Prenatal OCD is something that not a lot of people recognize they have until after they’ve been through it. I’ve talked to many moms about my experience with it, and a lot them realize that they’ve had very similar experiences too, but they just didn’t know what it was.
As a therapist and a sufferer of Prenatal OCD, I’m here to de-mystify it, educate you about it, and let you know that yes, it’s very common, but you don’t have to live with it.
What OCD Is
We have this general belief about OCD that it’s only about being a clean freak, or you need to have everything organized a certain way, or that you make your kids pick up the house every day, or you always have to vacuum.
This could all be OCD BUT:
OCD is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and sometimes obsessions and compulsions go together and sometimes they’re separate.
You could fall under the category of just obsession or just compulsions, or obsessions WITH compulsions, but all of those things can still be OCD.
What Is An ‘Obsession’?
Obsession is basically anxiety on overdrive, and it’s generally based around a particular theme. For example, you might be super paranoid and anxious about your kids being sick or anxious about SIDS. For me, I was really anxious about my kids being kidnapped. It’s a fear that just haunted my thoughts constantly.
If you experience “everyday” anxiety, you might just have a couple different things that you get anxious about. Obsession is anxiety on a whole other level where it enters your mind and no amount of logic really feels like it quiets down that anxiety.
What Is An ‘Compulsion’?
Compulsion is behavior that you feel compelled to do. It might come in the form of counting, checking the locks on doors, or needing something to be in a particular way or it stresses you out. I’ve had clients that felt compulsive about parking to the point where they’d have to get out of the car and check to see how even they were with the lines and park their car again and again and again. Even if the parking job was fine, they still felt compelled to ‘fix’ it.
Obsessions and Compulsions Can Go Together
For example, if that anxious part of your mind thinks, “If I do x, y, and z behavior, then the thing that I’m afraid of won’t happen”.
If we take my fear of my kids being kidnapped as an example, my paranoia and anxiousness about my kids being kidnapped could be associated with the compulsion of checking all the windows and locks on the doors all time (fortunately with my case, I did not have the behavioral compulsion piece).
It’s not abnormal to experience obsessions and compulsions together and it’s not abnormal to experience those separately, which is why I think a lot of Obsessive-Compulsive behavior gets missed because it doesn’t look like what we think as the “norm”.
Pregnancy and Chemical Changes
When your pregnant and you have a baby, your brain chemistry just shifts.
First of all, it’s totally common to have a lot of anxiety while you’re pregnant and after you have a baby. Pregnancy is scary, and there are a lot of things that can affect your baby, but when the baby is finally here, you realize how much your heart exists outside of your body and how much love you have for your child. That’s a new and scary experience for parents to realize and to suddenly feel overwhelmed and powerless to protect their child from everything and anything that can happen.
This newfound anxiety and shift in brain chemistry can make you feel and think things that you wouldn’t experience before you got pregnant. Before I had kids, I was able to work through my anxieties and recognize triggers before they happened. Now, especially during pregnancies, it’s so hard for me to do that on my own.
But just because anxiety is common doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it and just have to deal with it. In the case of obsessions and compulsions, medication can be super helpful.
Because obsessions and compulsions are an escalated form of anxiety, most anxiety medications can take that down a few notches, and many are safe to take during pregnancy.
My Experience with Prenatal OCD
When I was pregnant with my first, my husband was in dental school, and we lived in an up-and-coming area, but it was still not a great part of town. At one point, there were three dead bodies that turned up within a block radius of where our apartment was, and even though most of the violence was related to the Cartel, it still wasn’t a super safe place.
Being in a not so safe area of town gave my anxiety what felt like “proof” we might be in danger and my husband could actually be killed at any minute. I remember one time my husband was pumping gas and I was sitting in the car watching him pump gas and then suddenly envisioning him getting stabbed to death in front of me. I couldn’t turn off the thoughts, and I started to cry and saying to myself “go away thoughts!” It was so overwhelming and so intense that the logical part of my brain didn’t kick back in to say, “Tom’s not involved with the Cartel, there’s no reason that he would be targeted, there’s no logic or reasoning with this”.
With my subsequent pregnancies, the fears about my husband turned into intense fears about my kids getting kidnapped.
On the day I decided I was done feeling this way and I was ready to take medication, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I was driving with my girls through a roundabout. My (then) two-year-old daughter started singing “I Am A Child of God” in the backseat, and my first thought was “Aww, that’s so sweet, it makes my heart so happy to hear her sing this sweet song!” But immediately after thinking that, my thoughts went to straight to, “I hope if she’s ever locked and tortured in somebody’s dungeon that she knows that she is loved.” I was traumatized.
I had entered the roundabout and everything was fine and beautiful, with nothing triggering me. But when I exited the roundabout, I was crying and trying to push these anxious thoughts away with no avail.
Honestly, getting on medication was the best thing I could have done. I wasn’t haunted by those thoughts all the time, but it was so annoying and counterproductive when I was. They were intrusive and abrupt thoughts that would occur to me out of the blue, and I would get hung up and traumatized by it.
With my current pregnancy, I remember me and my 18-month-old were on the second floor of a mall so we could look over the railing to watch my husband and my two other daughters ice skate. It was during the holidays, and it was supposed to be a fun family outing, but all I could think about was what if my daughter leapt out of my arms over the railing and I just see her go splat on the sidewalk below. The next day, I made an appointment to refill my anxiety medication.
Again, we all have scary thoughts that pass through our minds, but it’s the intensity at which they come. Irrationality took over where my rational mind was slow to kick in and say, “but that won’t happen” or “yikes, that’s a scary thought”. And even though I put my daughter down and the risk was completely over, my mind still couldn’t shut that thought off.
Getting the Help You Need
If you are having these intense and intrusive thoughts, especially during pregnancy, you are not alone! These kinds of horribly intrusive and scary thoughts are actually a thing and there’s actually a treatment for it. Whether you decide to take medication, or go to therapy to talk about it, you don’t have to live with and suffer through that level of anxiety.
It really does impact your life, and when you have those kinds of intensely scary thoughts sprinkled in, it can just kind of increase your anxiety in a whole bunch of other areas too.
These compulsive and intrusive thoughts just make life and motherhood feel a whole lot scarier. We all deserve to enjoy motherhood and see the beauty in it. We have to remember to be careful and contentious to recognize what we’re going through, but being careful and contentious doesn’t mean we have to be haunted by worst possible case scenario thoughts all the time.
Chrissy is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, mom of three (soon to be four!), and lover of sleep! She owns her own sleep consulting company The Peaceful Sleeper, where she helps mamas and their babies get the sleep that they need. You can follow her on Instagram @the.peaceful.sleeper and check out her website thepeacefulsleeper.com.
designed by Michelle gifford creative
powered by Showit
We’re excited you are here, and we love you! Our hope is that we can keep this place uplifting for all types of moms in all seasons of life! So when you have 2 seconds, we hope you'll make some friends, kick back, and stay awhile!