Recently I read a very moving article in the New York Times called “Maternal Instinct or OCD?”
Written by Kelly Kautz, it’s a piece that resonates in every new parent’s mind — is my anxiety about parenthood “normal” or is this something more? Everyone checks to make sure their sleeping baby is still breathing, right? But do they check continuously throughout the night, forgoing sleep themselves?
Everyone worries about the temperature of the bedroom, the level of air conditioning in the car, the sun glare on the baby, right? But how often? And does this anxiety make it impossible to enjoy being a parent?
Ms. Kautz vividly describes how becoming a new mother triggered a resurgence of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder she had suffered as a teenager, which she thought she had firmly under control after working with a therapist on cognitive behavior therapy. She writes how she was operating in a fog of anxiety, checking on the baby obsessively, so concerned about her baby she wasn’t enjoying her baby.
But what resonated most with me was the comments section. Reader after reader described their struggles, wondering if others were similarly suffering. Then there were the readers who counseled the writer to relax, just stop worrying, enjoy your baby. (If only it were that easy!) Or those who asked what is wrong with erring on the side of safety when it comes to taking care of an infant.
What is clear throughout the comments is everybody is empathetic, but most are also unsure of when the line is crossed into the region of a mental disorder. Is it OCD, or maternal instincts? Post-partum depression or fleeting “baby blues”?
The truth is, advice from family, friends and neighbors, while always well-meaning, can sometimes send you astray. If your feelings or anxiety is troubling you, I urge you to seek professional advice.
If you are already working with a mental health professional, you should alert them to your pregnancy and continue to stay in touch throughout the pregnancy and post-birth. This is particularly important if you are taking medication. While pregnant or nursing, every health professional you work with should be aware of every medication you are taking. That includes vitamins, OTC medications, and herbal medications, as well as prescription meds.
(As I wrote in a previous post, many medications are deemed safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding, but it’s important to check them all with your obstetrician or midwife and pediatrician.)
If you are not yet working with someone, you can start with your obstetrician or midwife and ask for recommendations. You can also work with your insurance company to find a mental health professional covered by your benefits.
In addition, national organizations usually have a resource list for you to find local professionals.
For OCD, the International OCD Foundation has a very helpful resources page with tips for looking for therapists, programs, support groups and information.
Another useful resource is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
It’s also relevant to note that anxiety on the part of new parents is by no means limited to mothers and partners should be alert to their own wellbeing, as well.
The most important thing to remember is there is no reason to be embarrassed or secretive about mental health issues. You wouldn’t want to hide hypertension and just hope it will get better, and neither should you try to ignore mental health concerns. Work as a team with your health providers and your partner to do the best for your family.