Have you ever had a thought that comes into your brain seemingly out of nowhere and it’s just so weird or awful that you literally stop in your tracks and wince so animatedly that the people around you take notice? How about this one, I hear its pretty common. Have you ever been driving around in your car and had the thought that you could just drive off the road if you wanted to? Or maybe you were talking to your boss once and then suddenly you imagined him or her naked in front of you? Yea. It’s weird when that happens, right?
You blink your eyes to clear the image and shake it off. Sometimes our brains have glitches, and the thought was probably just that. No biggie. How about this? It starts to get a little dark here but there’s a point to it. Have you ever been gazing at your sweet newborn who still has that fresh baby smell and then been hit with the image of you holding his head under water in the bath? And then you immediately gasp in horror because what in the heck was that?? Only a monster would think such a thing. You pass it off as a weird thought that you hope never comes back. But then later while you’re changing his diaper you see yourself putting a pillow over his face, little legs kicking out from underneath while you stare blankly ahead. Oh, god!
This time your eyes go wide and you almost scream at the vividness of this thought. Your stomach starts to turn, kind of like when you’re reaching the top of a roller coaster and you know you’re about to drop straight down into pure madness with a speed you can’t recover from. The image disappears but you feel so guilty for even thinking it. As quick as you can you get the diaper on, shimmy the pants up over his full bottom and scoop that baby up into your loving arms to kiss his downy head. You whisper, I love you I love you I love you, and move on to another activity. Hopefully one that goes uninterrupted by these horrendous scenarios. Has that ever happened to you, or did I lose you there?
I love my children more than anything in the world and my greatest wish is that they lead long and happy lives. Yet, what I described here is just a fraction of the thoughts that flooded my mind almost all day long, for weeks and months on end.
For over a year I was tormented by thoughts of harming my baby. My imagination has always been active but the material I was coming up with was completely bonkers and would rival the horror of any Stephen King novel. Like any mother, I was disturbed, alarmed and distressed by these thoughts and images. I found them abhorrent and I did not want to keep thinking them. The fact that I even had the thoughts at all left me completely guilt-ridden. They started to come so often and with so much intensity that I started to wonder if there was a possibility that I would act on them. I was terrified by this added layer of horror and I was ready to do anything to protect my child, even if it meant killing myself.
After reaching a breaking point I sought help and was diagnosed with Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A condition that can develop after the birth of a child. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, unwanted thoughts of harming the baby, or of accidental harm coming to the baby. As horrible as the condition sounds, I am not alone in my experience. We hear about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and even postpartum psychosis. However, because of the nature of the intrusive thoughts, there is a high level of shame and guilt that prevents mothers with OCD from reaching out to ask for help.
People with obsessive compulsive disorder know their thoughts are bizarre and have no intention of ever acting on them. In fact, there are no reported cases of a mother acting on her obsessional intrusive thoughts. If you have had this experience, or are currently going through this, know that you are not alone and that you are still a good mother. There is help out there if you are willing to ask for it just like I did.