Cynthia Overgard was a Vice President at MasterCard and Adjunct Professor of Finance at the University of Connecticut when she became pregnant with her first child in 2004. Not wanting to be left with any regrets about her birth experience, the business expert set out to become a birthing expert—her own and her baby’s best advocate. Her journey to educate herself transformed her life in more ways than one.
“We have to find our voice in this culture,” Overgard said from her studio in Westport on Monday. “We need to hear everyone but listen to ourselves.”
Overgard found her voice, and she has dedicated her career to supporting women in finding theirs. In 2007, Overgard became a HypnoBirthing instructor, the birthing method she credits with leading her to the birth experience she most desired—peaceful, natural, and comfortable. An acknowledged expert in the method, Overgard has taught it to over 500 couples, some of whom travel from as far as Brooklyn and New Jersey to attend her classes.
Overgard sat down with Hamlet Hub on Monday (despite the holiday!) to share the method and her story:
Hamlet Hub: What is HypnoBirthing?
Cynthia Overgard: HypnoBirthing is a childbirth education course whose premise asserts that fear and tension are the causes of pain, and it acknowledges that the brain is by far the most important birthing organ. The brain releases various hormones, including oxytocin and adrenaline, which have contradictory impacts on the birthing body. Where the former facilitates childbirth by relaxing and dilating, the latter constricts and tightens as a response to fear – it’s nature’s way of protecting babies from emerging to a mother who faces danger. The two cannot be released simultaneously in any mammal. The good news is, labor always begins with oxytocin – nature has designed it this way. The mother has to actually become frightened, humiliated, or untrusting for her to secrete adrenaline. Thus, it is critical for a woman to give birth in a place where she feels safest, among practitioners she trusts. Short births are very common with HypnoBirthing because of the absence of adrenaline.
For some women, feeling safe means birthing in a hospital. For others, hospitals create tension. Two-thirds of the couples I have taught have given birth in a hospital. The rest have birthed in a birthing center or at home. Of course, medical intervention is a blessing when needed. Everybody, even when they plan to give birth at home, must have a surgeon as their Plan B.
Hamlet Hub: What was your own birth experience like?
Cynthia Overgard: When I became pregnant with my first child, I was compelled to educate myself. I came across the website of a woman who had given birth at home, and I was as emotionally moved as I was suspicious. I wondered whether it was really possible for a woman to home birth as joyfully as she had. I was so uninformed in my options, I wasn’t even aware midwives were still practicing. I had never seen any birth story like it. As I was reading her story, my chest started to ache, and I realized what I felt was longing.
I decided she was some kind of amazing, possibly hippie sort of woman, and I wished a metropolitan woman like me could approach childbirth with her sense of courage and trust. The woman recommended a book that changed my life, Henci Goer’s “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth.” I decided to take it as a sign – I read the book cover to cover. I then hired a doula, took a HypnoBirthing class, and decided to have my baby at the Connecticut Childbirth and Women’s Center. My son weighed 8 lbs. 14 oz. and was born in exactly three and a half hours. Four years later, I home birthed my 9 lb. 7 oz. daughter during a planned home birth with two midwives.
Hamlet Hub: What made you decide to become a HypnoBirthing instructor?
Cynthia Overgard: I told everyone from the cashier at Trader Joe’s to the bank teller my birth story. I wanted everyone to know natural birth was not just possible, but doable. I was first published when I wrote my story for “Mothering” magazine in 2007, but I still didn’t feel that I was doing enough. I knew I longed to work with couples personally rather than speaking to the masses.
On Thursday from 5 – 8 p.m., Overgard’s HypnoBirthing of Connecticut celebrates the grand opening of its prenatal center at 420 Post Rd. W, Suite 202, in Westport. A keynote address will be given by Nancy Wainer, the acclaimed childbirth author and internationally sought-after speaker who coined the term VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) in her award-winning book, “Silent Knife.”
Chef Sue Cadwell of Health in a Hurry in Fairfield will provide catering, and Donny Raus of Raus Coffee will mix up his specialty coffee. A friend and former UConn finance student of Overgard’s, Raus invented his much sought-after Cold Romans™ during a party at Overgard’s home. Local businesses will offer multiple giveaways throughout the night, and the first 100 attendees will receive a gift bag with offers and products to take home with them.
The only prenatal education center of its kind in the state, HypnoBirthing of Connecticut offers workshops and services for pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and early parenting. New mothers are invited to gather for regular movie nights, breastfeeding support groups, an annual Champaign brunch, and monthly birth story gatherings in the pristine, sunny 1,100 square foot studio. It includes a spacious sitting room overlooking wooded scenery and a second room with products, a lending library, and a dining table Overgard fills with organic treats at each gathering.
“Providing food at every class and workshop is important to me,” Overgard explained. “It’s an Italian thing.”
For more information, visit the HypnoBirthing of Connecticut website.