Jennifer Masi was six weeks pregnant when she heard about HypnoBirthing, a method of relaxation, breathing, visualization and self-hypnosis techniques developed to help women during childbirth.
"I actually saw Jessica Alba on television (last year) talking about how she was practicing HypnoBirthing and I had to look it up," said Masi, a 35-year-old Milford resident, who was looking to have a natural birth.
An online search put her in touch with Cynthia Overgard, a HypnoBirthing instructor who has worked with hundreds of clients.
Overgard recently opened HypnoBirthing of Connecticut in Westport. The basic purpose of the method is to get women prepared for a calm and gentle birth by dispelling the fear and tension that practitioners say cause labor pain, thereby reducing unnecessary medical interventions and procedures. In effect, it helps expectant women develop techniques to encourage the release of endorphins, which are natural stress relievers, rather than the hormones that cause stress.
This is not the stereotypical "you are getting very sleepy" method that most people associate with hypnosis. HypnoBirthing is more about being totally engrossed, yet relaxed, and able to tune out distractions. It is one of several childbirth preparation programs, such as the Lamaze technique and the Bradley Method.
Masi was 12 weeks into her pregnancy when she first began the course, which she said gave her the visualization and breathing techniques that enabled her to remain in a relaxed state during her entire 36-hour labor.
She began at home, she said, waiting until she was about 28 hours into labor before heading to Bridgeport Hospital, where she delivered her first child, daughter Emerson. Masi gave birth naturally, without any medication or other interventions.
Overgard, who has been a HypnoBirthing educator for the past six years, is intimately familiar with the technique, practicing it herself during the birth of her two children. In addition to classwork, participants receive a book, CDs and handouts.
The course, which can run four or five weeks in this area, can cost several hundred dollars to attend.
"It really is a child birth method as much as it is a philosophy," Overgard said.
It is difficult to find the exact number of people educated in the method, but Overgard said there are about 2,000 active practitioners in nearly 50 countries.
"HypnoBirthing is about using your brain, which I tell my clients is the most powerful birthing organ by far," she said.
Overgard likened it to yoga, where practitioners put themselves in strenuous situations, yet through breathing and relaxation, are able to stay calm and in control. The idea is to eliminate this concept of pain -- to even keep from uttering the word -- when one talks of labor. In HypnoBirthing, it is a "surge" rather than a contraction.
The premise of this particular technique is to enable a woman to feel relaxed and in charge at the birth. Despite the name, HypnoBirthing isn't about "zoning out" during labor. If anything, couples learning the technique want to be very much present in the moment.
HypnoBirthing attracts couples on a wide spectrum, from those wanting a natural birth at home to those seeking to deliver at a birthing center or hospital, said Muneeza Ahmed, who is a practitioner based in Stamford.
On a recent evening, for instance, Ahmed led a small group of students through some breathing and relaxation techniques at her business, Let's Birth Calmly with HypnoBirthing.
"When you are in synch with your breathing, your whole body relaxes," Ahmed said. "Tune in to what is going on in your own body -- that is the key."
"I came in with an open mind," Ingraham said. "I want to be as prepared as I could be."
Such advance preparation was key for Masi.
"There were some very hard moments," she said, adding that the technique does not profess to guarantee a short or pain-free birth. "But I knew I was equipped to make the decisions I had to make and I could handle whatever came my way."