The trauma of childbirth left me like a soldier with shell shock …
Posted by Fiona Gavine on the 26th August 2014
This article was published in the Mail on Sunday in August 2014. EMDR is available from Shirley MacKenzie who practises at the clinic on Tuesdays and Saturdays each week.
By Maggie Mallon
Mum Sheila Brill tells how therapy used to treat war veterans helped her after her daughter was left brain-damaged by a botched labour.
For 20 years following the birth of her daughter, Sheila Brill lived a shell-shocked life like a soldier in the aftermath of war.
She was so traumatised by a botched labour that left little Josephine severely brain-damaged that she would be suddenly frozen in her tracks or find herself in the grip of towering rages that left her emotionally drained. Despite winning compensation for medical negligence and receiving counselling, Sheila could not get over the tragedy that left her daughter, now 21, so disabled only her hearing was unaffected.
Josephine had suffered birth asphyxia – oxygen starvation – that left her brain-damaged with profound learning difficulties and unable to talk or see. She is quadriplegic and needs round-the-clock, one-to-one care.
“I just couldn’t get past it. I was so angry at the person who had not looked after Jose properly during the birth and ruined my daughter’s life,” said Sheila, 57, who is originally from Glasgow and now lives in Bristol. “Every time I talked about it or Jose was hospitalised, it was as if it was happening all over again for the first time.”
Sheila believed her feelings were normal under the circumstances. It wasn’t until a psychiatrist friend witnessed one of Sheila’s rages that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the debilitating condition that affects war veterans. Her friend recommended EMDR therapy, which was developed to help ex-soldiers overcome trauma.
EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – is a powerful psychological treatment developed by American clinical psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro in the 1980s.
It is used to resolve traumatic experiences such as war, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents.
Dr Shapiro said: “When a person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. “The distressing memory seems to become frozen in the brain. When a person recalls the distressing memory, they can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt and this can be quite intense. Sometimes, the memories are so distressing that the person tries to avoid thinking about the event.”
“EMDR can work better than other kinds of therapy because you don’t have to talk about the experience. That is particularly helpful for children who have suffered abuse or soldiers who have survived a conflict and feel guilt
EMDRworks by stimulating the left and right sides of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps. This seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system. The memories seem to lose their intensity and become less upsetting and more like “normal” recollections.
Sheila, who is also mum to son Asher and runs a business with her husband Peter, 52, added: “I found a therapist and she told me I was so traumatised by the shock of what had happened with Jose that my brain had been overwhelmed and unable to process what had happened.”
The therapy involved Sheila wearing headphones with alternate clicking in each ear while she relived the trauma in her mind without talking about it. At the beginning of each session, she was asked to rate on a scale of one to 10 how upsetting the memory made her feel and then to rate it again at the end.
“I found it hard to sit there and put myself back in the moment it all happened, reliving every detail without talking about it,” said Sheila.
“Some of the sessions left me wiped out but it worked, as I began to come to terms with what had happened. “After only four months, I was able to cope with my memories. I still get upset when Jose is taken into hospital but in the same normal way that any mum would be upset about their child being ill.
“The physical symptoms of trauma have gone. My throat used to tighten, my heart raced and I’d be left exhausted by
“Life is still hugely challenging and I live in fear of losing Jose. I love her so much and she has so many difficulties. But I’m no longer incapacitated and I can cope with these challenges now. It used to feel like I carried this open wound about that was covered with a sticking plaster. Every time Jose was hospitalised, the plaster would be ripped off and the wound exposed. What EMDR therapy did was heal the wound.
“It’s been transformational.
“Now I accept what’s happened and go with the flow rather than trying to control every last thing. Best of all, the destructive anger has gone and I can get on with my life.”
If you’re interested in understanding more about EMDR, call us on 01786 359 188 and we will put you in contact with Shirley MacKenzie who will be pleased have a no-obligation chat about the technique and how it can help.