Four months after turning 25, I became a mom. A week later, I became a wife. In a matter of days, I went from being little ‘ol me to becoming someone’s wife and someone's mother. Transitions, much?
Here's what you don't know: less than a month later I was admitted to a behavioral health facility (mental hospital) with a startling diagnosis: postpartum OCD.
I'm sure you're wondering, so in short postpartum OCD involves obsessions, also called intrusive thoughts, which are persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images related to the baby. The obsessions are typically accompanied by compulsions, where the mom may repeat certain comforting behaviors to reduce her fears and reassure herself. Postpartum OCD is one of the rarest postpartum disorders, affecting only 1-3% of new mothers.1
I was an emotional wreck. I was constantly and unnaturally fearful and anxious around the baby. I was afraid that he would suffer a deathly fall, or that I would hurt him in some way. Every day was terrifying. I couldn't get the disquieting fears out of my head. My fears quickly intensified to the point that I was afraid to be alone with him. I literally lived in a constant state of inexplicable anxiety and dread.
After suffering in silence for much too long, I decided to take action and responsibility. I knew that I wasn't well. This isn't me! I thought. Someone had clearly replaced my personality and brain with mangy mush, because I couldn't even recognize myself. I called my local health facility and was admitted and received treatment the same day. After a few days I was able to return home to my new family. Most importantly, I was on a path to wholeness and wellness.
Looking back on my experience, I've realized some key things. I'd like to share these things with new mothers:
Don't suffer in silence. One of the nurses that treated me continuously mentioned how "brave" I was for recognizing my need for help. She stated that most new mothers suffer in silence, waiting until they literally cannot cope to look for help. While this is sad, it is unsurprising. We live in a society that equates needing help with weakness. This is such a sad and untrue notion. In fact, having the humility to ask for help is a sign of strength. If you're suffering in silence, know that there is help available. Mental illness is just as treatable as physical illness. Don't be afraid to seek help if you need it.
Talk About It. Being honest with and about yourself is crucial. Unsurprisingly, I was very nervous at the outset of my second pregnancy. I wondered if I would experience postpartum issues again, if I would go through the same terrifying experience again. But after having my second son, I was open about my fears. I expressed my concerns to my family. I let them know when I was feeling anxious. I let them know when I needed a break. I made sure to keep them, and thus myself, abreast of what was going on with me. Consequently, I had a much better experience that time around. The looming cloud of fear, silence, and shame was nowhere to be found. And thankfully, I didn't experience any postpartum issues that were outside of the ordinary.
Carve Out Time For Yourself. Listen, I will always maintain that my me-time is sacred. Without it, I am a disheveled, grumpy, downtrodden mess. I'm sure you're the same way (maybe not to my extent!) too. We all need breaks. Self-care is vitally important, so find ways to enjoy some solitude amidst your life as a new mom.
Having a child is a beautiful and joyous thing. Postpartum mental illness puts a damper on what should be one of the most joyous times of our lives. The bright side is there is help available.. Seeking help can ensure that these instances become a mere blip on the map of a beautiful life with your new family.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum mental illness please refer to these resources for help:
And as always, if you're in need of life-threatening, emergency, medical attention, call 911.
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1 Jonathan Abramowitz, "Beyond the Blues: Postpartum OCD," https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/postpartum-ocd/.