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The Reality of Living With Maternal OCD

After a grueling 17 hours of labor, my first daughter was born on a cold April morning at around two in the morning. It was long. It was painful. And then I held her. It was perfect. The sudden surge of motherhood embraced me. It was and always will be the most monumental moment of my life. The world stood still; I had felt her kick and move inside of me for several months, and it was love at first sight. Yet, as great as that moment was, my pregnancy was far less than to be desired. The truth is, I did not enjoy pregnancy, and the nine months leading up to that moment took a toll on my body. However, it wasn’t just my body that felt the strain.

Most of my life my body has not been a problem; it has been my mind that has given me trouble.

At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an anxiety disorder that centers on recurrent thoughts, images, and ideas. During the final trimester of pregnancy, and in the months that followed my daughter’s birth, my OCD reconnected with me in a way that was foreign to me. I later found out that it was a form of my mental illness that can affect any new mother; it is known as Maternal OCD.

Sadly, someone that I had known had delivered her daughter stillborn. The thought of this horror, of losing my child, had never entered my mind, but suddenly I was faced with it head on. This new possibility was a “trigger” for me, and it opened the door for three months of complete terror as I constantly thought about the ending of a bond that was so precious to me. I had nightmares and feared anything and everything that I came in contact with would cause my child to die. Prior to her birth, I couldn’t wear specific items of clothing because they were tainted by a curse that might cause my unborn daughter to become ill. Certain numbers were also linked to bad luck. For example, the volume on the radio couldn’t be placed on that number or something horrible would occur.

I understood that these particular worries were very common and normal with mothers. However, for those who suffer from Maternal OCD, the stress that these fears cause are beyond what is considered to be normal, and the mother will partake in what are considered to be ritualistic behaviors, or compulsions, to manage the anxiety and prevent the fears from coming true.

Photo credit: Lauren Ashley Photography

Photo credit: Lauren Ashley Photography

All of us experience disturbing thoughts at some point in our lives, such as the urge to jump from a high place. Sufferers of OCD, however, experience disturbing thoughts on a constant basis. We obsess about these thoughts repeatedly and link them to something negative. In order to stop them from occurring, a compulsion is developed to create a sense of control for however brief a time.

My compulsions during this time pertained to inanimate objects. My daughter’s ultrasound picture had to sit in a certain place, and in a certain way, on my nightstand. If it was slightly askew I would have to make sure that it was repositioned in order to keep something horrific from occurring. I then would have to take the image and kiss it in a precise spot before setting it back down in the position it belonged so that it would not bring about harm. Bizarre? Yes.

Believe me, I am aware of the absurdity of it all; in fact, those who suffer from this illness are all fully aware of said absurdity, but there is no amount of rationalization that can stop the compulsions.

Sufferers of OCD can be told that everything will be alright or that these objects don’t have magical powers. Still, in the end they are only words, and without proper guidance it is incredibly challenging to process them.

With Maternal OCD, women can experience destructive thoughts during pregnancy, post pregnancy, or sometimes during both. Unfortunately, I experience both. One of the most well-known mental illnesses linked to childbirth is postpartum depression. It is a serious condition that causes concern for a lot of women, but many are unaware about the other mental illnesses that can occur before and after the birth of a child. My doctor once told me that pregnancy and labor are like an Olympic event. They take a toll on the body and can do some unimaginable things to the mind and soul as well. For me, it wasn’t depression, but anxiety, stress, and compulsions that dominated my life.

Simply put, I lived in endless fear.

I relentlessly second-guessed everything I did. I lost sleep because I was too busy performing ritualistic compulsions so that my daughter didn’t pass away in her sleep from SIDS. Terrifying images flashed through my mind while I was awake creating an almost dreamlike state. I would envision my daughter being run over by a car, drowning in the bathtub, or being thrown down the stairs. They were horrifying and persistent. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband, in fear that I would be considered a disturbed mother, and my parenting capabilities would be called into question. No words can express the intensity of the fear and the vulnerability I experienced. Fortunately, I was aware of my mental illness and knew that I needed to receive treatment.

This past October, my husband and I welcomed our 2nd daughter to our family. It took me over four years to finally feel comfortable being pregnant again and raising a second child. I was fearful that my maternal OCD would reawaken and that it would be magnified because of the complications that I had with my firstborn. I had sought guidance and support from a therapist that I thoroughly trusted and to whom I felt connected.

Living with Maternal OCD

I can’t stress enough the importance in asking for help when it is most needed.

There is, and never has been, any shame in asking. This of course does not need to be in the form of professional help; it can be the guidance and advice from a fellow mother, a sibling, close friend, co-worker, or partner. Whomever it may be, it is alright to ask.

Dealing with an overwhelming problem, whether it be OCD, postpartum depression, the loss of a child, or just the struggles of being a new mom, is far easier when someone is by your side letting you know that you’re not alone. Although I did not have that with my first, I was determined to have that with my second. For me, the help from my husband, family, close friends, and therapist has made the transition from “mommy of one” to “mommy of two” more manageable. I was able to enjoy my pregnancy and control my thoughts and actions. Due to the fact that I took these steps, I am not living in fear; I am cherishing all of the precious moments I spend with my family.


Special thanks to our Guest Blogger, Mary Swanson! About Mary: Mary Swanson is a wife, mother of 2, high school art teacher, and an artist who currently resides in Cedar Rapids, IA. She is an active advocate in the OCD community by spreading awareness with her art (www.embracingocd.weebly.com). Her work has been published by the OCD International Association, OCD Action, Alive Arts & Entertainment Magazine, Pentimento Magazine, Starry Night Publishing, and she recently was a guest on NPR for WOSUradio.


 

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8 Responses to The Reality of Living With Maternal OCD

  1. Melanie February 21, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

    Thank you for your story! I never knew I had OCD until I was pregnant. Pregnancy was such a struggle and fearful time but I am glad to know I am not alone!

    • mary
      mary February 29, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

      That’s one reason why I love the Mom’s Blog! It’s great to see so many mothers come together for support and to relate with one another. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Carly February 24, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing. It’s not easy I know. I suffered with postpartum anxiety and terrible intrusive thoughts with my first and still battle it when sleep deprivation takes over after my second. I’ve basically ‘watched’ my kids die in every way they could which is both exhausting and disturbing. It’s a long road but as routine takes over and hormones and sleep regulate it does ease. Bless you.

    • mary
      mary February 29, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

      I’m so sorry that you experienced the anxiety as well as the intrusive thoughts. Motherhood is never easy but is also so fulfilling. We will do anything for our babies. Even worry ourselves sick 🙂 Thank you for your comment!

  3. Giovanna C. February 28, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

    Thank you for sharing!

    I am 35 years old and have been suffering from OCD since the age of 4. I wasn’t diagnosed until 12 though. Most people have no idea how much OCD can destroy ones life.

    I tried taking my own life at 17 because of the depression. After I finally found the correct medication at the age of 19, I did pretty well, until I decided to stop taking it at the age of 28. I hated being tied to a medication. My obsessions started to come back, but I made do. Then I got pregnant at the age of 30 and my OCD got really, really bad. I was adding obsessions and rituals like crazy. I nursed my son until he was 16 months old and decided it was time to stop to go back on medication. In October 2012 I started therapy and medication. The medication I was on prior no longer helped so I started trying ever OCD medication possible – even off label meds. I started ERP therapy but I was not doing well with it because the anxiety I was experiencing was just too much. Here it is, 3 1/2 years later, have going through every OCD medication at least twice (some three times!) and have yet to find one that helps. I spent approximately $15,000 on therapy (add that to the $40,000 I spent went I was younger and am still paying off) and am in the same exact place that I was in October 2012, just with a lot more rituals to perform. I spend hours and hours each day performing rituals, and 10 hours on Mondays. My family is suffering too as I won’t even allow people in our house (so that means no visitors, not even family) plus I make my husband and son perform rituals to ease my anxiety. The worse part? I really want to have another baby but I know it is nearly impossible to with my OCD the way it is. My son will be 5 in June, I will be 36 in September, and I am afraid that if I don’t have a baby soon, I won’t be able to later. I had 3 miscarriages before having my son so I don’t think the odds are in my favor. If I could change one thing about myself, it would be to no longer have OCD.It has robbed me of so many things in life, and it continues to do so.

    • Adi April 1, 2016 at 3:15 am #

      Hi Giovanna, I feel the same as you in this moment. I started having panic disorder and ocd when I was 30 years old after a very stresful situation. I am 39 now and I have tried paxil, cipralex and now zoloft. When I was 33 I had a daughter that is the most important person in my life. I tried one year ago to have another child, but anxiety got worse because i stopped the medication. I feel sorry for my daughter because she will not have a brother and sister and i am terrified that she will inherit my panic and Ocd even if I do not have a close relative with these illnesses. I keep praying for a cure or for my daughter to do not inherit my curse. Let god bless our children!

  4. mary
    mary February 29, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi Giovanna,
    Thank you for sharing your story. It takes a lot to share something so raw and personal. Recognizing and not being afraid to share is honestly the first step to recovery. I know that the article touches mostly on maternal OCD but suffer from contamination OCD as well. It is a horrific illness that sadly is misunderstood by most. I truly empathize with you and at times I too feel that OCD has robbed me. It sounds bizarre, but it has taken me years to admit that although the illness disgusts me, it also molds me. I have used my illness to help others through my art and through my writing. If I may, could I suggest channeling those fears through something more positive? I channel through painting. It is the one time when I don’t feel anxious and I paint about what I fear. It’s my way of “getting it off my chest” so to speak. If you decide to do this, it needs to be through something that you enjoy more than anything. It can be cooking, sewing, drawing, riding a bike, singing, etc. It can not however be something that feeds the OCD. For example, if you have contamination OCD, you should not use cleaning as a channel as this will just magnify it. Although I am on medication, it only helps with a small percent. I also use meditation and meet with a therapist on a weekly or biweekly basis. I know that these words can only do so much, but if you would like to speak more please let me know and I can get in contact with you.

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  1. You Are Not Alone: Raising a Child With a Mental Illness Diagnosis - October 26, 2016

    […] individual and can be quite traumatic. I struggle with contamination OCD and have also experienced maternal OCD while pregnant. My illness has become an issue as I have struggled throughout the years with the […]

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