Day three of the Warrior Mom Book Club (WMBC) review of The Ghost in the House.
Amber: Welcome back to the WMBC latest’s review. Yesterday we talked about “Motherstress.” As we closed, I mentioned there was one sentence in the book that struck me more than any other. On page 39, in the second paragraph, Thompson states, “Having children also sentences you to life.” As I immersed myself in childbirth preparations and nursery decor, I never once thought into the future about parenting or what being a mother to a child day in and out looked like. I felt like reality hit me like a Mack truck the moment they rolled me into surgery after my unrealized attempt at a natural, vaginal labor. I’m still in awe of the incredible and overwhelming responsibility of motherhood, in particular, five years later. Is being a mother something you embraced and yearned for or has the realization that parenting is a lifetime commitment been a sobering one for you, as well?
BR: I thought watching my sister parenting her daughter (who is 15 months older than my daughter) had prepared me well for becoming a parent myself. I quickly learned that I had no idea the work that goes into it. While you can never really know the reality until you are living it, I wish I had had a clearer perspective of how drastically life would change upon becoming a parent.
BB: I was certain that I would be a fantastic mother, as I’ve spent most of my life working with children, from newborns all the way through teenagers. I had read all the books, was someone friends came to for parenting advice, and felt as prepared as I possibly could be. I did have some apprehension because of a somewhat strained relationship with my own mother, but felt excited for the opportunity to redeem the idea of a mother/child relationship.
Once my son was born, I was completely mystified as to how I could be so bad with my own child when I was so great with everyone else’s. He was colicky; I had a severe case of thrush, so breastfeeding wasn’t going well; he only slept for an hour at a time (even as a newborn he only slept 8-10 hours a day total); I was recovering from a 37-hour somewhat traumatic birth; and I had postpartum depression. It was so hard to realize that, even with as much information and knowledge and experience as I had, I was starting from scratch.
JPG: I could not wait to be a mother, but the responsibility of mothering these two little girls is daunting. I pray daily for wisdom to help me navigate this.
TM: I knew parenting was for life. It wasn’t something I yearned for always, but I thought about how I would raise my child(ren) differently from how I was raised growing up and as an adult. What I wasn’t prepared for was how difficult it was to parent a newborn and how they needed CONSTANT CARE. I think I stressed myself out with having to do everything just right and thought he was in pain and I was making mistake after mistake every time he cried. I also had a deep feeling that my baby didn’t like me. I didn’t realize that it’s not possible for a baby to not like you, and that crying didn’t always mean pain or a big problem.
Amber: Let’s shift gears from mothering and stress to stigma. On page 67, Thompson specifically addresses postpartum OCD and stigma: “If the stigma surrounding PPD is considerable, it is magnified tenfold when it comes to postpartum OCD. How can a mother summon up the resolve to say the words, “I can’t stop thinking about dropping my baby off the balcony? What if she is desperate and nobody takes her seriously? Even worse, what if they do?” We’ve all faced some kind of stigma around mental health issues. Do you think Thompson is correct in her assumption that the challenges around postpartum OCD are even greater than postpartum depression? For those of you who experienced postpartum OCD, did you find a similar dilemma regarding the decision “to tell or not to tell”?
BR: I think there is a greater stigma around postpartum OCD. I have actually even seen evidence of it within the postpartum depression survivors’ community. I have read reflections from PPD survivors who didn’t have OCD/ intrusive thoughts and who comment on such thoughts in a way that distances themselves from those of us who have dealt with such thoughts. Like, “thank goodness, I’m not one of them.” I have found it particularly painful to discuss my intrusive thoughts, because of the added stigma. I remember when I was sitting in the crisis center, begging for help, I finally shared the darkest thoughts. Only then did the crisis screener get up, and without a word left the room and went to consult with the attending psychiatrist. It was a moment I will never forget.
JPG: I did not suffer from postpartum OCD, but my postpartum anxiety did manifest itself in panic attacks and intrusive thoughts. I buried those thoughts way down deep and only disclosed them a year after I had these thoughts after I was triggered by a local tragedy. I think intrusive thoughts are misunderstood, and a mother’s greatest fear is to have her children taken away from her. I worded my voice-mail to my therapist in such a way so that she would realize that I needed to be seen very soon but that I was not a danger to myself or to my children.
BB: I have been depressed most of my life and am a doula, and so am very well-versed in both pregnancy and postpartum issues as well as mental health. I did not know that there were postpartum mood disorders other than postpartum depression. Hardly anyone talks about PPD, and no one I had ever read or talked to had ever mentioned anything about postpartum anxiety or postpartum OCD. When I first read the list of postpartum OCD symptoms on the Postpartum Progress website, it was like a light came on. My jaw literally dropped as I looked at all these things that I was experiencing, and I realized that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t going crazy. It was so freeing to recognize that the awful things I was thinking were part of a greater issue and not just me actually thinking things like “I shouldn’t have gone hiking because a bear is going to eat us and they’ll never find our bodies” or “If I just keep walking, I’ll never have to inflict myself upon my husband or child again.”
Even once I understood what intrusive thoughts were, and that I did have postpartum OCD along with postpartum depression and anxiety, I found it difficult to speak those thoughts aloud. In therapy I was terrified that my son would be taken from me if I voiced the words in my head, so much so that I actually asked my therapist what the protocol was if I was hypothetically having intrusive thoughts. She was very reassuring and allowed me to have a safe place where I could get the thoughts out of my head without the fear and stigma that postpartum OCD brings.
Amber: Thanks so much to all of you for sharing so honestly about a very sensitive topic. Tomorrow we are going to dig into a discussion about the physical impact of depression and anxiety.