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My OCD made me believe I was a threat to my child

I felt like I couldn’t cope: one of Mia’s cries would pierce through my heart and I’d have no idea what was wrong with her (Picture: Franchesca Flack)

Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of a new life, I held my newborn daughter in front of me. 

I was instantly petrified. 

I imagined myself dropping her, blood gushing from an open wound. Tears rushed down my face as I held her against my swollen chest. ‘I’m a threat to my child. I need locking away,’ I thought. ‘Why aren’t I feeling how I’m supposed to when she was all I ever wanted?’. 

Back in June 2020, amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, I laid in the theatre unable to feel my lower body, staring at a blue sheet held in front of my chest, beneath which my heart was beating rapidly. I waited with bated breath, feeling my body being tugged and pulled. 

Then the sheet came down and there she was. Her head, chest and arms lifted out of my abdomen. She screwed up her face and cried as my emotions poured so freely. I’d waited 33 years to have a baby and now it had finally happened. I was a mother. 

I’d been warned of the baby blues. And, right on cue, five days after Mia was born, I started to feel that I had no control over my emotions. I’d cry over nothing, tears gushing at any given moment without warning. For absolutely no reason, I would seriously question if my partner Rob actually wanted to be with me, or if he was staying just because I was the mother of his child.

Sometimes I’d think I’d got the hang of motherhood – surprise myself by knowing what to do when I was alone, with no visitors allowed over the two days I stayed in hospital.

Then other times I felt like I couldn’t cope: one of Mia’s cries would pierce through my heart and I’d have no idea what was wrong with her. On top of that I felt frustrated over the slow recovery from my caesarean, unable to even sit up unaided.

I remember one day putting my hands over my face and weeping. ‘I can’t do this,’ I said to Rob.

‘You can and you are. You’re doing amazing,’ he told me – but I didn’t believe him.

Then, three weeks after Mia was born, these ‘baby blues’ were replaced by disturbing thoughts and images that would push their way into my consciousness without warning, terrorising me and making me feel like a monster. 

I would picture throwing my baby across the room. I’d see the back of her head and would imagine hitting it with a closed fist.

I’d hold her up to the mirror at the top of the stairs to make her smile, but couldn’t stop myself from imagining what would happen if I let go and she tumbled to the bottom. I’d grip her worryingly tight with each finger, using every ounce of energy to hold back the tears and paste on a smile.

I felt I was one step away from turning thought into action. It seemed so simple to do.

On one particular long car journey, as she screamed in the back I cried silently, thinking about an article I’d read about a mother who’d killed her baby by leaving her home alone for a weekend. I imagined Mia left on the bed howling – just like she was doing now in her car seat – with her nappy overflowing from the sides as the hours ticked by. 

The therapist helped me realise that everyone has unwanted thoughts but most people manage to brush them off. Instead, I gave them power (Picture: Franchesca Flack)

When the car fell silent, I thought of her gazing out of the bedroom window believing no one cared, soon to be found blue and still.

After months of holding tightly onto what felt like such a shameful secret, I had to release it. 

I spoke, avoiding eye, contact to Rob, my best friend and Rob’s siblings. With every person I told, I felt the need to declare my love for my daughter and how I experience days where my jaw aches from smiling. Instead of calling the police like I imagined, they each hugged me tight and told me I wouldn’t hurt her, but it was OK to ask for professional help.

So, in October, days before Mia turned four months old, I sat in the garden and called my doctor. 

I hesitated before describing my thoughts, thinking of the power he had to take her away from me just by calling social services. But his calm tone was encouraging, and I soon heard my own petrified voice detailing exactly how I felt. He said he believed they were only intrusive thoughts and nothing more serious.

The doctor prescribed a low dose of antidepressants, but as the weeks went by I didn’t feel any better. The Malibu mixers I had during dinner plunged me into the darkest hole. 

One evening, I curled up on Rob’s lap like a child and cried. ‘Are you going to do anything stupid?’ he asked. I fell silent. ‘If you did that, she’d grow up feeling not good enough.’ 

His comment played on my deepest insecurity. I’ve always struggled with my sense of self-worth, something I wished Mia would never have to experience. I went over to her and picked her up, tracing my finger over her tiny features.

My medication was increased.

After speaking to the doctor each day for a week, I was diagnosed with perinatal OCD. A frightening anxiety disorder where intrusive thoughts or images torture your mind. Life-altering at the best of times, and especially taboo for new mothers who are terrified of losing their child.

Following this, I had eight weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy. The therapist helped me realise that everyone has unwanted thoughts but most people manage to brush them off. Instead, I gave them power – my belief that I was awful was like a fuel to them.

As Mia turned eight months – four months after that first doctor’s appointment – I had become better at silencing the thoughts with talking, medication, exercising and Covid-approved baby classes. 

Sometimes I’m still floored by them, but mostly I shake my head and look at my daughter smiling at the spoonful of porridge I’m looping through the air like an aeroplane. I’m proud of how far I’ve come since that first thought. I believe my love for her pulled me through.

I am a good mum. Like any parent, I long for a full night’s sleep and oscillate between trying to adjust to this sudden life change and feeling my heart swell with love, yet I’d never want it any other way.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jessica.carter@metro.co.uk.

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