Ep. 103 - Unwinding Birth

with Laura Hanstad

It's helpful to make sure that you're considering what you really want, and then stack the cards in your favor.”
Laura Hanstad
Episode 103, orgasmic birth the podcast

Welcome to episode 103!

A woman’s birth experience is one of the most powerful and transformational events of her life. Yet for many, it does not go as envisioned due to a lack of knowledge or support. 

This week, Debra sits with Laura Hanstad to discuss the power women have over their birth choices to achieve the empowered birth they want. Laura discovered the power of choosing the right support team after an initial discouraging birth experience. She has since become a doula, educator, and healing practitioner to help other mothers understand their options and achieve the autonomous births they envision.

Listen in as Debra and Laura talk about choosing providers and a location aligned with your birth vision, why selecting an OB-GYN vs midwife can impact the level of support for a natural physiological birth, how “stacking the cards in your favor” leads to preferred outcomes, complementary techniques like hypnobirthing and craniosacral therapy that address mind-body connections, how continuous care from a doula enhances emotional and physical support during labor, and planning to allow for the unpredictable nature of birth.

Episode Highlights:

02:41 Birth Education 

08:13 Regaining Autonomy and Empowerment 

14:07 HypnoBirthing

18:59 Healing Past Birth Trauma 

24:17 Preparing for a Positive Birth Experience

28:40 Birth Support Options

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Debra Pascali-Bonaro: Are you seeing a theme and so many of our birth stories, a first birth where people just went with the flow of going to the hospital, not asking many questions and having a birth that they look back with some disappointment of not having their voice and choices heard, or maybe not even understanding all their options. My guest today has a tale of a first, a little bit challenging birth, and then finding hypnobabies, a doula, a midwife, and all setting her on a journey of a gentle, powerful waterbirth and more. I know that she’s going to inspire you whether it’s your first baby or baby number five or six. There’s always opportunities to understand your options, learn and prepare for the birth you desire and deserve. Speaking of options, I always encourage people to positively prepare for birth and create your birth desires, or as many call it, a birth plan. I would like to offer you free access to my pleasurable birth preferences at orgasmicbirth.com/get-birth-plan. Look in the show notes for the direct link to help you consider all your options and to communicate them to your birth team.

Hi, I’m Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Co-Founder and Director of Orgasmic Birth, and host of the Orgasmic Birth Podcast. My guest today is Laura Hanstad, a mom of six. She’s a birth doula, a craniosacral therapist, a dynamic body balancing facilitator and teacher, lactation educator counselor, reiki master, and hypnobabies instructor, and five time hypno mom. She’s here to share her story of unwinding birth.

Welcome, Laura.

Laura Hanstad: Thank you so much for having me. Debra. You were at part of the beginning of my birth journey so I’m so excited to be here.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: That’s such an honor. It’s so great to connect with you. And we were talking for a second that you’re near Minneapolis, which is kind of one of the birth hubs in the United States that have so many birthing options. But we can talk more about that later because I’d love for you to share your first experience. What was that like? How did that set you on this incredible path that you’re on today?

Laura Hanstad: Even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I kind of did what a lot of people do. You choose a hospital that’s close to your house, you choose an OB GYN because you think that’s what you do. And you see it on the movies and TV, and read some books. But I kind of sound like I’m tough. I can do this. I’m gonna have my mom there and my husband. I had just started to hear about doulas kind of towards what the later part of my pregnancy was like, and I’ll be fine. And then I went into the birthing process and was like, oh, okay, this was getting real, real quick. I was just kind of laying in the bed and no one was really saying like, hey, you should drink something. Once you have a snack, let’s get up and go walk around. I didn’t have anyone to guide me through that process. My husband would hold my hand and then that kind of swatted away. And my mom, which I’m very thankful for. My mom was there because she did end up helping advocate for me towards the end of the birth. But later, she told me like weeks after the birth, she’s like, well, I hadn’t given birth in 25 years, I didn’t really know how to help you. And I kind of went, that wasn’t what I expected to hear from you. So I really wish that I had somebody that was like, alright, let’s get up and go do this. And nope, you gotta take a little sip right now. So fine, typical western birth. I got an epidural like a couple hours before she was born. I ended up having a vaginal birth. It was fine, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. 

And so after her birth, I went looking for answers. I just thought there has to be a better way to do it. When I started to find about doulas since I had started to have that in my ear towards the end of pregnancy, I was like, there must be something to this and started to look into what their roles are in the history. And then it was funny because about a year later, a friend at work told me that she wanted to have a baby. And then she got pregnant pretty quickly. And we went out to lunch and she said, one thing you would have changed about your birth. And I said, oh, that’s easy. My birth support. I wish I had someone that would have done all these things for me. She goes, would you do that for me? And I kinda was like, sure. So then I started reading some doula books and started watching some movies. Actually found Orgasmic Birth, watched the movie, and like the business of being born and things like that. And being a lifelong learner, I thought I should probably take a class in this. I love classes so I went and did doula training here in the Twin Cities, and it just blew my mind. And it was really, personally, it explained what happened in my birth and why things were outside of my control, how I didn’t advocate for myself, things I could have done. So it was kind of emotional to go through it personally, but also gave me so much knowledge and so many ideas on how to support the birthing person. So I do lead for my friend, and it could not have been a better first birth as a doula, honestly. And that was kind of like, I caught the birth high after that part. I rode that high for a really long time and then other people started kind of creeping in and asking. Right around the time I did my Doula training, I actually found Hypno babies. 

A good friend of mine here in the Twin Cities, Lindsay McCoy, who is also a doula and has the body ready method, needed Hypno doula. So she was like really reaching out to people to learn about Hypno babies. I found Hypno babies right at the beginning of my Doula career, and have specialized in that ever since and become an instructor. And that’s just kind of my thing. It’s so positive about pregnancy and normalizes birth, and just kind of like, what you’re doing, they just go so well together and started to attend more births even though I was working full time. Still, birth just tends to work. I don’t know if you find that too. But it would be overnight. And then I’d come in and go to work in the morning. Or I’d maybe leave a tiny bit early, but it just tends to work out with whatever things else you have going on in life. And that led me to my next birth and pregnancy. I had a miscarriage between my two oldest girls and have learned a lot from that process. And then my second baby actually went to the Hypnobabies class with my husband. I knew pretty much everything about Hypno babies having been a doula specializing in that, but we really wanted to go through the process together and help him to learn tools and techniques, how he can help me more. And just because we didn’t do that in the beginning with our first, so I kind of felt like we missed out on something. So that was a really great experience, hospital birth with midwives, waterbirth really hands off. And that was part of my process of learning how to advocate for myself. 

So every appointment with the midwife, I would talk about what my preferences were, and talk about what my vision for the birth was, and all these things I was doing. And it all came down to actually happen. I even created a little chart of what I visualized and what happened. And check, check, check, check, check, check, check, it was just fantastic. So really empowering. Really intense, but really empowering. And my husband was just like blown away. My mom was there, she was blown away too. And that kind of led us even further into the kind of holistic and supportive birth world where autonomy is kind of like at the center of what you do. Since then, we have had four home births, and all water births except for one who came so quickly. My fifth was actually born on the first day that the world shut down in 2020. So it was kind of funny. But Saturday, we found out, our school said we were going to close and be home for a couple of weeks and we’ll see after spring break. And I thought, great. So the kids will be home for the birth. They don’t have to pack lunches or worry about, are they going to school. Aren’t they? Who’s picking them up? And since that Monday morning, she was born bright and early at 7:05 AM. We would have all been up and moving around, getting ready for school. 

So the first week was just dreamy. We just stayed in bed in our PJs and watched movies, and took naps. It was lovely. And then the second week was when reality hit. I was like,oh, no. I have to teach them. I don’t compare to the magic of our teachers. So really, wonderful births ever since. The first one was my learning experience. And then the rest of them have all been so fantastic. Just a lot of autonomy in terms of what I wanted with preferences. I caught all my babies, even caught all the placentas, and did a fondle massage for myself a little bit. And my midwives always teased me. Not only did I lift myself, but now I was midwifing myself.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: Such a journey. I’d love to ask you because your first birth was not in water. And you actually add another one that you didn’t fill the tub with, and then you had water. Why would you describe to people the difference between air and water for labor and birth?

Laura Hanstad: I feel like the water birth really helps calm the intensity. A little bit of what the birth sensations are, I’ve never had to have any stitches outside of my first birth because they gave me an episiotomy without my permission. So helping make sure that the tissues are nice and soft, and can stretch and prevent tearing. So I think that’s a really great added benefit that I’ve enjoyed. And the intensity of crowning is just a little bit different. My fifth was seven pounds, so she was a perfect, nice little size. Not too bad. But I remember that feeling of the head and saying to my friend and doulas like, oh, there’s so much. I had pushed out of the 15 inch head previously in the water so there was a real big discrepancy there in size, and the intensity was just so much more full that I really do love the way. I’m also just a fish so I love water, in general. You’ll always find me in a bath, a pool or something. But I think just calming the intensity, having some buoyancy, and having the water help hold up your belly a little bit. And it’s such a gentle, lovely transition for the baby too. That’s one of the things. 

I really love coming from water to water, having the noises more adult, having the light set so bright, not having that cold air hit you right away. That just I think is one of the biggest benefits too. And I really enjoyed that process of seeing them come out into the water, seeing their little eyes open and then sweeping them up onto my chest. That was probably one of the pivotal moments in birth for me was with my second, which was my first unmedicated birth where I was squatting in the tub, holding on to a sheet that my husband had wrapped around himself. And so she started to come out and the midwife was behind me. She couldn’t totally reach me so I scooped down because I had told her to catch. I scooped down with my right hand. And then I thought, if I let go with my left, I’m gonna fall. She’s kind of just hung out there for a sec figuring out what to do. And I just see her floating. She was like out of her belly button, and she’s just floating. She had this cute little face and their eyes were open and looking around. And then I hear the midwife say to my husband, okay, reach down and grab your baby. Help Laura. And so he reached out. So we both brought her up out of the tub, onto my chest. And he said, he felt such an instant connection to her from that, that he didn’t feel it’s our first because he was more kind of just hanging out up here. That’s one thing that he really took in and enjoyed that moment. And then later on, able to look back and go, that connection, that’s my baby, like it was instant for him because he was the other first set of hands to ever touch her besides me. So it was really special for both of us.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: That’s so beautiful. I love how you describe that too. And how water is for both you, your partner and the baby. So it really is a transformational experience for everyone. You’ve talked a lot, and I know not everybody knows what Hypno babies are. That was a big part of your journey as well. Could you explain that a little bit?

Laura Hanstad: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a fully comprehensive childbirth education class. So you’re going to get all the stages of labor, nutrition information, things like that. So that was really good for me to be able to understand the role that protein has in pregnancy or different stretches to make sure that the body is both strong yet yielding a lot. People think I’m so strong. I’m a marathon runner and things like that. But can your pelvic floor also be flexible? So it was really great for me to start to learn all of those pieces too. And then on top of it, it teaches you amazing tools using self hypnosis so that you can be much more calm and comfortable, and still be very, very present. I remember every detail of my birth, but it allows you to really be more in the moment because you’re not having this weird out of body experience due to pain. We kind of rephrase it as pressure stretching, tightening instead of pain. Because when you tell someone you’re going to have pain, then that’s what they’re going to experience. About pressure or pleasure, then people are much more likely to experience it that way. So there’s a lot of different terminology that we use talking about birth waves instead of contractions. 

You think contraction whereas riding the wave is a much different idea. You think about transformation instead of transition. Transition, people always associate with the hardest part of birth. The horrible time where you’re screaming, give me the drugs and things like that. And whereas transformation is this beautiful, transformative moment, because that’s really what it is. It’s usually a fairly short time period moving from those laboring burning waves into those pushing waves. So we talk about how exciting it is, because now we get to start pushing soon. And actually, I find that most Hypno moms really like pushing. They like that second phase, because they feel productive, they’re doing something and they’re going to meet their babies soon instead of just hanging out waiting around. So it’s a really wonderful program no matter what people come in with. But anyone in particular is looking to have an unmedicated birth or something that’s low intervention, treating pregnancy like it’s normal and healthy, then that’s a really wonderful option for a lot of people. There’s also a lot of fear clearing involved. So people that have had previous traumatic births, or things that didn’t go exactly how they want it, or they have fears about the unknown and what’s to come in the future. There’s some components to really help the subconscious mind to reframe things to let go of triggers, things like that so that you can really move on with a vision for this new birth, and this new baby.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: Thank you for sharing that because it’s such a beautiful, comprehensive approach. And I love that you talked about past trauma, and how that can be stored in the body. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Ways to kind of release that. Because for so many of us going into birth, there are different things that we’re holding?

Laura Hanstad: Whether it’s something from a press birth, or maybe something from childhood, or the story that great aunt Mildred told you about when you were a kid, or any number of things past sexual abuse, things like that, it all gets stored in the fashion particular. So we’ve got a lot of mental work that we can do, but also the physical and energetic components to so as a craniosacral therapist, and also using energy where I deal a lot with folks who have trauma of all sorts, not just birth trauma locked in their fascia, and that’s where it’s stored. That’s where your muscle memory is held. So what my job is kind of is a craniosacral therapist, to find the spots where there is torsion, the fascia gets kind of tangled together to unwind it, and to release that muscle memory and the energy that gets stuck there. And torsion can be caused by all sorts of different things in utero position, the birth itself, a sports injury, a car accident, a habit of how you sit at your desk, or emotional trauma. So it can be released through this very gentle hands on therapy. And that way, people are able to not be triggered as easily or they’re able to move forward through something that had been holding them back, really physical pain, all sorts of things. 

So last week, I held my first ever birth trauma event. It was just a free event for the community, and had two other co facilitators who are both trained in dynamic body balancing. It wasn’t a class, it was about getting the hands on work, but also using the collective energy in the room. The frequency gets so high when you have more people together, and that really helps ignite the healing experience. So I kind of talked about what we’re working on, and then we divided into groups, and then each facilitator would work on one person at a time while all the other moms would come and just rest their hands gently on someone or hold somebody’s hand. They’re just kind of holding space without physically touching them. And these big releases would happen and they’d be able to let go of some physical pain that they’d had been lingering. One person had been postpartum for 16 years, and she still had all this. And I talked about this at the beginning of the event how birth matters and it stays with us. And that’s why we’re seeing 50, 60 year olds reaching out trying to find therapists that specialize in postpartum and birth trauma, because it stays with you. 

So my idea was, let’s use all of our collective energy, and then a few different CST techniques to try to release that so that it didn’t continue to linger on and on for years or decades to come. And so that people could also move forward, especially if they weren’t done with their family. It’s nice to be able to release some of the trauma that was held so that you do look forward to pregnancy, and that everything can have positive and pleasurable associations with it. So it was a really powerful event. But going in a good releasing healing way, one person was retching, she almost vomited. And it was funny because her doula was in the next room. And she said, as soon as I heard that sound, I knew who that is because she made that sound during birth too. And then another person just kind of screaming out, trying to release all the things that had happened to her. And then there was a lot of peace, and a lot of happiness, and a lot of calm that had come over people. You kind of saw this brightness with a lot of folks as they were leaving. Even though it was kind of tiring, there was this new lightning that they experienced. So if we can do that, that physical work as well and release the trauma, that’s really just as important as doing the mental emotional piece as well.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: What great wisdom. I have to say, Laura, from your personal journey of your birth and then all that you’ve explored professionally, you’ve really planted this seed. Would you like to share more? There’s a lot for people to think about that might be pregnant right now, or planning a pregnancy, or planning where and how they prepare for birth and give birth. What would some of your tips that you’ve done now bring it together for them?

Laura Hanstad: Yeah, absolutely. I think the big thing that people have to really consider is where they’re birthing, and who their providers are. Because no amazing doula, no amount of childbirth education can save you from a provider that has their own agenda, or a hospital that has certain statistics and is used to seeing certain things. Even if you have a really strong idea of, I’m going to have a really hands off, beautiful, quiet birthing experience. Well, if they’re not used to seeing that, they don’t know how to support you with that. And it’s never too late to change. I was just talking to somebody yesterday who was about 32 weeks or so ago. She was telling me about what she wanted. And I said, well, who are you with for your providers? And she told me and she’s like, oh, I really don’t like doctors, and I don’t like hospitals. I was like, okay, so let’s just think about this and compare what you want, what you’ve lined yourself up with. Keeping in mind that a lot of people don’t know this. But OB GYN are surgeons. That is what they are trained to do. They’re not typically in the business of normal, natural physiological birth whereas midwives are. I have people that have driven an hour or so to get to the right birthplace because they knew that if they spent the time doing that, it’s going to make such a difference in their experience, and not a single person that I’ve ever either been their third teacher, or had been their doula, and that has made changes even towards the last minute, not a single person has ever regretted that decision. So I think that really speaks volumes. 

And making sure that you have the right support, as well with a doula, or a friend, or somebody that’s going to be able to be there and have that continuity of care through the whole birthing process. And prenatally. You never really know who you’re going to get when it comes to, especially a hospital birth or a birth center birth because they’re rotating calls. Home birth is usually the only time you actually know who’s going to show up at your door when it’s time. Making sure that you are taking the time to consider all those factors, find someone who might not be as emotionally involved and can think a little bit differently like a doula who has the statistics, who has the training, who has the knowledge of positioning in body mechanics, someone that really hold space and it’s kind of a guardian as soon as somebody else comes into the room to kind of protect you and make sure that you’re able to just focus on you and your baby, and doing what you’re doing, and making sure that both partners have what they need to, that’s a really big piece of it. Some people just hire me mostly for the birth partner. Moms kind of like, I’ve got this. Just maybe check on me every once in a while, and they want their spouse to have somebody supportive, those kinds of things. 

Childbirth education is a must have. Unless you are really just a go with the flow person who doesn’t really care about their birthing experience, then I would say, you really got to consider those factors. And putting more time and energy into what your visualization is for your birth, the more you envision it, the more likely your brain and your body are to kick in when it’s birthing time. Oh, we know what we’re doing. We’re gonna do this, and this, and it just tends to happen a lot more in that experience if you really set that intention. And I like to talk about, you mentioned that you have this great birth plan. And people often come in and talk about birth plans with me. I say, well, what are your preferences? Because preferences are saying that we hope it happens, but let’s have some flexibility here. And they are like, my last time I failed, because I told them all this stuff on my plan. And I said, well, let’s just talk about preferences. So even the change of language can be such a huge difference for a lot of people as well. But yeah, it’s really helpful to just make sure that you’re considering what you really want, and then stack the cards in your favor.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: I love how you say that. Yes, stack the cards in your favor. And I love all that you’ve put together. I know that you’re sharing with us a little bit of footage, right? We have some images, which birth is that?

Laura Hanstad: I think you have images from my third birth, which was my first home birth. And then also my six was my most recent one, he just turned two in January. I could not have had a better finale with the six, and my husband was kind of funny. After the midwives left, it was about 3:30 in the morning. He goes, I gotta tell you, I’m really, really effed. I just don’t think you could handle it if something had gone wrong. If it had gone outside of what your vision was as our last baby. And I was like, you know me, well, I probably couldn’t have handled that well. And he’s like, I just kept holding my breath. And I said, well, that taught you. But I’m glad that we both can kind of just go, whew, we ended on a really high note. So yeah, I think you have videos from a few of them.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: Yes. All your birth images that you’ve shared are just so beautiful. I can see your peace, your calm, your love and connection with you, your partner and your baby. So, Laura, you’ve given us so much wisdom from your own experience of your birth to the way that you support so many people in how they prepare for theirs. Would you have any last tip that you’d want to share with people? I know, you shared a lot.

Laura Hanstad: I’d say, would be to really trust your mama intuition. So whether it is some little inkling of, maybe this provider or this practice isn’t right for me, or I don’t really know if I have the money for a doula, but I feel like I need some extra support, to really just look at your options. There is so much available in terms of birth support. People who are looking for experience for being a doula or things like that, there’s so many different providers, so many practices, and a lot of people don’t understand that certain clinics will go to certain hospitals, and they don’t have privileges at others. So looking at your options is going to be really important to make sure that you’re really following your own voice and listening to that intuition. And if something’s back that you’re going, I don’t think this is lining up the right way, to really trust that.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: That’s fantastic. I know that people that are listening are going to want to find you and say, how can we work with you? Can you share where people can find you, follow you and what you offer?

Laura Hanstad: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m based out of the Minneapolis Twin Cities area and Minnesota, but I also do have some online offerings as well. So I’m a birth doula and do births throughout the Twin Cities. My website is allthingsbirthmn.com. And then as a craniosacral therapist and reiki practitioner, and I do a few other things like reflexology and applied kinesiology muscle testing, that is through bloomintobalancecst.com. I have classes whether you’re just a parent who wants to learn some techniques that you can use at home, so I have a class called CST for the whole family. It’s just kind of for the lay person or someone that just wants to dabble in CST and see if it’s something they want to learn further, both in person and online reiki classes. I also have an Instagram account, allthingsbirthandbalance, where you can find out lots of information. So there’s a few different ways to get a hold of me and find me if you have questions. Or if you are curious about seeing some very hands off births, there’s YouTube videos out there. If you look up my name, you should be able to find me.

Debra Pascali-Bonaro: Thank you so much, Laura. It was such a pleasure getting this time with you to hear your birth journey and the ways that you’re birthing that wisdom forward to so many others. I know for everyone that’s listening, we always love to hear from you. Please tag us all on social, on Instagram. Wherever you are, look at the show notes and you can see all Laura’s links that she just mentioned below. And we hope that you will follow us, rate us, review us on whatever platform you’re on. That will always help us to reach more people and share how to positively prepare for birth. We look forward to having you join us next time on our Orgasmic Birth Podcast. Thank you so much, Laura.

Laura Hanstad: Thank you so much Debra, this was so great.



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