Postpartum OCD: Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You'll Act on Them?

I got this email from Amy from Pretty Babies, and I identified so much with what she said that I wanted to share it with you (with her permission, of course).

“The entire trajectory of my recovery would have been different if I had known about the intrusive thoughts when I had my oldest. I thought that having the thoughts meant that I was capable of doing the things I thought about (in other words, if I thought about my kids drowning in the tub, I thought it meant that I WOULD drown them). I avoided getting help for months because I was afraid that “they” (my doctor, my husband, etc.) would take my daughter away if they knew what I was thinking. If I had known these sorts of thoughts were common, I would’ve been able to get help much sooner, but as a first time mother I had never heard of such a thing. Thank you for talking about this, so other moms don’t have to suffer the way we did.”

This is EXACTLY what happened to me when I had postpartum OCD. I had never heard of intrusive thoughts. I thought I was now a horrible monster, and I believed that since I was having these thoughts, it must mean I could follow through on them. That was wrong, but no one ever told me that. I also thought my child would be taken away. I WISH, WISH, WISH this was discussed more. There’s no reason for mothers to continue to suffer.

If you have postpartum OCD or postpartum anxiety and have scary, disturbing thoughts known as intrusive thoughts it is highly unlikely you would EVER act on them. As Karen Kleiman writes in her new book Dropping the Baby & Other Scary Thoughts:

“When scary thoughts feel inconsistent with your belief in who you essentially are, your character, and your personality, they are referred to as ego-dystonic thoughts. When a thought is ego-dystonic, it is in conflict with whom you fundamentally believe yourself to be. This inconsistency creates piercing anxiety. However, this distress, as disturbing as it feels to you, provides reassurance that these thoughts are anxiety driven and not psychotic. In fact, your anxiety is an indication that you are aware of the difference between right and wrong.”