Whilst studying NLP and Hypnosis one of the things that interested me was what you could do once you set your mind to it, and I was drawn to the minds ability to control pain. How some people had different pain thresholds, how is it that what someone finds unbearable another will say is OK. This question brought my attention to childbirth and the fact that there are women in the world that give birth with relatively little or no discomfort. What makes birth easy for some women and difficult for others? And how come we only hear about birth being painful?
My studies led me to an English doctor Grantly Dick Read (who was also the founder of the NCT) who grew up in a rural area of England at the beginning of the 20th Century and having seen animal husbandry at work he could not understand why humans had such a problem giving birth. He spent many years investigating this, it is his theories and findings that have contributed to my childbirth classes.
Many childbirth classes, particularly those run by local authorities in the UK have evolved into an information group. Informing you of the medical choices that you have, the drugs available to you (although it is my experience that they do not always fully explain how these work and that the anaesthetist may not be available when you decide that you are ready), they will explain what happens if something goes wrong and also give you information on the services available to you locally after the birth. Some of these courses suggest that pain is inevitable, a part of your destiny, the price you pay for having a baby.
Yet for centuries Yogi’s in the east and practitioners of other disciplines have been able, through breathing techniques, to alter their state and perception of physical awareness. They are able to access an area within their mind and reset their awareness threshold. Its as if their expectations and beliefs manage to eliminate discomfort.
How can the mind do this?
What is it that makes us think something as natural as Childbirth should be painful? Strange, isn’t it – the one thing that we are supposed to be able to do – procreate – should be so difficult, or is it?
Childbirth can be a time of activity, concentration and confidence, rather than what is expected by some or should I say most women, – of hard work, pain and suffering. In this day and age most women have their babies in hospital, actively encouraged to do so, yet you are not sick and should not be treated as though you were.
Back in the 80’s when I was expecting my daughter I read everything I could about birth and felt that something must be wrong with the human race – why do we need so much assistance? I thought of other mammals who have their babies quietly and without any sign of pain and bears who have their babies whilst hibernating, was there such a serious design fault with humans. My midwife must have thought I was difficult, as I told her of all the things she was not allowed to do. Then at my doctors check up, just a couple of weeks before my due date, I was told I was in labour. But it doesn’t hurt I said. “It will,” said my GP helpfully. I spent the next few hours looking for and wondering about this pain I was to feel. Nothing happened. I went shopping, then as the feelings I had been having became more regular I went to hospital. “Do you want anything for the pain?” I was asked. And when I replied it didn’t hurt I was told, “It will”. The nurses were very helpful asking regularly about my pains and offering drugs. After a while I actually began to wonder when it would start to hurt and worry that it wasn’t hurting as much as they said it would. My mother told me not to listen to them and that having a tooth ache was much worse than having a baby.
Much of what we experience comes from our beliefs and what we focus on. Many of our beliefs are connected to expectancy. For example if you don’t believe that your outcome is possible, or you don’t believe that you have what it takes to achieve your goal – you probably wont do what it takes to achieve it. Everything we say or think about ourselves we make happen. How often do we say things like “that was stupid of me”,” I don’t have any talent” or “Things always go wrong” and then wonder why these things happen to us.
Our thoughts shape our world. How we focus our thoughts will determine what we will or will not experience – our thoughts becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. By focusing on the negative we can actually bring negativity into our lives and by focusing on the positive we can attract the positive into our lives. By changing your thought processes you can change your experience, by taking control of your thoughts and images created by them, and directing these towards a particular idea and goal.
Pain can appear simply because its expected. Each persons response can be different, as can each persons experience to the same stimulus. Their expectations are based on past experience and this will also effect their ability to deal with the situation.
For example; the person who knows from past experience that they can recover quickly are not only able to minimise any discomfort they are also able to lower their perception of pain. Whereas the person who remembers having difficulties in the past may feel that it has to get worse before it gets better. They then interpret twinges, itching, pressure etc as signals of pain and as if by magic they feel pain.
One way to understand how our minds create reality for us is to imagine that the billions of cells in the brain are part of a huge circuit that is waiting to be connected. For example when we’re dreaming. You may wake up with a pounding heart after having a dream that contained thoughts or memories. Even though these thoughts are incomplete, and your dreams may only last for a brief time, the impression of reality is enough to cause changes in your body. As far as your body is concerned what occurs in your mind during that dream is real. Most people associate birth with pain, so when a womans labour begins this association leads her to respond to the sensations as she would to pain.
A client of mine whilst in labour found that as she focussed her mind as I suggested in the she was fine, but at some point she wondered what would happen if she looked for pain. She found that if she looked for pain, she found pain, yet she could also re-focus her mind and the pain disappeared.
Try this experiment; smile with your whole face including your eyes. Now try and think of something horrible. Its difficult isn’t it.
Now smile again, with your whole face, and think of something you really enjoy. Its easier to think of something good whilst you are smiling. With the smile our brains become wired up for certain signals, and chemicals are released from your brain. Serotonin and Endorphins are released when we smile and when we laugh. Its these chemicals that make us feel good.
The brain only registers painful sensations when it receives one strong stimulus at a time. Multiple signals received can act as a distracter that can ease or even eliminate pain. Try the following exercise:
Pinch the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. Only hard enough to notice a slight painful sensation. Now concentrate on that area – think of the pain. Think only of the pain.
Now stop and direct your attention elsewhere – for example a spot or a picture on a wall.
Now continue to focus your attention elsewhere whilst pinching your hand again exerting the same amount of pressure. Continue to pinch, keeping your focus of attention elsewhere – look at the picture. Study its content, colour, design and detail. As you concentrate on something other than your hand, notice the sensations in the hand are less painful. In fact you may not notice any discomfort at all.
When Dr Grantly Dick Read was a doctor at Whitechaple Hospital in the early 1900’s, he was called out to a women in labour. He offered her chloroform, the only pain relieving chemical of the time, which she refused. Afterwards when he congratulated her on her bravery she replied “it didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to was it Doctor?” This quote spurred him onto investigate pain in childbirth and how some women managed to have an easy time where others did not.
Our bodies work in the same way as other mammals, which is why our scientists spend so much time studying animals. Hormones affect the mind and body in animals and there is no reason to suspect that we are any different. For example oestrogen prepares the uterus to receive the fertilised egg and prepares the uterine muscles for labour. Oestrogen production is increased around the time of your period which is why some women tend to be more interested in sex at this time. Bodily functions are controlled by hormones and we are rarely aware of the automatic processes set in motion by our mind.
Dr Dick Read found that the pain in labour had nothing to do with the design of our bodies. When we take the proper preparation our labour progresses as intended in the same way it does with the other inhabitants of this planet. By following his suggestions, using breathing techniques, relaxing and letting our bodies work naturally we can have a pain free experience. He said that problems occurred when labour starts with fear. Even though birth is safer today than before, and the circumstances that used to surround birth no longer exist, our belief in pain and suffering linger on. Fear is our self-fulfilling prophesy like a catch 22, pain is expected, fear is felt, the body tenses, stress hormones are released, and pain is felt.
Dr Grantley Dick Read believed something as natural as childbirth should not be painful and that civilisation brought fear to childbirth and that fear led to tension which led to pain. Once the fear is overcome, tension and pain disappear. His explanation of this did a lot to alter the approach to obstetrics, his method consisted of education, relaxation and suggestion. He noticed very early on in his career that women who had easy births appeared to be in a trance like state and he said this was due to extreme relaxation.
In recent years hypnosis has begun to be an acceptable part of our everyday healthcare, although, it still has some of that strange and mysterious air about it. Yet it is something that we have all done many times, you didn’t notice because it is such a natural state of mind.
A trance is a state of focused inner awareness; and when this happens all other things that are happening around you just seem to disappear. You are aware of the outside occurrences on another level whilst the conscious mind is occupied; the unconscious mind filters out things that are not necessary at that point in time. This is the reason that hypnosis is so successful, allowing your unconscious resources to be accessed with direct and indirect suggestions and imagery.
The use of hypnosis in childbirth and surgery is not new. Over 150 years ago, mesmerism or hypnosis was one of the principal techniques for pain relief. It was only with the discovery of chemical anaesthesia in the mid 1800’s that its use was stopped by the medical profession.
I consider the biggest test to my theories and work took place in 2004 when my grandson Joshua was born. I worked with my daughter in the weeks prior to the birth. My daughter wanted a home birth we had agreement from her midwife and prepared the house for this event. As with many, Joshuas due date arrived and went with no baby. She decided to wait rather than be induced and it was nearly two weeks later that Joey went into labour.
When her contractions were 5 minutes apart she called the hospital, and when they asked her about the pain and she replied that she wasn’t in pain they declined to come out saying she couldn’t be in labour. We waited a while and I called on her behalf and said she was in a lot of pain, when the midwife arrived and saw a very relaxed Joey said she couldn’t be in labour as she was far too calm. Yet when she examined her she was 6 cms dilated and they agreed that she was in labour.
Joshua was born at 5am, just 5 hours after the midwife arrived on 7 April 2004. A very happy calm baby. Often when he was out in his pram people thought he was a C Section baby as they said his head was perfect.
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