Feeling anxious, or having obsessive thoughts, like you can't stop worrying about bad things happening?
Pregnancy and postpartum are challenging times for a woman's mental health
During pregnancy, a woman experiences a multitude of rapid changes to her body, brain, and her hormonal system, as well as going through complex identity adjustments. Postpartum, the changes continue while a woman is also recovering physically. A new mother can feel especially anxious or depressed, as well as alone or isolated with these feelings. There is also often extra stigma, even shame, that a woman carries as she wonders "what's wrong with me?" This is why seeking professional support can be so important - so that you're not left questioning your worth or abilities as a mother.
Read some quick tips on how to support yourself during the postpartum period. Or read more on how to support a partner who's struggling.
Understanding Perinatal OCD
Perinatal OCD is a type of anxiety disorder appearing during pregnancy, or the first year postpartum, characterized by obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (acting on those thoughts).
Anxious thoughts in motherhood are normal, and they often center on the wellbeing of your child and/or other people that you love.
These anxious thoughts can sometimes show up as "harming infant thoughts" aka intrusive thoughts. Some examples may include:
"What if I fall down the stairs while carrying my baby?"
"What if the baby catches a deadly illness?"
"What if the baby stops breathing while I'm not watching?"
"What if I drive off this cliff with the baby in the car?"
- "What if my husband dies on the way home from work?"
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
When these thoughts are frequent, intense, causing a disruption for the woman or interfering in her ability to care for herself or her baby, then they may fall under the umbrella of a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). Only a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can make this diagnosis.
Sometimes these thoughts become so overwhelming, a person begins to develop rituals, rigid behaviours, called compulsions. Our psychological understanding is that these behaviours are a subconscious attempt to cope with the intense thoughts and reduce the anxiety that they create. Unfortunately, this only further negatively impacts the a woman's life, including her relationships, and often interfering her ability to find joy in motherhood.
Therapy can help you to:
- Understand the complex challenges of the transition into parenthood. Many new parents think they’ll be able to do it all. The “supermom” and “superdad” myths keep parents stuck in a loop of constantly thinking they can do better/do more, often leading to shame around the thoughts that they are having or their level of functionality. Illuminate works with new parents to build compassion for themselves in a time period where there is so much change.
- Learn coping tools for intrusive thoughts. We’ll explore new “tools” to add to your “coping toolbox” - these will be customized based on your needs. You’ll gain tools and strategies to help you cope with the unwanted intrusive thoughts and other ways that Perinatal OCD may be negatively impacting your life.
- Build self-compassion and identify inner resources. We’ll examine what you’re already doing to support yourself. You may not be aware of it yet, but there’s always something helpful you’re already doing for yourself.
- Recognize familiar patterns. Our relationship with our emotional self begins to develop in childhood and adolescence - quite often emotional challenges that are showing up today are actually old/familiar messages from childhood being triggered by current stressors (like having a new baby).
- Explore the roots of where your symptoms are coming from. There is power in understanding WHY your body & mind are doing what they’re doing.
- Understand & process birth trauma. Following a traumatic vaginal birth or c-section, it is common to experience an array of disturbing symptoms, including anxiety, worry, depression, flashbacks, hypervigilence, anger, etc. Counselling can help you make sense of these and work through psychological barriers.
- Connect with additional mental health referrals if necessary. Your Illuminate therapist will assess the severity of symptoms and you’ll discuss what seems “normal” or “typical” for you with this big life change. It takes a village to support a struggling parent, so appropriate referrals are regularly made.