what is gentle birth?

Hypnobirthing is a powerful tool. I love the way it installs confidence, helps people to listen to their body, and know many skilled teachers who’ve altered people’s experience of pregnancy and birth entirely. 

What I‘m not such a fan of is hypnobirthing that uses overly pain-avoidant birth language.

I understand the starting point. A positive reframe of the sensations of birth. 

As Alan Watts writes on HB’s source point, Grantly Dick-Read’s Birth Without Fear :

‘ the technique focuses the mother’s attention on the feeling of the uterine contraction itself, dissociating it from socially implanted ideas of how it is supposed to feel. 

'So long as she regards it as a pain she will resist it, but if she can approach it simply as a tension she can be shown how to go with it, and relax into it. 

'By thus abandoning herself without reserve to the spontaneous contractions of the uterus, she can experience childbirth as extremely strong physical ecstasy rather than a torture. ‘ 

All true. Helping a mother to understand that her body is working for her and not against her; to receive each wave and just let it do its work, this is great. 

But it feels important not to let reimagining slide into downplay - albeit unintentionally. Worried ears may welcome ideas of 'gentle' or 'calm' birth in an avoidant way - and expectations of serene self-possession shaped and set as the ultimate goal. 

Birth is intense. At it’s end, extreme. So evading any mention of how hard it is can be, may mislead. It also sends a slightly enfeebling message that mothers can neither take it nor need to.

It's of course possible to breathe a baby out and some do absolutely take comfort in composure - in maintaining a control. But more usually, birth brings both - a dreamy, soft, sleep-state in the rests, but wild power, releasing roars, and heat and force with the work. 

I hate to think of women feeling confused or in conflict when those great, involuntary gusts do come - thinking they are not doing it right when the baby starts to expel itself and it feels good and right and unavoidable to let go and moan.

For most people, contractions do hurt, but it's not suffering, not when there is good support and an appropriate setting. And with that work, come other feelings - an elevating, life-altering payback that has you wanting to go back to the beginning again soon after.