My good friend Jodi Garrod (@Doulaparis) believes there is a new, and not very helpful, trend emerging in childbirth circles. Namely, the tendency for birth nerds (like me) to distance themselves from birth ‘hippies’ even while promoting some pretty bohemian ideas and techniques. When Jodi put this idea to me, I immediately, with a tinge of shame, had to admit she was right - because even I had included in my hypnobirthing FAQs, ‘Do I have to be a hippy to do it?’, responding with a resounding ‘No.’
But what does this even mean? Who are we thinking of when we refer to ‘hippies’? And why are we so keen to distance ourselves from them?
It seems to me that the term ‘hippy’, when used in this way, is referring to people who are somehow impractical; people who are already so deeply submerged in the righteous and groovy that their opinion on what might or might not be helpful in childbirth is not to be trusted. By distancing ourselves from hippies, then, we are reassuring new mothers that our frame of reference is similar to theirs; we are modern, sensible people, who believe in science and facts, but also happen to enjoy deep relaxation techniques (without this in any way impeding our ability to make rational evidence-based decisions, natch).
From a marketing perspective, it makes sense that childbirth providers are distancing themselves from such untrustworthy beatniks, particularly as ever increasing numbers of mum clients now access information and courses online. Once upon a time, learning hypnobirthing would have been a pretty ‘out there’ thing to do, requiring a decent amount of research and, probably, some underground contacts in the birth world. Now, even Management Consultants do it. Because, thank God, there is EVIDENCE that it works; proof that hypnobirthing reduces intervention and increases natural birth rates. Phew! So we can justify our decision to teach, and learn, alternative birth preparation techniques, not because we’re spiritual in any way (yuk!), but because research says this is an intelligent way to spend our coin. To be clear, I am not suggesting that this anti-hippy movement is all about making money - for me, at least, when I started promoting my hypnobirthing courses, there was a genuine concern that, if I seemed to be offering something too radical, I would alienate ‘normal’ mums who would benefit greatly from the techniques.
So why is all of this so problematic? Jodi and I are working on a theory that, actually, it would be more helpful if women saw the status of ‘hippy’ as something to aspire to, rather than as something to fear. Pregnancy and childbirth are undoubtedly radical. First a woman has to conceive and grow a baby - have you ever studied embryology? It’s mental. I got to page 6 of an embryology colouring book (still at the ball of cells stage), and had to give up because it was so complicated. It was easier for me to accept the process as 'magic' than to attempt to understand the science. So you somehow manage to get pregnant, you do this insane thing called growing a baby (some of you decide to grow more than one baby at once, wtf?!). Your body, which, pre-pregnancy, you might have thought you had some control over, becomes a law unto itself - leaky, swelling, energised, sick and sore, the changes that you undergo will be many and unpredictable. As the birth approaches, you are struck with the realisation that, at some point, your baby needs to be born. Further monumental transitions are on the horizon: women become mothers, a baby adapts to life outside the womb, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunties and uncles spring into existence… Come on! This is Big Stuff. Shouldn't we be willing to dig deep as we prepare for such mind-altering change?
Ina May Gaskin, with her army of hippies, did some truly radical things for childbirth in the 1970s - her book Spiritual Midwifery remains one of my all-time favourites (if only for the birth story where one dad describes his partner as looking like a beautiful ‘psychedelic frog’). The process of birth is no less transformative now than it was then. Therefore, as access to alternative birth preparation broadens, we need to take care that its content doesn’t become increasingly superficial and apologetic.
Pregnancy and birth affects all women differently. But I have yet to encounter a mother who says, ‘Childbirth? That old thing? It kind of passed me by.’ The dual process of growing and birthing a child is profound - the support we give women in the antenatal period should respect this. There is nothing shameful about seeking deeper understanding of our bodies and minds as we prepare for childbirth, indeed, it would seem that it is the only ‘sensible’ thing to do. And you know what? If you want to whisper a little to your vagina along the way… well good for you!