Intrusive Thoughts and the Postpartum I Never Envisioned

Different than postpartum depression and anxiety, intrusive thoughts can be an extremely shocking occurrence. This is one mom's story.
Having previously struggled with depression, I fully expected I wouldn’t get through the postpartum phase unscathed, and had armed myself with a Psychologist to work through any pre-baby anxieties and the PPD.

After our son was born, I experienced the full spectrum of emotions – from laughing to sobbing in a matter of moments, and a change over the simplest things. Since this emotional rollercoaster lasted only about two weeks, I got cocky feeling that I had successfully defeated PPD. It was merely the Baby Blues and a minor blip on the new Mom radar.

 

But I was doing okay

At every Doctor and Public Health appointment, you would fill of a questionnaire to gauge any PPD symptoms and receive confirmation that you were stable or improving (at least this happens in Saskatchewan!). The Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale (or some form of it) asked about ability to laugh, looking forward to activities, feelings of sadness and crying. My results continued to improve with each visit – I could feel humour and joy, while sadness was decreasing, almost disappearing. By no means did my positive results on the scale mean that I wasn’t struggling as a new mom – cracked nipple, lopsided boobs, mom guilt about one thing or another, and lack of sleep to name a few. But I was improving… and on so many occasions, I felt downright HAPPY!

 

An Unwelcome Surprise

Boy, was my world rocked the first time I had a “vision” of me standing on a hotel balcony and our son being picked up by the wind and falling fourteen floors. And they kept coming… our son blowing off the edge of a boat, car ferries sinking, fires in his bedroom while he slept, drowning in the whirlpool.

These visions would most often strike as I reached that sweet spot between awake and asleep… my heart would race, I’d start sweating, and uncontrollable tears would fall. They kept getting stronger and more frequent until the point that I was afraid to go to sleep. What new Mom can spare any minutes of sleep? But I couldn’t overcome the fear and felt like I couldn’t tell anyone these truly awful things that I imagined happening to our son… more mom guilt.

 

Through some late night googling, I learned they were called Intrusive Thoughts.

It sounded like a very serious term, and much less scifi than “vision”, which I had so endearingly named them.

Wikipedia describes them as an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. And that is exactly how I would describe them… even still knowing they are not real or rationale does not make them any less horrific.

 

I’m Not Alone

Turns out I am not the only person – there are lots of women who had similar experiences and many were able to overcome them. Armed with my wealth of knowledge and a serious cup of bravery, I told my husband what I was going through. He wasn’t completely oblivious to that fact that something was going on, but had no idea the scope. And I don’t know what I was expecting, but he was non-judgemental, supportive, respectful and gentle.

 

Finding help

With my husband’s help, I was able to bring this up for discussion with my Psychologist and began to learn some methods for handling the thoughts. As time has progressed, I have been able to decrease their frequency and limit the intensity of my physical reaction. In some instances, I have been able to desensitize myself to the thoughts by “doing” the activity to see that it is okay, such as going out on a hotel balcony while holding our son. And for others, I have made adjustments in my approach to activities including using the whirlpool when the jets are off, and having our son’s door open when he is sleeping at night. I don’t have any idea how long I will continue to struggle with Intrusive Thoughts and expect someday they will be a distant memory.

I am so thankful for the support I have received from those who have known what I am experiencing and those who were just there for me as a new mom. I want those who are suffering to know you aren’t alone – there is help and support; you just need to take the first big step of letting someone know.

Related:

How I’m Preparing for Postpartum Depression… Before the Baby Comes

Topics:Baby
More from Meghan Kennedy

Intrusive Thoughts and the Postpartum I Never Envisioned

Having previously struggled with depression, I fully expected I wouldn’t get through...
Read More

You May Also Like

8 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing! I had the same thing the first three months after my daughter was born. I kept imagining her getting kid napped or worse. It was horrible. I couldn’t sleep and I was so anxious all the time. Like you I passed all the post partum questionnaires because it didn’t feel like the post partum depression I had read about.
    What helped me: sleep training my daughter so I could finally catch up on rest, going back to work, and doing whatever it takes to get to yoga at least twice a week.
    Thanks again for sharing. We have to destigmatize post partum mental health issues.

  • I too experienced this…2 years ago after my DD was born. I suffered in silence fearing I was the only one. My symptoms eventually subsided but reading this article helped me know I am not the only one. Thank you. I hope this goes viral so no one else has to feel they are alone in this!

  • Thank you for sharing this! I experienced this with my first child but I didn’t know that it had a name. The thoughts made me feel very anxious so I thought that post partum anxiety was the culprit. My second child is 3 months old but now I know what to call these horrible daydreams that my mind cooks up. Thank you for talking about this.

  • Yes!!! Thank you for putting this into words. I suffer from Intrusive Thoughts but didn’t realize that’s what they were called. I was seeing a therapist but I didn’t feel like I was making progress in dealing with it so I stopped, hoping I would find a therapist who was a better fit but haven’t looked hard enough yet. Mine aren’t as frequent as they were after the birth of my first son two years ago, but I find them most disturbing when the thought is that I may intentionally hurt my children. I would never, but the Intrusive Thoughts don’t seem to know this.

  • Thank you so much for posting this article. My baby girl is 4 months old today and I didn’t know the name for what I have been experiencing until reading your article. The realness of these thoughts will have me anxious for hours. I plan to contact a professional to discuss coping mechanisms but really appreciate knowing I am not alone in this.

  • These thoughts are very real! I kept thinking I would accidentally or intentionally pour hot water on my child. it was awful. I was a single mom and alone at nights with the baby waking up at 2am.

    I sought help and hired a nanny. (Just put it on my credit card). I was so overwhelmed and in such deep emotional pain. I realize some moms can lose it if they don’t have anyone to talk to or help them.

    Our current model for mothers is not sustainable. We are doing EVERYTHING from working, trying to stay thin, sexing up our partners, birthing and loving. It is not surprising that women have intrusive thoughts.

  • I also worry that I will suffer badly once my little one is here. I’m currently 26 weeks pregnant. And have suffered from depression and anxiety (mostly anxiety) since my teenage years. Surprisingly it’s been quite good since falling pregnant (fingers crossed), and I have only had a couple of tiny wobbles. I have an amazing support system ready for myself for, after birth, my partner and my mother who I know are ready to ‘pick me up’ and support me mentally when the time comes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.