toddler who had been abused and subsequently died of his injuries. Like any other parent, she was affected by it. But she tried to put it at the back of her mind. And even though related thoughts and images kept popping into her head, she managed to ignore them with reasonable success.
That is, until one morning when her son was eight weeks old.
Elizabeth woke up with her head full of horrific thoughts of babies being abused and injured. No matter how hard she tried to get rid of them, the images haunted her day and night and grew more disturbing.
“I started thinking that I must want them to be in my head,” she explains. “What did that say about me?” Soon, the visions in Elizabeth’s mind started to feature her own baby as the victim and herself as the perpetrator.
“Weeks went by and I didn’t tell anyone. I was so scared, embarrassed and confused. The few times I did try to confide, I made no sense. I couldn’t go into details about what I was seeing.”
The situation was so distressing that Elizabeth could only see one way out. But just as she was planning to end her own life, what she calls “a last shred of self-preservation” made her tell her husband everything.
“He was amazing. He didn’t question me, he simply phoned my doctor who referred me back to my counsellor immediately. He knew straight away that I was suffering from another episode of perinatal OCD.”
In retrospect, Elizabeth feels that her own lack of awareness of perinatal OCD and, more crucially, the lack of knowledge among health professionals was among the most terrifying aspects of her experience.
“I was so afraid I was going mad and that they would take the baby away from me,” she says. “It was all so shameful and so against how one is supposed to think and behave as a new mother.”
Indeed, Elizabeth is now convinced that perinatal OCD, though not caused by it, is certainly aggravated by the cultural expectation of mothers.
“The reason I didn’t seek help is that I was ashamed of myself,” she says. “I felt that I had failed at being a good mother at the first hurdle. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle something as normal as being pregnant.” As stated on the website of the charity OCD-UK, there’s no danger of mothers with the condition harming their children. Quite the opposite is true: OCD is typified by the extreme lengths that mothers go through to protect their children from the perceived threat of harm.
Two years later after giving birth to her first child, Elizabeth became pregnant for a second time. In addition to being able to use some very powerful CBT techniques on herself and placing a self-imposed ban on using the Internet, she had more support and regular visits from her midwife who, like her GP, was well prepared and knowledgeable about her condition.
“Midwives and health visitors are more educated about the condition now,” she says. “But considering perinatal OCD is common and easy to treat in most cases, it’s crucial that not only health professionals pick up on it early but also that public awareness is raised.”