I spent years believing that I was sharing my mind with a monster. Every day I tried to keep it locked away, dreading the moment it took over my head, and finally made me “snap”. Meet the reality of postpartum OCD.
I felt like I couldn’t reach out for help, out of fear of losing my children. What I came to learn was that the monsters name is postpartum OCD, and I am not alone…
When you hear the term OCD, you probably think of things like being a “clean freak” or twisting a door handle 5 times before opening it. However, that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
There is a reason that OCD is listed as the second most distressing mental illness, and it’s not because we like to have our pantries organised.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that affects around 2.3% of the population. It involves having unwanted, intrusive thoughts that cause extreme distress. This distress is usually eased by completing either overt (physical) or covert (mental) compulsions.”
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic anxiety disorder where a person experiences unreasonable, uncontrollable, or recurring thoughts followed by a behavioral response.
“Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety.
“Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought.” – Single Care
Double the amount of people suffer from Postpartum OCD, in comparison to any other form.
Other forms of OCD include contamination OCD, which is the obsession around germs and cleanliness that you see on TV, but there are plenty more.
OCD will latch onto anything and everything
It will attack the things you love the most and riddle you with fear.
However, like me, many suffer in silence, believing that no one else could possibly think such morbid things. I was too scared to even go to Google for help, in case my search was flagged and my kids were taken.
Studies show that 94% of the population admit to experiencing intrusive and upsetting thoughts, however they are able to accept that it was just a thought, and move on without the extreme emotional response.
One of the most common intrusive thoughts that all people report experiencing, is driving in the car and thinking: “What if I just drove into that person/car/tree?” For someone without OCD, this will just be a weird thought. For someone with OCD, it could lead to an out of control spiral.
“How could I think such a thing? I’m a monster. What if I really want to do it? What if I did do it? I’d better go back and check.”
Checking compulsions and false memories are not uncommon during these moments.
“Triggered” by pregnancy and childbirth.
I started experiencing different themes of OCD at the age of eight. I always thought I was just weird, and that my “habits” (compulsions) were nothing serious. As I got older, the monster in my mind would slowly rear its ugly head and would leave me feeling confused.
I came to believe that a small part of me was just evil. Though, I would ease my mind with compulsions, which I thought was my way of “coping”. In fact, I was only feeding the beast.
When I fell pregnant with my first born child, the thoughts that had always haunted my mind latched onto my baby girl in the most horrific ways.
“We know from several small studies that a greater than expected percentage of women with OCD attribute the onset or worsening of their symptoms to pregnancy or the postpartum.
“In fact, among female OCD patients who have given birth, pregnancy and childbirth are the most commonly cited “triggers” of OCD onset.” – International OCD Foundation
It started with me obsessing over having a miscarriage, either naturally or due to a freak accident. Once she was born, my obsession became SIDS. I would wake constantly through the night to check her. I ended up co-sleeping so that I could feel her breathing all through the night.
It got to the point where I couldn’t take a shower unless she was in a rocker right in front of me. I would image her falling off the bed and breaking her neck. I would envision myself falling in the shower and breaking my skull, while my daughter screamed for hours before anyone found us.
Every day tasks would be daunting and I found myself avoiding and suppressing the thoughts non stop.
An evolving monster
Then, as she got older and I had my second born, the Harm OCD set in. Thoughts of harm befalling my children either by accident, or by my own intent.
Common Postpartum OCD thoughts as listed by the International OCD Foundation include:
- The idea that the baby could die in her sleep (S.I.D.S)
- The thought of dropping the baby from a high place
- The thought of putting the baby in the microwave
- An image of the baby dead
- Thoughts of the baby choking and not being able to save him
- Unwanted impulses to shake the baby to see what would happen
- Thoughts of yelling at the baby
- Thoughts of poking the baby in the soft spot in her head (fontanel)
- Thought of stabbing the baby
- Thoughts of drowning the baby during a bath
Thoughts like these would infect my mind and I was met with overwhelming guilt, shame, disgust, distress and sadness. I desperately wanted the thoughts to stop, so I tried to suppress the beast that is OCD. With every attempt, it came back harder and stronger.
I truly believed that I was psychotic, and that one day I would “snap”. In talking with other mothers who suffer from OCD, I’ve come to learn that this is precisely how they felt.
When comparing Postpartum Psychosis and Postpartum OCD, the International OCD Foundation stated:
“Both OCD and psychosis can involve strange, bizarre, and violent thoughts. But the similarities stop there.
“In postpartum OCD, the sufferer is terrified of committing harm; so much so that it scares her to even think about harming the infant.
“Women with postpartum OCD resist their obsessional thoughts; meaning that they try to dismiss the obsessions or neutralize them with some other thought or behavior.
“The thoughts seem as if they are against every moral fiber of their being. Consequently, the risk of someone with postpartum OCD acting on their violent obsessions is extremely low”
Sitting with uncertainty…
Living with uncertainty is precisely what those with OCD struggle to do, and what we need to work on every day. OCD expert Robert Bray explains that we must “learn to wear OCD like an uncomfortable coat”. Let it just be there, sit with the anxiety and do not try to suppress it.
Thankfully, due to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Ritual Prevention (ERP) and sometimes medications, OCD recovery is possible. It is not linear, it can be hard, but I promise you it can be done.
I still have bad days where my thoughts run wild. I am still in recovery and have a long road ahead. But I hope that by sharing part of my story, mothers and fathers who are battling the beast every day, can reach out for help.
If you are reading this, and you can relate to these patterns of thought, please speak to a trusted GP, reach out to a loved one, join an online support group; do not suffer alone. Help is available and there is a light at the end of this tunnel. With the right tools, this monster can be tamed.