Licensed Clinical Social Worker offering an authentic and compassionate viewpoint about all things motherhood, parenting, marriage and maternal mental health. This blog is a blend of my personal and professional experience as a mom, wife, working woman and therapist.
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In honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Krystal shares her story to help shed light on the impact of obsessive compulsive disorder during postpartum.
I in 7 women will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum.
I was lost. I had such high hopes for this glorious moment when I finally got to meet my precious baby, and she had to be rushed away in an ambulance to a NICU in another hospital. I couldn’t feel the pain in my body and not because of drugs. Labor and delivery were a breeze in comparison to the deep heart ache of my daughter being torn from my arms, as I saw it. The entire unit heard me crying in agony when she left. Of course, it was for the best and necessary for her well being, but at that moment I could only feel every inch of space that she was away from me. I couldn’t feel my pain or recovery, I could only think about getting to her as fast as I could. This is when the obsession and compulsion began.
Every single day I would be with her in the NICU from 9am to 5pm. The doctors and nurses would comment about how I was always there. They had to convince me to go home to rest and shower and that she’d be in good hands. I didn’t trust the nurses. My obsession continued. The day she came home was such a happy day but for months I couldn’t stand her father for sleeping, eating and living his life just the same as before when mine had turned completely upside down. I could no longer sleep, eat or do anything the same. At the same time every time he tried to help I wouldn’t let him.
One day my daughter’s pediatrician referred me to a therapist. I was eventually diagnosed by my in-home therapist with postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. I had obsessive thoughts about harm coming to my baby (Not from me) and these thoughts caused me to act compulsively - unable to trust anyone to take care of my daughter. I would watch anyone who cared for her like a hawk and consequently never rested. There were many many tears and in hindsight we had so few problems; she fed well, slept well and developed well.
The two most important men in my life actually helped me out. My husband explained to me how he remembers the day she was born as a miracle that the talented team of nurses and doctors were able to save her life. My worst moment is a happy memory for him, he’s thankful she was able to be taken to receive the appropriate care. He pointed out that she is thriving and that she has been since then. She is fine! This was a real revelation to me. Then around 5 months postpartum I took the nerve-wracking journey to my dad’s home in San Diego, two hours from me. Just getting in the car for a ride like this was a big step for me but while I was there I started to feel like myself again. My dad reminded me of who I am. I had forgotten the qualities of my personality that make me who I am. He simply said that I am very smart, organized and like to have a good time. I needed to be reminded who I was.
I was lost in motherhood, hormones and pure obsessive, compulsive, primal instinct. I don’t think anyone knew what was happening to me besides my grandmother. She would call periodically to reassure me and let me know that it was ok for my daughter to cry sometimes. And that I was still a good mom. I smiled in all the pictures. I never felt a disconnect from my daughter, it was almost the opposite, I felt her so much that it consumed me.
So what have I learned ? I’ve learned that you can breathe through almost any pain. Count backwards from ten, repeatedly if you have to. And it will get better! At my lowest point I called a postpartum international hotline and spoke to a volunteer. She told me it WILL get better. That’s all I really needed to hear. My postpartum fog lifted after around five months but I didn’t write the poem below until my daughter turned one.
I finally feel like myself again. Hopeful. Finding magic.
My Heart has broke open
I picked up the pieces
Fit them back together
Now I remember
My hiding place in the meadow garden
The gentle stream leading the way
The soft beat of the earth
Now I remember
How it feels to move my body this way
what the sound of the universe sends
The flow of energy down my spine
The voice deep inside
She never left
Only I was lost
What happens when you bring a new soul into the world ?
Where does each go ?
Betwixt one another
It’s a painful tear
But it’s been a year
And in hindsight it was so sweet
The bitter and the cold
Was all just honeydew on our feet
Like your father says
You came out thriving
My little love
You have begun teaching me how to love
Or maybe I am just now ready to hear.
Krystal lives in Southern California with her beautiful family. Many thanks to Krystal for sharing her story.