What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that aids in the healing of trauma. Essentially, it re-wires the brain to think of trauma in a more positive light. EMDR has been successfully used for trauma patients (including veterans and first responders) for the last 25 years.
My therapist, Sarah, has been recommending EMDR to me since day one. The idea may seem out there, but my experience with hypnosis during pregnancy taught me to keep an open mind. I’ve been wanting to start, but have held off for the last several months because I lacked readiness due to my emotional state. Today, I began my treatment. I held onto two small vibrating knobs while my eyes were closed. Today we addressed Aspen’s birth.
Sarah: What feelings come to your mind when you think about Aspen’s birth?
Me: Disappointment, sadness, regret.
Sarah: Like it was your fault?
Me: Yeah. Like I could’ve done something to prevent it.
She vigorously writes on her notepad.
Sarah: What about anger?
Me: No, there’s not really any anger. Just extreme disappointment.
Sarah: On a scale of 1 to 10…1 being you’re really upset about it, and 10 being you’re totally okay with it…how do you feel about that day mentally?
Me: I’d say a three.
Sarah: And when you think of that day, what does your mind go to?
Me: I think of myself in the hospital with everyone panicking around me as Aspen’s heart rate drops.
Sarah: Okay. Let’s start there. Go back to that place. Remember to breathe. I’ll check back in about 45 seconds or so.
I concentrate on when everything went sour. Nurses surround me, unsure of what to do. “Where’s Janet?” They’re trying to find my midwife. Aspen’s heart rate is dropping. I have an oxygen mask on as I’m listening to my hypnosis tracks. Matt is holding my hand. Everyone around me is losing their shit, and yet the severity of my daughter’s decreasing health doesn’t phase me.
Sarah: Okay. How do you feel? Where did your mind go to?
Me: There were nurses freaking out. Matt looked concerned. An OB-GYN came in to discuss the possibility of a c-section. I’m wearing an oxygen mask. I see and hear everyone losing control around me, but I feel nothing.
Sarah: So it’s pretty numb, huh?
Sarah: Okay, let’s try again. Go back and really focus on how you were feeling at that moment.
I close my eyes and sense more powerful pulsing sensations in the palms of my hands. Concentrate. These things were happening, what were you thinking?
I was hoping Aspen was okay. I wanted the birth to go as planned, but it was all falling apart before my eyes. The nurses aren’t even trying to hide their panic. Matt is clearly upset, but trying desperately not to let it show. My epidural has kicked in, but they’re jostling me around, trying to move me into a more ideal position for Aspen.
Sarah: How are you doing?
Me: My thoughts are spiraling. I’m trying to hold onto every last bit of my birth plan that I can. It’s clear that c-section is the best option. I’m asking my midwife if I will still be able to do immediate skin-to-skin and breastfeed. I’m not even sure if my birth photographer will be able to get any photos.
Tears roll down my cheeks.
Me: I felt like I completely lost control. Nothing was going as planned, and I knew Matt was upset but trying to stay strong for me. I think about them wheeling me into surgery as Matt releases my hand. Then, I’m just alone.
Sarah: It’s crushing, isn’t it?
I silently nod.
Sarah: Let’s bring in one of your allies. Who do you think would help you in this situation?
Allies are your security blanket. They are your source of comfort when reliving traumatic memories. They aren’t supposed to be anyone that you know personally. They can be fictional characters from books, movies, animals, etc. or even celebrity figures, like Oprah. These are people/figures that we determined before starting EMDR. I was able to designate my dogs as my allies, including, Edgar.
Me: Edgar. He’s always that source of comfort for me at home.
Sarah: Okay, let’s bring Edgar in and try again. Just remember to breathe.
I let my eyes close as I take a deep breath in and out. The vibrations continue.
I am in the operating room. The oxygen mask is still over my face and I have a surgical cap on. Edgar is nuzzled against my shoulder. I close my eyes and breathe him in. He always fits so perfectly next to me. Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone. The nurse checks in to make sure I am completely numb, informing me that I should only feel pressure. I am just focused on Edgar. What he feels like…what he smells like. Matt isn’t here right now, but Edgar is…and he feels like home.
Sarah: How do you feel now?
Me: I don’t feel as lonely. The situation is scary, but I feel like it’s manageable.
Sarah: You feel safe.
Me: Yes, exactly.
Sarah: Good. Let’s keep going.
Matt is back in the operating room with me now, he gives me a kiss and holds onto my hand like never before. He even kisses Edgar on the head and strokes the back of his neck. Edgar sits perfectly still, knowing that I need him there. The surgeon is pulling and stretching my abdomen, but all I can focus on is Edgar; how comfortable he makes me feel. The nurse informs me that Aspen has been born, but I hear no crying. I look to Matt for affirmation that she’s okay since I couldn’t see over the curtain.
Sarah: How are you doing, Stephanie?
Me: Good. Matt comes back and it feels like we’re just back at home, snuggling in bed with our dogs. At first, I’m worried because I don’t hear Aspen cry. When she does, I tell Matt to go check on her. I’m okay because I have Edgar with me. I don’t feel so alone.
Sarah: That’s great! What else?
Me: They bring Aspen to me and I’m a little disappointed. It didn’t feel like I thought it would…that immediate bond everyone talks about.
Sarah: Let’s pick it up from there. Focus on that feeling and how Edgar can make it more positive for you.
I’m concentrating on Aspen’s time spent on my chest. Edgar looks at her as if he already knows her. He loves her because she’s apart of me. Gently, he inches closer to her face and softly licks her forehead. I smile and chuckle. I take the time to introduce him to Aspen, and her to Edgar. Then, I proceed to tell her about her rockstar father who was staying so strong for both of us. I even introduced myself as her mama. I talk about how much of a scare she gave us but assure her that it’s okay…because she’s here and she’s worth it. We snuggly tightly like the family I had always imagined.
Sarah: How are you feeling now?
Me: I feel great. It’s like I feel that oxytocin everyone boasts about. It reminds me of when my birth photographer came back to our home to take pictures. Edgar was there and being so gentle with Aspen. I started introducing them to each other and telling her about how much of a rockstar her father is for not losing his shit through this whole thing.
We both laugh.
Sarah: That’s so great, Stephanie. Wow. Great. Okay! Let’s do one more, hold onto that positivity and grow from it. Does that make sense?
Me: I think so.
I close my eyes one last time. The vibrations send a reassuring warmth throughout my body. The awareness is indescribable.
I start listing affirmations, and for once, I genuinely believe them. Aspen is thriving and developing well. She’s okay now. She is healthy. You did everything you could, and it’s not your fault. Nothing went as you had planned, so it’s okay to be disappointed; But, you did a good job. A great job. You’re a rockstar too. And you are a good mom.
Sarah: How was that?
Me: I feel amazing. I didn’t expect to feel this good after my first session. It’s like I know that what happened isn’t what I wanted, but for some reason, it feels okay. I don’t feel like it’s my fault.
Sarah: That’s incredible, Stephanie. Your brain was definitely at work that whole time. Is it safe to say you feel like you’re at a 10?
Sarah was so pleased. It appeared that the session went nearly as best as it could have. The trends of my brain activity were as they should’ve been. I felt worse before I got better during the session. This is precisely how it was supposed to go. The session was a success.
This was only my first session, and I’m going to have a session a week, so long as I continue to do well mentally throughout the process. There is not enough awareness for the remarkable results shown with EMDR. I only first heard about it after my therapist swore by it.
My thoughts on EMDR
It’s all still new to me, but I have nothing but good things to say about my first encounter. I have many more sessions ahead and plan to continue to share. As always, thank you for reading.