I wouldn’t wish OCD in motherhood on my worst enemy.
When you’re about to become a parent, you expect everything to be so wonderful and full of joy and bliss. Everyone tells you about the snuggles, the love you’ll experience, and all of the amazing things about being a new mom or dad.
What they don’t tell you is all of the anxiety, fear, and panic you can feel. They don’t mention the intrusive, scary, unwelcome thoughts that come out of nowhere.
Caught off guard by intrusive thoughts
Even though I was an OCD specialist and had, then, years of working with this population and disorder, when I had my now 5 year old, I didn’t know what was coming. No one and nothing can really prepare you for that. I had felt anxiety before, and in hindsight, had definitely experienced some obsessions and compulsions before, but nothing like this.
I had never experienced anything like that in my life.
My son was about 3 weeks old. He was on the bottom of our bed looking up at the ceiling as my husband and I were still tag teaming this whole diaper changing, outfit swapping, new parenting thing. I remember going to put my son’s socks on, as I had done several times by that point now, and thought to myself..
“What if I just snapped his ankles?”
The lightning bolt. The doom. The rush. The “oh shit”. The “what the F was that?”
Then came the secondary part, the worst part. The..
“Why did I have that thought? Where did that come from? Does that mean I would want to do that? What if my husband was ever gone and I had that thought – would I ever snap and hurt Eli? How can I be sure I’m safe?”
I vividly remember taking several steps back from my newborn at that point, throwing my hands up in front of me, and saying “NOPE, NO WAY.” I didn’t want any part of that – the feeling, the thought, the experience I just had, the image, nope. The stakes were too high. The stakes were too high.
This became my sad mantra for the next 2 or so years. The stakes are too high.
Too hard to resist compulsions
And I didn’t care – not for one single, stupid second – about all of the education and logic I knew from my years and years of being an OCD and anxiety specialist. On the surface, I knew that this was an intrusive thought. These happen to everyone, research shows, and I know they’re more likely to happen with new parents, especially moms, due to hormonal changes, stressors within the environment, and the uncertainty and heightened sense of responsibility that comes with becoming a new parent. I knew all the *things*, but to actually feel this intrusive thought about something I cared so much about for the first time rocked my world in a way I never, ever thought possible.
And I still wouldn’t wish it, any part of it, on my worst enemy.
It started out with the socks. I didn’t put socks on him for a while, thinking it would just be about the socks. Then, soon, it became about his pants. Then it became other things, and the fear generalized – as fear does. Soon, it got to the point where I did not want to be alone with my son in the few hours in between getting him from daycare and when my husband would come from work, which was just a couple of hours. Ohhh, the rage texts I would send my poor husband when he was even a few minutes late. Those minutes were unbearable and I still have a love-hate relationship with the clock on my stove from looking at it for what seems like forever.
The OCD snowballed quickly
Soon after that, my obsessions and compulsions grew into other areas and completely latched onto my sleep deprivation. I was so sleep deprived that this contributed to my doubtfulness about everything around me. I wondered, was I so sleep deprived that maybe I did something to Eli in the middle of the night and I don’t remember? I would go into his room in the middle of the night to check his body to make sure he wasn’t covered in blood. Violent images that I desperately didn’t want to think about. The only way to get rid of them for even just a few seconds was to go to his room and check. After all, how could I live with myself if I didn’t go and check something like that? Isn’t that the responsible thing to do?
I would check and check and check. It got so bad that I started to have my husband wake up and check for me. That at least helped with the responsibility fear of everything, because, well, if my husband missed something, then at least it wasn’t MY FAULT – that would have been unbearable.
Eventually, I was terrified to take Eli anywhere – the park, the grocery store, to a mom’s group, because of the rituals that I would have to do in order to make it doable. I was afraid that I was so sleep deprived that I could have forgotten him somewhere. My logical brain would say that I put him in his carseat. The OCD doubt would say, but what if you’re so sleep deprived that you made that up and he’s actually all alone in the grocery store somewhere?
Everything hit rock bottom – fast
It wasn’t long before I was pulling over on the side of busy highways to physically take Eli out of his carseat so I could engage as many senses as I could. I needed to see him. Hear him (I tried to make him talk or coo as much as I could). I needed to touch him (I would wrap my arm/hand back so he would reach out for it). The complex nature of undoing him from his carseat and physically feeling his weight made me feel like I couldn’t possibly be sleeping.
But then I started to doubt that, too.
And then I asked myself, what’s next? What’s seriously next after pulling over on a busy highway to check to make sure my baby is still here? What could possibly come after that?
I didn’t want to find out.
It was around that time that I called to finally get in to see a therapist. I was lucky and knew the things to say and how to plead to see someone sooner rather than later, even though they told me initially that it would take 6-8 weeks to get me in. I told them I wasn’t sure I could make it another weekend and needed someone who could see me as soon as possible.
My decision to get help for OCD
I wish I would’ve made that phone call so much sooner.
Since then, it’s been a wild ride, and it hasn’t always been perfect, but one thing is for sure – it’s ALWAYS been better than the way it was when it was at its worst. After all, anything is better than that. I couldn’t have handled one more day of doing rituals like that, of going even further down that rabbit hole, and I was willing to do whatever it took – literally – to find a new way of living and being.
And it breaks my heart sometimes. I think of how much education, context, and knowledge (not to mention even just basic awareness) that I had about OCD and anxiety. In fact, I walked into motherhood pretty ignorant – not just naive – but straight up ignorant, thinking that somehow because of all of that information, I would be “immune”. But anyone who has OCD can tell you that there’s absolutely no way to prepare you for that first intrusive thought, often referred to as “the moment my brain broke”.
Getting help is hard
That’s why I advocate. I remember confirming my therapy appointment, coming back in from outside at the time, and looking out my front door. I was truly stunned at how more women do not actually go crazy from these thoughts – because at least I knew what was going on. There are parents out there who are struggling in silence. They have no context for it, because we don’t talk about it.
I know OCD, at times, can come up in these very conventional “subtype” type of ways. I also think there are some other sneaky ways in which OCD can come up. It’s so important to talk about those things, too. Otherwise we’re so limited by the typical manifestations and we forget that, at the end of the day, this is the doubt disorder. It is a disorder of doubt. It is the intolerance of uncertainty. And it can come out in so, so many ways.
There is ope
If you’re struggling with anxiety or OCD, I hope you know that there’s nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. Your brain is not broken. This is all so much more common than any professional cares to research. This is all so, so much more common than we currently have data to support.
To help support you more, I hosted a “Scary Thoughts in Motherhood” TWO AND A HALF HOUR LONG MASTERCLASS. Holy cow, did we have a lot to cover. You can read more details about it HERE. Although the title implies it’s for mothers, it’s really for caregivers of any kind. The truth is that no one is immune to this condition.
The masterclass is perfect for new parents, expecting parents, professionals, loved ones, and even if you’re a parent with older kids. I go more in depth and more personal about my story during the workshop. I know it’ll be absolutely life changing for so many of you.
If you have any questions about the masterclass, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’m just an email away and I’d love for you to learn from it.