My son was born on September 24th, 2012 and the postpartum journey began immediately…
On the 4th day we finally left the hospital…. Why so long? Well I felt like I could use the extra help since I just had a C-Section and I was terrified to bring this adorable little bundle home. Luckily, I had the help of my family, as being a single mom isn’t easy. As soon as I got home I bawled my eyes out… I was sooooo overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Life in the hospital was easy as there was a set routine that was predetermined by the nurses schedule. I had to figure this shit out all on my own. Almost immediately I started to have scary thoughts. Thoughts in the middle of the night that were just so awful. Baby boy would wake up screaming because he was hungry, like most babies do, and I’d pick him up out of his bassinet and feed him…. But during the process I’d have scary thoughts like “What if I just twisted his little head and snapped his neck? Surely he would die, but he wouldn’t be hungry or cry or have to deal with me as his mom.” Freaked me out so bad that I’d lay him back in his bassinet and try to feed him from there so he wouldn’t be in my arms so I couldn’t hurt him. I blamed the scary thought on sleep deprivation and the hormone fluctuation that I was positive I was experiencing. The same thought would happen every night while feeding him. Then came bath time… His umbilical stump fell off rather quickly so I could give him a full bath. I filled the little blue tub up with about an inch of warm water, got all the towels, shampoo, baby lotion, diaper and a clean outfit ready. It was going to be a special bonding time, right? Wrong. Scary thoughts filled my head halfway through the bath, “I could drown him right now… Or what if he slips out of my hands and falls on his head? I’m a horrible mother.” That ended bath time pretty quickly because I was terrified of drowning him or dropping him. All of these beautiful bonding experiences were destroyed because of these scary thoughts. But it gets worse…. So much worse. I was driving on the freeway to take him to a follow up appointment with his pediatrician when the thought of slamming the car into the cement median. It would surely kill both of us and images of the scene and our bodies flashed through my head. I started crying because I knew that I didn’t want to hurt or kill either one of us. Why were these thoughts harassing me? I vowed to get more sleep. The next day I had a follow up appointment with my OB. I was asked general questions and questions related to postpartum depression. I wasn’t depressed, I honestly answered no to every question. But then she asked me if I was having any scary thoughts. I told her no. She left the room for a few minutes and during that time I pondered if I should tell her the truth. Would she think I’m crazy? Would she get someone to take my baby away? But could I continue to live with the scary thoughts? She came back into the room and I cried and told her that I know I’m not crazy but I was having scary thoughts. I couldn’t tell her what the thoughts were as I was terrified of them and thought they might come rushing back. She asked me if I’m okay to drive home and if I planned on doing immediate harm to myself or my child. Of course, I had no intention of harming myself or my son… I just wanted these thoughts to end.
She referred me to a psychologist who was “really good dealing with postpartum women”. I called him and was able to get in the next day. The psychologist told me that it is 100% NORMAL to have either postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or both. What I had was postpartum anxiety. Finally, a label to these horrible thoughts. Labeling what I was going through was the first step in healing and recovering. I googled it when I got home… And I did a lot of reading about postpartum anxiety. Did you know that it’s estimated that almost 80-90% of men and women have postpartum anxiety? It’s estimated because most people won’t get help for it in fear that they might have their children taken away. I know I thought that way.
But how do you get your brain to quit scaring you? First, realize that the thought is a scary thought. By identifying it as a scary thought, it gives you the power. I remember during another bath time the scary thought of drowning my son came. I stopped, told myself it was a scary thought… And used that scary thought in a positive way… I lowered the bath water a little bit. Scary thoughts are your subconscious fears coming forward. I was so scared of harming my child accidentally, as all new parents fear. By identifying the scary thought as exactly that, it gave me the power over it and the thoughts still came, but didn’t last as long. Second, seek professional help. By seeing a psychiatrist I was able to openly discuss my fears and eventually I was able to discuss the actual thoughts (it’s hard at first to admit you thought about drowning your child, even though you know that you would never ever ever in a million years do it). He also prescribed me Zoloft, a SSRI, that helps people with depression and anxiety disorders. It took a few weeks to experience the full effect, but the thoughts were less frequent and didn’t last long if they showed up.
My son is now 3.5 months old and I haven’t had a scary thought in over a month. I’m no longer seeking professional help and I’m no longer on the Zoloft. I now enjoy the little moments with my son, rather than fear them. Bath time is fun, well at least for me… he still screams, and the middle of the night feelings are so peaceful and I enjoy snuggling with him. Being a mother is amazing.
I decided to write this to help others. If you are getting scary thoughts, speak up. The sooner you speak up the sooner they will go away and the sooner you can start enjoying your child’s babyhood. They are only so small for so long. Having scary thoughts doesn’t make you crazy. It means that you are a great parent who wants to take the best care of your child.