My first child was born 3 weeks after my 23rd birthday. He was perfect and the joy I felt when I first held him in my arms made my heart swell. I knew instantly that I would do anything for him and that I would do whatever it took to give him the best life possible. In that moment I never would have imagined the thoughts that would soon enter my mind.
The first few months were hard as a single mom. A new career, not enough money and definitely not enough sleep created long days, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. Until one day, they started.
At first they were quick thoughts that came out of nowhere. I was scared and I was ashamed. Soon, these intrusive thoughts I was having started to take over my days. I would be giving him a bath, laughing and smiling, when suddenly I would have a crippling fear that I would drown him. What if I did? I certainly didn’t want to, but what if it happened?
I would be making dinner, singing away to the radio, when images of cutting him entered my mind. I had to put away knives and scissors and move things out of easy reach. I was terrified that I would hurt him, or worse. It’s difficult to write that even today, 10 years later.
These thoughts and images started to impact every part of my day. One morning I found myself at the top of the stairs of my apartment complex, crying and clutching my son because I was terrified I would throw him down. I couldn’t face it, I was paralyzed with fear. I went back into my apartment and called in sick to work. I couldn’t risk hurting him and I didn’t trust myself to even carry him to my car.
I had never heard of other people having this issue and I was afraid of speaking up. It become a dark secret that started to eat away at my soul. What if they took him away from me? What if people found out the truth? I knew that these thoughts were horrible and I felt so much shame for them entering my mind. I was terrified of hurting him but I was also terrified of leaving him; of not being there to protect him. I fell down into a hole of depression, with each week getting worse than the previous.
Then one day I hit my breaking point. I found myself on the floor of my living room, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t live like that anymore. I didn’t want to face another thought, another crying spell, another day spending all of my energy just trying to make it through. I need rest, sleep, peace – I need it to end.
That was that day that I planned to kill myself. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I went through each scenario trying to determine which method would be best. I looked over at my son on the floor next to me; screaming along with my audible cries. What would happen to him once I was gone? Would he be sent out of state to live with a father he didn’t know? Would he be taken care of? What type of life would he be left to live?
In that moment, I decided that he would have to leave this world with me. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, leave him to an unknown fate.
I can’t tell you how it feels to look back on a day and to say, “that was the day I planned to kill myself and my infant son.” My heart breaks and tears still fall when I realize what could have happened. But, thankfully, that day instead became my turning point.
I suddenly felt the fog lift. I had immediate, complete clarity and I was shocked at the thoughts that were circulating in my mind. I crawled to the phone book, found the number of a suicide hotline and made the call.
That is the day that turned my life around. I found a doctor, I got on medication, I moved in with my mom and my life once again was filled with joy. I went from utter hopelessness to joy in a matter of months.
Until this happened, I had never heard of postpartum OCD. I knew what postpartum depression was, but intrusive thoughts were never part of the description. In truth, it took a while for me to even reveal these thoughts to my therapist. I felt so much shame that it was easier to only confess the depression. Once I learned more about postpartum OCD and postpartum depression, I felt a weight lift. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t going to hurt my child, he wasn’t going to be taken away, and I would move past this.
I’ve kept this story hidden from nearly everyone, but I know that the only way to help others is to have these types of difficult conversations. I had never heard about postpartum OCD because no one around me had ever talked about it. If I had known what is was, if I would have been able to recognize the signs, I likely never would have had that day on my living room floor. I am well aware of what could have happened and I will be eternally thankful for the unexplained gift of clarity that was given to me. A gift that I pray is given to others.
Postpartum OCD is estimated to affect 3-5% of woman. Research has shown that mothers with postpartum OCD are aware of the bizarre nature of their thoughts and are at an extremely low risk of acting on them. For more information visit: http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-or-postpartum-obsessive-symptoms/