postpartum OCD, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorderAs I shared earlier this week, it is possible that postpartum OCD occurs much more often than originally thought, perhaps in as many as 10% of new moms.

Since there’s so much discussion about postpartum OCD in the news, I wanted to make sure we talked a little more about it here. I have a lot of personal interest, since that’s what I struggled with. I remember combing through websites and forums looking for information that would help explain what was wrong with me, and when I saw the typical short lists of postpartum depression symptoms I really couldn’t see myself. Yes, I was upset and miserable, but the lists didn’t mention anything about disturbing thoughts or constant worry and being continuously afraid that I’d mess up or hurt my baby.

When you don’t see yourself reflected in the information that’s available, that’s just as scary as the illness itself. You start to believe you’ve really gone irretrievably crazy and that no one will be able to fix you. You’re an island. A terrifying island. Once I finally found out there was such a thing as postpartum OCD I was profoundly angry that no one had warned me it was possible to have something called intrusive thoughts and they didn’t mean I was a monster.

I think part of the problem stems from the belief most of us have of what OCD looks like. We think of OCD as someone who hoards things or washes their hands a million times a day and if we aren’t doing those things we can’t imagine that we might have obsessive-compulsive disorder. While those are certainly potential signs, intrusive thoughts (scary “what if” thoughts) are another. So are compulsions like checking on the baby over and over again or, like I did, folding and refolding all the burp cloths so they were perfectly square.

If you have postpartum OCD or anxiety symptoms like these, know that it’s okay. You’re not ruined forever, you’re not a danger to society, and you’re not a bad mom. You just need a little help. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD and PPOCD are common and fully treatable. I’d suggest reaching out to a local advocacy group or calling PSI at 1-800-944-4PPD to find the support people closest to you so that you can get help from someone who understands postpartum OCD and how to help you.

Meantime, here’s my personal postpartum OCD story which appeared in Newsweek magazine in 2004. I thought you might like to see that you’re definitely NOT alone.

(P.S. You also might like this one: Does Having Scary Thoughts Mean You’ll Act On Them?)