Living with Post Natal OCD – When the person in the mirror wasn’t me.
“I can absolutely pinpoint the moment I went from a slightly anxious new mum to be, to a scared, frightened individual no longer in control of my own mind.”
At TakeItFromMummy.com one of the reasons people find our page is by a google search of ‘Post Natal Depression’ which takes people to an article about just that, you can read that here. We received this story (below) from a Mum who wanted to share her experience with others in the hope that someone out there might be touched by her story or that she might bridge the link between someone seeking help/advice or suffering in silence. If this is you, or you recognise some of the things our Mum describes in her story there are links below that will point you in the right direction. – Nikki x
Post Natal OCD – Our Mum’s Story
I can absolutely pinpoint the moment I went from a slightly anxious new mum to be, to a scared, frightened individual no longer in control of my own mind.
That first sentence isn’t meant to scare you. I just want to show you how easily it can happen, and why, and how mental illness (because that’s what it is) has no selection process when choosing those it affects. No discrimination here.
I’m about to share with you the most amazing, yet in contrast, the most horrific year of my life.
I became a person I could no longer recognise. It was frightening on a scale I can’t even explain.
The person I looked at in the mirror was no longer me.
You may find some of the information I’m about to share with you somewhat shocking. When I re-read what I’d written, a part of me inside wants to bow my head in shame. I used to ask ‘How could I ever think that?’ but it took me time, help, the people I love and the absolute overwhelming love I have for my child to bring me through.
So here I go….
On that fateful day, 2 horrible things happened. Firstly, I was hospitalised at 11 weeks with a bleed and I was absolutely terrified I was going to lose a much longed for child. Because I was working away at the time, the hospital in question refused to scan me so discharged me and sent me ‘home’. I then spent another 8 hours getting home, and to my local hospital before they again, sent me away to come back for a scan the following day. It was possibly one of the most anxious and scary days (well, at that point anyway). Upon returning home, I received the devastating news that a friend of mine had lost her baby at 38 weeks and was currently in the process of delivering her little girl, who would be stillborn. She’d had the very rare occurrence of the cord becoming wrapped around her baby’s neck and stopped the flow.
Very shortly after, I found out my baby was safe and well. And from that point on, I vowed to do everything in my power to ensure everything I did was safe and if I felt anything was wrong, I’d get it checked immediately.
And so began my relationship with OCD.
It started off by simply kick counting, which obviously isn’t a bad thing, but it became obsessive.
I’d been gifted a Doppler, which in hindsight was the absolute worst thing I could have in my possession. I’d wake in the morning, and if baby wasn’t ‘up’ I’d have some juice, then some chocolate (very healthy breakfast, not! And a complete contradiction in looking after my health!) And if that didn’t work, I’d have a bath. I would refuse to start my day until my little one let me know they were safe. I’d sit in a quiet room at work on my lunch and just listen to my baby through my Doppler.
I ended up in hospital on 4 occasions being monitored for movement, as I had convinced myself something would go wrong.
This continued throughout my pregnancy and was fairly exhausting. Not only for me, but my partner and family, as I was constantly asking for reassurance on just about everything.
I was certain that when my precious baby was born, the fear would subside and I’d be living in my own version of Walt Disney.
A week before my due date, a good friend (also pregnant) called me to say her little boy had arrived, at 23 weeks. I was overjoyed for her but also deeply concerned that he might not make it. (He did!).
All of that day I was in tears and my mood was incredibly low. Later in the day, I started to feel what I can only describe, as mini contractions. (I recall thinking, ‘god, if this is it, this is going to be a doddle!!’) In the end, they were about 4 minutes apart and I was starting to worry that something wasn’t right. I called the hospital and they asked me to come in.
En route, my waters broke! Only they didn’t. When I got out the car, I realised it was actually blood.
I’d later be told this was actually my placenta which had a very sizeable hole in it. I couldn’t have an emergency C-section as they didn’t know where the blood was coming from, so I had to be induced.
A long story short, after being whisked up to labour ward, a bath, plenty of drugs, 2 induction peccaries, an epidural and one shameful proposal of marriage to the anaesthetist, after a full 71 hours, my beautiful boy was born.
As the nurse handed him to me, I gazed down at him. It was emotional and beautiful although there was one thing missing. Where was my sudden rush of love? I felt nothing. I put it down to exhaustion, a mixture of drugs, gave him to my partner and rolled over and went to sleep.
You have no idea how hard it is to re-read those words. And in hindsight, that should have set alarm bells ringing. For various health related reasons, I had to stay in hospital for 4 days, where my mood got lower and lower. Because I was bottle feeding, I was pretty much left to my own devices.
I felt very alone and unsure of myself, which for those that know me, is very out of character.
When we were discharged, I brightened, and we went home to continue our journey as a family.
Over the next few weeks, my mood dipped from great, to awful. My poor partner hadn’t a clue what mood I was going to wake up in, and I could see he was actually a little distant, which made me feel worse. I stopped talking unless I had too, in my own little bubble.
Throughout, my love for my baby had grown tenfold and I couldn’t get enough of him.
But I was worried. What if he’s too hot, or too cold? What if he stops breathing in his sleep? What if he’s allergic to his milk and has a reaction? My mummy instinct went into overdrive. And so, the checking rituals began and I never left the poor kid alone. My favourite mummy-ism would be to pop my lipstick mirror under his nose to watch his breath on it.
I thought I was just being your usual caring slightly over anxious new mother.
Little did I know, it was about to get much, much worse.
When he was about 6 weeks old, I was cooking dinner in the kitchen where I’d been slicing potatoes.
In that split second, a gut wrenching thought entered my mind ‘what if I go mad and hurt him?!’ in absolute disgust and uncontrollable tears, I moved all sharp things from the sideboard put them away, out of view and out of reach. I was mortified. Why would I think such a horrible thought? I put it out of my mind and continued with my day.
Only, it didn’t only happen once. The intrusive thoughts came more regularly to the point where I over sterilised his bottles in case I accidently poisoned him with washing up liquid, moved all cushions in case I had an overwhelming urge to smother him. I was appalled at myself. All I kept telling myself was that I KNEW myself, and how much I loved him and that I would never, ever hurt him. The only thing was, I was afraid.
Why was I thinking these things? Too scared to tell anyone, as these ‘thoughts’ didn’t fall under the usual symptoms for Post Natal Depression, I promised myself I wouldn’t be left alone with him (‘just in case’) and that if it continued, I’d get help but I’d also try and figure it out on my own.
Some days were fine, and I wouldn’t have any. Other days were shocking and I felt suicidal. I couldn’t foresee a light at the end of the tunnel and I couldn’t bear living in fear.
One night, in the small hours, I woke in a blind panic. I’d had a dream so vivid, it distraught me.
I won’t share the dream because I don’t ever want to go to that place again, but I knew then that my mind wasn’t my own and I needed help.
After some intense googling, I already knew what was wrong with me. I just didn’t want to admit it, due to the stigma attached. I had post natal OCD and the intrusive thoughts, suicidal feelings, constant checking and health fears were pretty much text book.
I sat up all night and stared at my wall. Too afraid to move my gaze in case it broke my concentration of getting through the night long enough to get help.
The following day I called my midwife on her emergency number and asked for her help. By god, it took me every single ounce of my being to do it but I was frightened and I was exhausted. I just wanted to clear this horrible condition from my brain so I could enjoy being a mother.
I had no idea what lay in store. I was terrified that they were going to take my baby away from me.
My midwife came round immediately. I’d also called my mum as knew I’d need her support.
They booked me an urgent apt with my GP later that day. At this point, my little boy was 6 months old. My GP held back tears as I told her of my struggle and she said she was respectful of my courage, getting me though to this point. She offered me Antidepressants and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
I took the CBT but refused the Antidepressants as I didn’t class myself as depressed. I just needed help with my brain.
Telling my partner was the worst moment. He looked somewhere in between mortified and relieved that I’d admitted something was wrong. It wasn’t until later that he admitted he didn’t quite understand it all and could he come with me, so he could understand too?
He was allowed to do this a little later down the line, when my counsellor was happy I had got everything off my chest and in a settled position to enable me to discuss it openly in front of him.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy quite simply saved me.
My counsellor helped me to retrain my brain but the single most important thing is to understand why you think that way, and what your brain is trying to do.
In short, when your brain has so much fear, anxiety and compulsion to protect and nurture your baby, sometimes the signals get crossed and it is your brains way of processing your thoughts.
So basically, I’m a bloody great mum!
I cried throughout the whole first session purely because I was so happy that what was wrong with me had a name, a reason, that I wasn’t mad and that it had a treatment.
I had 12 sessions (1 a week) of talking therapy, homework (writing things down as they happened) and brain exercises to do to retrain my thought process.
The distraction technique was by far the best. Basically, whenever a bad thought entered my head, I automatically replaced it with a happy thought. Mine, was my dream wedding, what would we wear, who would I pick as my bridesmaids, what would my dress be like?
Because that made me happy, it was perfect for the process. After a while, I noticed the intrusive thoughts were few and far between.
I’d got better with the checking of him by using ‘timeframes’ (leaving it an extra 5 minutes each time) already.
The whole thing became a gradual process and one day I woke up and realised I hadn’t had a bad thought, moment or day in over a fortnight.
That was 10 months ago. And I’m finally pretty much back to me again.
My beautiful boy is the absolute apple of my eye and I’ve never felt love like it.
I’m angry that those first special days in his life were stolen from me but I can’t change it. And I realise now, it wasn’t my fault.
I’m thankful that I was strong enough to realise I needed help and that I was honest about my thoughts, because that’s the first battle.
I’m not saying it’s an easy ride, because it was the most difficult experience I’ve ever had to endure.
It’s a healing process and it takes time.
There is such a huge stigma attached to this condition, people are fearful they will be judged. Many of my friends don’t even know about this story as I chose not to tell them. I’m not embarrassed. I just feared that they wouldn’t understand.
From one mummy to another, promise me this. If a loved one or friend shows any signs or tells you they are experiencing a journey like mine, most people’s reaction would be to recoil in horror. Please, don’t judge. It’s quite simply an imbalance in the brain that needs correcting. Call their GP or midwife, or take them to your local A&E.
Without proper help it’s a situation that can escalate very quickly and statistically is one of the highest causes of self harm or suicides in new mums.
I’m speaking out so people realise, you aren’t alone and you also aren’t in a minority. This condition is fairly common and as soon as we make it more acceptable to people that do not understand it, the easier it will be to ask for help.
For any mummy worried that you might be experiencing this condition, seek help. I did, and I’m so happy I did.
I have my life back, and my little boy has his mummy.
Footnote: Nikki has my agreement that if any mummy contacts her regarding this article, she can put you in touch with me. I have chosen to write this article anon, but will always be happy to help anyone who is in this situation. If you do not feel like you’d talk to someone you don’t know, below are the links for the NHS website which clearly details the symptoms of Post Natal OCD, plus the links for MIND (Crisis team) and South Warwickshire IAPT who can arrange CBT. Don’t suffer alone.
Useful links: IAPT and Crisis
Here are some links to more information should you, or someone you care about needs some help:
PANDAS is the leading UK charity in supporting families suffering from pre (antenatal) and postnatal illnesses. PANDAS vision is to support every individual, family and carer suffering with perinatal mental health illnesses. They campaign to raise awareness and remove the stigma.
Mental health charity providing information on a range of mental health topics. There are 180 local associations which offer support and counselling on a range of issues including postnatal depression.
If you live in the Warwickshire area, many of the amazing and brave Mums on my support group highly recommend this service.