Paralyzed By Fear: I Think I Had Postpartum OCD

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221144_843371654546_2779282_oBefore I knew I had PPD and anxiety, I thought the obsession I had with making sure my son was still breathing was normal. I found out eventually that it wasn’t, but not until after I had spent months totally paralyzed by the thought of losing him to something I couldn’t control.

Instead of finding ways to calm my fears, I found myself diving deep into the blog of a family that had lost their first child to SIDS. I didn’t know the family at all. I can’t really remember how I found their blog-maybe it was a friend of a friend of a friend. Their real-life nightmare was my nightmare. I could not shake the fear that the same fate would fall upon us.

I barely slept for months. I researched every way to “prevent” it and I made that a policy. I put off crib naps as much as possible-I had to hold him so I could watch him breathe. He stayed in the Pack-n-Play in our room for over five months so he was within reach. I joked that that way I could poke him to make sure he was ok. Except it wasn’t a joke-I really did it, at least twice a night.

The thing about all of this was, I didn’t really tell anyone about it. I probably knew that I was torturing myself by obsessing over the blog, but I just couldn’t stop myself from typing that address in my browser. I knew what I was doing wasn’t all that healthy, but I didn’t really know how to stop. Once I got a therapist at seven months postpartum, we had passed the main window for SIDS loss, so I never really brought it up with her because I believed my fears were slowly subsiding. Yet, I still leaned over the crib rails every night before I went to bed and told him I loved him so it was the last thing I said to him….just in case. I still found myself holding my breath every morning until I heard him call for me. Hindsight is 20/20, so I suspect now that my therapist would’ve diagnosed me with Postpartum OCD if I had been open about it.

When the twins were born, I forked over money I didn’t really have for the portable SIDS monitors. They allowed me to sleep by quieting the voice of fear that was peeking from behind the medication I was on to keep the anxiety and depression at bay. The video monitor someone gifted us helped me, too. I wasn’t without concern, what mother is, but I was much calmer, more aware of my own actions that perpetuated my fears, and understood that I could not control everything.

Sometimes, in the quiet of the night, I wake up with that same feeling that used to keep me awake for hours. On the nights I can’t shake it, I tiptoe into their rooms and kiss their sweaty, sweet-smelling heads, and tell all three of them I love them…one more time. The fear never really left me, but I try my hardest not to let it rule me like I did for so long.

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A story of Postpartum OCD, intrusive thoughts, and hope

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I remember each part of my OCD clearly. It began one night as I was nursing my son, Easton. I was home alone with the kids because my husband travels for work. I was looking at him and this random thought popped into my head– “What if I smothered him?” I was instantly crippled by what I now know was intense anxiety, not part of my character.

In the month that followed, my OCD became out of control.

I was constantly on guard, needing to check and recheck my thoughts to make sure that I was not dangerous. It consumed me. I couldn’t eat, I had no appetite. I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts were constantly racing. Then one morning, a new thought came. “What if I hurt both of my boys and no one was around to save them?” This thought scared me so much that I wouldn’t stay at my house alone with them anymore. I stayed on my dad’s couch for two weeks. I stared at the kids all night to make sure they were still safe. I felt like I had to constantly check myself to make sure I didn’t go crazy. I believed I had to stay alert at all times and if I thought I was going to hurt my children, I would go get my dad to save them.

It was all-consuming.

My friends and neighbors noticed something was wrong. I couldn’t go to social gatherings because all I wanted to do was cry. I cried all the time. Every day. I endlessly went through different “what if” scenarios in my head, terrorizing myself to no end. I remembered every Dateline episode I had ever seen and I was scared of becoming each of those evil people.

It is a special kind of hell to not be able to stop racing thoughts that completely contradict who you fundamentally believe yourself to be.

One night, I was putting my son Brayden to bed and thought, “At least I’m not one of those people who is attracted to their kids.” Guess what happened after that thought? That’s right, I was now fearful of becoming a pedophile. That is how quickly my thoughts would terrorize me. It was as if the mere fact that I was capable of having a thought suddenly meant that it could become a reality. This was endless.

By this time I had a therapist, but that wasn’t enough. Because of the grace of neighborhood friends who were able to care for my children, I ended up going to an outpatient program for new mothers with perinatal mood disorders and got on medication.

The medication caused my anxiety to lower, which in turn eased the thoughts. In therapy, I learned that anxiety takes what you care about most and puts it in the worst case scenario. What I care about most in the world is my boys, and them getting hurt in any way is my worst case scenario. This is by far the most crippling thing that has ever happened to me and it is nearly impossible for me to paint an accurate word picture that correctly illustrates how hard this has been.
Once I began to feel better, I began to do crafts and DIY projects, and I started to fully rely on help from my friends. I started by painting a table and chairs. Every new project meant something to me. If I could make it through just one more craft, we would be okay. I’m able to use my mind and creativeness to create beautiful projects instead of using my mind to scare myself. These are skills that came through time, medication and therapy. Today I am able to steer my thoughts from the worst, to gratitude for friends who have come along side me, to support my family. In the darkest moments, I would not have believed I would be working my way through to another side, but I am.

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I’m Chelsea Elker, a stay at home mother of two who has been fighting postpartum OCD for 8 months. I’ve begun documenting my journey through OCD as well as the crafts that keep my mind occupied on my blog delicatechange.blogspot.com. I feel that sharing my story not only helps others who may face the same obstacles, but also loosens the hold that the OCD has on me. I look forward to completely conquering OCD and being able to fully enjoy my family and motherhood.

 

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New Study: Postpartum OCD and New Mamas

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washing my handsThe thoughts marched onto the battlefield when my daughter was less than a week old. They closed ranks around my brain and held on voraciously until they squeezed every bit of sanity out of me. Their arrows whizzed by, carrying horrid thoughts which would disappear as soon as the arrow sunk in – then the compulsions began. I washed my hands. I cleaned. I twitched. I watched movies. I read. ANYTHING, anything to make the whispers of danger stop.

I struggled mightily with Postpartum OCD during my first and second postpartum periods. With my second, my OCD was coupled with the trauma of being a NICU mama. All the pumping fed my compulsions, and quite frankly, may have provided some source of solace for me now that I look back.

Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or postpartum OCD, is an ugly stop on the spectrum of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. It catches moms off-guard. We often wonder if the thoughts we have are normal – is this part of normal motherhood worry? When should we consider the possibility of having crossed the border into seeking help?

A new study out of Northwestern states that new moms are “FIVE TIMES more likely than their peers to experience OCD up to six months after their child is born.” Normal population rates of OCD sit at three percent. Among new moms? Eleven percent.

Dr. Dana Gossett had this to say regarding how to tell when mom needs to seek help:

“It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene,” Gossett said in a press release. “But when it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic.”

It’s encouraging to see researchers exploring additional stops on the spectrum. Postpartum Depression has been a catch phrase for so long that all too often, moms think that if they’re not sad or weepy, they aren’t experiencing a mood disorder after the birth of a child. Research like this, however, goes to show that a new mom doesn’t have to be sad to experience a mood disorder. Signs and symptoms of postpartum OCD, according to Postpartum Progress include, but are not limited to the following experiences:

  • You feel like you have to be doing something at all times. Cleaning bottles. Cleaning baby clothes. Cleaning the house. Doing work. Entertaining the baby. Checking on the baby.
  • You may be having disturbing thoughts.  Thoughts that you’ve never had before.  Scary thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were.  They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away.  These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
  • You are afraid to be alone with your baby because of scary thoughts or worries.  You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.
  • You may feel the need to check things constantly. Did I lock the door?  Did I lock the car? Did I turn off the oven? Is the baby breathing?
  • You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps.

It is important to note that OCD symptoms may also appear during pregnancy. Note that symptoms would differentiate from that of nesting – if it interferes with day-to-day functioning, always see a professional.

The most important aspect of the symptom list above, for me, is this one:

“Moms with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are bizarre and are very unlikely to ever act on them.”

When I had thoughts, I remember the immediate repulsion which followed them. I didn’t seek a higher level of help after my second daughter (once I was on meds) until these thoughts began to make sense and I started to rationalize them. OCD is frightening. But there is always help and you are absolutely not a bad mother if you have intrusive thoughts flitting through your brain.

One of the other interesting things which came out of this study was that of the 11 percent of moms who experienced OCD, 70 percent of them also experienced a form of depression, leading researchers to the following:

“There is some debate as to whether postpartum depression is simply a major depressive episode that happens after birth or its own disease with its own features,” Miller said. “Our study supports the idea that it may be its own disease with more of the anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms than would be typical for a major depressive episode.”

In my experience, I also was depressed. But it was exactly as they posit in the second sentence – it was a depression heavily laden with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. My experience was not solely depression, despite what the psychiatrist seemed bent on telling me.

Bottom line? If YOU think something is off with you, seek help. Know the signs and symptoms, know yourself, and if you’re not quite you and haven’t been for awhile, talk to a professional. You’re not alone.

photo credit: “OCD-Washing My Hands” by mstinas on flickr.
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What is postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD teaching me?

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{The following is a guest post from Natalie}

crying baby

{photo credit – fotolia}

The other day a friend told me that the Universe gives you the baby you need. She’d heard that from a friend who has a very fussy baby, who felt that he teaches her patience and understanding. I thought, “What could I need that Eleanor is giving me? She’s an easy baby – not hard to soothe or too fussy. Maybe that’s what I need right now, to help me get through?” And this may be partially true. When I hear about what some other parents have to deal with, with difficult or colicky babies, I don’t know how I could handle it.

But the thought stayed in my head. What could I need that Eleanor is giving me? Love? No, I have that. Responsibility? Nope, I’ve got that too.

As I thought about it, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t what Eleanor is giving me but in a backwards way, it’s my experience with Postpartum Depression that is giving me what I needed (although I really do wish I could have gotten it another way).

She must not have had it as bad as I do, if she can say that, you might be thinking. But please believe me, I’ve been steamrolled by my OCD. I’ve sobbed as I held my baby and she smiled at me, while I said “Why does she have to have a mother like me? Why can’t this be easier?” I’ve cried to my husband for hours saying, “You’d be better off without me, but please please don’t leave me.” Or, “I’m no longer the woman you married. This is the new me, and you deserve better than her.” I’ve cried when I realized that I don’t remember the first few weeks of my daughter’s life–time I’ll never get back–because I was so out of it that I would only realize after a few days that I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth.

All that being said, what could I possibly need from this experience, you may ask. Wouldn’t it be better to have a normal birth with no PPD? Yes, of course. I’ve wished that more times than you can imagine. But before my daughter was born I thought, What will I do with all my anxiety and OCD when she’s my child? Will I freak out over every bump? Will she not be able to have a normal childhood because of me?

As I’ve been dealing with some of the worst OCD of my life, and working every day to get back to myself again–a state that used to be so easy I didn’t even need to think about it– I’ve had to work harder than I ever have to get my OCD under control, and I’ve had more at stake than ever. And I realized, in an awful twisted way, maybe this is what I needed (but again, never wanted) to get the strength and techniques I need to control my OCD in the future, for my daughter, my husband and myself.

I read something about PPD a few weeks back–testimonials from women on how they knew they were getting better. For them it was when they enjoyed looking at pictures of the baby, or smiled for the first time in a while, things like that. For me, I know I’m getting better now that I can see the positive aspect of the roughest time of my life, because I can see a future now. For those of you reading this wondering if it will ever get better…it does. Please remember there is nothing wrong with needing help. It will get better and better every day, especially with help. I’m getting there, and you will too.

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