Eloise on getting help for postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts

pregnant woman and partner on a hike - essay about postpartum OCD

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

Trigger warning – Distressing intrusive thoughts surrounding harm to children

Motherhood, what a job title. First baby I had a great pregnancy, other than swelling at the end. I had a fairly traumatic birth but I’ve never been affected by it. Months go by after my daughter was born and generally everything is good, apart from many complicated food intolerance’s, I coped with first time motherhood pretty well! 

Second baby, another pretty good pregnancy, somewhat tougher with a larger than life toddler running around, but I enjoyed it. My son’s birth was easier and quicker so I was onto a good run! He was also a much easier baby in the first two weeks after birth.

Then reflux hit. My husband couldn’t cope with our son’s endless crying and, in hindsight, we think he probably had postpartum depression. He was unable to bond and found the slightest squeak out of our son too much. He shut down mentally and couldn’t help, so I went about making sure he was okay and that when our son was crying I would make sure he was out of the room and I got on with it.

Related: Stop telling me I won’t have PPD again

At the time, I didn’t quite realize the mental load this was putting on me, looking after our daughter who was still under two at the time, and our newborn son who had horrific acid reflux. It took its toll.

Within about five weeks I found myself crying my eyes out after nearly having a panic attack in the shower. I didn’t know what to do, whether my marriage was on rocks, or did I resent my husband for how he had been acting? What if we split up? Could I cope with two by myself? Will I find anyone else? My mind spiraled.

I managed to calm down and I did some research and came to the conclusion that I may have some form of postpartum depression. Once I had realized this I found myself giving in to the need to cry and allow myself to feel that way. 

Related: Postpartum depression and anxiety are more common than you may think—here are the resources you need

I was given some online counseling, which was pretty useless. I wasn’t too bad at this point and felt OK, just low and unmotivated. By this point, my son was about four months old, and his reflux wasn’t as bad. My husband was loads better and I was OK. Then everything changed.

One night I was up feeding my son and scrolling through Facebook, the first time I had done this during a night feeding. I scrolled past a post with a video of Ashton Kutcher, a patron for a child sexual abuse charity, talking very frankly about some things he had witnessed and how it will never leave him. Well, it never left me. 

I went back to sleep but woke up in a total state of panic and fear and horrible intrusive thoughts about people sexually abusing children. I could not stop thinking about it and it was making me feeling physically sick. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Why couldn’t I stop thinking about it? I was terrified someone would do it to my children, in particular, my daughter.

Related: 5 steps to stop an anxiety spiral, according to a therapist

I started having obsessive thoughts all around this and couldn’t get out of it. I would drive past a house and think, there could be a child being abused in there, or drive past someone and think they could be pedophile. Every minute of the day my mind was occupied with these thoughts, and I started to spiral into a deep depression. 

I began to question why my mind was thinking this way, was I going to do something to my children?? I knew I of course I wasn’t, but I thought maybe that’s why I can’t stop thinking about all this stuff, because that’s who I am. I would wake up every morning and be sick from anxiety. I couldn’t eat and lost about 30 lbs in two or three weeks. I just could not understand what was happening to me.

I felt so ashamed of how my mind was thinking that I told no one. They just thought my depression had spiraled. Eventually these thoughts lead to thoughts of me. And that is when I could not take it anymore and knew I had to tell someone. I researched it and found information on certain types of intrusive thoughts. 

Related: The perfect way to explain consent to kids—from a 3rd grade teacher

I told my husband and broke down. He was so unbelievably supportive. I went back to the doctor and got some medication, but I had a horrible reaction to it so I didn’t carry on and things escalated more. I lost more weight, still couldn’t eat, and couldn’t be around my children without anyone there.

My anxiety had me truly controlled. Again I went back to the doctor and got a different medication. This I could tolerate, finally! I was also referred for face-to-face Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It took me three sessions to talk about my intrusive thoughts and be totally honest with my therapist.

She was AMAZING. She told me I was not alone, that intrusive thoughts are totally normal, but that I had an inherent phobia surrounding abuse (no childhood trauma or anything) that my brain was coping with by giving me worst-case scenarios to deal with so if it happened in real life I had “experienced” it before and could better deal with it.

Related: Therapy made me a better mom—and wife

She diagnosed me with Postpartum OCD, “Pure O” OCD (a purely obsessional type of OCD that thrives on intrusive thoughts with no physical compulsions to make you feel better) and within that, POCD (pedophile OCD). 

I was relived but also mortified. I did not want this to ruin my life or rule my brain. It still felt like I was in someone else’s head not able to control anything. A week after this I had a thought of walking in front of a bus and ending it all, because I felt like I just couldn’t go on. It was too much and who wanted a mother with that stigma attached?

I still hadn’t told my parents any of this at this point and realized I needed to. So I sat down with my Mum, told her, and she was amazing about it. After that, it slowly started to get better. The meds kicked in and I felt the depression start to lift. Happiness came back slowly. The thoughts were still there, but I understood them better. Over time they also started to go away, and I began to get on with things and get back to me. 

I feel a huge sadness for how much this took away from my life when my son was so little. But I now appreciate my husband and kids so much more and could not be more thankful for how far I have come and for the strength I have after what I have been through. 

I think it is so important to talk about this kind of OCD and intrusive thoughts, because it is not spoken about enough and makes you feel so ashamed, guilty and disgusting. There is help out there and it will get better.