It was one of the most precious rooms we’ve ever created in our home. Each item was painted, hung, and constructed with love and anticipation of our baby. Its cheery yellow walls and the sweet smell of lightly scented baby powder would always invite me to come in every time I walked past it. I would often take a seat in the antique rocking chair, smoothing my hands over my swollen belly, excited and ready to fill this room with all the daydreams I had. The sleepless nights, the changing, the cuddles, the smiles, the happiness and the love would all take place there.
Those daydreams never came to life when we brought him home. That room, that cheerful loving room we created instead housed tears, anxiety, rage, and pain.
Was the number of times the washcloths had to be folded.
They were placed seam side down according to color.
If the washcloths weren’t perfectly aligned or folded or color coordinated or placed in the changing table perfectly I would start over …
And over …
I would spend anxiety-riddled hours toiling over the changing table’s organization. The diapers had to be aligned with the front facing out. The burp cloths where folded 3 times — no more, no less. The Vaseline label, wipe container label and baby lotion label had to be facing out. The changing pad cover was never to have any creases or lint.
And no matter how many times I tore it apart and organized and reorganized its drawers, it was never perfect enough. Because of this, the anxiety I was already experiencing was fuelled to crippling proportions and the rage I felt towards myself for not being “perfect” was terrifying. I remember my husband doing the laundry once and haphazardly putting the washcloths away. I was so enraged that I punched a wall and locked myself in the bathroom. While I was in there, my husband refolded and reorganized the cloths the way I specifically wanted. Then I ran in after him and redid them after he left the room.
It didn’t stop at the changing table. I had my baby’s closet organized by color. His socks were done by color. His books organized alphabetically and by size. There was to be no dog hair in his room. I swept his floor every hour.
After feedings or changes there would sadly be no cuddles or smiles or kisses. I would hurryingly and anxiously put him back in his crib so I could resume cleaning and organizing. I just couldn’t stop myself.
For the longest time, I thought that I was the only person in the world who was a changing table/nursery room Nazi and I had kept this little secret to myself. Then one night, I read a tweet from Katherine. She mentioned that she too had struggled with obsessing over burp cloths and washcloths and that this behavior was actually more common than I had thought. This is why I am writing this today.
I was never diagnosed with postpartum OCD, however, my psychiatrist said that this was a coping mechanism for me … that when I cleaned and organized, I was taking control because my mind and my world felt so out of control. Controlling what I could gave me a sense of power over my situation.
One of the things that helped me to let go of this behavior were 2 simple statements that my psychiatrist has said over and over at every appointment. I actually have them written out and placed in various “go-to organization” spots in my home, like the changing table.
“There is nothing in this world that is worth all this worry.”
When I find myself starting to fold and feeling the postpartum anxiety gripping my lungs tightly, I will repeat this line. After a while it does make me laugh. Like duh, why am I worrying about how many times I’m folding these wash cloths? Is it going to kill me if the green washcloths are mixed with the blue? No, so stop worrying about it.
The second statement:
“I only have to be good enough.”
This one took a while to sink in since I have always had issues with perfectionism, only postpartum depression and anxiety made it 100 times worse. I insert this statement when I feel tempted to rip apart a closet or my husband for not lining up the diapers correctly. It enables me to stop and to walk away.
Two years later, I still find myself rushing to organize something when things get overwhelming or when I feel out of control, but it is definitely better. Now my son’s room isn’t a trigger for anxiety, or sadness, or anger or rage.
It is a place that is finally filled with my daydreams of smiles, love and happiness.
Did you ever find yourself obsessing over the way things were organized or with constantly cleaning? Were you diagnosed with postpartum anxiety or postpartum OCD? What types of methods help you to overcome that compulsion?