In the last few weeks leading up to my due date I revelled in being home. Simple things filled me with joy, listening to podcasts on loud speaker, washing newborn onesies, scrubbing the windowsills with a tooth brush… I was ‘text book’ nesting and I loved it. I’d discovered minimalism, and was on a mission (which I am still!) to remove any unnecessary ‘things’ from my life, I found huge satisfaction in the ability to let even the most sentimental items go.My daughter, Johanna, was born in February 2017. After a long, drawn out labour (it started on Tues eve, she entered the world on Friday afternoon) forceps, episiotomy, the lot, she arrived healthy and to a very proud mum and dad. Despite the trauma my body had just gone through I felt good, perhaps it was the gas and air, perhaps it was the hypnobirthing I’d been practicing since I was 10 weeks pregnant, either way, I was completely at peace with my birth giving experience. I’ll never forget gazing over at my husband in the corner of the hospital room holding her snuggled in his arms with a look of pure love, as I talked and talked and talked to the poor enduring hospital staff as the surgeon ‘stitched me back up’, my chattiness was definitely down to the gas and air…
The intrusive thoughts were centred around abuse. Would I/ could I abuse my child. Truly the worst kinds of things you could imagine. It all started when she was around 3 months old. In a moment of Facebook scrolling, during a 2am feed (delirious and exhausted) I hit upon a news article that completely knocked me. I sat bawling for what felt like hours in pure horror, I was extremely vulnerable, stressed, struggling with breast feeding and just didn’t have the mental capacity to handle what I had just read. My OCD jumped on it, twisted it and so began the worst episode of obsessive thinking I’d ever experienced. I look back on photos of this time, I’m grinning from ear to ear, holding her in my arms, how I looked on the outside couldn’t have been further from the constant painful battle I was having in my head.
I know that was quite a shock jump from my birth experience but that’s how gut wrenching it felt. I would wake up, with this sweet little new born in a moses basket next to me, filled with an indescribable dread. I knew I needed to do something. I was going to miss all of this precious time with my baby and I just couldn’t function properly. I was avoiding giving her baths, changing her nappy and I was spending hours seeking reassurance online that I wasn’t a monster. What I didn’t realise at the time is that these were all compulsions that were feeding my obsessive thoughts. Saying to my husband one night ‘I think I’m ill’ was the best thing I could have done. I walked myself up to a&e (metres away from the ward I had given birth in 3 monthsearlier), sobbing uncontrollably in a waiting room for hours, only to be met with a junior psych nurse who had no real idea what was happening and made me completely clam up. So many women struggle with intrusive thoughts of this nature and so often it’s signed off by the GP as ‘post natal depression’ or simply ‘hormones’, when it’s so much more intricate than that. This is not post natal depression. I did not feel depressed, I felt terrified…of myself.
This description helped me to really put into words what I was going through. I was suffering with Maternal OCD.
I’m going to quickly move onto the positive part of this story, because it does get positive I promise! After a night in the hospital I did get the right help, but I had to fight for it. I ended up getting a private diagnosis and had a course of 10 weeks exposure therapy. I know I’ve been fortunate to be able to afford this help. This is why I feel so strongly about there being more information out there for people suffering. I had a few relapses. Mainly when I was driving, bizarrely, because the sense of responsibility with her in the back was overwhelming. But I put into practice all of the techniques I learnt in therapy and I got through it. I truly feel on a really positive road to recovery and extremely empowered now I have confronted this illness. I have been experiencing OCD in various forms since my early 20s and I finally feel free of it. Anyone reading this who recognises these traits, the obsessive thoughts of harm towards your child, the constant battling in your head, I promise you there is hope.
If you take one thing away from this story let it be this – Compulsions make the obsessions worse. When you’re in the thick of the intrusive thought patterns it’s the hardest thing in the world to break out of the compulsions but every time you avoid/ check/ rationalise in your head, you are carrying out a compulsion that fuels each obsession. OCD affects so many people, it’s ranked by the WHO as one of the top 10 most debilitating mental health illnesses, but because of the ‘taboo’ subject matters it centres around, sufferers find it so hard to talk about. This means the understanding of it is limited to the way the media represent it – as ‘neat freaks’ and people who like order – very badly. I’m determined to talk about it more, and will be working alongside the Maternal OCD charity with fellow OCD survivor Catherine Benfield to launch their Instagram page offering support and first hand experience. I now have a gorgeous 13 month old, who enjoys the occasional tantrum, who I adore being around and am no longer overwhelmed by intrusive scary thoughts. The future is bright!
Kim French runs a video content business and was recently diagnosed with OCD, having battled silently with it for over 10 years. She’s on a mission to talk more about OCD, in particular maternal OCD and the scary intrusive thoughts that many keep to themselves through fear of stigma. Kim knows first hand it is possible to recover with the right help and wants others to know too. Other useful resources: