You can read My Postpartum Anxiety: Part 1 here.
I haven’t been fully honest about my experience with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Part 1 of my experience was easy to write. So many moms feel that way, and even though postpartum depression, anxiety, and other perinatal mood disorders aren’t discussed as much as they should be, I feel there is less stigma associated with excessive crying, anger, and feeling overwhelmed than there is with what I’m about to write about today.
There is something I’ve thought about writing so many times when I was dealing with it with G. I didn’t have the guts to. I didn’t have the guts to tell anybody. So I kept a scary little secret.
Thoughts. The ones that make me not want to give my children baths. The ones that make my heart jump into my throat when I have to carry L down the stairs. The ones that make me consider turning back home when I am almost to the exit for the interstate.
I’ve sat on this draft for days. I’ve been scared to hit “Publish” because, even though I’m sure I will help someone with this post someday, it’s hard to admit the thoughts that spontaneously wiz through my head.
Sometimes they take an extremely scary life of their own. When we were living in the apartment after G was born my anxiety was heightened when I had to wait for the elevator. I was scared that someone was going to be on there with a gun and start shooting us as soon as the door opened. This happened every single time I had to use the elevator, and I had to use it every day. Every day.
The other night I was rocking L and Hubby was watching a video with G. We had been doing yard work and I couldn’t remember if the garage door had been shut. I panicked, imagining someone coming in with a chain saw and chopping us all up.
Some thoughts I can eventually come out of by telling myself the likelihood of those things happening is extremely small. It’s my imagination. Sometimes they are triggered by something I saw or read about (the shooter scenario started after the Sandy Hook school shooting). I’m learning to stay away from anything with a story line that could send my imagination into overdrive, though it is hard with the amount of news stories being posted on social media. I’m quite clueless about what’s happening in the world outside my home right now.
But even scarier are the thoughts of me harming my children. Intentionally. Those are harder to shake off. Am I capable? I don’t think so. But why would I think about doing something to hurt them on purpose?
I don’t have them as much with G now that he is older. I worry more about him running into the middle of the road and getting hit by a car or someone snatching him if my back is turned. The thoughts of doing something harmful to “see what would happen” to him really aren’t there anymore.
But they are with L. They are there every day.
I wanted so desperately to talk to my counselor about this when I was seeing one before we moved. My second to last session with her I tried. “Sometimes I’ll be driving with G in the back seat and I’ll vividly envision us in a horrible car accident and I start panicking.” She told me it was normal thinking for a new mom and it was my brain’s way of reminding me to be extra careful and start paying attention.
Despite my misgivings, I attempted to bring it up with the therapist I was seeing when we first moved into our house. “Hubby put some sort of rodent poison in the back yard and I’m envisioning G eating it and dying.” I was laughed at and told the odds of that happening were next to nothing.
After two sessions with my new therapist, I decided to try again. Because really. I shouldn’t be thinking about my exit strategy for someone breaking in with the intention of killing us with a chain saw.
I didn’t know what to expect. Ms. H has definitely proven to me she knows her shit regarding the ins and outs of perinatal mood disorders. But I couldn’t help but worry. Would I be told I’m being ridiculous? Would I be blown off as being normal when this didn’t seem normal?
Turns out I am normal. But what Ms. H did made her stand out compared to the other therapists I’ve seen during my journey to parenthood.
She thanked me for admitting that I’m experiencing something. She took the time to look up a book*** for me to read. She gave me her cell and home phone number. She insists I call her on the weeks I don’t have an appointment to check in.
Ms. H took the time to assess me to determine if my scary thoughts would be acted upon (which usually happens when a person is experiencing postpartum psychosis) and if they stemmed from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety or both. She didn’t write me off. No other therapist has done that for me.
I haven’t gotten very far in the book, but I have learned that about 91% of new moms (and 88% of new dads) experience scary, intrusive thoughts. 91%. That number shocked me.
I had instructions to tell Hubby about these thoughts. That might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to admit to him. We didn’t have an in-depth discussion. I don’t think Hubby knew what to say or what to think. Who expects their wife to say she is having thoughts of harming her kids? I don’t blame him. Actually, I still don’t know how to talk about it.
I will say that opening up and telling people I’m having scary, intrusive thoughts seems to have made me more aware that is what they are: thoughts. It’s normalized them so I haven’t panicked as badly as before when they pop into my head.
In therapy we discuss my triggers. As I’ve mentioned before, lack of sleep (or if I perceive I didn’t get enough) is a huge one. If I’m tired I cannot cope with whining and crying very well. If I can’t get L to stop crying I get stressed. The feeling of being overwhelmed sets in and that’s when some of the scarier thoughts happen. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to hand my babies over to Hubby because I was scared I’d actually act on a thought.
We don’t discuss this part of being a new parent. We should. Reading that statistic made me realize I’m not alone. You may be experiencing them too. Shit, if you’re a parent you more than likely have. We aren’t alone.
Yet, misunderstanding and stigma play a huge role in the silence. We need to normalize what happens to the majority of parents.
Most parents won’t need hospitalization for their thoughts. Most parents won’t have their babies taken from them because of their thoughts.**
I am not my thoughts and neither are you.
We need to end the silence. That is why I’ve taken a deep breath and clicked “Publish.”
** Even though intrusive thoughts happen to the majority of new parents, learning to cope with them is essential. Sometimes they stem from postpartum depression, sometimes postpartum anxiety, sometimes both. Sometimes they are psychotic in nature. No matter what they stem from, they need addressed. If you are experiencing them, pretty please see a medial professional and don’t blow them off based on anything I’ve said here. I’m not a doctor of any sort. I highly recommend finding a counselor or therapist experienced in working with people with perinatal mood disorders since they should have the resources to evaluate your specific situation properly. You can also visit Postpartum Progress for more information about these conditions. Don’t forget: you aren’t alone.
*** The book Ms. H recommended is called Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts. It’s definitely helping me understand more about what’s going on in my head.