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When New Moms Can't Stop Worrying

When New Moms Can't Stop Worrying


Mar 26 2013
Facing OCD, mental illness, and depression beyond the "baby blues."

The night I brought my firstborn home from the hospital, I broke down and cried. In the hospital, I had been giddy with happiness. At home, I felt panicked. I realized that for all my preparation, I had no idea how to care for a baby. This wonderful, vulnerable person I had fallen so deeply in love with was now my responsibility. I was pretty sure that even if I managed to keep her alive, I'd probably ruin her life.

After a few days at home and a growing confidence that I could, in fact, keep her alive, the tables turned, and I began to suspect she would be the one to ruin my life. I was unprepared for the emotional strain of the frequent feedings, little sleep, dramatic transition, and distance from our families. Though that initial panic passed, it was months before the clouds began lifting and tears weren't always imminent.

I now believe I had at least a mild case of postpartum depression, which I failed to recognize because, like many new moms, I didn't know what caring for a new baby was supposed to feel like. I also refused to recognize it for several reasons: I lacked the courage to face what I perceived as my own weaknesses. I wanted to believe I was completely capable of handling motherhood, which I had longed for. I feared the stigma of mental-health treatment. And I was desperate to distance myself from my mother, who has schizophrenia. For many years, my worst nightmare had been inheriting her condition and being a mentally ill mother myself.

When I brought home another newborn three years later, I couldn't believe the difference. I was just as sleep-deprived, just as stretched, just as overwhelmed with the feeding demands. This second baby was colicky and in several ways harder to care for than my first. Yet I was so much stronger emotionally. The black clouds I had been waiting for didn't settle on me—that's when I realized the depression I had felt the first time didn't just come with the territory.

And now, after crawling out from under the shame I felt over my mother's mental illness, and coping with my fear that I would inherit her condition, I realize that very shame and fear kept me in pain when I could have found relief and made a much healthier start as a mom.

A New Postpartum Disorder

Postpartum depression has been on our radar for a while, but according to a new study, it's not the only mental illness to commonly strike new mothers. While only 2 to 3 percent of the general population suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), 11 percent of mothers exhibit significant symptoms of the disorder in the first six months after giving birth.

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