The transition from maiden to mother is a big one.

Whether you had a traumatic birth like our co-founder and CEO or you felt unprepared or unsupported postpartum, it can throw off your mental strength, sense of who you are, or even what you need to feel like yourself again.

For some women, they may have the perfect birth and postpartum phase, yet the hormonal roller coaster/cascade of shifts can throw them off.

Enter Abbie Ames, who is helping women and moms truly love and accept themselves as they are and go from surviving to thriving in motherhood.

We cover EMDR therapy, EMDR intensives, her approach to working through trauma, and what comes up to the surface to be healed in motherhood as well as anxiety in motherhood.


Q: When you were thinking about having kids, given your work, did you kind of have a mindset game plan going into motherhood?

A: So I didn’t start off with this specialization of working with moms—that kind of developed after becoming a mom and my journey into motherhood. With that being said, I’ve always been one of those planners, Type-A. Of course I had a plan! I had a birth plan. I had all the things that I thought would go into becoming a mom and, as you probably know, there’s so much uncertainty and unpredictability with not only starting a family, but how your birth goes, what motherhood is like, and what your kiddos are like. So, I was not go-with-the-flow.

Q: Once you were in it, how long did it take you to feel like yourself again?

A: That’s a tough one, because I really believe postpartum is like forever after you become a mom. I know there’s like the standard science, and I think they actually recently changed it to more like two years. But I mean, we enter different seasons of motherhood. So I guess I feel like at least two years really if I’m being honest. So, recently. I’m still kind of working on that. It’s a work in progress. I like to point that out so that other moms also know that we’re never going to be the same. We’re just a new version of ourselves. We have to grieve our old life, our old selves.

Q: What are you seeing in the moms you work with? How is trauma and our childhood connected to that shift into motherhood?

A: So much comes up with being a mom. I think we have this vision of what getting pregnant looks like, birth, parenthood, life with multiple children. We went through some fertility challenges with our first and then, much easier, came along the second. So, everyone just has such different journeys with even getting pregnant. You just picture it looking so seamless and easy, like you’ll just get pregnant when you want to and feel like it.

With that being said, I think the things that get stirred up a lot of times are wounds we never even realized were there from childhood. They just seem to show up in ways as a parent—like kiddos not listening makes us sometimes feel like we didn’t feel heard because our needs didn’t matter much as a child, or maybe our parents’ needs came first or another sibling—and that can bring that up.

A lot of perfectionist, people-pleasing moms are scanning their friends and other moms and how they don’t quite fit in and aren’t quite good enough. Sometimes that comes up in motherhood in new ways. It’s like a new clique and place we want to belong and feel like we are doing good enough and a good job. I think that gets stirred up in motherhood.

A lot of times it’s wounding from our own parents and the way we grew up. I notice a lot with my millennial and Gen Z moms that I work with not feeling good enough. The whole go sit on your own if you have big feelings, or you’re angry, crying, or throwing a big tantrum—a lot of millennial moms are trying to do things differently. Not that there's anything wrong with how our parents tried to do things, it just came with its own challenges for us as parents. Being allowed to experience big feelings, and when our kids have big feelings, what that brings up for us.

Q: How does one know if it’s a mother wound or father wound? Are there any token things you look for with your patients on whether it’s a mother or father wound, or do you see one come up more in motherhood?

A: I don’t know that I see one come up more than the other. I think it’s both. I honestly think sometimes, the one we think consciously we know is there, sometimes we’re surprised there was something to the other one and we just don’t realize it consciously.

That’s the thing, this is not a “we think this thing through and we’re healed.” We really have to drop into the body, and this is where EMDR comes into play and that modality—really any kind of trauma work that involves the body, because our nervous system gets to decide when we let it go or move on or heal from that thing. It’s not just “think more logically about this thing like it’s no big deal now.”

Q: What makes someone qualify for EMDR?

A: I like to clarify this because you tend to hear about it associated more with PTSD or really what we call “Big T” trauma, which is like an old school way of calling something that is universally traumatic—things like war. However, trauma really is just any kind of wound that leads to a long-lasting impact.

So, if you can imagine death by a thousand cuts. Those might be “smaller things” to someone that they probably downplay. A lot of moms downplay our own pain and hurt but, if it’s still affecting us today, it’s probably bigger than we give credence to. It is trauma if it’s still having a long-term impact. So I just view trauma as any kind of wound, whether it’s a cut that heals on its own because the body does a really good job at healing or maybe it’s more of a wound that needed some type of intervention like stitches, a bandaid, or surgery. There’s different forms of intervention that’s more invasive and more serious.

Q: For EMDR, do you have to be conscious of it or can it be layers down?

A: It can be layers down. There’s an art and a science to EMDR. It can be done with very obvious events—like a car accident, where you can point to it and the conscious memory of it, you can kind of envision it and, therefore, do the things to heal from it. But it can be things that are a little bit more subtle or complex. People come in and do EMDR for more complex trauma, relational trauma. It’s just a lot of times, people don’t identify those pain points as trauma.

Anxiety as a new mom. That could be coming from a place of trauma, but we just don’t realize all of the layers that have brought it to this point today. Maybe birth trauma is an easy one to pinpoint, but there’s other stuff behind it that maybe amplified it too.

Q: Talk to us about how EMDR works.

A: It can be for memory. We can target sensation. So, if someone doesn’t remember a time, but has a tightness in their chest that always comes up in a certain scenario, we can kind of float back to try to remember the first time they developed that sensation. It could be even preverbal, which gets a little more complicated. But there are preverbal protocols where, in conception, these things could be cellular in our bodies.

That’s why I say we can’t just think our way through. It’s very much about needing to drop into the body to not just notice thoughts, but notice what else is coming up in your body.

So, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a form of trauma therapy. It was developed by Francine Shapiro. It’s basically when you bring up whatever distressing memory or pain point, the client is supposed to notice the things distressing about it—whether it’s an image, worst part, sensation, or emotions around it. Then, we use this bilateral stimulation—whether through eye movements, tapping, or auditory (like a beep in each ear) to desensitize what was painful about that memory or distressing time.

So we essentially want to make the bad things feel less bad—is what the desensitization and bilateral stimulation is supposed to do—and we want to make the good things feel better. So we incorporate resourcing as well leading up to reprocessing and memory. We work on coping skills, making sure that if someone feels really strong, they’re not going to get derailed as we bring up a wound—that they can handle what comes up and stay within that window of tolerance.

Q: Is it a one-time session or numerous sessions to get into those layers?

A: So, this is going to vary. There are a lot of therapists out there, and I do and have done fifty minute sessions, which is kind of your standard insurance-based type session. I have gotten away from insurance because it really dictates a lot of what we can do in therapy. We have to have a diagnosis.

So I actually have realized over the years that fifty minutes is not a lot of time to get into things because we check in in the beginning, start to get your nervous system activated with the EMDR, and we actually only end up having 36 minutes to get into reprocessing and healing—and it’s just not a lot of time. So you can lose momentum sometimes with that. Not that it’s not effective, it’s just going to delay some of that healing and take some time. So it can be done in fifty minutes.

I tend to like to offer ninety minutes at the minimum, so that’s my ideal. Most clients have noticed and see why. I’ve also offered EMDR intensives, which is like a newer type of work in the therapy arena where we do anywhere from like three hours to a full day to multiple days in a week to really have that concentrated time—almost like a fast pass at Disney, where it’s only with you, you take breaks, and you really get to chunk away at something.

Q: How did you get into this modality? Was it personal or just something you were seeing in the field?

A: I would say a little bit of both. I noticed that, for a lot of clients, as great as I’m not knocking more cognitive based therapies, but they’re just not getting as deep and at the root as these body more trauma-focused therapies are. So, I was just interested in it, I had heard a lot of good things about it earlier on in my career, and I did a training and I was just obsessed with it. We would do our own EMDR as part of the training, so it was very experiential. So I got to experience it. So it’s not like I just know the side of being the clinician. So, I’m just passionate and have seen how it can be super healing for a lot of people.

Q: Are people coming to you just because they’re at their wits’ end, or when and how are moms finding you? What are some signs that maybe someone should consider reaching out to a mental health specialist?

A: I think it kind of depends. I see moms all across the motherhood spectrum. Maybe they’re trying to get pregnant or early postpartum or have toddlers or older kids. So, I guess the answer kind of depends.

But I think a lot of moms that seek me out have either done one of two things. They’re either at their wits’ end and feel like they have to try something, or they’ve tried therapy before and are realizing they want to try something different like EMDR or EMDR intensive. They really want a mom who gets it. So, I’ve kind of seen a lot of different reasons as to why someone ends up seeking me out. But a lot of times, it’s I’ve tried other things, I know what that’s like, and I want to try something different.

Or, maybe I’m at a place in my life where I’m maybe a little bit further postpartum and it’s still really hard and challenging and I’ve lost myself in that early postpartum phase. The newer moms, that is tricky. It’s really hard. They’re either struggling with a traumatic birth or their own mom that they are grieving that they don’t have a relationship with anymore that they wish they had that support from now as they’re entering their own motherhood.

I’m a big believer that you don’t have to go through what you think is universally trauma to get your own help and downplay your own pain. It can be better. You might be surprised. So I think if you notice you’re having a hard time showing up as the mom you want to be, you get really angry—mom rage is a very normal thing—you have a hard time relaxing when you have an opportunity to actually relax, it’s hard to put your own needs first but you find yourself burnt out, anxious, you’re worried about screwing up your own kids—these are a lot of reasons.

That is one time for EMDR intensives—when it’s hard to think about scheduling a regular appointment or having that kind of commitment, sometimes I think that’s where an intensive can be really helpful because you can work through a lot of stuff without that ongoing commitment and time to therapy. It’s more just planning them over a few days or a day to really get much further in the healing a little quicker.

Q: Is there anything else you’d recommend for birth trauma specifically?

A: I think any trauma-focused work. The trauma-focused therapies are going to be like your schematic therapy, brain-spotting, EMDR. Any therapies that drop down into the body and mind and focus on the body as well—not just thoughts—is going to help encompass that deeper healing.

Birth trauma doesn’t always have to be close to dying or baby dying. It could be lack of choice, lack of control, feeling trapped or disrespected by a doctor or a nurse, or it’s just not going how we envisioned. Maybe a baby has to be in the NICU afterwards, or you struggle with breastfeeding and what that brings up for you. Even the pain and endurance. I think people dismiss their own birth trauma by not knowing that it probably is trauma.

Like, for me, I will tell you that when my own kiddo does not want to go to sleep at night and I’m exhausted, I feel trapped and I don’t know when it’s going to end. It sounds so silly, but it would really activate a lot of those same feelings. I would have never thought that that is something that could come from birth trauma until I personally experienced it. So, connect being exhausted and not knowing when a situation is going to end, you feel trapped.

Q: What are things you see on the marriage front? Or, some advice?

A: This one is big. I see this a lot too. There’s resentment that can come up around like well, my whole world changed, my body changed and was never the same, the way we’re biologically driven and respond to our own child’s cry and their emotions. Then there’s the mental load. Not just division of labor, but the behind-the-scenes remembering to do this thing and taking care of that thing, and you’re more in tune with your kid’s emotions, and you’re researching the parenting styles. Even those big “expert parenting accounts,” you don’t see dads on those very often.

I guess my point is that there’s a lot. There's resentment around nothing changed for this person—especially for the stay-at-home moms—but my whole world has changed. Within the marriage, it’s like when we’re this exhausted or there’s so much to do, how do we still keep us good? I think the mental load goes into that because if mom is exhausted and thinking all of those things, if dad joins in on that mental load and there are more conversations and openness around that, then mom might have a little more energy at the end of the day to engage with dad in whatever with—like actually having a conversation and not just ignoring each other at the end of the day. Still dating, if it’s possible. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, but finding regular time for just the two of you like you did pre-kids. Not easy, but really important if we can.

Q: What made you want to get into this field in general? Did talking to moms find you before becoming a mom or after?

A: I was always the kid growing up who loved helping my friends. I was always like the go-to person to sit and listen and be empathetic and want to help. I think what made me go into counseling more was my own loss that I experienced in my own life. I lost my brother when I was 24. It was an untimely type of death. Something around that just made me want to help people through their own healing—not just like physically, but emotionally.

In terms of helping moms specifically and that becoming my specialization and niche, I would argue that becoming a mom, I really just felt this passion and connectedness to that population and women in general just working through the way they show up in the world and their relationships and just feeling good about themselves and in their own skin.

Q: What is the one thing you find yourself telling moms most often that are sitting in your office?

A: That it’s normal. That you’re not doing anything wrong. That every single mom I see just wants to know they’re good enough and they’re doing a good job. They want to feel seen and heard and understood. That they’re still human. A lot just kind of question that they’re just not measuring up compared to everyone else. It’s common. It’s normal. You are doing a great job. The reason why it’s hard is because it’s hard, not because there is something wrong with you.


This blog post was written based on kozēkozē Podcast Episode 363: EMDR and Mental Health Support with Abbie Ames.

If you’d like to listen to the conversation first-hand, tune in here.


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