The phone rang at 7:30 a.m. and I stumbled out of bed, bleary-eyed and eight months pregnant, to find a message from Dan Gilman: his wife Laura Beth was in labor. I had never met the Gilmans, but they had generously invited me to witness the birth of their third child. They were using a pain-control technique I was learning myself: hypnobirthing.

I quickly organized a trip to the birthing center in Danbury, Conn., but just one hour after Dan’s call, before I’d even made it out of New York City, Mitchell Gilman made it into the world.

When I spoke to her a week later, Laura Beth was apologetic. I was ecstatic. She was living proof of what hypnobirthing proponents kept telling me — that mothers who use this method of self-hypnosis to give birth in a trance-like, deeply relaxed state often enjoy miraculously short labors. “He came out 28 minutes after my waters broke,” Laura Beth told me. “and I was not in pain. I was able to really relax.”

I wasn’t an easy convert to hypnobirthing. For a start, hypnosis made me think of a traveling showman inducing an audience member to dance like a chicken. On top of that, my mother, her mother, every mother I’d ever met had drummed into me that childbirth was agony. Pain-free labor? Yeah, right. But my husband Alex — a doctor who sniggered every time my prenatal-yoga video urged me to open up like a lotus blossom — was hypnobirthing’s unlikely champion.

As a scientist, he embraced the logic of hypnobirthing: if women are terrified of childbirth, the fight-or-flight reflex kicks in once the contractions start. This reflex shuts down organs that are nonessential to fighting and fleeing, including the uterus. With reduced blood flow, the uterus cramps, causing pain. If women could relax, the theory goes, they would experience no pain, have more effective contractions and therefore a shorter labor.

Marie Mongan, 71, a Concord, N.H., hypnotherapist, invented the technique and has taught it at her institute since 1989. When I told her I was afraid of failing at hypnobirthing, Mongan gave me simple advice: “Trust your body and your baby. They know what to do.”

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