Ogden • In communities up and down the Wasatch Front, women are learning how to look at childbirth differently in hopes of experiencing more joy and less pain in the process.
On a recent Tuesday night, Hypnobabies instructor and doula Bonnie Baker welcomed four couples to her mother's Kaysville home for the first of six sessions that explain the birthing method.
"Hypnobabies uses self-hypnosis, similar to what people use for medical hypno-anesthesia for people who cannot use pain medication," said Baker, who began teaching Hypnobabies classes in 2014 after using its techniques to have her second child. "So this is not just guided imagery or visualization."
Matt and Luna Ellis of North Salt Lake participated in preparation for the birth of their first child in February.
"We wanted a class that focused more on the natural side and helping you relax to enjoy your labor instead of one that was more scientific," Luna Ellis said.
For Mike and Chelsea Budge of Cottonwood Heights — who are expecting their third child — the Kaysville course served as a refresher.
"This will be our second baby with Hypnobabies; it worked once so we wanted to do it again," Chelsea Budge said. After having an epidural for the birth of their first baby, Chelsea sought out Hypnobabies because it "felt like the right thing to do. It gives you the tools."
In 2001, Kerry Tuschhoff — a certified hypnotherapist, childbirth educator and doula — founded Hypnobabies in Cypress, California, and now the birthing method has spread throughout the U.S. and abroad.
"There's still a decent number of women out there who want natural, unmedicated childbirth," Tuschhoff said during a recent phone interview. "And there would be more if they knew they didn't have to scream, if there was a way to do it comfortably."
For Tuschhoff, the births of her two children were far from comfortable
"It hurt so bad," Tuschhoff said. "They were both posterior, and all they could tell me was try to relax. With my second birthing, my sister was holding my hands during a contraction. When I finished screaming, I looked at her tear-stained face and she said it shouldn't be this hard. I was determined to find a better way."
That better way involved deep hypnosis, or retraining the mind to perceive the sensations of labor and delivery differently.
Tuschhoff likened the six sessions of Hynobabies to a new software program expectant moms and their partners or birth coaches can install in their mental computers and learn how to use. With repetition, that use can become second nature.
"It overrides all that your brain has ever known about childbirth," Tuschhoff said.
Reducing pain by removing fear
Farr West mom Claudia Buckley has four sons ages 1 through 7 years. Her two youngest sons were born using Hypnobabies, and now Buckley shares that training in childbirth classes she teaches in Brigham City and South Ogden.
With her first child Buckley prepared for a natural childbirth, but after 12 hours of labor, she agreed to have an epidural — a popular pain-blocking method where drugs are injected into the mother's spinal cord. Her second son was born by Cesarean section. But babies No. 3 and No. 4 arrived quite differently.
"I had a vaginal birth without drugs on the third using Hypnobabies," Buckley said. "We're very suggestible under hypnosis — the mind is very powerful. If we're told we're going to experience pain that causes fear."
So rather than tensing up during contractions — which is counterproductive to the birthing process — Buckley trained herself to welcome those powerful muscle movements as pressure waves or "big, warm hugs."
After using Hypnobabies techniques to labor in relaxed fashion at home for much of the day, Buckley recalled how her calm demeanor baffled professionals who checked her into the hospital. Her third son was born half an hour later, and Buckley described the whole experience as amazing.
Buckley's fourth child, born at home using Hypnobabies techniques and a midwife, arrived after a three-hour labor.
"Our minds need a little bit of assistance to change. We're accustomed to thinking of childbirth as hard, painful and an emergency," Buckley said.
On her website, Buckley describes the six three-hour sessions that provide tools needed to embrace labor and delivery. For starters, the introductory class delves into the mind/body connection, what hypnosis is and is not, how fear affects comfort and length of labor, and the use of "fear-clearing" to stay serene as labor progresses.
Subsequent sessions cover nutrition and exercise, childbirth options, associated risks and benefits, stages of labor, breastfeeding and more.
North Ogden resident Chris Miller, a Certified Professional Midwife and CEO of South Ogden-based Arrivals Birth Services, has delivered babies for 45 years and said she's attended more than 3,000 births since moving to Utah in 1980. Over the years, Miller said she's assisted moms who were trained to breath, relax and focus in a variety of ways, including Bradley, Lamaze and Birth Without Fear programs.
"We are seeing a lot of women using the Hypnobabies method," Miller said. "It's really good education for moms and dads. If a woman understands what is going on, she can lose the fear and apprehension. It's an individual experience, and for the most part, most women need to be given a lot of comfort and inspiration that they can do it."