Postnatal / perintal / postpartum OCD can affect both men and women.
It is caused by being OVERLY protective of your children and OVERLY concerned about their safety. That is why many parents (like myself) have horrible, terrifying thoughts of harming their own children at the same time as they are suffering other terrifying OCD and anxiety issues regarding their children’s safety.
Intrusive Thought OCD
I had ten terrifying years of having horrible, vile, terrifying thoughts that I could hurt my precious children; these thoughts kept me awake many, many a night. As my children are still young (early teenagers), I will not list the actual thoughts and fears that went through my mind – but if you can think of something horrible, inexcusable and undoable that it is possible to do to two helpless babes that you love, my OCD had me convinced I could do it! Many, many, many a time.
As the fears grew, I created my own little rituals and private prayer to keep my children safe. If I touched a “weapon”, I had to touch three things that weren’t weapons. If I looked at a weapon, I had to look at three things that weren’t weapons. And the OCD mind can get very imaginative as to what can and can’t be called a weapon; kitchen knives were hidden away, as were my husband’s tools. They were obvious culprits. But then what about a sharp pen, or the corner of a book? Or a fork? Or a spoon handle? Or a picture frame? The more my anxiety increased, the more the list of potential weapons also increased.
I also used to argue with my own mind, trying to bargain with myself and with God to keep my children safe.
Feasrs grew and multiplied. A particular series of Dean Koontz books had to be hidden away in the furthest corner of the house; for some reason I cannot now remember, I felt that, if I read these books, I would hurt my children.
All the while, I was so scared of Social Services and of losing my children, and so deeply ashamed of these terrible thoughts, that I told no-one, not even my husband. It was a terrifying, isolating time. I wish so much that I (and other parents in the same position) could have been given information about postnatal OCD as that would have saved so much misery and would have enabled me to enjoy being a mum.
As Postnatal OCD is caused by being OVER-protective of your children, alongside the intrusive thoughts was a contstant need to keep them safe at all costs.
For the first couple years of their life, my children were only allowed to have pure cotton clothes and bedding. (I had read somewhere that bodily fluids react with manmade fibres to release small amounts of poisonous gasses and that these gasses can overwhelem the lungs of small babes thus causing cot-death.) Therefore, the room temperature had to be kept at 24 degrees day and night (winter growbags) or 26 degrees (summer growbags).
If the termperature went up by 1 degree, I would fiddle with the heating, open the windows, sit staring “on guard” at the open window to ensure no owls flew in to attack my babies, then get the room to a degree or so below, then wait and see how the temperature changed. then rinse and repeat. And rinse and repeat.
I spent several hours a night on this checking and monitoring. Once I had got the temperature stable for an hour or so, I would then set my alarm clock to wake myself up an hour later.
We ended up having the central heating redone and the house cavity-wall-insluated and double-glazed so I could keep their bedroom temperature accurate.
During this spell, there was also the checking and rechecking and rechecking of the doors to make sure intruders didn’t steal my babies, and the checking and rechecking and rechecking of the oven to make sure the house didn’t burn down with my babies inside.
Fear of cot death also led to contamination fears – my hands were washed so frequently that my skin was constantly cracked and my hands are now prematurely and horribly wrinkled; every stitch of clothing and bedding they wore had to be washed every day whether it was dirty or not, the washing had to be done in a separate washing load to ours in case my babies got germs, if it remained in the machine just that little bit longer than I felt was right the washing had to be redone in case germs developed, if a family member emptied the tumble-drier for me and rested the washing on the sofa on the way upstairs I couldn’t wait to surreptitiously get that washing and rewash it.
Then there was the sterilising, and virus controlling.
Then there was the four-year fear of driving past a pond with my babies in the back of the car – what if the car came off the road, what if it went into a pond, how could I get two babies out of the car in time?
Those fears had me awake many, many a night – so much so that I would drive miles out of my way to avoid one particular pond.
General Anxiety and Fears
Walking past a manhole cover terrified me – I kept seeing my babies in the water, drowning.
Visiting my mother’s flat terrified me – there was an unguarded drop to the sea near the front door and at nights that drop haunted my thoughts. My mother had dreams of taking the children crabbing when they were 2-3 – you “just” hold their hands as you walk on these planks leading out to sea. It never happened! Fears of them being swept out to sea flooded my mind.
Going boating or buying a house near a pond was an absolute no-no.
Taking my babies to the Peak District terrified me – there were mine shafts somewhere that my babies might fall down. It wasn’t logical but thoughts of harm coming to my babies terrified me as I tried to sleep.
OCD / Coprolalia Mix
On top of the harm OCD where I was genuinely terrified I would hurt my children, I also have some mix of syndromes that I have been told (by an OCD psychotherapist) involves an element of Coprolalia (Tourettes). When this got directed towards my children, sexual thoughts joined the violent thoughts. I sort of knew that I was not going to act on these, but was terrified that the outside world thought I would; fears of Social Services grew and grew and fed back into the anxiety to create more and more fears, which fed into my OCD/Coprolalia mix * and a horrible, vicious cycle sent my life spiralling out of control. My husband knew about this side of my thoughts (I had confessed to him before we got engaged the issues I was facing as I understood things at the time) and I fell apart to such an extent that he twice changed from full-time to part-time work as I just could not cope with the outside world. (See about me.)
* As I understand things, Coprolalia, like Intrusive Thought OCD, goes for your taboos, just in a slightly different way. And abusing your own children should be a taboo for any parent!
Thanks to OCD counselling, OCD support groups and the never-ending belief and support of my husband, I am now largely “cured” of postnatal OCD.
When I finally confessed these terrible thoughts to my husband, and explained to him as best I could how they are created, he continued to love and trust me; he goes away for evenings and weekends as before.
I now rarely fear hurting my children any more; when I do, they are just fleeting thoughts that have no power over me. In fact, when my husband recently spent three weeks away, I assumed total care for our children and coped.
I have also relaxed the apron strings enough to allow them to have a normal childhood. Yes, I may still be an over-protective mother – my two are used to the warnings to “stay together”, and put suncream on, and be careful here and careful there. They accept that they may not have quite the same freedom as some friends – cycling four miles to school is a no-no as the country lanes are deserted and cycling through town is also a no-no as a single fall could result in disaster on a busy street.
But they now go on Scout camps, school outward-bound courses, ride bikes with their friends, go into town with their friends and are happy and, as far as I can tell, undamaged by my mental health problems.
They know I have anxiety problems and that I go to OCD groups as I don’t want them to later feel that I have been lying to them all this time. But I have seen no need to burden them with the nightmares I have gone through and their knowledge of my illness is “age appropriate”.
I now believe very strongly that, in spite of – maybe even because of – postnatal OCD, I have been, and am, a good, caring, loving, nurturing mother.
I can now see that OCD has a dark side to it (I would not wish intrusive thoughts on anyone) but the anxiety is there to PROTECT your children and I have protected mine way more than many of the other parents I see at school protect their children. (And their Dad loves them to bits as well!)
Please Share So Others Need Not Suffer
I’m speaking up about personal, painful details in the hope that it might help others. Unfortunately, whilst many now know what postnatal depression is, few speak of postnatal / perinatal OCD. New mothers (certainly in my day) were given information about postnatal depression but no information about OCD. For those suffering, the fear of Social Services is so great that many do not seek help. Without help, the fears mushroom and multiply. In the support groups I belong to, there are people who suffered terrible intrusive thoughts with their children; now they are grandparents, the thoughts have started up all over again.
Postnatal OCD stole much of the happiness that should have gone with young children and replaced it with a never-ending-anxiety. The terror and shame and isolation were terrible.
I would love for midwives, health visitors, doctors and nurses to be trained in providing non-judgemental support for sufferers – and to give parents-to-be information beforehand so that, if these horrible, vile thoughts do start, people will at least know what they are and know that they can seek help.
Just two more notes to finish with.
1 Some people have a different form of post-natal (or post-partum) OCD. Instead of – or as well as – fearing that they could hurt their children, they fear that they could sexually abuse them. If it’s Intrusive Thought OCD, they don’t. For those parents, their biggest taboo is child abuse, and that’s what OCD torments them with. It really is as simple as that – Intrusive Thought OCD (like Coprolalia, Tourettes) goes for your taboos, and torments you with thoughts that violate those taboos.
2 For those who suffer a particularly distressing form of an already distressing illness, false memory OCD can overlay false memories of supposed “crimes” on top of intrusive thoughts. Those sufferers then become falsely convinced that they HAVE abused/hurt their children. Once again, if it’s OCD, the sufferer is not a danger to others and needs help and support to overcome the very considerable trauma they are going through.
Thank you for reading. Please share my story so that other people may be aware of this. If just one person can be helped by this, then it will be worth it.