The day that I found out I was pregnant with my first child was the happiest day of my life. I thought I was prepared for anything and everything that motherhood would give me. I read the most well- reviewed parenting books, I joined mom groups, and I even started posting online and searching for other new mothers to connect with in the hopes of starting my journey as a mother on the right foot.
Although I thought I was prepared for everything, I was not prepared for what actually happened after I had my baby. I want to talk today about what happened when I began to have intrusive thoughts about hurting my child, how these thoughts began to ruin my life… and how I started on my journey towards healing.
Am I Crazy? When Things Went Wrong
The thought came completely out of the blue. I was standing in the kitchen and holding my newborn baby. I had just fed her, and I was deciding on what leftovers to get out of the fridge and heat up for lunch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
And then I thought, out of nowhere: “What if I put my baby in the microwave?”
The thought was so strange that I felt like my body jerked once I thought it. Why on Earth would I think something like that? I remember looking down at the face of my baby, and wondering how I could have ever thought something so horrible and crazy. Was I a bad mother?
I tried to put that thought out of my mind. I ate lunch. But then another thought came, as I was carrying my baby towards her nursery for a nap. What if I dropped my baby? What if I simply missed a step up the stairs, and my baby fell to the ground? I imagined what it would feel like, right down to imagining the scuff of my carpeted stairs on my toes. It felt so realistic that I was horrified.
When I put my baby down for her nap, I couldn’t help but check on her a dozen times–even though I normally used her nap times to pick up around the house or read a few pages in a book. But I kept thinking back to those two thoughts. Why did I have them? Was something wrong? Was I going to hurt my baby?
I was too afraid to tell my husband about them that night. So I pretended they didn't happen. But, as I quickly discovered, trying to pretend I never thought these things at all only made the feelings worse.
These thoughts began to come more and more often. I was afraid to be alone with my baby, because I was afraid they would turn from thoughts to actions. What If instead of imagining what it would be like if I put my baby in the microwave, I actually did it? I started making excuses to have friends and family members come over almost every single day. If they weren't able to come over, I took my baby out in public spaces, because I was so worried about what might happen.
I began to tell myself that I was a terrible mother. How could I be a good mother, if I was having these thoughts? I even begin to avoid holding my baby whenever possible, especially if I would be alone for any significant period of time. Because every time I help my baby, the thoughts came back.
My life was spiraling out of control. I began to feel anxious and depressed. I stop doing things I enjoyed, and could only really focus on the thoughts I kept having about harming my baby.
I needed help.
Seeking Help: What the Psychiatrist Told Me
Finally, my husband, friends and family began to notice that something was wrong. My husband confronted me one day and I broke down in tears and explained everything. Within the hour, we had an appointment booked with a psychiatrist who specialized in mother's of newborn babies.
I should have felt relieved that I was going to see a doctor. But I was worried that they would judge me and think I was a terrible person.
After a few minutes of discussion, I knew that I didn't have to be worried. Seeing the psychiatrist changed my life for the better, because it gave me perspective on my experiences.
The doctor explained that my thoughts didn't make me crazy. In fact, he said that intrusive thoughts like this are not uncommon in new mothers. He pointed out that everyone has intrusive thoughts. For instance, if you've ever walked by a ledge and thought about what it might be like to fall off, that is an intrusive thought.
He explained that thoughts are not actions, and that understanding the difference is key to re-framing how I react when these intrusive thoughts occur in my daily life.
For instance, before when I would think “What if I dropped my baby?” I would tell myself that I was a disgusting mother, and then I might really hurt my baby.
After the advice of my doctor, I always reminded myself that I have never hurt my baby, that I am a good mother in so many ways, and that I have never acted on these thoughts and having them doesn’t make me crazy.
It may seem simple, but simply re-framing how I view these thoughts and affirming that they don't make me crazy because I don't act on them, helped me to gradually feel less distressed by them. The less distressed I felt, the easier it was to reaffirm that the thoughts were simply that: thoughts.
As time went on, I felt more comfortable spending time alone with my baby. I stopped relying on the presence of others to calm me down. Eventually, the intrusive thoughts stopped. I didn’t notice, because I had long since learned to retrain my brain whenever they did come up.
Of course, the journey towards healing was long and difficult. It was not easy.
But I didn’t do it alone. I had the support of my doctor, my husband, my family and my friends. I am eternally grateful that I had a support network on my path towards dealing with these intrusive thoughts.
Remember, if you are having these thoughts, you are not alone. Seek the care of a professional doctor who can give you the tools to manage intrusive thoughts after you’ve given birth.