When I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified. I know most women would be overjoyed to know they are growing life inside of them, but I didn’t feel that way. Since high school, I’d been scared of pregnancy and childbirth. It was hard to admit that I didn’t want to be pregnant. When a stranger would ask, “Aren’t you so excited!?” I would lie through gritted teeth. “Absolutely!”
Unfortunately, there is a stigma that comes with being honest about the dread I felt. By society’s standards, I was expected to be ecstatic.
But those blue lines on the pregnancy test meant that I only had nine months to work through some intense trauma. I knew I couldn’t go into the delivery room with such a fearful mindset. I could not ask someone else to carry my emotional load. Not my doula or my husband or my mother. When the time came, I’d be the one doing heavy lifting (or pushing in this case!).
I met with a therapist three months before my due date.
“Do you have pictures in your mind of how birth will be?” Chelsea asked.
My fear of childbirth was indeed very visual. I imagined myself screaming in pain. I saw myself becoming paralyzed from the epidural. I saw a fourth-degree tear. The doctors were ignoring me and doing whatever they wanted without my consent. The vivid image lingered clearly in my mind.
Chelsea recommended a type of therapy called EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. According to goodtherapy.org, EMDR is a type of psychotherapy used primarily for individuals with PTSD or other unresolved trauma. The patient is asked to recall their traumatic memory or visual trigger while using bilateral stimulation. The stimulation could be visual such as following a light with your eyes, audible such as a recurring beep, or physical such as a tap. This differs from other forms of therapy in that there is very little “talking it out” involved. From my previous experience with therapy, the therapist generally guides the problem-solving and directs the patient to make connections between their thoughts and behaviors. With EMDR, however, I came to conclusions on my own.
Chelsea used hand-held buzzers as the form of stimulation. I grasped a buzzer in each hand and Chelsea asked me to visualize childbirth. I closed my eyes for a minute and pictured myself tearing and writhing in pain. I could feel pain there and squirmed in my chair, trying to rid myself of the feeling.
She asked me to focus on the target image again, but this time, she would activate the buzzers. When I opened my eyes, she asked how I felt. I was overwhelmed by the image. I felt weak. We did it again. The buzzers alternated in their vibrations. Left hand, right hand, left hand, right… After a minute, she asked me again how I felt. I told her that I had only paid attention to the vibrations. I closed my eyes and the process repeated. Each time, I noticed something different. A physical sensation, a color, an image, a thought. Then, Chelsea would say “Now focus on that.”
It was a repetitive, intentional process.
Round and round we went, digging deeper and deeper. My thoughts were everywhere. I thought about how if I received pain medication, I would be a failure. Occasionally, I imagined the pain. I felt like my body couldn’t do it. I felt ashamed for thinking that. I saw images too graphic to describe. Sometimes I didn’t think about anything. I just focused on the vibrations. At one point, I visualized the color orange. I let my brain lead me on this seemingly random path of thoughts and emotions. It was intriguing to explore the depths of my mind in this controlled environment. The steady repetition of the process made me feel free to engage with different thoughts.
After 30 minutes of doing this, Chelsea asked me to refocus on the original image. I closed my eyes, expecting to see myself tearing, but I could barely see it. It was hazy, as though a sheer curtain draped in front of it. And this time, I couldn’t feel the pain attached to the image. Chelsea asked me again what feelings were evoked when I thought of giving birth.
I said, “Like I’m not strong enough or that I won’t actually be able to do it.”
“Now focus on that.”
Tears flooded my eyes. I opened them before she told me to. “Chelsea,” I cried, “I want to feel strong enough. I want to feel like I can do this.”
My fear of birth was much more mental than I had thought. So much of my fear didn’t stem from the pain of childbirth, but how I saw myself. I didn’t want to confront the distrust I had for my own body, so I had focused all of my fear into the physical pain associated with birth. I didn’t want to acknowledge my complete lack of confidence in myself. What I needed to overcome my fear was to trust that my body was made for this.
Chelsea then asked me to imagine my ideal birth experience.
I saw a room full of laughter and joy. The mood was light, and everyone was rejoicing. There was still some pain, but I was happy. Positive affirmations surrounded me.
Chelsea told me to equate this image with a statement. That statement was “I am strong.”
With the buzzers vibrating in my hands, I saw this renewed picture of childbirth and thought “I am strong.” All of a sudden, I believed it. I thought, “Why can’t I do this? Millions of other women have! I am strong in so many other ways in my life. I can be strong here too!”
We discussed this newfound feeling and Chelsea asked me to re-visualize the target image. Suddenly, I felt great peace. What I’d been the most afraid of for the last ten years had diminished. It was an incredible triumph.
Even though I was no longer afraid to labor, I still wrestled with doubt and anxious thoughts during my last months of pregnancy. But now I had tools to work through it. Anytime I felt uneasy or unsure of myself, I pictured the delivery room full of joy and life and thought “I am strong.”
I loved my experience with EMDR and highly recommend it to anyone dealing with trauma or fear. It is important that your therapist is qualified to lead an EMDR session and that there is mutual trust between you and your provider. I also believe that the first line of defense against fear should be prayer and being in God’s Word. However, I believe therapy is an excellent complement to this foundation. While Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6), He has also given spiritual gifts to His people (1 Corinthians 12:28). People who are gifted in wisdom, knowledge and discernment make excellent counselors. I am thankful for this experience and the resources it gave me to prepare for the birth of my baby.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Team, G. T. E. (2017, November 28). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). GoodTherapy. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/eye-movement-desensitization-and-reprocessing