“I don’t want to go.”
I whisper this to Gabriel nearly every morning when our alarm goes off early because we have to go to counseling. He takes me three times a week. He reminds me that I say this every time, and every time it’s hard but I’m better for it.
I was very nervous for my counseling session on Monday morning. The previous Friday’s session had been the hardest one yet and I wasn’t looking forward to opening all of that back up again. I’m doing a type of therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). It’s a way of helping the brain reprocess traumatic memories and store them properly by using bilateral stimulation. By stimulating the brain in a certain way while remembering the trauma, the memory can be sorted and changed from something anxiety producing into just a memory. Basically, I sit with headphones on that beep in one ear and then the other and hold buzzers in each hand that vibrate back and forth while I recall different parts of the attack. It sounds crazy but it works.
On Monday morning my therapist brought me into her office. I sat in my usual chair and she sat in hers. I’m always nervous I’ll have nothing to say, but that has never happened. I sit down and thoughts just start pouring out of me—thoughts I didn’t even know were there. Monday was no different. I sat down and immediately a fear bubbled to the surface.
I’m afraid to go back to the hospital when I’m in labor. Of course I knew I was nervous about it, but once I started talking with my therapist I realized how frequently my mind spins with fear around the inevitable visit in four months.
After I was raped, I spent nearly five hours in the hospital by myself. I had two nurses and a doctor examining me, doing blood work, and conducting the rape kit. That meant taking pictures of every injury from every angle. Collecting all of my clothing into little bags that were taped off with red rape kit tape. Scraping my mouth and under my nails for DNA. Then there was the vaginal exam. I wasn’t in a hospital bed with the correct leg stirrups so they just propped my bottom up on an overturned bedpan and shined a spotlight down there. They scraped, prodded and spread to their heart’s content, all the while talking about me as if I wasn’t there.
“What’s that green thread?”
“A remnant of ripped underwear.”
“Save it for the rape kit.”
The idea of going back to a hospital and having strangers poke around in my nether regions is horrifying. After sharing this in counseling my therapist surprisingly said:
“Let’s have a lighter day. It’s okay to let up and let your mind continue to process last Friday’s hard session. Let’s do something empowering. Let’s do some future work.”
I didn’t know EMDR could be used to settle fear and anxiety around future events—but apparently it can! I was all for working on the future. Even though it’s scary, it is nothing compared to the past. With the headphones beeping and the hand buzzers buzzing, I closed my eyes and started imagining the future. How would my ideal birth and labor scenario play out? What would Gabriel and I look like as parents? How will it feel to hold our son? By processing through these possibilities and assigning words like ‘blessed’ and ‘whole’ and ‘grateful’ to this future we’re hurtling toward, I was able for the first time to imagine delivering this baby without severe emotional trauma.
At first I was struggling to even picture Gabriel and I with a son. I couldn’t imagine what our confident, fuller lives could look like. I was trying to summon past feelings of wholeness and confidence and slap those onto a conjured up future me—it didn’t fit. My therapist reminded me ‘that this future won’t look like the past. Imagine a new normal.’ Finally I could see it. I could see Gabriel helping me through labor, and me confidently talking with nurses and making the choices I need to make. I could imagine our family falling into healthy rhythms and flourishing, as we get better at being a unit. I could see it and I felt hopeful, not afraid.
My therapist even said “I don’t ever picture along with the people I’m guiding through EMDR, but with you I couldn’t help it. I could see you in labor at the hospital with pigtails and a bandana on, confidently calling the shots and owning your labor. You looked like a badass! You looked a like warrior.”
At the end of the session I got to reach into a purple velvet bag and pull out a little memento. My fingers closed around a cool, cold heart shaped stone. I had pulled out this tiny pink heart that will remind me of the strength I conjured up; the hopeful future, the possibilities outside of fear. I’ve already pulled out the stone several times in moments of fear or doubt and it has been enough to pull me into a lighter perspective. I fully intend to bring that tiny heart with me to the hospital when I go into labor, and who knows, maybe I’ll even wear pigtails.