Perinatal OCD – two mother’s stories
“I didn’t know about perinatal OCD until I experienced it after my son was born. I had intrusive thoughts where I imagined harming him. I was convinced I was a terrible person and a horrible mother. They were worse during the night when breastfeeding. All the information was that breastfeeding was beneficial and I felt awful for dreading it. I now coordinate a local peer-to-peer mothers support group. I am passionate that no-one should feel unsupported and alone as I did.”
“My son was born in the UK – my husband had the job offer during the pregnancy and we were supposed to come out to NZ when my son was 6 months old. However, that was delayed (as you will read) – fortunately the employer was really understanding and delayed his start date. Even though this occurred in the UK, I believe the issues are relatable to NZ – especially the shortage of resources.
I was already flagged in pregnancy as “at high risk” of PND due to a long-standing history of anxiety and depression. Following a difficult pregnancy, labour, and birth, people were more concerned with my physical recovery and my mood was overlooked. The co-ordinator of the breastfeeding support group was worried about me and desperately tried to get someone to come and assess me but she wasn’t “official” enough to “justify” the referral. I’m good at presenting a polite exterior and it was humiliating to be told (by a younger person with no children) that I wasn’t “bad enough” to warrant any interventions.
It all turned to custard when my son was 5.5months and my husband was going to be away overnight with work. My mum (a retired GP – who had had concerns for some time) ended up getting a 4 hour taxi to come and see me and get me seen by the GP after I spoke to her in tears saying that I couldn’t / didn’t want to do this anymore. Two days later I was in the specialist psychiatric unit. I was fortunate that there was a bed available – 1.5hrs from my home (some mums had come from the other end of the country). I had searched online to try and find information on intrusive thoughts (although I didn’t know at the time that is what they were called) but couldn’t find anything. That just perpetuated the belief that I was a terrible person and a horrible mother. What kind of mother imagines throwing her baby out of the window? They were worse during the night when breastfeeding. Again, all the information I found was that breastfeeding was beneficial and I felt awful for dreading it. In the unit they explained that the thoughts were part of perinatal OCD – part of being ill and that they would help me. I started on medication and took part in mother and baby play sessions. 6 weeks later I was well enough to be discharged. The unit referred me to be monitored by the community team – who stated that, as I had been discharged I was obviously well enough to live in the community and therefore the referral wasn’t warranted. My GP saw me every week until we emigrated to NZ about 6 weeks later.
I now coordinate a local peer-to-peer mothers support group. I am passionate that no-one should feel unsupported and alone as I did. I am honest to the mothers about what I have experienced and I know that I provide support and encouragement to them. My life isn’t perfect! I still have anxiety and OCD with depressive episodes. I am not alone though – I have an amazing groups of friends I met through the group. Sometimes it is enough to know that we are not alone in what we are experiencing – and that there is a safe place to share with no judgement or shame.”
“I was 17 years old when I fell pregnant whilst I was still in high school, it was a time of my life where I was vulnerable and was not aware of having my own boundaries or how to have them at all for that matter. I was in denial, anxious, depressed and didn’t come to terms with the situation due to the nature of everything happening around me and the lead up to it.
I was 18 when I gave birth, and from that moment I knew something wasn’t right as here I was in a terrible state of mind, thinking I was crazy. I had no knowledge of Postnatal depression, so I kept brushing all of my emotions to one side despite how I felt with the attitude of, it will pass. Fast forward to 2021, I was pregnant and 28 years old. Because I hadn’t healed through what I went through at 17-18 all the way through till now it opened a huge can of worms. In came intrusive thoughts, which were there before however elevated now, OCD and repetitive routines that I had to follow through with and if I didn’t do those routines I would become distressed. My anxiety was at a peak level, to the point I couldn’t get out of bed some days and I was almost afraid to socialise so i removed myself off social media at one point.
There was no way I wanted to go down the same path I did before, so i reached out to mental health services and found myself a clinical psychologist which luckily was covered under ACC due to the trauma I had endured in those years. I was then diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety/depression and it felt good to put a name on to what I already knew but it also gave me a new beginning point.
During the years leading up to now, I was aware of my feelings and how to handle them more then I did before, I studied Health and Wellbeing in Mental Health and addiction and became confident in using boundaries both in my personal life, and in the workplace as a support worker.
To this day, I am still seeing a psychologist and we are continuously working through that past trauma, trying to find out what is best suited for me in moving forward as it is still a healing journey that I am on and you know what, that’s ok. I have learned from my experience that it is ok to feel these emotions, it is ok to feel that sometimes things feel heavy but it is so important to speak up and find things that relate to you and your journey. Whether that be support groups, some form of networking, a social activity, those that seek will eventually find because someone is almost always in somewhat of the same boat and you are never alone.”
Perinatal OCD is when a parent experiences Obsessive Compulsive Disorder while pregnant or during the first year of their baby’s life. It is a little known but not uncommon form of mental distress. Perinatal OCD often revolves around unwanted thoughts and images related to a parent’s fear of harming their infant. These intrusive thoughts go against the person’s values and intentions, which is precisely why they are so distressing. Living with perinatal OCD can significantly interfere with the parent’s wellbeing and their experience of pregnancy and parenting.
OCD in the postnatal period can interfere with your ability to take care of your baby. For example, you may not attend straight away to your crying baby, as you feel compelled to complete a ritual such as cleaning or checking. Some mothers with OCD become obsessive about germs contaminating their baby and may go to great lengths to ensure the baby does not come into contact with anything considered dirty (e.g. changing their clothes many times a day, not allowing the baby on the floor, repeatedly washing the baby’s ears and nose).