The 2 Questions My Therapist Asked Me When I Had Thoughts of Harming My Baby
My newest daughter was born about three and a half months ago. Her birth brought great happiness, joy and love, but also some very frightening thoughts and emotions.
When my daughter MG was about 5 days old, my husband and I were in the kitchen unpacking groceries. As I carefully unwrapped the eggs from their plastic bag, an image of myself suffocating MG in that brown, clingy bag flashed through my mind. I stopped what I was doing. Simultaneously, guilt and terror flooded my veins. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I stood there frozen, staring at the bag in my hands. Was I going to harm my baby? How could a mother, a protector of the most vulnerable of humans, have such a horrific thought about her own child?
The anxiety this particular thought brought with it hasn’t gone away and neither have the thoughts about me harming MG. I talked to my therapist shortly after I had thought about this terrible action. I told her that anytime I handled a knife in the kitchen, I became terrified that I would hurt MG because of the myriad of images that would flood my mind as I chopped vegetables for dinner. I told her about being afraid of giving MG a bath because I was terrified I might drown her.
My therapist asked me two questions. Do you want to harm your baby? Do you love your baby? I told her honestly that I would never harm my child, but that the thoughts of harming her terrified me. I told her I love MG more than anything and that I would literally give my own life away to spare hers if ever I needed to.
My therapist explained that I am suffering from postpartum anxiety (PPA), only my PPA wasn’t simply manifesting as extreme worry or feelings of being overwhelmed. My PPA was manifesting as harm obsessive compulsive disorder. Although my intrusive thoughts didn’t bring compulsions with them, they brought a lot of self-judgment. I worried I was a bad (maybe even evil) person or that I was somehow a danger to MG, even though deep down I knew I wasn’t. I began to feel anxious about the images that would flash through my mind. I would latch onto a “harm thought” and play it over and over again in my mind as if that somehow proved I was an unfit mother. When I explained this to my therapist, she told me no one is defined by their thoughts. Thoughts just happen and we can choose to latch onto them or let them drift on by like a cloud in the sky. She also told me to actively counteract my harm thoughts with positive, loving thoughts or statements.
So now, anytime I’m standing in the kitchen chopping vegetables, putting away groceries or giving MG a bath and a harm thought crosses my mind, I let it drift by. Then I actively say to myself, “I love my baby. I protect my baby.” I then pick MG up and giving her a great big kiss. Allowing my thoughts to drift by like a cloud in the sky and actively saying positive things to myself has allowed me to cope with my PPA. Some days are worse than others, but I keep putting one foot in front of the other because I know that’s the only way to walk the road of recovery.
Unsplash via Sean Roy