Hi, I’m too afraid to actually use my name on here, so I’ll be writing with a pseudonym. You can call me Moira. Perhaps one day I’ll be brave enough to share my real name, but I want to be incredibly honest on this blog and I think anonymity is the only thing that will give me the courage to do so.
What am I so afraid of?
Well, I have OCD. (Literally. I’m not using the term lightly because I get irritated when something is out of place, I have been diagnosed with OCD.)
Why is that scary? Well, OCD is categorized by obsessive (read: unwanted, intrusive, and persistent) thoughts and ritualized behaviors or compulsions performed to try and eliminate the thought. Some compulsions are obvious to the world, but other others are invisible or seem so innocuous that you wouldn’t realize that’s what they are. Mine are more invisible, and so if you weren’t familiar with the different ways OCD manifests, you wouldn’t think that’s what I had.
Thankfully, some very smart mental health professionals have figured it out for me.
Again you may ask, why is this scary?
My biggest fear is that my thoughts mean I am a bad, unfit, or even dangerous mother. I’m terrified my children are better off without me.
I guess I should go back before going forward, so I’ll explain. Just over two months ago, I gave birth to my second child. A gorgeous little girl who I’ll call Nora. She really is a good baby. I mean, really. She is about as low-maintenance as babies come, but still I started having scary, intrusive thoughts about her safety on the second day in the hospital. You see, my husband was staying home with our little boy (I’ll call him Ben, all names changed to protect them) and I was alone with her when a nurse came in to do a heel stick for some of those mandatory newborn screens.
…and Nora didn’t cry. She didn’t even fuss. The nurse said she was such a good baby.
And here’s the thought train that emerged from that:
She’s a good baby. Oh no. One of the warning signs for autism is a baby who doesn’t cry. What if she has autism? Why am I thinking about this? Why am I worrying? So what if she has autism? Does it mean I don’t love her enough if I’m worried about autism? No, no, no, I’ve got to love her no matter what. Oh no, what if I don’t love her the way I love Ben?
…and from there I just obsessed for an hour worrying.
The next night, Nora wasn’t ready to be discharged yet. You see, she was losing weight (despite my pumping more than enough each feeding and her uncanny ability to latch from the beginning) and they wanted her to gain some back before they discharged her. So they were ready to discharge me but not her. Obviously, they couldn’t let me keep the room if another mom needed it, so they mentioned that they do have a guest room on the floor for moms whose babies are still in the nursery. The nurse, looking out for me, said she was going to reserve it for me because it has a bathroom and other rooms did not.
A bathroom? Oh no! What if there is a bathtub? What if I drown her? i’ll be alone with her. Oh no, oh no, oh no.
CUE PANIC ATTACK, COMPLETE WITH VOMITING.
At that point, I immediately asked to talk to a social worker and a chaplain. I wanted mandated reporters to hear every detail of every negative thought I had because I was convinced these thoughts meant I posed a risk to my beautiful little girl. I was terrified it meant I was going to hurt her, and that is a thought I just could not bear.
Every person I’ve talked to and thing I have read told me that my reaction was the important thing, and not the thoughts themselves. The thoughts were just thoughts, and the anxiety associated with them meant the thoughts were ego-dystonic or thoughts that were in conflict with the person I really am. I’m told as many as 90% of mothers have the exact same thoughts, but that was no comfort to me.
No one believed I could actually follow through with any of my scary thoughts, except me. I knew I didn’t want to do anything, but stories I had read and seen on the news of women who killed their babies in the throes of postpartum psychosis plagued me. No one thought those women would do anything either.
I kept asking my husband for reassurance. I kept looking for evidence that I loved and was worried about my children. Why would I bother changing this diaper if I intended to hurt her?
For awhile, this kind of talk worked. I was still seeing a therapist weekly (I started going within a week of discharge) and I was confessing every dark thought I had ever had to her, begging her to call the police if she thought I was a danger, threatening that my husband would surely sue her pants off if she let me go home when I posed a risk. Of course, she was as sure as she could possibly be that I wasn’t a danger.
I wanted so badly to believe her. To have faith in myself. To trust that I was a loving mother. I had all of this anecodotal evidence that told me I was. I believed that when I was in my right mind, I was, but I also knew I was not in my right mind, and one thought kept plaguing me:
You don’t think you’re dangerous, but what if you’re wrong? What if you’re wrong? What if you’re about to snap and do something you can’t take back?
…more to come later.