A Therapist Shares Her Personal Experience with Postpartum OCD

Share Button

It's turning out to be postpartum OCD/Intrusive Thoughts Week here at Postpartum Progress. This wasn't planned, it's just that I'm hearing from so many of you who are going through this illness, so I'm sharing just a few of the stories I have received. This one is from Tina …

I am a horrible person. I don't deserve to be a mother.

This was the thought I tortured myself with when I starting having fears that I would hurt my daughter early last year. Once I finally gave in and told my doctor about my fears, I learned that this awful experience had a name: intrusive thoughts, or overwhelming fears that I found impossible to ignore. I was sure I was a danger to my daughter and should be immediately hospitalized. My doctor (and everyone else I told) completely disagreed. They never for a moment worried about the welfare of my daughter; the primary concern was always my suffering and how to help me alleviate it. That made no sense to me. Couldn’t they see that I was a ticking time bomb that could go off any minute?! I did everything I could to avoid being alone with my beautiful new baby, as her safety was my only priority.

I so badly wanted to crawl under my bed and never come out. In those early days, I would have given anything to be a “normal” mother with “normal” concerns like sleep deprivation and not showering for two days. Instead, I had been catapulted into a nightmare that I never saw coming. The shame was a physical presence that I carried with me everywhere I went. After my medication started working and the overt anxiety decreased, I looked happy and well-adjusted to other people. I felt like I was playing a role: the “perfect” mother who had never had terrible thoughts of harming her daughter. I would shudder when I would think of how horrified other mothers would be if they knew the truth, and how they would hurry to keep their children away from me.

I later learned that this disorder had strong roots in the anxiety I had before I got pregnant. I had always been a “worrier”, battling fears of certain doom hiding in every corner. I didn’t recognize these thoughts as irrational worries fueled by anxiety; I thought I was the “normal” one, and that those people that didn’t obsessively worry about every little thing were the ones taking their life in their hands. It was the terrifying experience of being afraid I might hurt my daughter that forced me to look at my thinking pattern and investigate ways I could change it. That was quite a revelation — I can change the way I think and then I can feel better? You would think that a therapist with ten years of experience treating anxiety in other people would have had this concept down, but it was my strange belief that it applied to everyone but me.

Determined to find a way to out of this nightmare, I stayed on my prescribed medication, and set about reading everything I could about this disorder. I especially craved stories of recovery from postpartum OCD that would give me hope that the nightmare would end one day. Having identified that my fears of hurting my daughter were actually a symptom of a bigger issue, I also started doing self-help work designed to change my reaction to these horrible thoughts. After all, they were just thoughts. I was the one giving them power by assuming that thoughts and actions are the same thing. Coming to understand this reality gave me an amazing insight: I was not a defective mother; I was a person with anxiety that could learn to control it and move on with my life.

I can obsess later.

This is my new way of thinking. Just over a year later, I have gained control over my intrusive thoughts, and they no longer run my life. I still have moments of uncertainty when the old fears creep in, but I give myself permission to put those thoughts away for the time being and get back to what I was doing. I can always go back to obsessing later on if I feel the need. The very act of acknowledging my obsessions puts me back in the driver’s seat of my own mind.

The energy I used to expend being terrified and making sure any time I was alone with my daughter was as limited as possible is now being used to teach her about the world. I marvel at her curiosity and revel in her love of life. Surviving this experience has made me appreciate just how blessed I am to be her mother. The shame that used to plague me has been turned into an inner strength that I have vowed to use to help other women find their way out of the darkness of postpartum OCD and into the light of recovery.

Share Button

Tell Us What You Think

  1. Wow. Reading these stories is like looking in the mirror. Amazing how similar the thoughts and feelings are with this illness! And all the while we think we are freaks, the only ones to have had such horrible thoughts that we can't ignore. I recently read that over 50% of women with PPD also have intrusive thoughts. That's a lot of women which means a lot of women are NOT talking about that symptom. THANK YOU for shedding more light on this illness that so many women suffer in silence with. My prayer is that they find this blog and realize that they are not alone and they will get better. And Katherine, thank you for dedicating yourself to helping women like us, who without this blog may have never had the support they needed. I know that where I live there are no PPD support groups.

  2. I'm so glad it's postpartum OCD week. If just one mom reads about intrusive thoughts, learns that's what has been plaguing her, and she gets help, it's all worth it. Thank you, Katherine. You rock.

  3. What I want to know is *how*. How do you start getting a handle on the condition and decreasing the severity and frequency of the intrusive thoughts? My daughter is now 21 months old, I have been in treatment since she was 5 days old. Meds, CBT, you name it.
    Not to be a downer, but I'm getting sick of being told it will improve, and I'll get better, that there will be recovery if I get help, if I look after myself etc etc. It has been almost two years. My gorgeous girl is not the helpless newborn of my intrusions, but a funny, precious, boisterous wee person who speaks in full sentences, jumps off things, and pours her own drinks. And there has been no recovery, there is no 'better'. I am aware that I have atypical ppOCD (no anxiety involved, abstraction of the child in intrusive thoughts, a few other things that mean I haven't been able to find anyone with a similar experience), and I am wondering if in some cases you don't get better, you just get used to it. I hope I'm not someone who can get used to that much blood and violence.

  4. Hi. My name is Beth. I would like to say that I find your article very relevant and informative. Readers will surely appreciate what you have said and it will definitely be a great help to them. Thank you for your helpful information.

  5. First, I love the way you right about your daughter. It made me smile.
    It took 3 hospitalizations for me as my OCD led to psychosis 3 times. The last was just after my daughter turned two. I'm in a good place now that she is three and I feel the worst is behind me. (I had no history of mental health issues, unlike many psychosis victims.) It took many medication switches and lifestyle changes to help me get to where I am and here's what helped me the most…
    -finding the right meds
    -not drinking alcohol at all on meds (I did not drink much before but even a glass of wine or two a week doesn't mix with meds.)
    -reading and understanding it… The best read I found was Brain Lock by Schwartz
    - reality therapy
    -watching carefully what I "feed my brain"- Limit watching, listening to or reading about violence (including/ especially the news) or whatever is plaguing your thoughts. I recommend sticking with comedy and lighthearted stuff for a while.
    -yoga
    -exercise
    -art
    -I'm working on retraining my brain. My mind always goes to worst case scenario. I practice combatting thoughts by flipping them… When my mind goes to worst case scenario, I recognize it, challenge it and make myself thing best case scenario.
    I'll keep you in my thoughts. Good luck.

  6. Della,
    I am really sympathetic to your worries and I do wish you will feel a lot better soon. I can honestly say that the "recovery" from intrusive thoughts can be long, (Its almost as if there is a post traumatic stress feature to it)and OCD can be a chronic condition. But, having been through it I can tell you that you WILL get better. It IS possible to retrain your brain, with help of course. Accepting that you have the condition is key.From what I know in most cases of post partum OCD the condition is temporary, that is, it doesn't last forever. HOWEVER… I think its sort of like having an addiction, the triggers will always be there, you just have to learn to deal with them. while I felt a lot better after 3 months I was far from recovered– for me, it DID take a long time to get to a position where I felt I had mastery over the fear of the intrusive thoughts. Because thats what it is, FEAR of your own thoughts. Fear and resistance breed ore of the same. In fact, it wasn't until 6 months pregnant my second child and suddenly feeling terribly anxious and OCDing, I found the right short term therapist combined with daily meditation and a wonderful Doctor who specialized in perinatal and postnatal mood diorders, and prescribed 200 mg. Zoloft. For me, mindfulness meditation helped immensely. I can't say enough good about it. If there is a therapist that uses this in his or her practice, I recommend it for you. Also a Doctor who specializes in these disorders.
    Really, only by giving the thoughts less power can they lose their grip on you, it becomes a sort of mental martial arts but in the end its about accepting that they are just thoughts. At least for me, acceptance was what de-fused them and made them go away. You should also see if maybe your medication might be changed or adjusted. OCD usually requires a high dose. Hope this helps in some small way.

  7. Wonderful advice about feeding the brain. I agree wholeheartedly. For me what was worst was worrying about the thoughts coming back and having "flashbacks' to how it had been. That was what took me a while to recover from, but I did. That IS anxiety and no form of OCD is without it— Oh, also wanted to add: fish oil supplement, healthy diet, exercise and lots and lots of self compassion. :-)

  8. Hi Kate, I am so sorry for the length of your suffering.
    keep on the track you are heading on. one suggestion if you have not done it is to try alternative therapies as well.. Stay on your meds and see your doctors. I have done some cranial sacral therapy and acupuncture. Cranial Sacral massage is non invasive and you keep your clothes on. It works with the connective tissue in our central nervous system and our cerebral fluid. It can really influence our brains as that connective tissue is everywhere in our bodies. It may not be for everyone but it has helped me. Acupuncture can too,,,be sure you find someone who is sympathetic and not judgmental and honors a multi-system approach ( combining east and west). Also, I highliy recommend looking into Homeopathy…expecially, Constitutional Homeopathy. Nutrition can make a huge difference too.
    These are just suggestions but do what you are comfortable with. I am a very conservative person and have found a lot of success with combined therapies.
    Hang in there…

  9. Hi Kate, I am so sorry for the length of your suffering.
    keep on the track you are heading on. one suggestion if you have not done it is to try alternative therapies as well.. Stay on your meds and see your doctors. I have done some cranial sacral therapy and acupuncture. Cranial Sacral massage is non invasive and you keep your clothes on. It works with the connective tissue in our central nervous system and our cerebral fluid. It can really influence our brains as that connective tissue is everywhere in our bodies. It may not be for everyone but it has helped me. Acupuncture can too,,,be sure you find someone who is sympathetic and not judgmental and honors a multi-system approach ( combining east and west). Also, I highliy recommend looking into Homeopathy…expecially, Constitutional Homeopathy. Nutrition can make a huge difference too.
    These are just suggestions but do what you are comfortable with. I am a very conservative person and have found a lot of success with combined therapies.
    Hang in there…

  10. Thank you for the article. I had Post Partum OCD too and had awful visions of harming my child. The thoughts slowly declined over time but one thing that helped me is something my husband said to me….he told me those thoughts were not "my heart." I say this as an encouragement to anyone who experiences this: do not judge yourself based on those thoughts, they are not your heart. As they fly in your head, let them fly on out.

  11. I never had those intrusive thoughts and I can't imagine how extremely terrifying they are. I am so glad that you were able to reach out and get help.

  12. I too suffered from intrusive thoughts to harm my son and have found a combination of Therapy (was fortunate to find a someone that specializes in Postpartum mood disorders) medication, and knowledge on anxiety has been working for me. The book Hope and help for your nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes has been a godsend. Learning to "accept" and not fight the thoughts/ anxiety has really helped me. I still get them occasionally but I don't obsess on them as much as I used to. I let them float in and float out. Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. Hi, my name is Joanne. I gave birth to a baby girl in Sept 2012. One day in February 2013 I woke up and I was not myself. I had these thoughts and feeling about hurting her and I knew that this was not normal. I was so scared to tell my husband and my family doctor. After a few weeks went by the thoughts got worst and the anixiety was horrible, I was even thinking about suicide just so I would protect her from me. I did not want to be left alone with my daughter. I did everything to make sure she was safe but yet the thoughts were still there. I am currently seeking professional help form a psychologist and a therapist. I am on medications that has helped me so far. There are weeks I feel great with nothing but love towards her and absolutely no thoughts then the next day the thoughts reoccur and I dwell on them. I do have a lot more good days than bad, so I know that I am getting better. Hopefully one day I will say I recovered 100%. It is very difficult dealing with this disease and reading other personal stories does help me and make me realize that I am not the only one that is going through this.

    • My son is 18 months old, and the Intrusive thoughts just started 4 months ago. He fell of the bed and my thoughts went from feeling guilty to -did I let him fall off the bed on purpose because I should have prevented that to -maybe I secretly want to hurt him. I started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist 3 months ago. I was so ashamed and scared of my thoughts to say anything for the first month. Now, I can say the thoughts no longer panic me… but I do constantly feel anxious. Worrying when I will get another intrusive thought, being down on myself because I feel like a horrible mother for even thinking these thoughts. I’m also working on affirmations and positive self-talk to hopefully reprogram my brain. I haven’t been myself for 4 months and I am honestly scared that I will never feel better. I want to be a good mom and I want to enjoy my kids, instead of secluding myself.

      • Having had intrusive thoughts myself, Kelly, I know how terrible they are. It sounds, though, like you are doing all the right things. You reached out for help. You were able to get to the point where you could be fully honest with your providers about your thoughts. That’s fantastic! Those are big steps. The thing to do now is keep working with your healthcare providers and in the meantime be very patient with yourself. Know that your brain is healing in a slow, methodical way — not as fast as any of us would like sometimes, but you ARE getting better. It will NOT always be like this. ~ K

        • Thank you for your words of support, Katherine. I’m so glad to know I am not the only one who has gone through this and I have hope that things will get better.

  14. Hi there, I have been looking at this site for the last 5 months, that’s how long I’ve had ppocd. I’ve pretty much been to hell and back. My daughter is 8.5 months old and I started having intrusive thoughts when she was 3 months. I know I would never ever hurt her, but my thoughts have become so powerful that I’m believing them. I tried meds, but I’m so sensitive that I had an adverse reaction to them, so I went to homeopathy. Which I’m still on, but I’m no better. I’ve been talking to a therapist for the whole time, which I have learnt a lot about myself, and I have had some really good days where I thought, wow, this is awesome I’m back to me again, but then BANG, my thoughts go crazy and I’m on that downward spiral again. This time I’m in a bad place, so I’m off to the docs again today, to try meds again. I just want to enjoy my baby so badly I’m terrified I’ll never be me again. And my poor husband, he’s been through it all too. Hopefully I can get on here in a few months time and give others better advice, thank you for listening, I wish everyone luck, and Katherine, inspirational. Especially to start up a post like this one that most mothers want to hide away from. X

    • Thank you for this site. I have an absolutely beautiful 5 month old baby girl and suffering from ppocd/anxiety/depression. I had 2 miscarriages and a scare in this pregnancy which made me so nervous which resulted in unsuccessful labour and c section. When my girl hit the 12 week mark I lost my mind and the anxiety burning my body kept me awake for days I could hardly eat and lost weight. I have begun meds and seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist in the coming weeks but my mind is frantic about the trauma and intrusive thoughts and my poor husband who is sad and very worried about me. This really is horrible but hearing everyone’s stories makes me feel like there is hope. I used to combat anxiety with yoga and meditation and affirmations but guess what affirmations add to the Ocd. I feel so sensitive and nervous at the moment. I also get anxious about medications but judging by everyone on here it is necessary and vital in getting through it. The hardest thing is not sleeping in the night when baby is asleep and the mind just won’t shut up and night sweats! Thanks again x

      • There is definitely hope. You’ve already taken such a big step by reaching out for help, which is so important. I understand the sensitivity, nerves, anxiety, lack of appetite, intrusive thoughts. That’s exactly what happened to me. Keep hanging in there and working with your doctor and following your treatment plan. It will get better.

        • How do you learn to accept the thoughts? I feel so hopeless and sad all the time. Like I’m not worthy of being a mom. Do they ever really go away or do you just learn to live with them?

  15. Thank you for this! Does the shame go away? I don’t have ppocd anymore but everytime i see her darling face I feel so shamed that I allowed the very image if perfection and innocence mix with memories of horrible things I’d seen online and in movies. I still cry and its hard to talk aboit this without thoughts coming back.

    • I feel that guilt is natural,but I noticed you said you allowed the thoughts……you DID NOT allow them,they came to you. To me that’s like saying you allowed lightning to hit your home. That’s madness. It takes time,this I know. But I have to believe that it has to get better and will just be a horrible memory from the past.

  16. Thank you so much Katherine! My story could be published and sold as a living nightmare! Fortunately for me,I knew immediately upon coming to from my delivery that something was wrong chemically in my brain,but was told to brush it off,suck it up,and be a Mom! I admitted myself into a “stress center”, that’s how sure I was that something was wrong,and I even diagnosed myself before my MD could because I knew the symptoms. A couple months into taking Zoloft I was myself again. A year and a half later I was so confident about my progress I decided to have my doctor ween me off…….big mistake! He didn’t ween me long enough and now I am dealing with the effects of it which are excruciating! I’m so glad I found this blog because I am SO lonely and no one understands this hell I’m in. I will continue to pray for strength and also continue to follow your posts.