Ex­treme Lengths

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Beauty -

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.”

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