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 out 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 the ability to laugh, looking forward to activities, feelings of sadness and crying. My results continued to improve with each visit – I could feel humor 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.
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 intrusive 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.