By Stephen J. Kotz
Kate Westra’s first birth was similar to those experienced by most American women, a frightening and painful experience. “I felt completely unprepared and out of control,” she said of the birth of her son, Aidan, now six-and-a-half, in a Seattle hospital.
What’s more, she felt disconnected from the process. After a nine-month journey through her pregnancy, she felt as though she had missed the most important part: the birth.
But by the time she had her second child, Simone, three years ago in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ms. Westra had become a devotee to hypnobirthing, a technique that uses breathing techniques, visualization, and self-hypnosis to help women have easier and more comfortable births. There was a night-and-day difference between the two experiences, she said.
“The birth of my daughter was the most beautiful, empowering birth I could have hoped for,” she said.
It was such a powerful experience that Ms. Westra gave up her career in marketing and advertising to become a hypnobirth certified educator through the Hypnobirthing Institute, and started teaching classes out of her East Quogue home shortly after moving to Southampton two years ago. Last fall, she began to offer the classes at the Ed and Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute at Southampton Hospital.
A new five-week series starts on Thursday, March 27. The classes meet from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in room. There is a $400 fee per couple.
Ms. Westra said her course is open to anyone who wants to develop skills to better manage their birth, whether they plan on having their baby at home or in the hospital. She said she would recommend that a couple take the class between the 20th and25th week of a pregnancy, “but it’s never too late and it’s never too early. Every woman can have the birth she wants.”
The five sessions cover a lot of ground, from offering basic information on how women’s bodies have adapted to the birthing process and how they can assist that process rather than fight it, to the steps of labor and just about everything in between, including instruction in light body massage, nutrition, breathing, and self-hypnosis.
If meditation is the art of emptying one’s mind of thought, self-hypnosis is learning how to sharply focus the mind on the task at hand while remaining completely relaxed, Ms. Westra said.
“In the subconscious, all your memories are stacked” like books on a shelf, Ms. Westra said. If woman has been told over and over again that birth is a terrible experience, those are the kind of thoughts her mind will pull out of storage. If, however, she has learned that the birth experience can be a tremendously fulfilling one, she is much more likely to feel in control when she goes into labor, she said.
The most important lesson though, is for women to embrace the experience of giving birth rather than fear it. “The key is understanding what is going on,” said Ms. Westra. “Once we let the fear in, our fight or flight instinct kicks in.” And when that happens, a woman loses the benefit of the naturally incurring—and pain reducing endorphins—and instead starts producing adrenalin, which puts stress on the body rather than relaxing it.
It is better, she said, to recognize “we have no control over it, and if we can get out the way and let the birthing process happen, it will most likely result in a normal birth without complications.”
While Ms. Westra said some women are lucky enough to experience a nearly pain-free birth, she pointed out that the process is called “labor” for a reason. Giving birth is, obviously, hard work, “but it doesn’t have to be this horrible, painful experience.”
For more information about hypnobirthing classes, call the Ed and Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute at Southampton Hospital at 728-9355 or visit hamptonswellnessinstitute.org for visit Ms. Westra’s website, hbhamptons.com.