by Brittany Bowman
This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.” Stories from the community are submitted and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”― Brené Brown
I would like to live my life with less filters and be less guarded about my struggles. I tend to choose my favorite pictures and moments to post on social media but leave out the details of what takes place in between those moments.
My journey with motherhood has just begun. My son, Joel, is now six months old. I can barely believe it. Where have the last few months gone? There have been so many exciting firsts in our household: Joel’s first smile, first laugh, first time sitting up unassisted.
There has also been a great struggle. After giving birth to Joel, I struggled immensely with postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). It felt as if the postpartum OCD set in gradually and increased in intensity over time. I have lived with OCD for as long as I can remember; I was diagnosed in my early 20s but I struggled with it long before that time. I have received therapy in the past and have been able to keep it at bay with the help of treatment and the support of my family. I hoped that I would be able to manage the OCD after having Joel. But much to my disappointment, OCD came knocking even louder at my door after giving birth.
The OCD manifested itself in different ways: I became constantly fearful of maintaining Joel’s safety. Of course, all mothers want their children to be safe but this level of fear and anxiety was significantly high. I began to doubt my own ability to keep him safe. I became obsessed with the fear that I may harm him. Let me be clear: I had no desire to bring any harm upon him, but I couldn’t get the intrusive images and thoughts out of my head. The more I tried to analyze the thoughts, the stronger the OCD became.
You see, that’s what OCD does: it attacks what you hold most dear.
I tried to tell as few people as possible but as time passed, it became increasingly difficult to hide. Eventually I reached out to loved ones and I am thankful for all the love and support of my family and friends. I have made great improvements over the last few months as a result of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, medication, attending a support group, and the support of loved ones. Through sharing my story with my support group, I became encouraged to share my story with a wider audience. The support group has offered me a sense of community and new friendships with people who understand what it’s like to live with OCD.
It also doesn’t hurt to have an incredibly handsome, dimpled, little babe to help brighten some of your darkest days.
For all those who are struggling with postpartum OCD, please remember:
1) There is nothing to be ashamed about.
2) Reach out to someone you trust. We all need each other!
3) It is important to talk about subjects that are considered to be “taboo.”
4) Seeking therapy and treatment to manage the OCD is important. Healing takes time and sometimes feels out of reach, but it is possible.
On my journey of healing and navigating all the firsts of new motherhood, I am grateful for each moment I feel a little more peace and the OCD becomes a little quieter.
Please always remember, you are not alone. No matter what you are going through, there are people who can support you if you reach out for help.
Brittany Bowman lives in northern West Virginia with her husband Mark, her son Joel, three cats and a beautiful St. Bernard mix, Maggie. She hopes to be an advocate for those struggling with OCD and more specifically postpartum OCD.
I too suffered from intrusive thoughts about harming my child. I went so far as to tell my husband that we couldn’t keep her, she needed a better mother, and I believed it. I also suffered from PPD and the days were darkly. With support from my family, friends, doctors and the help of ECT, I was starting to feel my new self again again by the time my daughter turned one. Remember you are not alone and you are enough.
Thank you for sharing your story and for your encouraging words!
Thank you Brittney
Thank you so much for sharing. It’s a very important topic. I’ve suffered with OCD since age 12 and I’m 65 now. I had postpartum depression after I had my daughter 28 years ago. It mostly manifested itself in a complete lack of sleep (TOTAL insomnia) and no appetite at all, even when my mother was there cooking my most favorite things – food made me feel sick. I bottle fed my daughter so I could go back on my medication. But then I was afraid to go back on my medication as I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up when she needed me. So, I didn’t take my medication and that just made everything worse. I bottle fed her and was convinced she didn’t “like me” because she would take a bottle better from my husband and my mother – it seemed like she cried when I tried to feed her. I’ve often wondered if she picked up on my stress. I felt guilty that I wasn’t a carefree confident happy mom like I thought other people were. I finally talked to my psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PPD and I got treatment.
I’m glad you were able to find treatment. Thank you for sharing your story. I too suffered from postpartum depression I believe. The happy and confident person I used to be felt non-existent. I felt so hopeless and alone. One thing I have learned through this journey is that we are certainly not alone! I now feel like I am on a road of healing and have moments, sometimes hours, or days that I feel like me again. Take care.
Dear Brittany, As strange as it might sound, if you have OCD, today is a good time to have it. It is so uplifting to read stories such as yours, knowing what courage it takes to share the intimate details of this bizarre disorder. I have suffered from harming obsessions since I was 12 years old. When my children were born in the 1980s, there were no avenues available to share my struggles. ERP for OCD was unheard of, medications were all in trials to figure out what would work, and support groups were non-existent. And, even as time went on and OCD and its treatments were acknowledged and studied, no one really wanted to talk out loud about one of the lesser known types of OCD — which is harming obsessions. Thanks to courageous people like you, we no longer have to keep our struggles a secret.
Brittany, I’m so glad you shared your story. You’re a great mom to Joel. It takes a lot of guts to share your story like this.
Thanks, Megan! I really appreciate it!
Thank you, Laura, for sharing about your journey! Were you able to find treatment to help later on?
Thank you for sharing your story. I think many of us in the community can relate to it.
Absolutely! It’s nice to be a part of a community that is so loving and understanding!
New dad here, but I sympathize so much with this. Thanks for your courage in sharing this so openly so we can all of us be more honest about the challenges of parenting with OCD
Hi, Chris! I found it was difficult to share in the beginning. Sometimes it still is but the more I share my story the less alone I feel. I am sure it is beyond difficult to struggle with OCD as a dad too! Thank you as well for being so honest!
Reading these comments is so reassuring. I was so alone for the first 25 or 30 years I had OCD. I went to many different doctors and nobody knew what was wrong with me. I truly believed i was going crazy. When I had my first child my OCD was so bsd i was sure i was going to have to give my baby up. I was diagnosed by the time I had my second child. What a difference it made. When my anxiety became overwhelming I had support. i am 65 now and see a therapist off and on as I need but I am also so much more open about my OCD. it has made all the difference being able to share experiences with people who understand.
Thank you, Wendy, for sharing. I’m glad you are able to be open about your OCD. I have found that to be helpful. Take care!
Hi Brittany I want to thank you for sharing your story. I have suffered from OCD at an early age but at that time they did not know anything about it. It was not until I had my first child back in 1985 that I was diagnosed. I suffered many different forms of OCD over the years but it was the harm OCD that I struggle the most with after giving birth to my three daughters. I have a wonderful psychiatrist and I have been in therapy CBT on and off plus I am taking meds. A year ago I had a really bad relapse where I had to stop babysitting my granddaughter out of fear of being able to keep her safe. I returned to therapy and was prescribed new meds plus the support of my family and friends my OCD has been manageable. I notice though when I hear the news of a tragedy occurs involving a child it really can set me off. I am now 60 years old and will be getting a grandson in February I pray that my OCD will stay manageable. Thank you for allowing me to share.
Thank you, Brenda, for sharing. Congratulations on your grandson! I too hope you will find your OCD to be manageable. Best wishes!
Thank you so much for your courage. My OCD started with germaphobia at age 13, but I only learned of OCD in my late twenties. I struggle every day in ways that are hard for people without OCD to comprehend. Right now I am stopping a med that has been causing massive food cravings and some weight gain and my withdrawal is so hard. I’m not sure how to move forward. Thank goodness I have some support. Feel free to share your thoughts/advice.
Hi Dorothy! Thank you for sharing your struggles. I know it can be very challenging to open up about OCD. Are you currently in therapy/treatment to help? If you are able to find a therapist who understands exposure and response prevention therapy it can make a huge difference. One thing I like to remind myself is that I am not my OCD. OCD makes it challenging to see sometimes but does not define who we are.
Thank you all so much for sharing your stories. I have had ocd since I was a little girl and exacerbated in my 20’s, thank God for my family they really found me the help I needed with medicine and a amazing psychiatrist and my family support. It’s so scary when my thoughts are worse some days more then others but learned different thing to try and stop thought I got married about two years ago and my husband and I have been talking of having a baby but I’m so scared. I’m afraid it will exacerbate my ocd since I have a severe case and will my medicine effect the child or can I even be able to take care of a child when some days are hard for myself? I also have a hormonal subtype so before my periods my ocd gets worse. I don’t know what to do or if everything will be ok. My husband really wants a child but I don’t know if I can go through emotionally, physically or. mentally. I’m sorry for venting. ANy advice, I would love
I completely understand what you are going through. Deciding whether or not to have a child is a difficult decision, not to mention, throw in OCD, and that makes the decision even more difficult. I would suggest talking this through with your husband and make sure he is aware of your concerns. Also, I would talk to your psychiatrist about your question regarding medicine and pregnancy. Have you done Exposure and Response Prevention therapy with your therapist? The goal of this therapy is not to stop the thoughts but change our reaction to the thoughts. Our horrified reaction to the thoughts is what makes OCD stronger. I know for me I greatly wanted a child and didn’t want to let OCD stop my from living my live how I wanted to. Although you and your husband are just as much a family whether or not you have a baby. Hang in there! The journey of life with OCD is tough but it is one worth fighting for! Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook if you ever want to chat more.