Today is part 2 of Becky’s story of struggling with severe postpartum OCD, in which she shares the two scariest moments for her during that experience. (Please note: If you are currently vulnerable, you may want to skip this story because sometimes reading about other people’s intrusive thoughts can cause you to have them.)
I was alone with my mom and my baby girl Hannah, spending an extra night at the lake house. I had been feeling the anxiety and fear rising within me all day long, but tried to suppress and ignore it. It was bath time, and I was sitting by the tub watching Hannah happily splash around and play with her bath toys. The thought just popped into my head out of nowhere. She was so small, vulnerable, and weak against my adult strength, it would be so easy to just push her under the water. I immediately began to panic, unplugged the drain, yanked Hannah out of the tub and screamed for my mom to help me. It was only then that I told her what I was going through.
For the remainder of that week, Hannah and I stayed with my mom and I searched for support groups to help me. When I called the birth center at the hospital where Hannah was born, I explained what I was feeling only to be met with the opinion of a misinformed staff member who told me over the phone that I was experiencing postpartum psychosis, a mental illness that is completely different from postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD. I couldn’t believe that this woman was so unaware and so uneducated about the various forms of mood and anxiety disorders that women face after giving birth. As you can imagine, this only heightened my anxiety and made things worse. I thought, “Maybe Hannah really is in danger.”
The second time that my anxiety reached a peak was during a weekend in the Adirondacks at my in-laws’ summer cabin a few weeks later. I had tried everything to ease my anxiety that morning. I went kayaking, swam in the cool and calming lake, took my dogs for a fast paced walk, but nothing worked. I felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack all morning, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
It was time to get Hannah dressed, and my husband left the room for no more than ten seconds to grab a clean diaper. Here was my precious, beautiful baby, crawling toward me with a huge smile. I began to shake again thinking of my sheer physical power over her. She was so dependent and vulnerable. ” I could never act out on the thought, right?” is what I was thinking. With a trembling hand, I tested myself. I actually put my hand on my daughter’s head to see if I had it in me to push it into the pillows. I know I sound like a monster. It’s totally irrational, and of course, I couldn’t do it. Feeling like a criminal and absolutely terrified, I immediately told my mother-in-law and husband what had happened and insisted that I needed to go to the emergency room because my anxiety had just taken over, and I was worried for the safety of my child.
Reluctantly, my husband drove me the nearest hospital. I say reluctantly because he was worried about what would happen when I told the ER doctors what happened. Would Hannah be taken away? Would I have to be admitted to a mental hospital? Would I lose my job as a teacher? The truth is, I didn’t care. All I could focus on was making sure my daughter was safe, and getting the help I needed. If I had to be away from my baby for a bit in order to ensure these things, I was willing.
Thank goodness I was able to speak with a psychiatrist who assured me that I was not psychotic, I was not going to hurt my child, and that I just had acute anxiety paired with postpartum OCD that was making these irrational and horrible intrusive thoughts play over and over again in my head. When you can’t fight the thoughts off, they become real to the person experiencing them. They terrorize mothers into believeing that because they have the thoughts, they must want to do these things, when in fact it is just the opposite. He described postpartum OCD as a mother’s natural instinct to protect her child gone haywire. He explained that postpartum mothers who hurt their children are not frightened by their thought and/or are delusional. I left feeling much better. He got me on the right meds and referred me to a great therapist and psychiatrist, both of whom I still see today.
I was able to conquer my anxiety with therapy, medicine, and good exercise. I also reached a point where I could fully enjoy my baby, but it really did take time and patience even though I wanted to feel better immediately.
I wish I had known how common this is among new moms. I felt very alone, and truly began to question who I was as a person deep down. I’ve never been violent. I love animals and children, am empathetic, and love my family and friends to no end. I would have never ever imagined that this could happen to me. I learned that the thoughts were not there because I wanted them to happen or even worse, that they were going to happen.
I’ve been great for many months now, with only the occassional intrusive thought that I can shake off pretty easily.
I will not deny that I still have some bad days, even weeks, but learning that I am not alone, that my thoughts and fears are not uncommon, and that I can find support from other women who’ve had postpartum OCD like me has made all the difference.
~ Becky G., Syracuse, NY