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This Couldn’t Be The New ME, Could It?

When I was expecting my son back in 2004, I loved being pregnant.  Why did I wait so long for this?  I felt amazing. I felt adorable.  Heck, I was adorable!  I bought cute clothes and I was going to be a mommy!   And after years of strict dieting, I let myself off the hook.   Bring on the burgers and fries!  And chocolate.  And cookies.

I’d say that this awesome feeling lasted for most of my pregnancy.  Of course by the 9th month, I was done, as I’m sure most pregnant woman are.  I was fat (too much of the aforementioned food), scared and there was so much to do before he was born.   Around that time I recall standing on the deli line at the supermarket as the worker sliced cheese in slicing machine.   As I stared at this slicing machine the weirdest thoughts popped into my head about the baby.   What if?  What if the baby’s head?  In the machine.  Whoa?  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  STOP!  What the hell was that?

I had gone to the supermarket a few more times before the little guy arrived and the same terrifying thoughts popped into my head.   They bothered me for a little while after leaving the store, but overall I was able to dismiss them.

When my son arrived and joined our family in November 2004, I was overwhelmed and tired. Oh so tired!  What have I done?  This parenting thing was going to be hard!  Luckily my parents were local and my husband could work from home often.  I figured that this was motherhood in the newborn stage and that things would get better eventually.  My husband, on the other hand, seemed to jump right into the fatherhood role.  I was in awe of him and started to feel inadequate about my mothering skills.  People started to share with me that the first 3 months suck, but after that, things would get better.   So I longed for February 2005.

My 3 month deadline came and went.  Things did not get better.  In fact, they got worse. I had physical pain EVERYWHERE, including chest pains, headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains. I could not dismiss thoughts of my demise out of my head and I was truly convinced the end was near.

As painful as those were, both physically and emotionally, I had scarier – and quite unwelcomed  – thoughts that accompanied.  These thoughts could not be normal and clearly I was going insane.

Similar to the deli machine thoughts, things popped into my head like:

  • We had to move.  We lived on the 7th floor of an apartment building.   If we just moved to the 1st floor everything would be fine because I wouldn’t fear throwing the baby off the terrace.
  • I could hardly go near him with a blanket or a towel for fear of smothering.
  • Bathing him was out of the question.
  • Walking through the mall – how easy would it be for him to fall out of my hands and over the railing to the level below?  The same with crossing over a bridge.
  • Thank goodness I didn’t drive – as this prevented me from venturing out with my son and just leaving him somewhere.
  • Visions of him in the laundry machine and dryer.
  • I hated to be alone with my son.  It scared me – “What if, what if, what if?”  And it wasn’t “what if the baby got hurt?” – it was “what if I hurt the baby?”
  • When my son was about 5 months old, I had to travel for business overnight.  I was overjoyed to get away – because I knew that there was no way for the scary thoughts could come true that night.  For one night, I had peace.

What type of person was I?  What have I become?  Why can’t I shake these thoughts? No matter what I did, they were there.  What kind of person thinks like this – especially about that about their own baby?  Surely, no other new mother would has these horrific thoughts.  Was this new ME?  Or maybe this was ALWAYS me and I didn’t realize it.

I mean, I didn’t “want” hurt him.   But why these thoughts?  If I was having them, I must be a bad person deep down.   Otherwise why would these thoughts consume my every waking moment?

If I told anyone, they’d take away my baby.  I’d go to jail.  Maybe that was a good option.   He’d be better off that way.  And I wouldn’t be able to hurt him.   Or, maybe I’d leave the baby in the stroller at the train station. I’d head out of town and my husband would just get him when he came off the train.   They don’t need me – they are definitely better off without me.

I gave myself deadlines for these thoughts to end.   When Mother’s Day rolled around, I’d be ok.   Nope.   When my son’s first birthday rolled around, I’d be ok.  Nope.  New Year’s?  Nope.   These deadlines were never met, which added to my downward spiral.

Shortly after my last self-given deadline of New Year’s, a panic attack and a trip to the ER led to the official postpartum depression diagnosis, which was 14 months after my son was born.  It didn’t happen overnight, but with therapy and medication, I started to heal.  My pains subsided, I no longer thought I was terminally ill and the scary thoughts began to fade.

What I didn’t realize for months to come after the initial diagnosis was that I had a form of the illness called Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.   Postpartum depression in and of itself was hardly spoken about then (in 2005), but postpartum OCD?  I had never, ever heard of that term.

According the www.postpartumprogress.org website:

Postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, or postpartum OCD, is a form of postpartum anxiety that has a symptom that is pretty hard to ignore: intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are scary “what if” thoughts that come into your head. You don’t want to have them, but they keep coming anyway. They may involve you harming someone you love, including your baby. If you have postpartum OCD, you are not a danger to your child.  You might also have compulsions, which means you feel the need to do things like clean, organize, check and recheck, or count. This is a common illness, and you can get help for it.

It was real.   I wasn’t going crazy  – and I was not the only one who ever felt like this.  I had an illness. This was NOT the new ME.

Just reading the definition can still blow me away.   To this day, I sometimes have a hard time believing that “it” has a name.  Postpartum OCD is a “thing!”  Intrusive thoughts are a “thing!”

Now most folks know that I’m very “out” about my experience with postpartum depression, but I’ve rarely shared specifics about the postpartum OCD and the intrusive thoughts.  I hesitate sharing these details not to protect me or because I’m ashamed of what I went through personally.  But my son….my sweet little boy (well, not so little anymore at 11 years old!)….what would he think if he knew?  Would it affect our amazing relationship? This is still something I struggle with, but the time will come.

But simultaneously it is my desire to educate and support.  Women suffer in silence because these subjects are still so taboo.   If something positive can come from my experience, it is the hope that I can help others.  Even if it’s just by writing and sharing my story.  Knowing that you aren’t alone is a powerful thing.  As hard as my postpartum OCD was, if I knew that I was not the only one in the world that felt like this, it would have gone a long, long, long way!

These thoughts were overwhelming, all-consuming and terrifying – and almost too much to bear. Therapy and medication worked for me.  And when I was pregnant with my daughter, the thoughts came back again during the 3rd trimester (Yes, it can happen during pregnancy too – good times, right? It’s called antepartum) and I started up with medication as soon as she was born.

There is help for mothers that suffer with postpartum depression or postpartum OCD – as well as other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, like antepartum or postpartum anxiety, PTSD or psychosis.  This stuff is so real – there are hundreds of thousands of us each year. Pretty staggering number for a group of illnesses that seems to go under the radar.

Good news is that research is being done everyday to find out why and how this illness occurs. There are people who truly understand and have made it their life’s mission to help. Maybe someday PPD and related conditions will be a thing of the past, but in the meantime –  please, please, please do not suffer alone.  I assure you that there are resources and connections.   And if you cannot find any, email me at the address listed on my writer page. I want to help you.

And I promise – This is not who you are.  This is NOT the new you.  

For further information on Postpartum Progress, please visit www.postpartumprogress.org

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