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What I Wish I Had Known About Postpartum OCD

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Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a thing.

Did you know that? Because I didn’t.

It is perhaps one of the lesser-known postpartum mood disorders, which can make it feel even more frightening for the person struggling with it. Plus, I feel OCD gets a bad rep as a “trendy” mental illness: a punchline, a trending article, just a harmless quirk. That person who’s super organized and washes their hands a lot. But these stereotypes can be very misleading and even harmful to the person with OCD who may not “fit the mold.” I had been diagnosed with OCD more than a decade before I had my baby, and through a combination of therapies, it had been well under control for many years. It never occurred to me it could be exacerbated (severely) by the hormone swings of the postpartum period.

I wish someone had prepared me for that.

I wish having a postpartum plan was just as important as having a birth plan.

I wish care providers asked more questions about mental health and helped to provide the resources mothers need in the critical postpartum weeks and months. (My midwife didn’t even offer the standard postpartum depression screening, which was shocking to me.)

Postpartum mood disorders can look different for different people, but for me, postpartum OCD reared its ugly head in the form of completely uncontrollable intrusive thoughts, irrational fears and debilitating anxiety. Every time I stood at the top of our steep, 100-year-old staircase, the fear of accidentally dropping my baby down the stairs would flash through my mind. I didn’t carry him down the stairs for weeks after he was born. If I was cooking something on the stove, even if my baby was safely strapped into his swing on the other side of the kitchen, I would be terrified of him being splattered with hot grease. I feared even touching anything potentially dangerous, like scissors or kitchen knives. Each intrusive thought was like a punch to the gut; the fear would literally knock the wind out of me. And of course, I felt so isolated. I was terrified anyone I told would think I was a horrible mother. So I struggled in silence for months. I would cry into my baby’s downy hair every day, holding him close, so afraid I was doing a terrible job as the mom of this perfect, tiny human.

When I finally got help after failing several postpartum depression screenings, my incredible psychiatrist (who specializes in postpartum mood disorders) was so reassuring. OCD can frequently be exacerbated by postpartum hormones, and what I was feeling was so much more common than I had ever imagined. I started medication for the first time in my life, and it was transformative. Within a few months, my intrusive thoughts were almost completely gone. My depression lifted. And my anxiety quieted. I was still me, just minus all the distressing background noise that had played in my mind for so long. Through counseling, medication and an array of holistic coping mechanisms, I finally feel free. I’m not afraid anymore. And while I’ll always have OCD, it doesn’t have to control my life. Getting help made me the very best mother I can be.

Mama, if this is you, please know you’re not alone. This is just an illness, like any other illness, and you can make a beautiful recovery with treatment. You are not a bad mom. In fact, you are an amazing mom. A warrior mom. Please reach out for help. You are going to be OK.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Smartphone app: PPDGone!

On Twitter: #ppdchat

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: December 6, 2016
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