Maternity Weird

Labor of love: Lee Blumberg pushes the practice of hypnobirthing.
Kevin Scanlon

Lee Blumberg swears that the way we're brought into the world can affect every minute of the rest of our lives. That's why she's crusading for hypnobirthing, a drug-free, painless means of popping out babies. Recently appointed by the Pennsylvania-based Prenatal Parenting Institute as Arizona's official hypnobirthing practitioner, Blumberg is planning something called the New Life Awareness Center, where women can focus on prenatal issues and reprogram their thinking about the trauma of childbirth. We meet in the bar at Eddie Matney's, where I slug down iced coffees and munch tortilla chips, at least until talk turns to placenta and I lose my appetite.

New Times: Hypnobirthing seems like a very post-hippie approach to childbirthing. How is this revolutionary?

Lee Blumberg: It puts people back in touch with what they're actually capable of. Women don't understand what they can do with their own bodies because they've been misled by the medical community.

NT: I read a quote on a birthing Web site: "Pizzas are delivered; babies are birthed." What's the difference?

Blumberg: Hypnobirthing is done in a very quiet, calm place. The baby is birthed onto a bed; there's no catching the baby like he's a baseball, which is how it's done in most hospital deliveries. It's not a baby factory, where the message is, "Let's get the kid out of there." The parents are in control.

NT: Do you dangle a stopwatch in front of your clients and chant, "Look at the speculum . . . you are getting sleepy . . . when I snap my fingers, you will dilate to seven centimeters!"?

Blumberg: No. Hypnosis is only one technique that's used in hypnobirthing. We use it to get rid of pain and fear. We're not there with them in the birthing room, but we're teaching couples how to do self-hypnosis -- how to use hypnosis from beginning to end in the birthing process.

NT: So you're teaching them to block pain.

Blumberg: The Prenatal Parenting Institute, which I represent, says that there is no pain. Our founder, the late English obstetrician Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, couldn't understand why Americans were having such trouble giving birth, while women in other countries were breezing right through it. It had to be the programming about pain that American women were receiving. You go in thinking it's going to hurt, and so it does. We teach how to get rid of stress and fear, which makes the birthing process less difficult. Dr. Dick-Read says that the uterus of a frightened woman in labor is literally white with fear!

NT: That sounds awful. So does Dr. Dick-Read's name. But isn't pain a necessary accompaniment to a normal birthing?

Blumberg: No. Your body knows how to deliver a baby; you don't need a lot of intervention. In hypnobirthing, we go back to pagan times, back when women weren't fearful of childbirth. Some people believe that the pain of childbirth is a rite of passage. And then people tell me it's painful because it's the curse of being a woman. Childbirth doesn't need to hurt.

NT: Come on! You're talking about shoving a watermelon through a pinhole. Of course it's going to hurt.

Blumberg: But a woman's body was designed to deliver children. When she learns to relax, her body takes over.

NT: Is that what happened for you, during your own birthing experiences?

Blumberg: My first one, I went in thinking, "Get me an epidural!" It took five hours for me to deliver. My next two kids I delivered with hypnosis, and I was in and out of there in less than two hours.

NT: How is hypnobirthing perceived by the medical industry?

Blumberg: I haven't had a doctor I've worked with yet who doesn't see the benefit of it. The problem is that anyone who takes charge of her own pregnancy gets in the doctor's way, which is frowned upon. Doctors want to be able to direct a birth like a movie and to schedule patients in a way that's convenient for the doctor.

NT: Doctors are mean!

Blumberg: It's mostly that they're loaded down with patients. That's why 21 percent of all births are done by Caesarean section today. Doctors are overbooked and, in order to stay on schedule, they scare women into inducing. It's amazing what they're doing to these women, and the woman are falling for it. Some women will believe anything. I'm embarrassed to tell you that I know a group of women who think that if they have a C-section, they're still virgins.

NT: And I know a group of men who would like their phone numbers!

Blumberg: The trouble is that we've become used to giving up so much power about so many things in life. We think, "Well, he's a doctor. He must know what he's talking about." Which isn't necessarily always true when it comes to childbirth. There's no proof that inducing a normal labor is ever beneficial, but doctors scare parents into rushing the procedure along, and parents want birthing to be convenient. If the doctor wants to speed up the birth, he might break your water, even if that water bag wasn't ready to break. Once you let a doctor intervene, that's when the problems begin. Women have to change it; they're the ones having babies.

NT: So mothers should just have the medical staff stay out of the way?

Blumberg: If they would, that would be terrific. I've been dealing with the medical industry for years, and it's all about making the births fit into the doctor's schedule. It's one intervention after another: The doctor gives you something to make you dilate, and then he breaks your water -- all so he can get back to his life. You're on the doctor's schedule, not the baby's.

NT: So what are you paying the guy for?

Blumberg: It's about the almighty dollar. Epidurals are expensive, and 97 percent of hospital births use epidurals. That's a lot of income for doctors.

NT: But people pay you to teach them hypnobirthing. How do people find you?

Blumberg: I get a lot of clients from my truck, a black Suburban that has my phone number painted on the side.

NT: One of the Web sites I visited was about something called prenatal parenting. How can you parent before birth? You can't send the kid to his room before he's born.

Blumberg: It's about connecting with the child emotionally. We call it a fetal love break.

NT: Excuse me?

Blumberg: A fetal love break is something you do a couple times a day to connect with the baby. It takes about five minutes, and you're letting your baby know that it's wanted. We now know that the baby can hear and see everything that's going on while he's in the womb and can feel all the emotions the mother is feeling. I tell clients, "Don't look at or think about anything you wouldn't want your baby to experience. Keep negative people away until after the birth. Don't watch Jerry Springer until after the baby is born."

NT: Is hypnobirthing covered by insurance?

Blumberg: No. In the future, it will be. Hypnobirthing has only been around in Arizona for a couple years. It's very big on the East Coast. In the next 10 years, this is going to be the norm for birthing. There's a movement on.

NT: While you're at it, can you cure a birth mother of a smoking habit or maybe do past-life regression? Can you turn a birth mother into a chicken?

Blumberg: Most people don't understand hypnosis; they have a stage show image. In fact, it's merely a focused state of concentration dominated by the unconscious mind; you're more focused than at any other time.

NT: Well, what else is hypnobirthing good for?

Blumberg: I can teach you to program yourself so that every time you see your kid, who maybe aggravates the hell out of you, you can relax and feel empathy for that child. Wouldn't that be a great tool, rather than freaking out whenever your kid misbehaves? We have a lot of people out there who don't realize how much of an impact they're having on their kids.

NT: The materials in your media kit keep referring to "the art of birthing." When did having babies become an art?

Blumberg: I present it as getting back in touch with your body and with the baby. I don't think people see childbirth as sacred, the most awesome thing in the world. Rather, it's seen as a thing to be gotten through. Women are scheduling their kids based on their work schedules or whatever. That's what concerns me. I have to wonder: Is this why so many kids have learning disabilities today?

NT: Do mothers, halfway through a hypnobirthing, demand drugs?

Blumberg: They show up saying, "I want drugs!"

NT: I've never had a baby, but can I just say something about childbirth?

Blumberg: Sure.

NT: Ow! Ow! Ouch! Owwwwww!

Blumberg: Yeah, okay. I got it.

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