Postpartum OCD: Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You’ll Act On Them?

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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.”

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. I had those thoughts as well, as I wrote about in my Driving Into Trees post on Chronicles. And, especially because of my past, I was desperately afraid that I would be judged harsher and that my baby would be taken away and I'd never see my family ever again.
    Sigh.

  2. christina says:

    I have many friends who suffered with hyperemesis resulting in PPDOCD. Until recently, I did not know they suffered with the intrusive thoughts. It is very difficult to share these feelings…That is why it is so important for these articles to be written :)

  3. I really wish that I had known about the "intrusive thoughts" of PPOCD before I struggled with it. Even more importantly I wish that just ONE of my health-care providers had heard of it!
    I had a textbook case of it with paralysing anxiety about my thoughts, but no one knew what was going on. I did so much to protect my baby from me and my scary thoughts (a huge clue!). Since most of what people (including doctors) hear about PPD is media sensationalized I was immediately seen as a threat to my child. I was separated from her for a month in a psych hospital and received the wrong help. It took my husband's research and getting in touch with PSI and then our state PPD coalition to finally hear about PP OCD. It really sucks to have to educate the doctors yourself!
    My family will never get that month back, or all of the time that it took to recover from such a tragedy. The worst part is that I know that I am not the only one. Women everywhere are too afraid to speak out because they are afraid of what happened to me happening to them. Your work here is so important. If I had read posts such as this and been aware of the term "intrusive" things would have been SO different. Keep up the education!

  4. When we were still in the hospital, my OB took the time to talk with my husband about postpartum depression. He told my husband that I might not notice the symptoms in myself. He also invited my husband to call his office if he had any concerns which I thought was completely amazing. We had a lot of chaos in my daughter's first few weeks of life, but it became clear to both of us that something was not right with me when things finally calmed down.
    I actually started experiencing intrusive thoughts for the first time when I came home from my OB appointment. Here I was hoping that I was on the path to getting better and instead things got much worse. I thank God every single day that I managed to find the right search terms that brought me to your Newsweek article. That article gave me the search term I needed: postpartum OCD. From there I found Postpartum Progress. Just knowing that what I was experiencing had a name, that I wasn't the only mother that ever went through it and that it didn't mean that I would hurt my baby took a tremendous load off of my shoulders.
    My recovery has been nothing short of amazing, and I attribute that to the fact that my OB was mindful enough of postpartum issues to discuss them with my husband, and that when I started experiencing intrusive thoughts I was able to discover that they had a name and with treatment they would go away.
    I know that I have shared this story with you before, Katherine, but I feel compelled to share it again and again in hopes that more women with perinatal mood disorders will have a recovery experience like mine. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to live through he hell of postpartum OCD for months on end without telling anyone what I was going through, and I am beyond grateful that I did not have to.

  5. Thank you. I am struggling with this very thing right now. I am scared to death to tell anyone for fear of them thinking I need to be put somewhere. It's more about myself though; What would happen if I swerved in front of an oncoming truck. What if I cross the street right before that car gets here.
    I still have not a way to find the courage to tell my husband, and wonder how to bring something like this up?
    Suggestions?

    • Just let him know there is something you’d like to talk to him about. Tell him about it, but also let him know you have been doing research and that you may have an idea of what it maybe. Also let him know that you may go to speak with your doctor who may be able to prescribe some medicine that could help suppress this. Mine got super out of control after having my last baby and I’ve actually had ocd all my life but was diagnosed after my 3rd baby. I still have it but its something knew as a kid I had and later was told for sure. The meds help with anxiety and my ocd. Work with you doctor. Let them know about your research also. Good Luck !

  6. You need to tell your husband what is going on. I had to tell my husband and it was the hardest thing that I had to do. But when he was educated about my ppdocd he finally understood. You need to see a pyschotherapist and a pychiatrist and get on medicine otherwise it will never go away. It will just manifest itself.

  7. Thank you for sharing this Katherine and for all the support you provide to women with PPD! I currently have been struggling with Postpartum OCD since this past August. However, I started getting professional help 3 months ago, and have made significant progress towards recovery! It is true that with treatment you will get better! Mothers, do not be afraid to get treatment and to get support! This is a real illness that is treatable!

  8. Yes, I have intrusive thoughts. They are quite grisly and although reduced somewhat, are still very much a part of my life even tho my baby is 19months and I have been diagnosed and medicated for well over a year. I hate them.

  9. interested says:

    Mae, perhaps giving him this post and other articles about ppocd and intrusive thoughts would be a good way to go. That way he can see that it is a condition that can be treated.
    I'm sending special prayers your way to make it easy for you to tell your hubby.

  10. I am on a roller coaster right now. My intrusive thoughts started the day after I had my baby (about two months ago). I started treatment(counseling/psychiatry) the following week. I went to my first postpartum OCD support group meeting recently and the other women do exposure therapy with the trained counselor who runs the group. Has anyone ever used this kind of treatment or have most done meds and/or cognitive behavioral therapy? Thanks for any info.

  11. Oh honey. Please tell your husband. Even if you have to bring up this web page and let him read your comment while you wait in another room you have to tell him.
    Telling my husband was hard, but I thank God every day that I did. There is help for you. What you are going through is no reflection on you. It is a horrible chemical imbalance in your brain that can be treated.

  12. My daughter is almost 7, and I have been medicated since she was almost a year. I now have two younger sons, and I still have occasional intrusive thoughts. And they still freak me out at first. Fortunately, my medication and my experience in therapy help alleviate the anxiety and allow me to remind myself that it is just a thought. Not an action. Not a wish. A random, scary, worst-case thought that blips in and then blips out. But even this many years out from my initial nervous breakdown, it still sucks to have the thoughts.

  13. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Isn't it amazing to think that healthcare providers WOULDN'T KNOW?!? How can that even be possible. Yet I know it is.
    I'm so very sorry you were misdiagnosed and separated from your baby. Truly, deeply sorry. Things like that should never happen.
    - Katherine

  14. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Please feel free to share it, Shelly. It's important for people to see what a difference it can make when all the people around a suffering mother are properly informed and appropriately supportive.
    - Katherine

  15. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Where do you live? (nearest major city) Perhaps we can give you information on some good healthcare pros in your area to whom you could reach out.
    It took me a while to tell my husband as well. It helped when I had real, medical information to give him. Something else that people have told me helps is to have the doctor explain it to your husband.

  16. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    So glad to hear you are getting better Andrea! You are an inspiration to those who are unsure whether to seek help.
    - Katherine

  17. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I don't blame you for hating them. I hated them, too. I am glad that at minimum your treatment seems to be reducing them. Have you discussed how much they still affect you, as well as any other treatment possibilities with your physician/therapist?
    - Katherine

  18. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I have not personally experienced exposure therapy, though I do know it is used as a treatment method for obsessive compulsive disorder. Anyone else here been through it?
    - Katherine

  19. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    As someone who found out through her postpartum OCD experience that she has probably always had OCD, I still (even w/ treatment) find myself having an intrusive thought maybe 3 or 4 times a year now. Blips in and out as you describe. I have to say they don't affect me anymore, generally speaking. I sort of banish them. I make them go away. I know they are simply a very "unhelpful" symbol of how much I love my children and want them to be healthy and safe. I cannot allow myself to dwell on them.
    - Katherine

  20. I have been having intrusive thoughts for almost 4 years now, since after my first son was born. I knew I had PPD, but never sought treatment. After my second son was born, it was so, so much worse. Because of these intrusive thoughts, I was convinced I had gone crazy. I was terrified if I told someone the horrible things that were constantly playing out in my mind, they would take my children from me. I did go on antidepressants for over a year, but the thoughts never went away. I was scared to drive, when I would get into a car instantly the thoughts started. I "saw" horrible accidents and my children killed. So detailed and real I could feel it. I still have not been able to tell anyone about them. I have just recently started talking to my husband about it, after 4 years, but I can't bring myself to tell him what the thoughts are, or anything other than they are just bad :(

  21. I had intrusive thoughts several times a day, and nearly everytime I held my son. It was terrible and I was petrified. I did not tell anyone about them. But a friend knew I was struggling with birth issues and shared with me her experiences, including her intrusive thoughts. It helped me break the power they held over me. I still had them, but was able to recognize them quickly and knew that they didn't mean I wanted to do any of the things I saw. I'm extremely greatful for that gift.

  22. "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."
    Thank you for sharing this post. The above quote was exactly what I needed to hear. It is refreshing to think of my anxiety as a sign of strength, if you will, instead of weakness.

  23. Thank you for posting this. More new moms need to know about it.

  24. Animarie Stydom says:

    Same here. Know somone who had gone for this treatment. Have not spoken to her for quite a while, but I think she is quite a bit better off now. Will try and get in contact with her and ask what her thought are. Will post back here again…

  25. Please please try ERT (exposure response therapy). I was on medication for several months with absolutely no improvement. I have been doing ERT for the past 6 months or so and it has helped tremendously! I had about a 50% reduction in symptoms the first couple of weeks, then I was only having anxiety once in a while, now almost never! I have read tons and tons about OCD, and I'm convinced that ERT isn't just the best approach – but the ONLY thing even close to a cure for OCD. It can even be done successfully at home, you can learn how through the book "Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts" which is written by psychologists. It also helps you to understand where your faulty thinking is causing you these problems. Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals is another great book for that. ERT is not fun…at first you will feel worse, but short-term pain = long-term gain! Also, get more sleep even if you have to beg/borrow/steal from other adult family members to get it. I saw a poll that said sleep helps people with anxiety disorders in 100% of cases! It might even be that postpartum lack of sleep causes it. I felt about 10x worse when I did not get enough sleep, after 2 weeks of good nights I did sooo much better. You will be amazed. Your mind needs that sleep. 1 or 2 days will not be enough, get 2 weeks of good nights and see if you feel tons better.

  26. THANK YOU! It's great to hear other people's stories on the days when you feel like you are the only person going through this. Intrusive thoughts, anxiety and the constant flow of tears have taken from me valuable time with my two sweet boys. Good days and bad days come and go and I keep hoping to get better. It's been 18 months now and I'm still feeling severe anxiety and PPD. Every day is a struggle and I just strive to be the best mom I can be. It was hard telling my husband that I daydreamed of leaving our family, of crossing the line on the road or throwing my baby down the stairs. I too felt that he would surely commit me or call Child Services. But I was so lucky that when I finally confided in him he wrapped is arms around me and told me we would get through it. We are getting through it together one day at a time. My love goes out to all of you. Stay strong!

  27. Oh my goodness. I am so thankful I found this. I felt so evil and awful for having these thoughts about hurting my son. It made me physically sick to know that I was capable of these thoughts. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder a few months ago which is what I think made this manifest itself. Just reading this and knowing there is help for me makes me feel so much better. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  28. I’ve been suffering from it for about 3 weeks now n I hate it. I have scary thoughts about hurting my son several times a day n I can’t stop thinking about how evil n crazy I think I’ve got. My family n husband know n I’ve just started tablets n due to go to therapy soon. I look at my son n question do I love him coz surely if I feel this way I must not its horrible.
    I just want to feel better! I’m scared to b left alone with my son incase I hurt him these scary thoughts scare me so much n causes me to have an anxiety attack every time n I’m also loosing so much sleep because I worry I’m crazy n I feel I won’t let my son get to close to me xx

  29. My OCD is better now after taking medication, but I still have tiny obsessions that blow over after a couple of day to a week. I’ve been having one that isn’t really giving me anxiety, which is scaring me a lot.I’m having these thoughts that make me want to do stuff that have me so scared that I throw up, but sometimes I really like them. Ugh… maybe its because of my OCD that makes me want to believe that this isn’t part of my OCD.

  30. I am SO thankful I stumbled upon your site. I’ve been struggling with, what I now know as postpartum OCD, since the birth of my oldest whose now three. I’ve struggled with admitting that anything is wrong with me, but now I feel I have the strength to get help. Thank you for giving me the push I needed to get help and realize that I’m not alone.

  31. I started experiencing severe PPD symptoms 9 months postpartum. It was as if I stepped off a cliff. I felt like I was going crazy, for sure. This was right around Thanksgiving. I felt sad for no reason, anxiety of hurting myself and/or children, loss of appetite, insomnia, intrusive thoughts. It was complete h#ll. I immediately realized something was wrong and started doing research and found your website. I was determined to beat this, and still am. I started taking D3 and Omega 3 pills and exercising. I have met with my PCP who found I am Vitamin D deficient and met with a therapist. I am so happy to say it’s been 4 weeks since I’ve started these things and I feel SO much better. However I still have those horrific thoughts, except less frequently and causing me less anxiety now because I know those thoughts are not me. Today I reached out to the OBGyn that I saw while pregnant thinking she might have some additional insight that might help me make more sense of what is going on with me. To my dismay, she listened to me for all of 1 minute before she cut me off. She insisted I needed to be on antidepressants and that I have already received 100% of the benefits from my supplements. She went on and explained these thoughts were not normal. Obviously! My frustration? How can someone who hasn’t even listened to my whole story, be so sure of what it is that I need? I am not saying I would never take meds but at this point, I honestly don’t feel like I need them because I feel like I am getting better with what I am doing. I am not against meds, and know sometimes you NEED them. But unfortunately I know there are Dr’s out there who will give you a pill for just about anything. Any suggestions?

    • I am in Australia and there is limited education here. Thank God for this site!

    • Faith, it’s been six months since your post and I hope you have completely recovered. If you are still struggling, I would suggest getting in touch with a therapist who specializes in treating OCD. He or she might be better able to assess whether or not you need medication or whether some other type of therapy would be appropriate.

      I live with OCD all the time . . . it ramps up when I am pregnant. I am currently 33 weeks with my second child and I am so scared of how I will be postpartum. I’m not taking any meds right now and I still get the intrusive thoughts. They cause me a lot of anxiety . . . mostly I am afraid of getting postpartum psychosis. I read an article about a lady who had it and who killed herself last year. She tried taking her child with her but he survived. Her story scares me absolutely to death.

      After my first pregnancy, I really resisted taking antidepressants again because I was breastfeeding and thought it might hard my child. But this time . . . I think I am going to go on them right away. I want to be proactive and do what I can to avoid getting worse.

      Thanks for listening.

      <3

      • Ashoffman I am so happy to say I am so much better now. I eventually broke down to my OBGYN, and was referred to a women’s psych who was able to confirm I had PPD/OCD. I also started taking a low dose of Zoloft which helped so much. I have my moments, but they are not nearly as bad as they were. Mainly now I am constantly evaluating where I am in my recovery and freightened to death of my symptoms ever returning to the extreme of which they were. I pray to God that you and all of the ladies out there find solace that you are NOT alone, and you can/will get better. My thoughts are with you all. <3