I will be sharing my story both in an article and in a live stream this weekend. However before I do I wanted to share an article that explains generically what I was diagnosed with so that you can understand the premise of the disorder.
I knew of PPD and PPA but never knew that this was a “real” thing. Until I was living it. But I was a clear textbook case of PPOCD and when I met with an amazing therapist who specializes in Postpartum and Infertility, the risk factors were glaring… Now what would have happened if I knew that prior to having my little miracle. Maybe when it came on suddenly I would have not reacted so terrified. Why isn’t this explained and educated to all pregnant mother’s. Knowledge is power, but we must be proactive about the awareness. Instead we are reactive once it is too late.
Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed of the perinatal disorders. You do not have to be diagnosed with OCD to experience these common symptoms of perinatal anxiety. It is estimated that as many as 3-5% of new mothers and some new fathers will experience these symptoms. The repetitive, intrusive images and thoughts are very frightening and can feel like they come “out of the blue.”Research has shown that these images are anxious in nature, not delusional, and have very low risk of being acted upon.It is far more likely that the parent with this symptom takes steps to avoid triggers and avoid what they fear is potential harm to the baby.
Symptoms of perinatal Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms can include:
Obsessions, also called intrusive thoughts, which are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images related to the baby. These thoughts are very upsetting and not something the woman has ever experienced before.
Compulsions, where the mom may do certain things over and over again to reduce her fears and obsessions. This may include things like needing to clean constantly, check things many times, count or reorder things.
A sense of horror about the obsessions
Fear of being left alone with the infant
Hypervigilance in protecting the infant
Moms with postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are bizarre and are very unlikely to ever act on them.
Risk factors for postpartum OCD include a personal or family history of anxiety or OCD.
Postpartum OCD is temporary and treatable with professional help. If you feel you may be suffering from one of this illness, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame.
I realized that I had been dealing with postpartum anxiety a while after I had been dealing with it. My daughter was about 5 months old, and the holiday season was in full effect. During this time, I grew overwhelmingly aware of my own mortality, and I became paranoid about even leaving my home. A lot of this was brought on by the fact that my father passed away two days before Christmas when I was three years old. Because of this, I’ve always been reflective during this time of year, but after the birth of my daughter, the burden felt heavier.
That year, I was the age that my father was when he passed away, and the fragility of life became all too legitimate.
That year, I was responsible for a tiny human who depended on me for sustenance at all hours of the day.
That year, I was dealing with postpartum anxiety, which had morphed from heightened baby blues, to rage directed at my husband and my dogs, to paranoia about everything.
Leaving the house was arduous. I feared that someone was watching me. Once in the car, I feared an impending accident. Once at my destination – the grocery store, the mall – I felt vulnerable…like a target…like someone would take advantage of the fact that I was by myself, pushing a stroller, fumbling with bags, and doing my best to calm a fussing baby. One day, after a breakdown, I decided to talk to my mom and explain to her how I was feeling, and our conversation brought an awareness about what I had been dealing with over the past few months.
A few things helped me get through this time. My daughter was born in the summertime, and we were lucky to have a mild fall. To combat the tears that were inevitable every day during the first two months, I would spend time outdoors and with other moms. We live at the shore, so most days, this meant putting our babies in strollers and heading to the boardwalk. The warmth and the fresh air were inspiring and made me feel better physically and emotionally. Connecting with other moms was especially beneficial because I could see that what I was going through was not limited to my experience – many other moms faced the same challenges. Talking things through with my own mom also helped me to put many of my hang-ups in perspective.
Dealing with the anxiety didn’t affect my ability to raise Lucy. In fact, she was the driving force to help me “snap out of it” if I was feeling especially down. Lucy was also my muse. As a former reading teacher, I was reading to her as soon as she made it earth side. Inspired by our experiences in those early days, I decided to put pen to paper and write a story to which both Lucy and I could relate.
One story quickly grew to four stories, and with that, the idea for my business was conceived. I spent the next year researching and planning for the launch of Littlebit Book Club – a series of baby board books, written by me and illustrated by my husband. The project became a huge motivating force for me, and on days when I struggled with negative thoughts, I was able to cope by pouring more into Lucy and planning for Littlebit Book Club, the legacy that I want to one day pass on to her. I am so happy that we have since released our first book in the series – Strolling! A Lucy Littlebit Book, available for purchase at www.littlebitbookclub.com. I am proud because our family overcame a lot to make the dream a reality.
I think about those early days, and since then, I’ve done a lot of reading about PPMD and I’ve identified myself as a textbook case of postpartum anxiety. With this awareness, I’ve thought ahead to having another child. I don’t fear having more children, I just know that I may experience those strong feelings again, and I’ve learned to be more patient with myself as a mother in general. PPMD education is vital, and figuring out how to assess what a mother is going through beyond just the questionnaires at the doctor’s office should be a priority.
I want to share because I wish someone had shared their story with me.
In the final days of my pregnancy, I did everything I could to prepare for healing from birth. I had my postpartum kit stocked with padsicles, laxatives, nipple cream for breastfeeding, and tons of healthy treats. After a very quick, natural birth that only required two stitches, my physical recovery was pretty swift.
It was the emotional explosion that I wasn’t prepared for. People told me that it was normal to be crying so much in those first few weeks. I read that it was common to grow detached from your pets, so when I started to lash out at my dogs with screams of frustration, I thought that, too, was normal. These feelings scared me, but I believed that they were normal, because I was under the impression that you only needed to get help if you were experiencing severe postpartum depression or psychosis. I want other moms to know that wherever you are on the PPMD spectrum, it’s okay to get help. There is so much support out there, even if you don’t see it. It might take a little bit of research and reaching out, but you will find a tribe or a therapist who can help you to get to a peaceful place.
Note from Nicole:
I am so grateful for the bravery and strength Mom’s like Stephanie that are willing to share her story for the benefit of others. If you are interested in connecting with me to share your story or become part of a Postpartum Mastery Group, please reach out on Social Media or Email!
Tonight as I was cuddling up with my son as he drifted to sleep. My mind wandered on this point. Can I just be your Mommy sometimes? Not your teacher, protector, disciplinarian, philosopher, energetic channel, cook, maid, or any of the other hats we wear “as mommies”. I just want to cuddle and be. Feel the love and connection between us and that is it. Not worry about keeping a roof over your head, being a good wife to your daddy, being accepted for my beliefs and values by everyone, taking strides towards health and financial freedom.
I carry a lot on my shoulders and mind each day. But sometimes I just want to be your Mommy. Even though the last time that I had that opportunity, I was overwhelmed and still so new at this role that my mind played tricks on me and the chemicals took over. What I would give to have those three months to spend with you now. But that is the ultimate goal for me on this journey to financial peace. So I can spend more time being your Mommy. So I can give myself a break and some freeing energy to just be, and not he it all.
I love being your Mommy. It is my favorite role to be. Days like today where I only saw you awake for less than 5 minutes, really get to the bigger picture of things.
There will be a day where I can just be your Mommy when I want to be without all the other obligations. I promise.
I am so sorry for all the years I neglected you, criticized you, and told you that you weren’t good enough. I am sorry for the times I look in the mirror just to examine your “flaws”. I am sorry for feeding you utter crap most of the time. I am sorry for not saying Thank you each and every day for what you work so hard to do for me. You deserve more.
The truth is you are magic. You have gotten me through every single bad day, best day, birthday and you created my son. You show up for me even when I treat you badly. You have such a tough job and you always give it your best effort. Even when my mind tells you to give up, you persist on. I am so grateful for you.
I am trying to be better. I have a long way to go, but I am trying to change my beliefs, honor my soul that you carry along, and treat you with the love and respect you deserve.
I am listening to your whispers so you don’t have to scream. I am not going to be perfect, but I promise to have the best intentions. I will accept you for all that you are. I will love every nook and cranny. I will nourish and care for you.