Motherhood is not an easy gig, and appreciation is in short supply. There is always laundry to be folded, tears to dry, and some sort of bodily fluid to clean up with nary a "thank-you" in sight. New moms are often in for a big shock, and without minimizing what they go through, I think it's important to recognize the additional challenges faced by moms suffering from a postpartum mood disorder. Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can make the demands of motherhood seem like too much to bear. In fact, there are many ways moms with OCD have it harder than other moms. It's not a contest, to be sure. It's just, well, a fact.
I've had OCD tendencies since junior high. I remember opening school door handles with my elbows so I wouldn't get germs on my hands and cleaning the bottom of my shoes after walking over the wrestling mats. At home, I had to make sure I knew where each of our four indoor cats was before I could relax. As a young adult, my OCD was a joke with my roommates. They'd rearrange my ceramic hippos or push in every other CD on my shelf because they knew I liked things just so. I had my quirks, but it never got in the way of living my life. Once I had a baby, though, my OCD kicked into high gear and, honestly, it made it difficult to be a good mom.
As moms, we all have our struggles and every single one of them is relevant. We would do well, however, to try to understand what other moms are going through, whatever that may be. In this case, I'll share the unique challenges of being a new mom with OCD:
We Worry Excessively
Yes, it's normal to worry about your new baby. You count their pees and poops and watch their chest go up and down. That's to be expected. What's not normal is incessantly checking on your newborn and counting their breaths because they might die if you don't. I was constantly worried about my low supply and my baby's failure to gain weight, and that fear of inadvertently starving my precious child led to supplementing with formula (and proceeding to berate myself for it).
We're Hidden In Plain Sight
A recent study found that postpartum OCD occurs in anywhere from 2-9 percent of the postpartum population. It suggests that the disorder is much more prevalent than once thought. However, moms with postpartum OCD are reluctant to seek help, often out of embarrassment or shame. Like other anxiety disorders, OCD often exists simultaneously with other mood disorders, resulting in under-diagnosis.
There's also the case of high-functioning anxiety and OCD, which is what I have. Unless you spent all day with me or I confided in you, you likely wouldn't know that every day is a mental struggle for me.
So if no one notices and I don't proactively get help, I'm suffering from a debilitating disorder. Alone.
We Sweat The Small Stuff
And it's all small stuff, right? My husband didn't understand why I got so worked up if I couldn't take our daughter's monthly photo on the exact, right date. Likewise, he couldn't comprehend how trying to use a supplemental nursing system reduced me to tears. As a new mom, you have to learn how to let things go, but OCD makes it that much harder.
We Have Disturbing Thoughts
Thoughts of harm to the baby are a hallmark of postpartum OCD. I imagined everything from falling down the stairs with my baby in my arms, finding her cold to the touch and unresponsive when I went to wake her, or my husband and I dying and leaving her alone. I worked myself into an absolute frenzy courtesy of that last thought, convinced that my spirit wouldn't be able to help my baby get to my sister. Let me tell you, it is hard to function when these aforementioned thoughts are constantly intruding into your daily life.
We Have Trouble Getting Out The Door
My OCD makes me want to be on time. The schedule is everything. However, it also makes getting out the door a real challenge. When you have a newborn it's already a production, what with packing the diaper bag for every eventuality and all that. My OCD, however, compels me to quadruple-check that the oven is off, the door is locked, and the baby is strapped in correctly.
Also, when you are terrified that something bad will happen to your baby, it can be really tempting to just stay home where you can control the environment through compulsions, like sanitizing toys and pacifiers.
We Waste Time On Unimportant Things
New moms with OCD perform rituals (which provide temporary relief from the obsessions) at the expense of sleep, productivity, and spending time with their baby. I can't tell you how many hours I've lost making sure the bottles face the same way in the cupboard or looking for the missing saucer in the play tea set. It's hard to really engage when you're constantly distracted by needing to wash your hands or blink a certain number of times.
We Try To Hide Our Behavior From Our Families
The thing about OCD is that we know we're being unreasonable, but we can't help it. That being said, we don't want anyone to think we're crazy. I wait until my husband is gone for work to put the dishes he unloaded where I really want them. I also try to shield my daughter from what's going on with me mentally and emotionally. Keeping your obsessions and compulsions from your family is a heavy lift when you're already tapped out as a new mom.
We Have Physical Symptoms
Beyond the generalized anxiety and inability to relax, moms with postpartum OCD can experience physical symptoms ranging from shortness of breath and dry mouth to heart palpitations. When you're in recovery from birth, the physical manifestations of a mood disorder makes it that much more challenging to meet the needs of your baby.
We're Really Hard On Ourselves
I know that most moms have thought, at least once, they were the worst mom on the planet. Most of those same moms, though, realize that just because there's a stick on the ground doesn't mean they need to pick it up and beat themselves with it. Not so for moms with postpartum OCD. We develop a tremendous amount of guilt around our condition (for wasting time we should be spending bonding doing stupid sh*t and for thinking terrible things). While we can recognize the irrationality, we can't stop it on our own.
If you think you might be suffering from OCD, please seek help, because while it may seem impossible now, it does get better.
If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.