Frightened you’ll hurt your baby? Don’t be scared to get help

As a society, we’re getting better at being open about mental health. But one topic that remains terribly taboo is mental health during pregnancy.

Although postnatal depression is an acceptable topic of conversation among new mums these days, mental health problems while pregnant are rarely discussed. This can leave anxious mums-to-be feeling isolated, abnormal and scared.

When I was pregnant, I was so convinced I was going to harm my baby that suicide seemed like the only solution. I was terrified to seek help in case they took my baby away and, as a result, became very mentally unwell.

If this sounds like a familiar situation for you, you might be suffering from perinatal OCD, the most common mental health issue you’ve never heard of.

Perinatal OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – causes mums-to-be to suffer unpleasant intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. Really unpleasant. Imagine the worst things you can think about doing to a baby, then imagine your brain telling you you’re going to do it, 24/7.

It can make pregnant ladies – and new mums - feeling like a monster-in-the-making. And because of the fear of having their baby taken away, they often suffer in silence instead of seek help. 

It is a really scary situation but more common than you’d think.

I’m a former sufferer and a proud survivor of OCD in pregnancy, and I want to share my story so that other sufferers can have the confidence and courage to get the help they need. I’m here to tell you my story and answer your questions like:

  • Will my baby get taken away? (No!)
  • Will I hurt my baby? (Definitely not)
  • Will I recover from pregnancy depression? (Absolutely)
  • Are antidepressants safe in pregnancy? (Totally)

So hold tight, ladies. This isn’t an easy read (it wasn’t easy to write, either) but hopefully it might help. 

 

Six months pregnant and suicidal

I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember whether it hit me like a brick or crept up slowly. But I know that by the time I was six months pregnant, I was suicidal, convinced that killing myself and my unborn baby was the only sensible solution to my problem.

I didn’t want to kill myself. But in my unwell mind, suicide became the only sensible solution to what seemed like the inevitable end of my pregnancy journey – harming my baby.

I’d fallen victim to intrusive thoughts. Unpleasant, ugly, unwelcome ideas that come into your head and get stuck. Weeds that take root and grow, until they overshadow everything you do.

Thoughts like:

I’m going to drown the baby in the bath

  • I’m going to throw them out of a window
  • I’m going to strangle them with my dressing gown cord

Intrusive thoughts are surprisingly common in pregnancy, but feel so shocking that very few people dare talk about them. As a result, expectant mums who experience them can think they’re the only one.

I thought that I was a monster, the next Myra Hindley, and that I had to take drastic action to protect everyone.

So instead of approaching my due date with nervous excitement and normal trepidation, I became fixated on taking my own life.

Instead of daydreaming about the best themes for a gender-reveal party, or thinking about suitable names for our impending arrival, my mind broiled with horrific thoughts about hurting my baby and myself.

The edges of my story are thankfully blurry now. I think the brain heals and blocks out the detail. But at the time everything was razor sharp.

I was flooded with confusing thoughts and emotions that sickened me. And floored by a heavy darkness that clouded every moment.

The news seemed to be full of stories about mums who’d murdered their children and they stuck in my head.

‘You’re going to be like them,’ said the intrusive thoughts. ‘Everyone will hate you. You deserve to die.’

 

Staying safe and seeming sane

To the outside world, I was a normal pregnant mum-to-be. My family and friends had no idea. I kept working successfully until I was 36 weeks. I was told I glowed.

But my stomach felt constantly sick with terror and my head throbbed from suppressing my terrifying emotions. Everything hurt, every day.

The one thing I remember most clearly was my fear of walking to work.

My daily commute was a bus trip and a walk to my city centre office. It took me through the busy bus station. A dozen bus stands, vehicles arriving and leaving all the time.

A myriad of opportunities to jump.

To feel safe, I had to walk against the wall furthest from the road. It was the only way to quieten the overwhelming feeling that I could – and should - throw myself in front of a bus. I was terrified that a suicidal urge would overtake me and send me running under the wheels at any moment.

I used to press myself so tightly against the bricks that the sleeves of my workwear became bobbled and snagged.

You’re probably asking – as I asked myself – did you want to die or not?

Well, it wasn’t that simple.

I wanted to be well.

I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy without worrying I was a baby killer incubating their first victim.

I wanted to pick sleepsuits and plan playdates without thinking ‘maybe we won’t be here’.

 I didn’t want to die but I couldn’t imagine living any more.

 It was a lonely, terrifying place to be.

 

It’s a girl!

Somehow I managed to survive.

Had there been an easy escape – a painless death – I may not be here now.

But after contemplating jumping in front of a bus, off a bridge, taking an overdose or slitting my wrists, I found I didn’t have the stomach for any of them.

And so she was born. And the best and worst thing happened.

I fell in love.

My gorgeous, scrumptious, rosy cheeked little girl.

8lb 9oz of reasons to life.

I was so grateful that my suicidal thoughts had not turned into actions, and that I had been blessed with my beautiful daughter.

Despite my fears, I felt that instant rush of maternal love and an immediate bond with her, my little BFF for life.

But for all the joy I felt, the fear remained that I’d hurt her.

Why would I have thought it if I wasn’t going to do it? Why had I spent months arguing with myself about my wicked intentions if I wasn’t going to follow through?

 I realised the crunch point had come. I had to tell someone.

 

Telling my secret

I have a wonderful supportive husband and it was him that I told my terrible secret. He was shocked and sad that I’d been suffering so much. But he didn’t believe for a second that I’d hurt anyone, let alone a baby.

He encouraged me to go to the doctor to ask for help. But I was terrified.

Surely the doctor would tell the social workers. The social workers would tell the police. And the police would take me away.

So he agreed to keep my secret too, and we embarked on parenting our baby girl with my mental health in tatters.

I couldn’t bath her alone because I was sure I’d hold her head under water and drown her, so he was always there when I did.

I asked him to hide the knives in case I stabbed her, which he did.

But he made it clear that he did it to make me feel better, not because he believed I could cause her any harm.

And we muddled on. In love and in fear.

 

After paternity leave

Of course, it couldn’t go on. And when my husband had to go back to work after paternity leave, things got worse.

I was a nervous wreck. I cried all the time and lived in constant fear. I couldn’t look at her little neck for fear I’d snap it.

I can’t remember what rock bottom looked like but I hit it. I simply couldn’t go on carrying the burden any more. Even if it meant losing the baby and going to jail, our family needed help. I realised that getting help, not killing myself, was the bravest thing to do.

I made an appointment at the local GP and I went. It took every ounce of strength I had left in me to sit in that waiting room and not walk out.

I sat down beside the doctor and couldn’t even speak. I wept. And wept. And wept. Months of terror and sadness came heaving out of me in strangled sobs.

I felt sure she’d press a secret straight-jacket button to summon guards to take me away.

But she just sat there and listened.

She said she’d never come across anything like this before but she was sure that a child murderer wouldn’t be weeping and suicidal in her surgery. She told me it was all going to be ok and referred me for CBT.

I’m going to be honest. It wasn’t perfect. I waited a long time for my referral and I wasn’t prescribed any medication. So I suffered on for a while before getting help. But the very fact I’d told my secret and not been sectioned gave me hope.

At counselling, my therapist talked to me about my problems and told me I was having intrusive thoughts. She watched me interact with baby, who I doted on.

She asked me why I thought I’d hurt her? Had I ever hurt anyone before? Did the thoughts excite or horrify me?

Between us, we came to the conclusion that I had never hurt a soul, never wanted to, and was no risk to my baby at all.

It took a while but, one day, I realised I felt fine. I don’t remember it happening. I didn’t consciously let go of any pain or move on. I just woke up and was a mum and a wife again. It was amazing.

  

You can get through this

If you’re reading this article and recognise the feelings I’ve described, you may be suffering with intrusive thoughts. I hope my story has given you hope and belief that you can get better.

Looking back, it feels unbelievable. I feel such sympathy for that shit-scared first-time mum-to-be, suffering the most horrific pain, alone, because she was terrified to talk about it.

Writing this, with my first-born now a happy nine-year-old cuddled up beside me, and my second baby just learning to crawl at my feet, it feels like a bad dream.

I’m a great mum. My house is never clean, my clothes are never ironed, homework is always handed in late. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, grumpy or blue. But I’m here and I’m healthy and that is an amazing gift.

If you think you are suffering with intrusive thoughts, here are some things you need to know:

I’m so glad I didn’t kill myself – I’ve been suicidal several times in my life. Times when things have looked like they can’t get worse and they’ll never improve. But they have. And I’ve always been so very glad I didn’t go through with it.

Sensitive people are more likely to suffer OCD – The irony of OCD is that it is the most sensitive people who suffer from it. Our compassionate nature means we are more likely to dwell on upsetting thoughts exactly because they’re abhorrent to us. Intrusive thoughts don’t make you a monster, they actually mean the opposite.

Thoughts aren’t actions – It is very hard to accept, as horrible thoughts whizz round your brain, that thinking something isn’t the same as doing it. The change in your hormones, the lack of sleep, the enormity of becoming a parent can unsettle your mental health. And sometimes horrible thoughts arise. But thoughts is all they are. Not actions.

You’re not alone – The taboo around this illness means you might think you’re alone but you’re not. This is a well-known issue for health professional and support is available. You just need to ask. Get help as soon as possible by going to your GP and explaining you have perinatal OCD. Ask for a referral to your community mental health team.

You can take antidepressants safely in pregnancy – At the time of writing Sertraline is a pregnancy-safe antidepressant that can work wonders for expectant mums. If you feel that counselling isn’t helping on its own, speak to your doctor about medication to lift your mood and help you get better.  

You can practice mindfulness with prenatal yoga. The moment-to-moment awareness you create through meditation can help counteract your fear, relax your mind and connect with your unborn child. It also helps maintain your emotional and physical fitness.

Your children won’t be taken away – If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, you’ll be given extra support to overcome your anxiety. This may take the form of counselling, medication or both. You may be offered extra home visits to support you as you care for baby and get better. But try not to worry about losing your children. My only regret was not seeking help sooner. 

Don’t expect an encore – After OCD in my first pregnancy experience, I was terrified it would come back in my second. It didn’t. So if you’re a survivor and a second-time-rounder, there’s no reason to worry. Keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms but don’t assume it will come back.

This is a true story, written by a mum who wanted to share her experience of overcoming perinatal OCD with Sportee Mommee, to raise awareness of mental health issues in pregnancy.

For more information, visit:

https://maternalocd.org/

https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/ocd-during-prenatal-postnatal/

 

 

Frightened you’ll hurt your baby? Don’t be scared to get help

As a society, we’re getting better at being open about mental health. But one topic that remains terribly taboo is mental health during pregnancy.

Although postnatal depression is an acceptable topic of conversation among new mums these days, mental health problems while pregnant are rarely discussed. This can leave anxious mums-to-be feeling isolated, abnormal and scared.

When I was pregnant, I was so convinced I was going to harm my baby that suicide seemed like the only solution. I was terrified to seek help in case they took my baby away and, as a result, became very mentally unwell.

If this sounds like a familiar situation for you, you might be suffering from perinatal OCD, the most common mental health issue you’ve never heard of.

Perinatal OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – causes mums-to-be to suffer unpleasant intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. Really unpleasant. Imagine the worst things you can think about doing to a baby, then imagine your brain telling you you’re going to do it, 24/7.

It can make pregnant ladies – and new mums - feeling like a monster-in-the-making. And because of the fear of having their baby taken away, they often suffer in silence instead of seek help. 

It is a really scary situation but more common than you’d think.

I’m a former sufferer and a proud survivor of OCD in pregnancy, and I want to share my story so that other sufferers can have the confidence and courage to get the help they need. I’m here to tell you my story and answer your questions like:

  • Will my baby get taken away? (No!)
  • Will I hurt my baby? (Definitely not)
  • Will I recover from pregnancy depression? (Absolutely)
  • Are antidepressants safe in pregnancy? (Totally)

So hold tight, ladies. This isn’t an easy read (it wasn’t easy to write, either) but hopefully it might help. 

 

Six months pregnant and suicidal

I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember whether it hit me like a brick or crept up slowly. But I know that by the time I was six months pregnant, I was suicidal, convinced that killing myself and my unborn baby was the only sensible solution to my problem.

I didn’t want to kill myself. But in my unwell mind, suicide became the only sensible solution to what seemed like the inevitable end of my pregnancy journey – harming my baby.

I’d fallen victim to intrusive thoughts. Unpleasant, ugly, unwelcome ideas that come into your head and get stuck. Weeds that take root and grow, until they overshadow everything you do.

Thoughts like:

I’m going to drown the baby in the bath

  • I’m going to throw them out of a window
  • I’m going to strangle them with my dressing gown cord

Intrusive thoughts are surprisingly common in pregnancy, but feel so shocking that very few people dare talk about them. As a result, expectant mums who experience them can think they’re the only one.

I thought that I was a monster, the next Myra Hindley, and that I had to take drastic action to protect everyone.

So instead of approaching my due date with nervous excitement and normal trepidation, I became fixated on taking my own life.

Instead of daydreaming about the best themes for a gender-reveal party, or thinking about suitable names for our impending arrival, my mind broiled with horrific thoughts about hurting my baby and myself.

The edges of my story are thankfully blurry now. I think the brain heals and blocks out the detail. But at the time everything was razor sharp.

I was flooded with confusing thoughts and emotions that sickened me. And floored by a heavy darkness that clouded every moment.

The news seemed to be full of stories about mums who’d murdered their children and they stuck in my head.

‘You’re going to be like them,’ said the intrusive thoughts. ‘Everyone will hate you. You deserve to die.’

 

Staying safe and seeming sane

To the outside world, I was a normal pregnant mum-to-be. My family and friends had no idea. I kept working successfully until I was 36 weeks. I was told I glowed.

But my stomach felt constantly sick with terror and my head throbbed from suppressing my terrifying emotions. Everything hurt, every day.

The one thing I remember most clearly was my fear of walking to work.

My daily commute was a bus trip and a walk to my city centre office. It took me through the busy bus station. A dozen bus stands, vehicles arriving and leaving all the time.

A myriad of opportunities to jump.

To feel safe, I had to walk against the wall furthest from the road. It was the only way to quieten the overwhelming feeling that I could – and should - throw myself in front of a bus. I was terrified that a suicidal urge would overtake me and send me running under the wheels at any moment.

I used to press myself so tightly against the bricks that the sleeves of my workwear became bobbled and snagged.

You’re probably asking – as I asked myself – did you want to die or not?

Well, it wasn’t that simple.

I wanted to be well.

I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy without worrying I was a baby killer incubating their first victim.

I wanted to pick sleepsuits and plan playdates without thinking ‘maybe we won’t be here’.

 I didn’t want to die but I couldn’t imagine living any more.

 It was a lonely, terrifying place to be.

 

It’s a girl!

Somehow I managed to survive.

Had there been an easy escape – a painless death – I may not be here now.

But after contemplating jumping in front of a bus, off a bridge, taking an overdose or slitting my wrists, I found I didn’t have the stomach for any of them.

And so she was born. And the best and worst thing happened.

I fell in love.

My gorgeous, scrumptious, rosy cheeked little girl.

8lb 9oz of reasons to life.

I was so grateful that my suicidal thoughts had not turned into actions, and that I had been blessed with my beautiful daughter.

Despite my fears, I felt that instant rush of maternal love and an immediate bond with her, my little BFF for life.

But for all the joy I felt, the fear remained that I’d hurt her.

Why would I have thought it if I wasn’t going to do it? Why had I spent months arguing with myself about my wicked intentions if I wasn’t going to follow through?

 I realised the crunch point had come. I had to tell someone.

 

Telling my secret

I have a wonderful supportive husband and it was him that I told my terrible secret. He was shocked and sad that I’d been suffering so much. But he didn’t believe for a second that I’d hurt anyone, let alone a baby.

He encouraged me to go to the doctor to ask for help. But I was terrified.

Surely the doctor would tell the social workers. The social workers would tell the police. And the police would take me away.

So he agreed to keep my secret too, and we embarked on parenting our baby girl with my mental health in tatters.

I couldn’t bath her alone because I was sure I’d hold her head under water and drown her, so he was always there when I did.

I asked him to hide the knives in case I stabbed her, which he did.

But he made it clear that he did it to make me feel better, not because he believed I could cause her any harm.

And we muddled on. In love and in fear.

 

After paternity leave

Of course, it couldn’t go on. And when my husband had to go back to work after paternity leave, things got worse.

I was a nervous wreck. I cried all the time and lived in constant fear. I couldn’t look at her little neck for fear I’d snap it.

I can’t remember what rock bottom looked like but I hit it. I simply couldn’t go on carrying the burden any more. Even if it meant losing the baby and going to jail, our family needed help. I realised that getting help, not killing myself, was the bravest thing to do.

I made an appointment at the local GP and I went. It took every ounce of strength I had left in me to sit in that waiting room and not walk out.

I sat down beside the doctor and couldn’t even speak. I wept. And wept. And wept. Months of terror and sadness came heaving out of me in strangled sobs.

I felt sure she’d press a secret straight-jacket button to summon guards to take me away.

But she just sat there and listened.

She said she’d never come across anything like this before but she was sure that a child murderer wouldn’t be weeping and suicidal in her surgery. She told me it was all going to be ok and referred me for CBT.

I’m going to be honest. It wasn’t perfect. I waited a long time for my referral and I wasn’t prescribed any medication. So I suffered on for a while before getting help. But the very fact I’d told my secret and not been sectioned gave me hope.

At counselling, my therapist talked to me about my problems and told me I was having intrusive thoughts. She watched me interact with baby, who I doted on.

She asked me why I thought I’d hurt her? Had I ever hurt anyone before? Did the thoughts excite or horrify me?

Between us, we came to the conclusion that I had never hurt a soul, never wanted to, and was no risk to my baby at all.

It took a while but, one day, I realised I felt fine. I don’t remember it happening. I didn’t consciously let go of any pain or move on. I just woke up and was a mum and a wife again. It was amazing.

  

You can get through this

If you’re reading this article and recognise the feelings I’ve described, you may be suffering with intrusive thoughts. I hope my story has given you hope and belief that you can get better.

Looking back, it feels unbelievable. I feel such sympathy for that shit-scared first-time mum-to-be, suffering the most horrific pain, alone, because she was terrified to talk about it.

Writing this, with my first-born now a happy nine-year-old cuddled up beside me, and my second baby just learning to crawl at my feet, it feels like a bad dream.

I’m a great mum. My house is never clean, my clothes are never ironed, homework is always handed in late. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, grumpy or blue. But I’m here and I’m healthy and that is an amazing gift.

If you think you are suffering with intrusive thoughts, here are some things you need to know:

I’m so glad I didn’t kill myself – I’ve been suicidal several times in my life. Times when things have looked like they can’t get worse and they’ll never improve. But they have. And I’ve always been so very glad I didn’t go through with it.

Sensitive people are more likely to suffer OCD – The irony of OCD is that it is the most sensitive people who suffer from it. Our compassionate nature means we are more likely to dwell on upsetting thoughts exactly because they’re abhorrent to us. Intrusive thoughts don’t make you a monster, they actually mean the opposite.

Thoughts aren’t actions – It is very hard to accept, as horrible thoughts whizz round your brain, that thinking something isn’t the same as doing it. The change in your hormones, the lack of sleep, the enormity of becoming a parent can unsettle your mental health. And sometimes horrible thoughts arise. But thoughts is all they are. Not actions.

You’re not alone – The taboo around this illness means you might think you’re alone but you’re not. This is a well-known issue for health professional and support is available. You just need to ask. Get help as soon as possible by going to your GP and explaining you have perinatal OCD. Ask for a referral to your community mental health team.

You can take antidepressants safely in pregnancy – At the time of writing Sertraline is a pregnancy-safe antidepressant that can work wonders for expectant mums. If you feel that counselling isn’t helping on its own, speak to your doctor about medication to lift your mood and help you get better.  

You can practice mindfulness with prenatal yoga. The moment-to-moment awareness you create through meditation can help counteract your fear, relax your mind and connect with your unborn child. It also helps maintain your emotional and physical fitness.

Your children won’t be taken away – If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts, you’ll be given extra support to overcome your anxiety. This may take the form of counselling, medication or both. You may be offered extra home visits to support you as you care for baby and get better. But try not to worry about losing your children. My only regret was not seeking help sooner. 

Don’t expect an encore – After OCD in my first pregnancy experience, I was terrified it would come back in my second. It didn’t. So if you’re a survivor and a second-time-rounder, there’s no reason to worry. Keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms but don’t assume it will come back.

This is a true story, written by a mum who wanted to share her experience of overcoming perinatal OCD with Sportee Mommee, to raise awareness of mental health issues in pregnancy.

For more information, visit:

https://maternalocd.org/

https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/ocd-during-prenatal-postnatal/