And so it began

This is the entry that isn't easy to write. It's a story I could hide and no one would ever know. But it's a story that I have to tell; a story that I want to tell because if someone had told it to me six years ago it would have made a world of difference. Postpartum depression is talked about; it's understood to a degree. But there is another type of postpartum mood disorder; a type that I never knew existed until several months ago. This is a story, my story, of postpartum OCD. (I know I get the occasional male reader who stumbles across my blog. I encourage you not to just check out at this point thinking 'oh, it's a woman post'. If you have a wife, sister, daughter, or close female friend you need to know this too. Doctors don't always ask the right questions of new mothers, sometimes it's up to you.)

Six years. Where has the time gone? It seems like such a short time ago that I held Gates in my arms for the first time and yet it is so hard to remember how small he was, how helpless. And soon he'll be turning six and I am remembering. Remembering, and finally healing.

There is a common saying, turned into a commercial for baby products, which tells us "Having a baby changes everything." And it does. The sleepless nights, endless loads of tiny laundry, the inability to just head out the door with ease whenever you want, the worry over every cough, the endless debate over every decision because now it affects a third person in your life, the first real smile that melts your heart, the celebration of every milestone, big or small, the pride that fills your heart that this is YOUR child. Having a baby changes everything.

I was ready for change, ready for the responsibility, ready to be a mother to another little being. I held him in my arms and I loved him. The first week wasn't easy. There was recovery from a traumatic birth experience, the struggle to nurse him, the fear that he might have to go back to the hospital, the suspicion that I might be sliding into postpartum depression.

But I could handle it. I was tough. Having a baby changes everything, I just needed to adjust.

I don't remember when it first happened, but I remember where I was. I was sitting on our couch by the window. Blue couch, reclining ends, middle that folded down into a table so that I could sit there for hours just holding Gates with everything I needed right at hand. I was holding him, looking at him, marveling at his perfection, loving him. And then the thought hit. "What if I put him in the oven?" What?? Where did that come from? I'm not that kind of parent. I love this child; I would DIE for this child. "What if I put him in the oven?"

And so it began. The endless parade of thoughts that I couldn't stop, thoughts that horrified me, thoughts that made me feel unclean. Oven, microwave, knives. In my mind I pictured myself hurting my child in a multitude of ways. I stopped watching any show that involved victimization of children, it just added to the list of horrible things I might imagine myself doing to Gates. It made no sense. How could I be holding my child and loving him and at the same time be thinking these things? I begged God to take the thoughts away. I cried and I begged and the thoughts didn't stop. Had I failed God in some way? Had God turned his back on me? Was I really as evil as I felt?

Having a baby changed everything. If I was evil, I had to work doubly hard to hide it. When people asked how it was going I smiled and proclaimed how great motherhood was. I couldn't let them see the cracks, the doubts, the uncertainties because they might see though them to the part of me that was evil. I couldn't tell anyone about the thoughts; they'd declare me unfit and take away my baby. I couldn't tell my husband, what would he think of me? Would he reject me? I deserved to be rejected, or so I thought.

As Gates grew the thoughts slowly subsided, only manifesting themselves rarely and in other bizarre ways; but the effect remained. No matter how well I parented, I was a failure. I doubted everything about my parenting. Having a baby changed everything.

Fast forward to this year. Major life changes, major stress. I was sinking back into deeper depression and there at the center, waiting to confront me was the part of me that was evil. And I had had enough; I couldn't continue living with the fear that the shell would crack open and what was inside would lash out and hurt the boys. So I finally gave up. I couldn't do it all on my own, I couldn't fix it and I needed help.

At my second counseling appointment I finally spoke the words I had been holding inside for nearly six years. I told of the thoughts that wouldn't leave me alone. I told of how evil I felt. And then came the words that changed everything. "It sounds like obsessive thought patterns to me." I came home and started Googling.

Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder is part of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders and is estimated to affect 2-3% of new mothers. It is most likely under-reported, however, because of the shame it produces and the fear that our children will be taken away from us. Postpartum OCD is NOT the same thing as postpartum psychosis. Women suffering from postpartum psychosis often cannot see their thoughts as irrational; women suffering from postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are not normal but are unable to get rid of them. Mothers with postpartum OCD rarely act on those thoughts, instead they typically develop any number of rituals in order to avoid them or avoid the possibility of acting on them. (Not always though, in my case I didn't develop any obvious compulsions.) It can affect women with a previous history of mild OCD as well as women who have never had it before.

More information on what it is: Postpartum OCD

Lots of great resources, support and links about all postpartum mood disorders can be found at Postpartum Progress.

Article from the Washington Post on postpartum OCD.

Those are some of the facts. You can Google all you like and find many more stories out there. The common thread in so many of them is "I wish someone had told me about this before I suffered for so long."

Do you want to know what grace feels like? Grace is taking your deepest, darkest secret, exposing it to the light of day and having it washed away with just a few words. Grace is finding out that even in those dark moments, when I didn't understand why he wasn't taking the thoughts away, God hadn't turned his back on me.

I don't know the answer to 'why me?' Why did I get this disorder that changed the course of my early parenting years? Maybe I'll never know. I know that it has taught me that secrets held too long leave their mark. I know that in some ways it did make me a better mother because fear gave me the desire to seek out parenting solutions that were gentle. I know it reaffirms the depths of love that my husband has for me, that when I finally told him he didn't turn away, he didn't reject me. I don't know all the answers, but I know the peace that comes from being finally set free.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I'm so glad you've been "set free"!!! You're not alone and you're not bad and you're not evil. Just another of thousands of mothers who have had the exact same experience.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I have struggled with PPD twice and mine certainly had a strong OCD component that I never knew until baby number two. In fact, I don't think I was ever properly treated after my daughter was born, which led to an even worse bout with my son. I actually started writing about my experiences on my blog a few weeks ago. I remember thinking "what if I throw my baby out the window?" What if I drop her down the stair case?" What if I throw her in the fire place?" It was horrid and I thought there had to be a monster deep inside of me. I know now that it was a form of PPD/OCD and have been treated and am finally better, but man it was a long road. I am so thankful that you have finally got the help you needed and that you are sharing with your readers about your experiences. Would it be OK with you if I linked you to my blog roll? Blessings. Angela

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  3. You are so right, it IS a long road, and one that I think can only really be understood by those who have travelled it. I'm so glad that you have been treated and are doing better.

    Absolutely, feel free to link me to your blog roll. :) I just looked at your blog and am in awe.

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  4. I suffered with this after the birth of my first son. I was diagnosed with PPD 6 months after he was born, but didn't know the obsessive thoughts were a disorder of their own. My thought was always, "What if I just placed him on the floor and stomped on him?" . . . over, and over and over again. It was horrifying.

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  5. I'm sorry you've had to suffer through this too. More doctors need to understand the differences in post-partum mood disorders, need to ask the right questions to get the right diagnosis.

    There is currently legislation in both the House and Senate to increase care, research and public awareness into postpartum mood disorders:

    http://www.congress.org/ndmda/issues/alert/?alertid=11246546

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  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I am currently getting treatment for my PPOCD. After sharing my thoughts with my psychitraist he diagnosed me with psychosis. I knew what I had wasent psychosis, I never broke with reality. I was terrifed of the thoughts and never once thought I would act on them. He finally changed his diagnosis after I showed him a section of a book that listed the symptoms of PPOCD, which I had all of. There needs to be more research and the public needs to be better educated on the different types of PPD. No woman should suffer in silence like I did.

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  7. Thank you for posting. I'm glad you were able to find the answers you needed and to educate your psychiatrist. I pray that you will soon start seeing positive results from your treatment.

    In the comment above yours I have posted a link to help support legislation for greater education and awareness around postpartum mood disorders by contacting your representatives as well as current candidates for President.

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  8. I was wondering what medicine were you prescribed and how long did it take before the thoughts started going away. I'm three weeks into take risbotol. I've been told it takes 5-6 weeks for the meds to take full effect. The thoughts have lessened some days better then others. I know that everyones body chemistry is different and respond to meds differently but I would like to her other womens experiences.

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  9. Unfortunately, I was not diagnosed at the time I struggled with it most severely. The thoughts did eventually subside on their own (I would say probably around the one year mark.) What they left in their wake was depression and anxiety, with occasional reoccurances of the OCD-like thoughts over the years. I'm not familiar with the med you are on, I've just recently started meds for both the depression and anxiety and 5-6 weeks is the general time frame for pretty much any medication. Be gentle with yourself, give the meds time to work. What will probably happen is one day you will be going about your business and all of a sudden it will occur to you 'hey, I feel good!' You won't know when exactly you turned that corner, but you'll know that something has changed in your mind.

    Praying that you will notice a definite improvement soon.

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  10. I just wanted to thank you. I have been struggling for over a year with this and never knew the disorder existed. I literally did think maybe I was going crazy, even though I knew I was not. My thoughts had tapered after a few months but they reoccur every so often and when they do it consumes me. It is only because I had had it with my thoughts and decided to take action in self diagnosing myself online, that i found your blog. I knew it had something to do with postpartum because I was never like this pre baby, all these unnatural obsessive thoughts started occurring weeks after my daughter was born. I wanted to talk to someone about it so badly but like you felt I feared what people would think, or feared them taking my baby from me. I felt like I needed to tell someone to feel better but I also felt like I couldn't.

    After hearing your story I felt such a feeling of relief, relief to know I wasn't crazy, relief to know I wasn't alone, relief to know there was an actual diagnosis for this, and relief to know that I could finally accept it was happening to me and know that it would be okay. Just writing this now has already helped me tremendously.

    My gratitude will never be able to be expressed properly, but I truly thank you for bringing this out in the open by sharing your own personal story. You will never know how much this story will or has already impacted many new mothers who just don't know what is happening to them or how to deal with it. You have let us know we are not alone and if we stop hiding from it it can and will get better.

    Thank you

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  11. I also wanted to add to my above comment because I left out the most important part of my issue, that my thoughts were geared solely at other people hurting my baby, the thoughts were still as obsessive and horrible to me and just as hard to deal with because I would obsess over all the ways people might hurt her, people I knew, friends, family, co workers, literally everyone. The thoughts became so bad that I was constantly suspicious of everyone. It's been a year and occasionally I still have these thoughts. I feel that this also applies to PPOCD, because the thoughts were so constant and I always felt horrible for thinking them, to the point I didn't want to talk about it because, like I said before, fear of what people might think.

    I just wanted to get it out there in case anyone else reads this and has had crazy thoughts that weren't geared toward them physically hurting their baby but more of others hurting their baby, the disorder is related to both cases, and can be just as hard to deal with, and I am finding since reading this that it is better to talk it out than to hold it in.

    Thanks again for your story!

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  12. I am so thankful to know that my story has helped you find relief. And you make an important point, PPOCD does not always involve thinking you will hurt your baby, it could be thoughts of others hurting your baby, or excessive thoughts that you might accidentally do something to harm your baby.

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  13. I have been suffering from PPOCD since the birth of my son almost three years ago, with some relief during my second pregnancy, only to come back ferociously four months after my daughter's birth. I live in a rural area with no support groups, I have a wonderful psychiatrist who seems clueless about post-partum disorders and refuses to diagnose or 'label' me in any way, which has made my journey through this living hell worse. My obssessive thoughts have spilled over to everyone I love in my life, my husband, my family, my kids, the family dog and even my favorite chicken. It feels like I am being taken over. I was put on Lexapro after my first panic attack, and my shrink agreed that I was doing better and could wean off of it. Boy were we stupid! Panic attack in a car going 65 mph anyone? After reading this blog and the comments I am heartened to know that I am not alone, not crazy, not evil. I accept this label as it helps me define the horror I am undergoing, and it will help me know that recovery and help is at hand. I will also enlighten my shrink. Thank you all for your honesty and openness. It has made a tremendous difference for me.

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  14. Huge hugs to you. And you are right, you are not alone, not crazy, not evil. Hopefully this has been the doorway to lead you to some really good information to help enlighten your shrink.

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  15. Thank you for your blog graceunbound. I have been going through ppocd since my daughter turned1. She is now 2 1/2 and I still am working with my dr to find the right med. I have been on soloft, lexapro,effexor,cymbalta and am now trying pamelor. The problem is that the meds work for a few months and then just like that they just stop working. It is so frightening and consuming to think you want to hurt your baby. The one you love more than life yet when you look at her you think what a bad mother you are and that you should be thinking how much you love her but cant get the thought of strangling her or stabbing her out of your head. What a horrible disorder. I was diagnosed with Psychosis when I first told my family doctor and they put me in a hospital for a week. Luckily in Delaware where I live there is a WONDERFUL postpartum support group where I got the real scoop and the support I needed. These thoughts have caused terrible anxiety and depression for me and I will never have another child. I pray every day that It just goes away. God bless all you women who went through or are now going through what I am experiencing.

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  16. I could have written your blog post. My darkest time was 6 months ago--it began when Joey was 6 month sold and lasted till he was about 1. Then my mom called me and said "I saw something on the news about your symptoms, its called Postpartum OCD" I Googled it and found the "Scary Thoughts" Washington Post article and in an instant felt a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was not alone! This does happen to other moms, to GOOD moms! Thank you for sharing your story.

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  17. I went through post partum OCD with lots of intrusive thoughts and also wish I had spoken out about and not suffered as much. I'm a journalist now in Canada and I want to write an article about post-partum OCD to let people know it exists and is more common than we think. I'm looking for women to interview (preferably living in Canada). Email me at djarryshore@yahoo.com if you're interested. Thanks for your blog post.

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  18. Thank you for writing your story and being brave enough to let people know about your OCD. I have suffered with this type of OCD for 25 years and it continues to be a daily struggle. I have 3 sons, ages 11, 6 and 2 and I can relate to the feelings of guilt, grief and not being a "real" mother. How could a mom think such horrible thoughts about her children?...I ask this question every day of my life. My soul hurts so bad sometimes. I try to hold onto my love of the Lord and His Grace, but the OCD tries to take that away, also. I have started to be more open about my struggles with OCD in the hopes that something good can come out of the pain and maybe I can let someone know that they are not alone. Here are some poems I wrote...hopefully they will comfort someone out there...


    The Author of My Soul

    The Author of my soul
    Has written the story of my life.
    Across the pages His hands have penned
    The saga of a daughter, mother, wife.

    He always knew how the story would begin
    With a tiny child born premature.
    Even before I could read the words,
    He knew there would be pain and loss to endure.

    A brother’s death, a father’s anger,
    A loss of innocence and a mind of demons.
    A terrified mother, a desperate soul,
    So many questions, so few reasons.

    It’s a common theme in all our lives,
    A story of Good versus evil, the battle lines drawn.
    A lonely soul caught in the crossfire of war,
    Feeling helpless in the role of the devil’s pawn.

    I wish I knew how my story will end,
    I am impatient to turn the pages.
    I want to reach the end of this story
    Where my soul is freed by the Savior of the ages.

    “Be patient my little one and let Me turn the pages”,
    I hear his sweet voice calling out to me.
    “I already know how this story ends, my love”
    Lean on the cross and set your mind free.


    Sea of Humanity

    Father,

    I am drowning in the sea of my humanity.
    Doubts and fears are circling like sharks at the kill.
    Waves of anger and sadness pull me under,
    Muffling my screams and breaking my will.

    I get so tired of fighting the relentless current.
    I am barely able to keep my head above the water.
    I grasp onto Your Word, my only hope,
    As I manage to travel on a little farther.

    I wonder what will be left of me when my journey ends.
    When I finally reach Your shore, will You recognize me?
    Will you be able to look beyond my scars and bruises?
    Deep into my soul, what will you see?

    Hopefully, You will see someone who longs to do your will,
    Even when my heart and mind are so often at odds.
    I long to see Your beautiful face and feel your love.
    For You are my Lord, my Savior and my one true GOD.

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  19. Thank you for sharing those. I hope that as you share more about your struggles you will find the pain lessening.

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  20. I'm totally relieved after reading this article!!! Graceunbound thank you for posting this! What a tremendous help! I'm dealing with PPOCD and just realized it ... and there is now a new sense of freedom. My Doc believed it was not ppd so I've been hunting online and now I know!!
    One thing I refuse is to allow shame to keep this a secret ... what has helped was to fight those guilty, shameful feelings and share (talk it out) every emotion, thought and feeling to my best friends and Pastors. I have built a strong and unconditional loving support around me with friends and family who have helped me through those 'stormy' moments. I know they love me, know me and don't judge me! Hiding makes it worse! Forgiving myself has been huge as well with prayer! I'm taking whole food multi-vitamin with the B's, Omega 3's, and natural herbs that have helped! I get out and exercise ... I jog, take long walks while breathing deeply and praying ... I just recently went in my little garden and pulled all the weeds out (which was so therapeutic). I'm taking up scrap booking and doing things that bring joy! I thank God everyday that He is with me and that I'm not alone and that this too shall pass!! I'm learning to choose joy each day and take one day at a time ... not thinking about yesterday nor tomorrow. I'm learning to replace those 'scary thoughts' with a happy memory that brings joy. It's not easy but I'm a fighter and the freedom I have is thru choice ... although I didn't choose to have this, I'm choosing not stay down! There are some great books out there that can help ... I do read the bible and have faith in Christ, and I read books by people of faith who have overcome depression, anxiety etc... If you haven't heard of Joyce Meyers, check out some of her books... truly life changing!! Blessings to each of you, .. stay strong you are beautiful women who are loving moms ... we will overcome!

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  21. Everyones stories have brought me relief, so i thank you all. I have been struggling with minor ocd since my childhood, and as i was growing up, i would "over" worry about things and make myself feel depressed. Once when i was young, i so called, "made out" with someone and thought i had aids or was pregnant. Of course, i was so young, i didnt know anything about aids but i knew i couldnt get pregnant from kissing. My guess is that i felt as if i should have gotten in trouble for what i did, but since nobody knew except myself, i punished myself through my thoughts and built them up to the point where they were ridiculous and irrational. After giving birth to my son, now 10 months old i went through different phases. First, of course, was the baby blues. That only lasted a few weeks and i felt normal again. Soon after, i developed a fear of everything! Going out in public, gas stations, even walking out my front door or in the garage. I felt intense anxiety over fears that someone was going to hurt my baby or myself as well. I feared that as i walked out of my house, someone would pop up from hiding and attack me and my son. I feared that while we were at a gas station, it would get robbed and we would get shot. I feared that an overpass would collapse while i was driving under it. I feared of burgalars while i was in my home, especially at night. I would repeatedly check the doors to make sure they were locked (ocd). After the fears of someone hurting my baby subsided, a new fear was established. One day i found myself stuck in traffic on an overpass and remembered a story i heard about a mother who threw her baby over an overpass into the traffic. I thought, "How could a mother do such a thing to her baby?" Then, I pictured myself being the mother, doing that to my son. I was horrified that something like that would even go threw my mind. It seems like ever since that day on the bridge, the thoughts kept coming. They were intrusive and unwanted and they began to make me feel very guilty, heavy, weighed down, depressed, full of anxiety and i began worrying if i would actually do such things. I felt like i was going crazy. I began seeing a therapist and am on buspar, which seems to be helping. I just hope that this will all end soon and i will feel normal and sane once again.

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  22. I am currently getting treatment for my PPOCD. I did not suffer from pp disorder after my first baby so I was not expecting this at all. I was so sure everything was going to be perfect this time. I got a midwife and did an all natural birth but hemmoraged after I had her. About a week after I had her I was at home with my kids and my husband had went to the store. I was going to put chicken on the girll. And than it happened what if I couldnt tell the difference between the chicken and my daughter. I got so scared I locked myself in my room and called my husband to get home right away. The next day it happened again while I was doing laundry what if I put my daughter in the wash machine or dryer. Thats when I told my husband he needed to commit me I was crazy. I went and got evluated and was told I had ppd I said but Im not sad Im really confused. I went into an outpatinet program and had no problem while I was there. But as soon as I got home it would start right back up. One night it was so bad I couldnt move from my sit I was so afraid if I made supper I was going to cook my daughter. Thats when I finally called a specialest in the field of pp disorders and I went into her office and laid it all out EVERYTHING. I was sure she was going to have me locked up since we were already in the physic hospital and take away my kids but she just smiled and explained that there are lots of moms that sat in that chair and told her the same things and worse. That I was going to get better everyone does. I didnt believe her right away. I actual almost left my husband and my kids so they would be safe from me. But thank god I got on the right medicine and talk thearpy and I am feeling great. The only thing that scares me know is will my daughter have to suffer through this if she wants to have children someday. I am tring everything I can to get my story out there and want them to take this mood disorder seriously because it is serious and found out way it happens to us so no other moms have to suffer from pp disorders.

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  23. At around the 5 month mark after having having my first baby a series of things happened in my life which I beleive were the true trigger to what I now know is PPOCD. The actual events are kind of irrelevant to recovery because it doesn't change the situation but nonetheless stress cannot be underestimated as it is undoubtly a major contributor to this condition. My girl is now 18mths old and I no longer experience the same level of anxiety and have found some really great ways to cope but at times the intrusive thoughts (we all know what they are - no need to mention) are still there and continue to challenge me and my core beliefs. The difference today though is that I have strength, I have endured the category 5 storm in my head and I survived - so will you. To date I haven't experienced another like it. I don't think it's helpful to trawl the net constantly for answers because it just exaserbates the symptoms and you can take on a few others while you're there reading about someone else's nightmare! Plus it continually brings the issue to the forefront of your mind making it very difficult to forget. However, I do strongly believe in supporting one another and letting others know that you're not alone when you feel...so bloody lonely. I chose not to take medication, I do definately believe there is a place for it but cognitive behavioural therapy was much more appealing to me and I wasn't willing to forfeit breastfeeding which I found to be a bonding experience. I read heaps of posts when I started feeling this way but I never written anything or participated in a forum because I thought only until I started feeling better would I do so. I can see the light now and I am going to continue to walk towards it when I am there (very close) I promise I will let you know so you can follow each step. Remember there are plenty of people who have beaten this. It makes me want to cry when I think of all these beautiful mothers feeling so hopeless -correction it makes me cry I am right now! It's not fair - life isn't but this is a challenge and I think how we rise to it is what will set us free - the courage, strength, determation, the LOVE will conquer all. I hope I have made someone feel a little better to know that the darkness fades.

    Lx

    FYI -The most helpful thing I have applied to date is The Lyndon Method - an online CBT workshop that aims at retraining the brain - I am still working through it but it has been a godsent.

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