I’m beginning to form some of the interviews I’ve conducted with women into essays. I’d like to post some here and get your feedback. I also hoping reading these stories might help someone not feel alone. Thank you to the brave women who have shared their stories with me.
The name has been changed in this story.
The Worst Intrusive Thought:
Heather is logical and calm, smart and creative, a killer combination, She’s an an audio engineer/singer-songwriter. A woman who likes to hike and calls herself a tomboy yet wanted a large “nest” of children.
Heather’s journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder began when she was nine years old. However, it was completely under control pre-pregnancy and had been for years. Heather had sought out cognitive therapy and considered herself recovered from OCD.
But at her twenty week ultrasound, Heather’s son became more real and her “feelings took a leap, and I could feel myself caring even more for him. All of a sudden, there was this creature that I just cared so much for.” Mixed with these deep feelings of love were deep feelings of fear. Heather works in radio as an audio engineer, so the news cycle is part of her daily life, and during her pregnancy a breaking story was a list of Catholic priests who had sexually assaulted many children. This news story became Heather’s intrusive thought. She saw the priests and what they might do to her unborn son, and she couldn’t stop these vivid thoughts. She felt “bombarded with all this news and having this vulnerable baby, I couldn’t get it out of my brain that somebody was going to abuse my child.”
And all of her cognitive behavioral training wasn’t working this time: “It was like I couldn’t get my legs, I couldn’t stand. This thought was just too awful to let it play out. It just wasn’t possible. I didn’t want to even try to go through the exercises.”
So Heather just kept “chugging along” without any help. She had a normal labor, but then her son had trouble breathing and had to stay in the NICU for four days, and this extended stay at the hospital began to trigger her fears of contamination. When she got home with her son, the rituals began: washing her hands until they were raw and bleeding, taking showers, tapping, counting, “easily hidden” rituals, though. “I read stuff about new moms not having time to take showers, and I just couldn’t believe it. That was my priority now, to be clean all the time. Because now your body is like the source of nourishment. I couldn’t wear a bra that I’d worn before my son because what if something was on it.” Heather’s son was also a good sleeper, but she wasn’t getting any sleep due to the horrific thoughts that entered her mind when she closed her eyes. However, she hid her OCD well enough that no one pushed her to seek help. And she’d had her OCD under control for so long that she thought she could control it again this time.
At her son’s two month pediatrician visit, Heather was asked to fill out a questionnaire, and she decided to be honest about her mood; the pediatrician recommended she get help immediately. But Heather still waited:”This felt like something I could deal with and get away with. Even though I was hurting, it wasn’t bad enough for me at that moment. I knew it was bad, but it was just me. It wasn’t affecting anybody else.”
Her “tipping point” came when she began to wish for an escape. She never thought about committing suicide or had a plan, but “I just wanted to not exist, you know. I would have peace and my son would have a better mom, a saner mom. Somebody who could take care of him better,” Heather told her husband.
This comment pushed Heather and her husband into action, but relief, as is often the case, took some time: “Then I went to the doctor and I was prescribed Celexa and told to go talk to somebody. I take Celexa for about two days, and I had terrible stomach cramps and it was like a light was on in my head when I was trying to sleep. I felt worse. I stopped it and went through weaning my son. If I was going to feel that crazy, I wanted my hormones to go back to normal. It was a couple months before I finally started taking the Celexa in earnest. It was about two weeks into that, I finally started feeling a little more even keel, but just enough to be able to let intrusive thoughts go quicker. It’s not like they ever go away, but they just don’t bug me as much.” Heather’s son was eight months old before she finally felt some relief. She describes it as “manageable,” not recovery.
Heather has decided her son will be her first and last. Those postpartum months were just too “dark”. With anguish in her voice, she said: “I can’t do that again. I can’t do that again, and I can’t believe it.” Heather is still coming to accept how postpartum OCD has changed her plans for a larger family. But she’s back to singing and writing songs and she’s “kicking serious butt at work.” And when she speaks of her son, her voice becomes light and loses the tightness it had when speaking of her postpartum experience: “He laughs at everything. He loves the water. He can almost do a pull up. He’s very strong.”
Heather is too proud and stoic to say this, but so is she, very strong.