Tania Lapointe is the happy mother of three young children. But when she recalls giving birth to her two boys, 5-year-old Guille and 2-year-old Philip, she is not exactly overcome by a warm, maternal glow of remembrance.
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"I was in extreme pain — the kind of pain where I was almost convulsing, screaming 'give me drugs, give me drugs,'" Lapointe said.
For her baby Chole, born one month ago, Lapointe was determined it was going to be different, and it was. During labor, without any medication at all, she was calm, quiet, and peaceful, surrounded by her husband, her mid-wife and Maureen Saba, the woman who taught her how to perform self-hypnosis.
Saba, a hypno-birthing practitioner, has taught Lapointe and dozens of other women how to be self-hypnotized during birthing. The women use positive images and relaxation exercises to ease the pain of childbirth, and for many, the results have been outstanding, advocates say.
Summoning Serenity During Labor
"They are so focused, they are in such control. It's incredible," Saba said. Though self-hypnosis is not a new idea, it is a rising trend in natural childbirth. Many people think a hypnotist as someone waving a pocket watch in front of a person's eyes to make them do things they would not normally do. But when it comes to clinical applications, hypnosis is nothing like what you may have seen on stage, or in movies.
Women are encouraged to think of birth pains as surges or pressure rather than "contractions." They are asked to picture themselves in a serene location, such as the beach. The hypno-birthing practitioner encourages them to feel waves of relaxation moving through their body.
Some 1,000 instructors are certified through the HypnoBirthing Institute, based in Epsom, N.H. — and the demand for the instructors certainly exists. Lapointe cannot imagine giving birth without one.
"This was like heaven compared to the other two," Lapointe said.
Pregnant mothers or patients who choose to learn self-hypnosis as a way to ease pain during pregnancy or surgical procedures use a combination of techniques to achieve a state of hypnosis.
"Some of the basics are learning how to breathe properly how to let the muscles completely relax," Saba said. "It really must be practiced at home, self-hypnosis gets better with practice," she said.
Saba has her students attend five classes of self-hypnosis instruction. When they're done with the classes, they continue to practice at home using tapes and the techniques they learned in class.
Breezing Through Kidney Operation
Hypnosis is not just for the labor room. Robert Scott used hypnosis when he had his second kidney removed at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
His doctor, Elivira Lang, says hypnosis reduces the need for pain medication, which often leaves the patient confused and weakened. It worked for Scott, who said that with just a tiny bit of medication and hypnosis, his second kidney removal was a breeze compared to the last.
"This one I'm much more alert afterwards, much more awake," Scott said.
His experience is not unusual. Dr. Lang has published the results of a study with 241 patients who have undergone hypnosis while having radiological procedures.
"We found three things: the procedures are more comfortable, safer and faster," Lang said. " I think it's just a state of focused concentration like you're watching TV, you're reading a book."
Doctors in other disciplines also believe in the power of focused concentration.
Taking Sting Out of Burns
Toronto dentist Dr. Victor Rausch uses hypnosis in his practice, and when had his own molar extracted by a colleague, he hypnotized himself, and used no anesthesia.
Clinicians have also used hypnosis to help patients through one of the most painful procedures in all of medicine — removing the bandages from a burn victim.
David Patterson, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington, used hypnosis to help electrical technician Ladd Richter, who suffered burns over 20 percent of his body after an electrical explosion. The process helped Richter through the twice-a-day ordeal of treating his wounds, and he felt energized when the hypnosis was done.
"I feel like a million bucks," Richter said. "When you get up, you feel like you just slept. Like you had a good power nap. Full of energy."
And whether it's a devastating experience like burns, or a joyous experience like giving birth, the benefits of hypnosis continue into recovery.
"The huge difference was my recovery," Lapointe said. "I was alert after the birth … and this time I was on my feet, right after the birth I was on my feet."