Thursday, 29 August 2013

EMDR Therapy for PTSD

The Birth Trauma Association estimates that in the UK 10,000 women a year develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and up to 200,000 develop some symptoms of PTSD.  I am one of those women.  I will try to share my therapy here so others can find their own path to healing.

Prior to the first actual session of EMDR, I had one session where I recounted my intrapartum experiences in as full detail as possible.  There was another session which familiarized me with the techniques for desensitization and reprocessing.  One was visualization to help me calm myself through the day when I was in a stressful situation and the other was the eye tracking technique and then detailed documentation of one traumatic memory from the whole event including how the memory makes me feel and what is the opposite of that.

The first session of EMDR therapy began with the imagery of one of the most distressing memories of my birth experience.  During the preparation session on the previous visit I was familiarized with the techniques which would be used to desensitize my experiences I had been asked to relate a part of the  birth that was most distressing.

EMDR Tacas

An integral part of the therapy is a device with earphones which transmit alternating clicking and two vibrating finger disks on which a blinking light is set on each.  The focus is to hear the clicking which were tuned into the lights which flickered simultaneously in turn as the finger disks vibrated.  So three senses are being stimulated during the therapy.  As you recount or reflect on the memory or what you are feeling your eyes are to track the lights which blink alternately, thereby simulating REM eye movement.

My therapist reminded me about the details of the memory which made me well up.  I was instructed to focus on the memory while following the blinking lights.  It took me a few minutes to settle into this procedure but before long I adjusted to the process.  It could take longer to settle into this expectation but a well trained therapist will understand that and help you with the process.

The intention is to desensitize the memories.  After the lights stopped blinking I am asked about any sensations I am experiencing. I focused on a tightness in my chest and rapidly we work on reducing that sensation...and then reducing it more.

I am also asked to rate from 0 to 7 how upsetting I am finding the memory, with zero being not at all and 7 being very upsetting. The intention is to bring it to zero.

When I think I am at zero, am asked to articulate what I think of the memory now.  I recall the introduction of the movie the Devil's Backbone where the narrator describes a place where a tragic event occurred as charged with an energy that replays itself.  That it is like an insect trapped in amber. For me the memory will always be present to replay itself, but like an insect trapped it amber, it cannot harm me anymore.

The next blinking lights session is to capture that phrase and to concentrate on it:  It cannot harm me anymore.

The therapist asks me to find the earliest memory where I felt out of control. My trigger memory was indelibly linked to having no control and seeing the phrase 'it is out of  my control' had reduced me sobbing in the fetal position during the previous session.  My earliest childhood memory of panic and out of control was from about the age of three and for the first time this memory triggered tears.  We followed the same process as about to relieve the distress connected to this memory.  I had never found telling this story distressing - it was a burglary incident where my mother and I came home to discover someone had broken in and was still in the house - until today. One sensation was an incredible tightness and pain manifested in my forehead. However, the therapist explained that the reaction to both traumatic events was filed in the same place so opening one file exposed the other trauma which also benefits from desensitization. The goal once more is to make that memory harmless and to recall it in a way that it cannot hurt me anymore.

At this point I start to cry again because I realize that there has been so much hurt stored up for so long that I yearn to reach the place where none of the memories can hurt me anymore.

As the session progressed, other thoughts had entered my head like:  'when is this going to be over' and 'how longer before the hour is up'.  I also found that I wanted to leave and that my senses were becoming overloaded. I recalled video clips of hospital births and sexual violence which triggered panic attacks, and wanting to crawl out of my own skin, if necessary, to escape.   I only related these feelings after I told him that my back was starting to hurt due to an old injury.  He offered to work on it because it could be psychosomatic.  I was skeptical but after following the lights again, the back pain actually diminished.  There is hope yet for me.

For my own reflection, this experience reinforces what is known in birthing circles that the experiences of a woman during childbirth becomes emotionally charged and that the type of experience she has can affect her forever.  The role of oxytocin is instrumental in the formation of positive residual chemical markers, memories and emotions, on the brain when the experience of childbirth is positive.  On the other hand its presence during negative birthing experiences also lay down powerful negative emotions and memories connected with traumatic experiences.

Added:  for more academic detail regarding EMDR, this powerpoint may be helpful.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The man from Fenwick's.

Mr Philip Davidson from Fenwick's and I met on Wednesday over a coffee in the 50's diner in Fenwick's. After pleasantries about children and work, he shared that he thought about my letters outside of work time which for me was a big win already.

And in his further thinking he understood what I was trying to express.  (yayyy!)  We discussed the bigger picture of infant feeding in the UK including the nadir of breastfeeding initiation and how breastfeeding support died with the widespread formula feeding and how vital community support will be for making breastfeeding a normal part of life again.

I know that even before today Mr Davidson and Fenwick's have been very supportive of breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding in public.  So 'yes!' again.  He said that actually he wished breastfeeding rooms didn't exist because breastfeeding ought to happen where ever a woman happens to be (insert pom poms and confetti here).

The tangible win for everyone has been sharing the Feed-Finder app.  The advantage to the store of having honest feedback from mothers and mothers win because the more this app is used the easier it be for mums to feed in public.

Thank you for sharing your time with me Mr Davidson and thank you for sharing your personal and professional insights with me.  I learned a few things too including putting my ambassador's face on.   Public relations is not always my strong point.  So, yayyy me.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Fenwick's reply missed the point, don't you think? (and a reply)

A friend has eloquently said, “The iconography of bottles to signify babies is so ingrained that they cannot see what they have done.”

Hi Yolanda,

Thanks for your email and I was sorry to read that we had disappointed you with our current window display and note your comments on the blue v pink debate.

Please be reassured that this particular window display, due to be changed next Tuesday for our Home Event window to go in, is merely a play on the phrase 'new deliveries' and was not intended to have any deeper message. It was merely planned to coincide with the arrival of the new fashion lines for the Autumn season.

Our window displays are a prominent feature in the city centre and I accept that they will attract differing views and varying levels of attention and on occasion some criticism. However we always strive to learn from all feedback and we will bear yours in mind at the next meeting of our Visual Merchandising and Fashion teams.

As regards the blue and pink debate, I walked the floor yesterday on our Toy Department and I honestly believe that we are not necessarily one way or another. For instance we have signs saying 'dress up' and another saying 'action toys' and if you would like to I would happily meet with you when you are next in store to do another floor walk.

Once again, I would like to thank you for providing your views and also apologise that the window has offended you, as this was certainly not our intention.

If you do want to meet with me please contact me via the main switchboard on 0191 232 5100 and we can arrange a mutually convenient appointment.

Kind regards,


Philip Davidson
Customer Service Manager
Fenwick Ltd.
39 Northumberland Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE99 1AR

and my second reply, trying again

Thank you for your amicable and considered reply.
I do also understand and agree that there was no deeper meaning intended and therein lies a part of my concern which is that unintended messages, as I acknowledged in my first letter, is the main concern about this display window.  
I am also taking three points away from your letter.     The first point is that the display remains in place until it is due to be changed on the store's normal updating rota, which is a disappointment.  

The second point I take is that you have not yet considered putting up breastfeeding friendly stickers in the store.  I know this is not something you yourself can do in isolation but acknowledgement of the idea and that it would be further discussed among management would have been reassuring.

The third point is the big and most important one however.  I note that the main thrust of your letter was assuring me that your store does not gender code the toys and that labeling in the toy department reflects this.  I assure you that there is never any concern on my part about the toy department. 

The third and main concern is solely with your window display, as the body of my letter shows.  Your reply failed to acknowledge that the bottles in the show window are problematic imagery for the general public.  I am sure you are well aware that there is a global awareness and concern that the thinness of fashion models do not reflect what are normal body types for young women.  This problem of perception is exacerbated by photo editing techniques which actually enhance thinness while erasing physical flaws.  Thousands of men and women also complain that shop models are too thin. This complaint about the bottle images is a similar argument - that large companies have a social responsibility for influencing the perceptions of normal within the society. Major retail outlets and the media (your shop window is a type of media) don't follow the abiding culture, they influence it! Fenwick's has clout and as such should be sending out healthier messages to their customers and to random passers-by along Northumberland Street is a something to take seriously.

In 2010, 59% of mothers in Newcastle breastfed their babies shortly after giving birth, compared with the national average of 81% for the same year. Six or eight weeks, later only 41% of babies in the North East is receiving any breastmilk at all.    In addition, a survey by the NCT showed that 90% of women who stopped in the first six weeks said that they stopped sooner than they would have liked.   

This above statistics show that women want to breastfeed and were the messages, intended or unintended, telling them that they are supported then more would stick to it for longer. Hence this is why a more breastfeeding welcome culture in Fenwick's would bring in customers and they would stay longer and spend more money.

Really in the big picture, it isn't ultimately about the display window.  Though I still wish the display could be altered if not taken down before Tuesday.  It is really about making your shop a more breastfeeding friendly place.  I welcome your offer of meeting you in store but rather to share ideas about to make Fenwick's more breastfeeding friendly in the future, not for a tour.  

I must say now that I am in no way offended by the display and thanks for your concern.  Instead I am articulating something on behalf of many women who have been told by friends, family, and health care professionals to 'give the baby a bottle' for whatever multitude of reasons.   They then turn on the television, open a magazine or walk down the high street and see feeding bottles instead of breastfeeding, the default method of feeding a baby. It is hard and lonely when no one around shares your experience and it influences women's decisions to give up. 

Thank you again for your timely and considered response.  I welcome the continued dialogue and hope to hear from you again soon.

Kind regards
the Rabbit in the Moon
Mam of 2

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What would work instead of pink and blue bottles?

  •  Conversation started today

  • Wouldn't this display work better with one of the mannequins wearing a soft structured carrier, or a stylish wrap sling instead?  Or maybe a male mannequin with a framed carrier and rugged outdoor clothing?  

    For more main stream ideas, an expensive push chair and those expensive rockers for nurseries with appropriate mannequins would fill up the show window more tastefully and with more stuff they have for sale rather than with baby bottles.

    So, here is my feedback on Fenwick's uninspiring show window on Northumberland Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

    photo courtesy of the Alpha Parent

    Dear Fenwick:
    I have shopped at Fenwick in the 15 years that I've been resident in the North East and frequently pass your beautiful displays while in Newcastle. Now that I have children we also stop by at Christmas to admire the window as many other North Easterners do.
    I was surprised last night to see this amazing display (see attachment) but not for reasons which I would have hoped.
    Your marketing team will be aware that imagery plays a huge role in the acceptance of ideas, products and brands by the general public. It is just the same when it comes to baby care and infant feeding. The marketing team may not be consciously aware that images of baby bottles, teats and dummies undermine the breastfeeding goals of mothers. There exists ample evidence which show that even subtle imagery contribute to the normalization of one method of feeding over another. So while your display does not tell mothers to bottle feed, it is reinforcing the already cultural norm that bottle feeding is the default method by which babies are fed.
    Mothers in the North East have low rates of initiating, establishing and continuing to breastfeed when compared with other parts of the country, particularly the Home Counties. It is therefore even more important that the goals of women feel supported by the images they see in the wider community. Commenting on infant feeding in the Ecologist, April 2006, Mary Renfrew, Professor of Mother and Infant Health at Dundee University stated, "society is not just bottle feeding friendly, but it is deeply breastfeeding unfriendly." This is the tide against which many women are swimming and to which unfortunately your display window contributes.
    I ask you to consider taking down the display sooner than you planned and ask you to put up breastfeeding welcome stickers in your restaurants, cafes and other rest areas in the store.
    On a separate note, the gender coding of pink/blue is particularly nauseating to mothers who do not want to raise their children in a gender coded world where pink = girls and blue = boys and cascades towards gender coded toys, play, behaviour expectations and career prospects. Just yuk and lacking of creativity and forethought.
    Please feel free to respond to me via this email address. I welcome any feedback you may have to this letter.
    Kind regards The Rabbit in the Moon Mother Supporter with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers Peer Supporter with Baby Café