This post is written for PNDAW17. This year PANDAS Foundation are concentrating on pre-natal mental health, highlighting how illnesses such as depression, anxiety and OCD can affect mental wellbeing during pregnancy.
I’m crouched outside of our bedroom listening intently for the sound of my daughter breathing.
It took ages to get her to sleep, and I’ve checked on her four or five times since then. Logic tells me she’s ok, but my brain won’t rest until I’ve been in and gently put my hand on her chest.
After each time I’ll be able to relax for a few minutes but, inevitably, the thoughts will start again. I’ll keep checking the monitor. Then I’ll stare, watching her chest move up and down. Then I’ll feel the need to check on her again.
Sounds like normal behaviour for someone with a newborn doesn’t it?
What if I told you my daughter was twelve months old?
What if I told you that everytime I get the urge to check on her that I also have to touch the wooden table I’m sat at as a way to keep the bad thoughts away?
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Simply put OCD is a series of obsessive thoughts that are dealt with by the use of a compulsive behaviour. In this case the thought is that my daughter has stopped breathing in her cot, and the compulsion is both touching wood and then going and checking on her.
I’d tried lots of medication and therapy prior to my diagnosis at age twenty, but it took having private therapy for things to really click, and on a day to day basis I was coping pretty well.
Then I became pregnant.
Unexpectedly. My world was turned upside down.
We hadn’t planned to get pregnant, and since I had been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and didn’t appear to be ovulating the chance of me becoming pregnancy seemed slim. To say I was shocked is an understatement. My normal reaction in situations of stress is to run. Unfortunately there’s no way to run from cells that are rapidly dividing in your uterus. You kind of have to deal with the situation.
It is really difficult when you know you should be happy, and everyone is congratulating you and the reality is that you’re terrified and hurtling towards an unknown that you have no way of coping with.
Pregnancy was scary. I had “complications” and there wasn’t a day I didn’t think I would lose my baby. I developed coping rituals to try and deal with the anxiety: I started colouring books in the hope that it might allow me some respite from my own brain. Every scan we had I would turn my face to the wall, expecting to hear the baby didn’t have a heartbeat.
I made good friends with Dr. Google, analysing every little twinge and ache, checking ingredients in all products to try and reduce risk. I even struggling to have blood taken during my pregnancy, the fear of contamination actually caused my blood flow to slow down when the needle was in.
I opted for a home birth, in an effort to help myself remain as calm as possible. My reasoning was that being in a familiar environment might help reduce my stress levels and therefore bring about an easier birth. That didn’t work out. I ended up with Gestational Diabetes and was scheduled to be induced at thirty-seven weeks.
I’m not sure how people without OCD face impending labour. I worried that I wouldn’t want to hold my baby because of the blood, I was concerned about going into hospital and the risk of Pippin or I contracting something, I was scared of sharing a bathroom with other women on the ward after the birth in case of contamination, and I was really scared that my OCD would come back with a vengeance.
As it turns out I coped better than I expected.
My birth was not idea or as planned. I was never given the choice to have her birthed onto my chest, as she was born via emergency caesarean and immediately taken away whilst they dealt with my bleeding uterus. I breast fed, the decision was almost made for me as I had expressed colostrum to be taken over to the SBCU for my poorly daughter. I also managed to share the bathroom with the other women, because the only way I was getting out of that ward was to pee and nothing would stop me seeing my little girl.
It wasn’t easy, and in the first few weeks after her birth I was plagued with intrusive thoughts. I look back and I can feel a little of what I went through in those early weeks. I remember feeling sick every time I tried to feed my daughter, and the dread that appeared towards the end of the day when I knew I had to have my daily injection. It’s still not easy some days: I’m having therapy again to help me deal with the trauma of the birth and the separation from my daughter, but I’m here and my daughter is doing well.