When I imagined becoming a parent, I envisioned a life full of love, fun, laughter, and family. I didn’t imagine my time as a parent being plagued by persistent depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although I have always had issues in these departments, I was able to manage them enough that they didn’t completely disrupt my life. When I became a parent and had these issues come more to light, what caught me by surprise the most was the OCD.
Looking back now, I know I had symptoms, tendencies, and even minor obsessions and compulsions throughout my life. These OCD related symptoms weren’t something that was in the forefront compared to my anxiety and depression.
It wasn’t until I became pregnant with my first that I started to not be able to cope beyond what I had even thought possible. It turns out I’m someone that is greatly affected by peripartum mood disorders. Wherein I don’t develop new ones but the ones I have are exacerbated. Once my first son was born, I found myself constantly down, in panic, and checking on him and things. It felt bad at the time, but I succeeded making it more manageable by myself after a lot of work.
Going into my second pregnancy a couple of years later I knew that this was something I would be prepared to do again. What I didn’t expect is what happened. In my second pregnancy I was so much worse than in my first and once my second son was born it skyrocketed.
After the birth of my second I found myself spending at least an hour a day checking things in my home that were in some way related to safety in my mind. It affected me the most at bedtime or when I was leaving the house. I would check everything and do things that would make the anxiety dissipate even if just for a little. Things that didn’t even really matter logically but that my brain had decided would help.
I would countlessly check appliances, turn off lights, check outlets, plugs, and locks. Some people hear this and think that it’s not a big deal, you’re just being safe. What they don’t realize is that if I don’t go through with these rituals until my mind is satisfied enough that I can move on I have a physical reaction; it is painful, and an anxiety ridden thing to do. It is time consuming, embarrassing, and draining.
I wasn’t sleeping well. Not just because I had a newborn but because I was afraid and often needed to check on them, I had to check everything. I would be more than a half an hour late anywhere I went because I would be stuck checking my apartment multiple times before I could get myself out the door. Then I would still often have to turn around and go back in and check something like the stove to make sure it is off even though I logically know I already checked it.
Once I get out of my apartment, I must lock my door. I couldn’t just lock it and be done with it. In fact, my door locks on its own when you close it which is good enough for most people. I would have to stand there and lock it, check, unlock it, and relock it and check again at least three times. At my worst it was a lot more, now that I have it managed, I can usually get away with locking once and checking a few times.
When I am stressed or rushed, even now that I am doing so much better, it gets a little worse and I will have to go through locking and unlocking instead of just checking. I can think of so many times I had to force myself to walk away from my door, and I would do so in a panic, in tears. It is totally irrational, and I know this, but this is how OCD works. Through a lot of hard work and learning to cope with the discomfort I have managed to bring it all down to a manageable level.
On my best days it is like it doesn’t exist anymore. I won’t say that this was easy to do, it was far from it, but I wanted to talk about this in particular because it is a common anxiety for mothers to get. Those of us who are mothers and have OCD or anxiety related mental health conditions often find that they are safety or health related.
In fact, according to a study showing the affects on misdiagnosed OCD peripartum states that OCD affects 1.2% of the population where other studies show that postnatal OCD ranges between 4-9% making it more prevalent in this community. The study also notes that mothers that develop OCD peripartum tend to have intrusive thoughts about their newborn.
How does OCD impact parenting?
According to an article from the International OCD Foundation, typical OCD symptoms include things such as intrusive and unwanted thoughts and ideas that bring on anxiety. These are obsessions and people use compulsions which are rituals (either behavioural or mental) to lessen the anxiety. When people are suffering from this it can and does interfere with normal functioning and it is because of this that OCD affects the people around the sufferer as well.
There are so many complex ways peripartum mood disorders can impact your parenting. When you are unwell that affects every aspect of your life. When you are struggling in this way, people are affected as well. As a parent, as the caregiver to others, it is a noticeable issue in the family dynamic.
For many they have a hard time bonding with their newborn, understandably. This can of course be salvaged, and I would go ahead and guess that most people do. It wasn’t something I had a lot of trouble with but from my experience in groups it is a common thing that gets brought up. Through treatment you are able to get to the root of the problem and attack it head on. The more I exposed myself and dealt with the uncomfortable feeling of not satisfying the anxiety, the less I had to do to satisfy it anyway.
I kept this going from checking locks at the very least 15 times on a bad day to often being able to check once and walk away. I don’t go all the way back upstairs to make sure I’ve locked the door or check something I know I’ve checked. It is pretty obvious how these behaviours affected not only me but also my family. Having people wait or just not understand why I was distraught over something so normal and silly. It was stressful for everyone.
I found that I was shorter tempered and more agitated than I would normally be or than I would have liked. I was rushed and stressed trying to always calm my panic and rituals take time. I felt like I was a bad example for my children. In reality they were too young to understand and many of my rituals took place at night unless we were leaving the house.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t get less of me because of that. I feel the need to say that my children have always been loved and cared for and they have always known that. I have always spent quality time with them and did my best. My boys are healthy, thriving, amazing people and I worked hard to not have my issues affect them more than they had to.
Even with all of that there were huge parts of me that were missing and struggling so, my best at the time wasn’t my best for me. I look back at those days and know how hard I was trying and how much I wanted to do more with them and although in reality what I was doing was fine, more than good enough, it still wasn’t me.
Mom guilt is an incredibly strong feeling, it is an incredibly strong doubt in yourself that often isn’t based in reality or in things you can help. I think what affects a lot of our lives as parents with OCD is not just the mental space being taken up by all the anxiety but also our guilt about it.
What should you do?
If you find yourself struggling with peripartum OCD or any peripartum mood disorder it is important to seek help and have a support system. You can speak to your doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist about your symptoms. There are different approaches you can take to treatment but a professional will best be able to aid you in that. It was through CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy- a common therapy used to help mood disorders), talk therapy, exposure therapy, and medication that I was able to combat my peripartum mood disorders when they had taken over my life for the second time.
Your support system can include your medical and professional team, but it is helpful to have a solid support system made up by the people in your life. Let the people close to you know you are struggling. They say it takes a village to raise a child and that is something I absolutely agree with. You cannot pour from an empty cup; you need to take care of yourself. The people around you can help you do that, help support you, check in on you, and encourage you.
If you don’t have anyone you feel like you can go to you can look for support through programs designed to support you. One of my saving graces was a postpartum depression group run by my city that met once a week and is run by nurses. I found so much comradery in my struggles. It felt so good to know I wasn’t alone, that I am not a bad mom, that I’m not broken or crazy.
Believing in yourself is also an important step. It is hard work to break through something that has such a strong grasp on your mind, on your health, and your entire life. At times I felt hopeless, but it was in those times that I found my strength, I found a way to remind myself that I was worth it, that I can do it, and that this does not define me. My kids deserve better and I deserve better.
Meet the Author
Letitia Hearty is a mother to two young boys, a writer, blogger, and an artist in Toronto, Ontario. Sometimes she thinks she is funny or has something important to say about life as a parent, which is when she gets the urge to write and illustrate on her own blog, Apparently a Mom.
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