Mothering while having Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The story of how I escaped the prison in my mind

I am so blessed. I have a two-year-old daughter and she is thriving. I am like most mothers now, I have good and bad days. My path in motherhood is calm and quaint. However, for the first year of her life, I painted on a smile like I did makeup to hide the inner turmoil I was experiencing.

My daughter’s name is Willow-Cordelia. Willow had a tough time coming into this world, resulting in my body having third-degree tears. My doctor informed me that only 4% of women have third-degree tears during childbirth. It is said frequently that you cannot plan childbirth- this is very true. It is also said that childbirth is a beautiful experience. For me, this was not the case. Childbirth was primitive, stressful, gory, and terrifying. I actually thought I was going to die and take my daughter with me.

After Willow was born, my husband and I cried a lot. Those first days in the hospital were spent trying to breastfeed on morphine while listening to “Linger” by The Cranberries and “Trains” by Altitude on repeat. My husband is a spectacular man, he never left my side, sleeping on a cot next to my bed for days. I had to be catheterized again. My mind wouldn't allow my bladder to work correctly due to the pain of the tearing. The agony in my body was extreme. I was completely broken inside.

Thankfully, my baby thrived immediately. I breastfed her within the first two hours after birth because I was worried about not bonding with her. She gained weight steadily and we left the hospital to go home after a few days.

Unfortunately, once I arrived home, I began to notice a disturbing pattern of thoughts developing. Every time I picked my daughter up, I worried about dropping her. This is a common fear, but it wasn’t so much the thoughts that concerned me, as the imagery. I would picture myself dropping her, and her being a paraplegic for life. I would picture horrible bloody scenes of her death every time I picked her up. They were vivid and so real. It was like I was stuck in a horror movie on repeat. Sometimes I would feel a jolt afterward as if an electric shock ran through my body.

Willow and I never left the house without my husband in the first months of her life. Actually, I never left Willow’s side for the first year. When I finally went on outings with my baby, the thoughts intensified. There is more danger outside and I feared this danger to a paralyzing degree. If we were driving, I pictured bloody car crashes. If we were walking across a street, I imagined us getting hit by a car. Sadly, even in the safety of my home, the nightmare continued. These thoughts haunted my days and nights.

I can very happily say this never affected the way I bonded with my child. If anything, it made me a more attentive mother. We have something special and I value every day I have with her.

I hid these thoughts for a while until I couldn’t anymore. I told my husband and then my mother. They both encouraged me to get some help. A public health nurse visited our family as part of a voluntary program, so I asked her what I should do and she helped me get in touch with the right people.

After 11 months, I finally got in to see a psychologist and he diagnosed me with Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He suspected that it was caused by the trauma of Willow’s birth. I was shocked by this diagnosis. I always thought OCD was all about flicking light switches and counting objects! When I vocalized this to the doctor, he said that postpartum OCD actually manifests itself in obsessive, intrusive thought patterns.

The psychiatrist gave me a script for some medication and advised I get counseling. I immediately followed his orders and put my name on waiting lists for a therapist in my small city.

Once the medication began working, the thoughts started to fade and my confidence as a mother improved. I felt better emotionally. It was such a relief to pick my baby up without thinking anything. I just would think “come here, my sweetheart”. I finally felt like a normal mother.

Unfortunately, I waited another 7 months before I got in to see a therapist. I have also gone through a lot of medication changes which brought on a period of depression. In addition, there is limited information on Postpartum OCD as it is a relatively new condition. Thankfully, I was lucky to get an appointment with the leading expert (psychiatrist) in postpartum OCD in Atlantic Canada.

This journey has certainly been life-changing. I used to consider working on my mental health as a full-time job in itself. Lately, however, writing and looking after my toddler have been the most rewarding full-time job I could dream of. I attend and even look forward to my therapy appointments. Every day I feel more confident, strong, and happy.

I sometimes question if I would be here right now if I didn't have the support system I have. I realize that friends, family, and health care practitioners are an important piece of the puzzle of wellness. However, I worked very hard to feel better. Every day is a new adventure and I feel like I fought my demons and won.

Postpartum OCD symptoms include a combination of obsessions and compulsions. These manifest as thoughts and behaviors.

Here are some of the common obsessions mothers with postpartum OCD will experience:

  • Unwanted images of hurting the baby such as dropping or throwing him/her
  • Concerns about accidentally causing the baby harm through carelessness
  • Intrusive and unwanted thoughts of harming your baby
  • Scared of making poor decisions that will cause the baby harm or death
  • Fear that the baby will develop a serious disease
  • Fear of exposing the baby to toxins and chemicals and other environmental pollutants¹

If you have these thoughts, you are not alone. Getting the proper treatment will help you and your family in the long run. I had reservations about writing this article. I am embarrassed, I feel vulnerable and exposed. However, if this article is going to help another mother who is suffering, publishing my struggle for the world to see, is a risk I’m willing to take.

[1]: Jenna Carberg. (May 3, 2019). The Basics of Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
https://www.postpartumdepression.org/postpartum-depression/types/ocd/

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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