April 30, 2010— -- In Marie Mongan's day, child birth meant a sterile, medicalized birth with drugs, and if you happened to be awake, lots of painful pushing.
"Most women were totally anesthetized and out cold, and their babies were taken from them with forceps, except for the very few who didn't make it to the hospital and had them by the side of the road," said Mongan, now 77.
So Mongan, then a young New Hampshire English teacher, devised her own way to circumvent the system when she had her four children in the late 1950s and 1960s.
She practiced a form of self-hypnosis, relaxing and imagining a calm birth, one that was painless.
Today, the her method has a registered trademark -- HypnoBirthing -- and women in 34 countries, including celebrity mothers like Jessica Alba, Giselle Bundschen, Pamela Anderson, and "ER's" Noah Wyle's wife Tracy, have learned how to put mind over matter.
Actress Tiffani Thiessen of television's "Saved By the Bell" and "90210" has also just announced she will prepare for a HypnoBirth.
"We are very conscious of the mind-body connection and any approaches that can reduce the need for medication are a good thing," said Dr. Tracy Gaudet, an obstetrician and executive director of Duke University's Center for Integrative Medicine.
"We use hypnosis for all sorts of things," she said. "But it has kind of a PR issue and a bad identity with a lot of misperceptions around someone controlling the mind. But once patients and physicians are given accurate information and they work hand in hand, these are very powerful approaches."
"There's a calmness and not as much fuss," said Mongan. "That's the way babies are meant to come into the world."
No one held a swinging pocket watch above Mongan or her younger protégés -- rather they used deep relaxation, breathing and self-hypnosis techniques to make labor and childbirth a serene event.
The laboring woman is told not to push, thereby tensing muscles, but to "breathe down the baby," working with her own body's contractions.
"I always believed that it didn't make sense that it had to be painful," said Mongan. "It's a physiological law that all muscles in the body work unless there is something wrong. What could be wrong with procreation of the species?"
What first gave her the idea that the brain could control the birthing process was when she was a child, watching a stray cat in the midst of labor.
"A dog came into the yard and the cat's labor shut down," said Mongan. "She took the two babies and ran away and then took the others and ran away. Then she had two more."