Recently we posted a response to The New York Times article on Postpartum Depression. It is great that a major publication like this one is paying attention to issues in Maternal Mental Health. Our concern with the article, and which was recently reiterated by a Huffington Post article, was that women reading it might get confused by symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis.
The New York Times article talked about “scary thoughts,” this is where a woman experiences unwanted, intrusive and often repetitive thoughts about harm coming to her baby. In some instances, and more disturbing to her, are thoughts that she will cause harm to her baby. The idea of harming her child is abhorrent to a woman in this state, she is in-touch with a maternal drive to protect her child and would in no way act on these thoughts. This is quite different from Postpartum Psychosis, which is an illness whereby a woman loses touch with reality and it only occurs in 1-2 of 1000 births. She may have thoughts of harm, either to herself or her baby, and in many instances this is driven by the belief that what she is doing will protect her child. She is delusional, often paranoid and can experience hallucinations. Women who experience Postpartum Psychosis need emergency medical treatment.
We talk to many women here at Pacific Post Partum Support Society who experience Postpartum Anxiety and who report that they have scary thoughts of harm coming to their children. We hope that women everywhere can feel safe in sharing these thoughts with caregivers and support networks like our organization, so that adequate help can be provided. We want women to feel safe to share what is happening, and too often women who experience scary thoughts feel ashamed, and embarrassed or live in fear that if they disclose what is happening to them, someone will take away their child. There is support and treatment available so she can begin to feel some relief and to not feel alone and afraid.
Here is one woman’s experience with scary thoughts:
It began when my son was three months old. My anxiety had progressed and I began to have vivid and terrifying thoughts of harm coming to my child. I imagined myself holding my son out over the banister of our stairs, at the highest point, and dropping him. I was so horrified by this image that I could no longer carry my baby up the stairs, and when I had to – I went quickly turning my back to the railing and protecting him with my body. I had to ask my husband to get my son in the middle of the night to nurse and most days when my husband went to work, baby and I stayed downstairs. I would have this thought, not occasionally, but repetitively throughout the day. And it felt uncomfortable. I was afraid to disclose this to anyone but eventually did in order to get myself the help I needed to get better. I don’t think many people understand that these are terrifying thoughts exactly because I do not want to do them, I want to protect my child and care for him.
If you or someone you know is experiencing scary, repetitive and anxiety-producing thoughts, please let them know that we can help.