Before the first session of EMDR, we established a support system so I could recover from each session. It is not unlike “finding your village” as a woman transitions out of pregnancy and into postpartum life. Following each session, exhaustion would set in as my brain scrubbed away my old way of thinking and regrouped events into new categories.
The first and most obvious support person was our babysitter for our older children. We booked appointments and checked schedules weeks in advance so there was no short notice and no surprises. Setting up a month’s worth of appoinments was not unusual. I could receive multiple sessions on a predictable basis so the process was smoother and the recovery faster.
Sometimes friends would fill in, sometimes good ol’ Gramma, so I could heal my brain and make space for inner peace. Although our regular sitter is only 13, my heart cannot express the depth of gratitude for her availability and willingness to show up so often.
A spouse who witnesses the sessions was also a fundamental pillar of support. My husband was by my side each session to witness the depth of trauma and to clarify events when my perception was altered by the efforts of labor. He was ready at home for any signs of concern. His main role, he tells me, was to keep things peaceful, to intercept the needs of our boys so I could rest and reflect.
Sometimes keeping things peaceful meant washing dishes and sometimes it meant taking the boys out of the house to play. It was not unlike the role he took on during the birth of my two living boys, except no diaper changes or midnight wakings. He focused on the other things so I could focus on the transition, the mothering. I was mothering myself.
Additional support persons came in my fellow loss mamas. Sometimes the therapy would encourage me to wander into the darkest places. My dearest friend, who mothers angel baby Nathan, is always my non-judgmental sounding board because our stories are very similar.
Of course, and most obvious, my therapist made herself available between appointments via email or phone call. Often times, I would draft a quick email to ask “is this normal?” and detail my thoughts or my emotions. An important part of recovery were the “between” sessions. My therapist and I never did back-to-back EMDR sessions. There were always gentle talk therapy appointments that sandwiched sessions. EMDR therapy can be likened to scrubbing away the dead skin of a severe burn. It’s painful, sometimes so painful it feels physical. But the cleaning and scrubbing is necessary for healing.
My ability to think of Reece without crying began to strengthen. My patience with my living children lengthened. My marriage improved in intimacy. My social anxieties are not erased but muted and manageable. My swamp of guilt began to dry out slowly as events were recatergorized and I began to understand Reece’s death was not my fault.
Not a day goes by that I don’t thank Heaven for a husband who fought for me. He could have just continued to watch me struggle. He could have froze in fear and done nothing. But he had already lost his son; he was not about to lose his wife, too.
When we called out for help, we were surprised how many people came forward. It takes a village. Support comes in many ways and makes a huge difference in healing the pain of baby loss.
If you think you or someone you know has PTSD, EMDR may be able to help.
Arica Carlson is married and mothering three little boys, two on Earth, one in Heaven. When she isn’t writing or working, she can be found outside with her family.