The dark secret of motherhood

See my guest blog post on Motherhood Tabutiful.

Ive written this piece so many times over in my head. For years I’ve thought about how I’d share my story. The words I’d use, the things I’d share. My oldest is almost 6 years old and Ive never shared my story because I’ve always been too scared. I’ve had to walk away from this a few times because I can feel the tide rising by simply going back to that long dark season. Sharing my story means walking through the nightmares I’ve avoided almost every day since I first became a mom. 

But someone needs to share.

One week after having my first the anxiety began to sink in along with the sleep deprivation. I’d worry about things here or there. If his swaddle was wrapped correctly, if they were sleeping enough, if they were eating enough. Yet soon it changed. The anxiety just kept getting worse. Was the swaddle so tight he couldn’t breath, was he sleeping because he had passed away in the night, was he safe from anything and everything. I mentioned it to my doctor but always received the same responses. 

Are you sad or depressed? No. Do you have thoughts of harming your baby? No. Are you worried about hurting yourself? No. Having a baby is stressful. Worry is totally normal. You’re going to be fine. Sounds like just some change in hormones.  Don’t worry it’ll pass.

I went home telling myself that this was all normal and I was fine. Yet it just kept getting worse. I worried more often about the safety of my baby. I started sleeping less because I was so worried something would happen to him and would have to check on him multiple times. If I didn’t check on him I had to have the monitor by my bed so I could see him at all times. During the day I became overly protective just to make sure that the things that played out in my head wouldn’t come true. Slowly I started to feel like I didn’t have control of things. So I brought it up to another doctor during my next follow up. 

Are you sad or depressed? No. Do you have thoughts of harming your baby? No. Are you worried about hurting yourself? No. Having a baby is stressful. Worry is totally normal. You’re going to be fine. Sounds like just some change in hormones.  Don’t worry it’ll pass.

It’s just you. I felt like I was irrational, ridiculous and being silly with as much worrying as I was doing. And still it kept getting worse. This was the point in my journey that I stopped telling people about how I was doing. This was the point in my journey I knew that something was not right but had no idea how to talk about it. This was the point in my journey the nightmares started. They were horrible and graphic. Images of awful things happening to my son would play out in full detail in my head from start to finish. I was never the one to harm them, but was always unable to stop him from being harmed. Things that even now I can’t bring myself to fully discuss because they are too dark. At first they were just at night, but then they started play out during the day. Sometimes so realistic that I would have to stop what I was doing to physically shake them from my mind. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched my son pass away in every detail within my head only to then watch myself live out the nightmare as if I were a fly on the wall. These nightmares are the reason I check that the doors are locked each night. The reason I count the knobs on the gas stove to make sure it’s off. The reason I have to be so close to my kids at the playground like a helicopter. The reason I don’t sleep if they get sick or have any sort of repository cold. The reason I can’t read any sort of tragic headline or story online. The reason I check their carseats even though I know I’ve dropped them both off at the sitters. No matter how hard I’d try the nightmares and graphic thoughts just kept coming.

There was no point in mentioning it anymore. I just heard the same thing. I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t want to harm my baby. Get more sleep. Try to relax. This is normal. 

If it was so normal how come I felt like the only one? How come not one of my doctors took me seriously?  How come there was nothing out there that told me otherwise?

Hormones I kept telling myself. It’ll pass. This is normal.

It has never stopped.  It has never passed. It is not normal.

When I was asked to share my postpartum story I was hesitant. Never have I met anyone with a story like mine which is understandable because who wants to be the person who admits to a motherhood journey like this. Filled with worry, anxiety and mental trauma. How on earth would I even begin to share about the nightmares that played inside my head? The few times I shared even a spec of them I was called hormonal, crazy, ridiculous, or silly because obviously those would never happen. Before I wrote this I had it all worked out in my head. Everything was set to go before I got a message from a sweet friend who I was running my brief storyline by.

…girl…I think you have been misdiagnosed. I think you have postpartum OCD. What you went through is a real thing. It. Wasn’t. You.

Immediately I began researching, googling, doing everything I could to learn about what postpartum OCD even was. After the first five articles I had to stop reading because I was so overwhelmed and in tears. I didn’t understand how what I had lived through was a real thing. 

I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t just hormonal. I wasn’t a terrible or horrible person. It was a thing. With a name.

It was said maybe once to be that I had postpartum depression because I desperately needed it to be something so they tossed me that label and said farewell. After being disregarded so many times I simply tucked my secret deep inside and carried on. After all, this was a familiar, it was part of my life now. My compulsions had become second nature, almost rhythmic to check on things. So much so that when I got pregnant for the second time I stood firm and just let the storm crash over me while I endured. Silently. Secretly. Alone in the traumatic battle within my head. My oldest child is almost six years old. SIX. YEARS. That’s how long I have lived with this. That’s how long I have believed that there was a horrible, awful, terrible part of me. I have lived through this twice after each kid.

Not one doctor mentioned there were different kinds of postpartum mental health. Not one thing I ever saw mentioned postpartum OCD.  Not one person ever took me seriously. 

Six years.

I am terrified to put this all out there. To own the images in my head as real. To put myself in a position where others could possibly look at me differently. Writing this has been so hard because it means I have to face the nightmares that will resurface after I finish typing.

But  I have to.  Because now I know I am not the only one. Because somewhere else there is a mother questioning herself just like I did. Because we need to talk about these things to let others know they are not alone. We can only change what we are willing to talk about.

To the mother reading this with tears in her eyes because someone else understands what she’s going through…It’s not normal. And I am here for you.