomy. For example, she repeatedly calls the vagina a “sphincter” or refers to “the sphincters of the vagina.” But the vagina isn’t a sphincter.
- The book trumpets that this method can entirely relieve the pain of childbirth. Somehow I find this really, really hard to swallow. I certainly believe the techniques can reduce pain, but eliminate it? I haven’t researched this extensively, but the Wikipedia page on hypnosis in childbirth reports that there have been several studies which found no sufficient evidence that the method is effective at relieving pain.
- Hypnobirthing terminology is weird. I agree that language matters in cultivating a positive attitude, but I think Mongan renames way too much stuff. I was most alarmed when she suggested that “pain” should be renamed “pressure.” If this method is supposed to eliminate pain altogether, then why is there a need to rename pain? Now, when I read testimonials from Hypnobirthers and they talk about “pressure,” I’ll just be wondering if they really meant pain.
- The book is written in a rather saccharine tone that I just can’t stand. It’s like listening to a crazy great-aunt explain childbirth with stars in her eyes, and even though you know that half of what she says is nonsense, you just smile and nod because you’re trying to be polite.
- This is a technical point, but Mongan’s use of gender-inclusive language is very inconsistent. Most of the time, hypothetical unborn babies are referred to as male. Since this book was last updated in 2005, there’s really little excuse for this. I believe that Mongan has probably made enough money off of the Hypnobirthing empire to hire a competent editor and fix this.
The entire book wasn’t bad. The material on nutrition, exercise, breastfeeding, and positions in labor seems solid enough, and I do believe that the hypnosis techniques can reduce pain in labor. I may still use it, although I almost certainly won’t pay more money for a Hypnobirthing class. Since I already plan to hire a doula, at best, I’ll hire a doula who knows something about Hypnobirthing and let her help me with the visualization and self-hypnosis. 2.5/5 stars.