A new mom shares her story of becoming a mother while battling the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Having an underlying mental health challenge can make pregnancy and the postpartum period even more overwhelming. This mother talks about acknowledging her challenges and finding the appropriate help before even bringing her baby home. Preventive measures can go a long way to making the postpartum experience less stressful.
Article by Natalie
OCD. Those three letters have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has risen up to take my happiness and, most of all, my hopes and dreams. I lost the ability to live in the moment and the simple things in life became giant hurdles. I spent hours, which turned into years, in endless compulsions. My mind was in a loop of “what ifs?” Could I hurt someone, would the food I cooked poison my husband, if I have a cold could it infect someone who is immune compromised and cause them to die, if I don’t wash my hands right I will transfer germs, what if I hurt my baby?…all this prevented me from living the life I wanted. I was a shell of myself. I couldn’t leave the house let alone hold down a job. My marriage was suffering and I knew I had to make a change. I ended up at my doctor’s office after a three day panic ridden state. It eventually lead me to therapy. I saw amazing psychologists at North Shore Stress & Anxiety Clinic. With the help of medication and specialized therapy I was able to function and enjoy life again.
The biggest dream I had was to become a mother. After denying myself that for many years I realized that talking to my doctor about the risks of being medicated during pregnancy was worth a try. To my surprise my doctor said many women stayed medicated during pregnancy and referred me to the reproductive mental health program. I saw a great psychiatrist who explained the risks of staying medicated and I decided that staying mentally healthy during pregnancy was essential and that meant medication. I knew I had to use the tools I was taught during my therapy at North Shore Stress & Anxiety Clinic, specifically cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure and response prevention to challenge the thoughts and behaviours that would flood my mind. When I found out I was pregnant I was beyond happy as well as terrified. It was real, this was happening, f@&k you OCD!
I was lucky throughout my pregnancy, my OCD symptoms only increased a little. I have been able to use the tools I acquired through therapy to challenge the thoughts and prevent compulsive behaviour. I knew the big test would be bringing baby home. I have been honest with my husband about what to look out for. If I started avoiding our son or obsessively preparing his formula that would be a red flag that OCD was winning. I have many many intrusions throughout the day and it’s a constant battle. I promise myself that I will get help if or when the battle becomes too much. Right now, at ten weeks postpartum, I’m doing ok.
My advice to any soon to be mom, with underlying mental health issues or without, is to be prepared in advance. Have a plan, seek help, let the shame go. You deserve to be the healthiest you possible. If that means medications, there are safe options. If it means therapy seek out a counsellor you feel comfortable with. Struggling with mental health doesn’t mean you can’t pursue your dreams!