I’ve always been a somewhat anxious person and definitely fall on the obsessive side of the spectrum. (I struggled with an eating disorder in high school, if that’s any clue.) I have gone to counseling in the past, I’ve made efforts to open up a lot, and I think I’ve come a long way to get past major sources of anxiety.
But then I had two kids. And as anyone knows, becoming a parent completely changes you, often for the better. It also brings to light any lingering skeletons you may have hiding in the closet.
As a new parent, I heard a lot about postpartum depression. Most websites have tons and tons of information about the warning signs of PPD, beyond the baby blues. I definitely experienced the baby blues with crazy mood swings and hormonal surges just a few days after giving birth. Once I looked up some more information about what was going on with me, I felt relieved that much of my unfamiliar emotions were hormone-related, and I’d probably go back to being a “happy mom” within a few weeks.
But just a few months after having my first son, I experienced other symptoms that seemed totally off the wall. Namely, obsessive compulsions and intrusive thoughts. At face value, it may sound nutty, but the more I researched and talked to friends about it, the more I found out that these kinds of postpartum OCD behaviors were fairly common in women, often alongside PPD.
The International OCD Foundation says:
Research suggests that postpartum OCD is fairly rare, probably affecting between 1% and 3% of childbearing women…
BUT interestingly, our research indicates that up to 80% of all new mothers (even those without clinical OCD symptoms) report nasty, senseless, unacceptable, unwanted thoughts that are similar to those described by mothers with postpartum OCD. (emphasis mine)
Some typical postpartum obsessions include:
- Fear of SIDS
- Thoughts of dropping the baby from a high place
- Thoughts of putting the baby in the microwave
- An image of the baby dead
- Thoughts of the baby choking and being unable to save him
- Thoughts of drowning the baby during a bath
I have had literally all of the intrusive thoughts listed above, and others. I’ve read that many women are afraid to share these thoughts because they worry what friends and family members will think and even if they will have their kids taken from them, in extreme cases.
Here are a few words of comfort for women that may find themselves in this situation:
Both OCD and psychosis can involve strange, bizarre, and violent thoughts. But the similarities stop there. In postpartum OCD, the sufferer is terrified of committing harm; so much so that it scares her to even think about harming the infant. Women with postpartum OCD resist their obsessional thoughts; meaning that they try to dismiss the obsessions, or neutralize them with some other thought or behavior…
In contrast, women with postpartum psychosis tend to experience their violent thoughts much differently. The violent thoughts might be perceived as consistent with the person’s world view. Hence, such women don’t try to fight these thoughts.
It sucks to struggle with thoughts like these, triggered after having a new baby with a fragile life in your hands. But it may help many women that identify with postpartum OCD to know that you’re not alone. If you feel like you need help and that your thoughts are controlling you, get it as soon as you can. If you struggle with some postpartum obsessions, like I do, just know that it can help to open up about your fears. Understanding that these thoughts can be normal in new moms may make it easier to let them go.