For as long as I can remember, I never wanted to have children. As a young girl, my parents bought me dolls but they sat untouched; instead I would don one of my dad’s ties and carry his briefcase around the house giving people orders. As a teenager, my friends would talk about how cute kids are and how much they wanted to be mothers one day; all I wanted was a fancy office, a big paycheck and for people to respect me. Into my twenties, my friends all started having children of their own. As soon as they announced their pregnancies, one by one, I felt as though I had lost them. I couldn’t relate to them anymore, nor them to me, and it felt like they had given up their own lives to look after these little terrors that crush your hopes and dreams. People told me I would change my mind, to wait a few years. I was adamant I could never see it happening. In the background my mental health issues were debilitating and impacted every other aspect of my life, but it had never occurred to me that my reluctance to procreate might also be a result of my poor mental health. So it was nothing short of an intense shock to the system when suddenly, less than a year ago, something changed. A close friend of mine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. As soon as I looked into his eyes I knew I wanted one of these beautiful little creatures in my life.
“A close friend of mine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. As soon as I looked into his eyes I knew I wanted one of these beautiful little creatures in my life”
Right now, this decision – whether or not to have a baby – is all-consuming in my thoughts. The hormones have clearly taken hold and suddenly all the reasons I had in the past for never wanting to be a mother flew out the window. What everybody said will happen, happened. (This annoys me greatly, and I strongly believe that motherhood is not for everyone and should not be an expectation placed on women of any age. So although things have changed for me, I don’t like the fact that people feel the need to predict this; keep it to yourself please.) Those reasons, the reasons I told myself we would remain a childfree couple – liking our sleep/peace and quiet, not wanting to sacrifice couple time, not wanting to sacrifice our careers or travel plans, the fact that kids are messy and noisy and hard work, etc etc – all seem trivial now. But I now know they weren’t the real reasons I was firmly against becoming a mother. The real reasons are the ones that are now dominating my thoughts, causing me to ask myself over and over in my head – should you do this? The real reason is that I’m not sure that I should have children because of my mental health.
The most obvious concern is that having a baby will trigger my pure o thoughts, and that without the ability to distance myself from my triggers, I won’t be able to cope with them. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my pure o thoughts involved harming children. Not just children, but the thoughts involving children were the most distressing ones. Vulnerable and defenceless children. As a teenager/young adult I couldn’t watch TV in case a commercial came on for baby formula or nappies, and I would imagine myself harming the child on the screen. I told myself then that I could never, ever have children in case I had thoughts about them. It was one thing to have a thought about a random child, a child who wasn’t under my care or whose well-being I was responsible for. But to imagine harming my own child? A child that depended solely on me to survive and thrive? A child that would be in my presence almost 24/7; no option to escape, me from them or them from me? There was no way I could put myself in that position. It was a no-brainer.
“It was one thing to have a thought about a random child, a child who wasn’t under my care or whose well-being I was responsible for. But to imagine harming my own child? A child that depended solely on me to survive and thrive?”
I’ve talked about my confidence in dealing with my pure o thoughts, and the extent to which I have ‘recovered’ from this part of my OCD. I still maintain that I’m in control of my thoughts at this point in my life. But I’m not scared of having thoughts right now, so they don’t come. I’m terrified of having them with a baby inside of me, or in my care; which tells me that they will indeed come. I am so scared that if I become pregnant, everything will fall apart. When I sought treatment for my OCD and the thoughts went away, I told my therapist I could still never have children because even though I had control of the thoughts now, even one thought about my own child would send me spiralling. I could never forgive myself. She of course told me that my OCD was no reason not to have children; I knew I had the ability to successfully control the thoughts and I knew I was not in any real danger of harming anybody. But despite her success in every other aspect of my treatment, she never really succeeded in convincing me when it came to the kids thing. I smiled and nodded, but in my head I knew I could never risk it. It didn’t bother me though, because at age 23 I didn’t want kids anyway. So I resigned myself to living a childfree life and I felt no sadness or fear or regret. I had never imagined that one day I would desperately want to have children, and that this would be standing in my way.
My OCD was always worst during my periods, because of the hormones. So even before I knew that perinatal OCD was a thing, I always knew that pregnancy was not something I would cope well with and that the hormones would probably mean months of non-stop anxiety. These days of course I have researched perinatal OCD, and I have no doubt I’m at huge risk of this. It’s okay now, I can visit friends and their children and go home if I have thoughts. What happens if there is a real baby inside of me and I have a thought? I’m trapped, there is nowhere to run, no way out! (In reality I never have thoughts when with children, and these days if I start to feel one coming on, I am easily able to brush it aside and forget about it within seconds – my treatment was incredibly successful and I’m much better at this than my brain is giving me credit for. But try reasoning with an anxious person, right?) Imagine if the thoughts ran rampant throughout my pregnancy and then when I give birth to my baby, all I can see is myself hurting this child? I know I won’t act on it, but I can’t begin to imagine the guilt. And it’s one thing to tell somebody you have bad thoughts about children when you don’t have any… what if I told someone I was imagining myself harming my baby and they didn’t understand OCD and they were horrified and thought my baby needed to be protected from me? I can’t begin to imagine the shame. (In reality, my therapist has always said she would be there for me every step of the way, so I would never have any need to tell anyone else about the thoughts. But I’m trying to illustrate my catastrophic train of thought every time I seriously consider getting pregnant.)
“What if I told someone I was imagining myself harming my baby and they didn’t understand OCD and they were horrified and thought I my baby needed to be protected from me?”
Even outside of the pure o, I worry that I’m not fit to be a mother. My order and control obsessions will wreak havoc; there is a dog running around my house but if I tell him to lie down, he’ll do it. A child isn’t going to obey my every controlling command, nor should they have to. I have a tendency to become easily overwhelmed and enter into frequent depressive stupors; how can a child rely on me to look after them on days where I can barely look after myself? I become suffocated by others and need time alone, and that’s not possible with a baby. It never occurred to me I would actually want one. I never thought any of this would be a problem.
Of course, by far the biggest worry for me, the thought that brings me to tears just thinking about it, is that I am so terrified my child will have this condition. That I will have gone into this knowing that my OCD is genetic, and that there was a big chance that they would have this horrible disorder, and that I went ahead with it anyway. That it would be all my fault. If at around the age of 9, my child came out to me late at night and said to me “Mum, I can’t stop shaking”… my entire world would fall apart. You did this to them. You had a choice to protect them from this, but you chose to make them suffer.
“If at around the age of 9, my child came out to me late at night and said to me “Mum, I can’t stop shaking”… my entire world would fall apart”
I know it’s not all genetics – environment plays a huge part too. And I know that if I am aware of this risk from the outset, which I am, that I can put measures in place from the very beginning that will make them strong, resilient, and fearless children that are ready to tackle whatever life throws at them. I know that if we work from an early intervention mindset, that even if those genes are there waiting to jump out and strike at any moment, my husband and I can prevent our child from suffering like I did, teach them how to tackle bad thoughts before they even occur so that they never worry them like they worried me. So actually when it comes to my child experiencing pure o, I’m fairly confident we can beat that together. But when it comes to my order/control/mess issues, I’m not confident that I can rein in my behaviour around my child. Even if I’m aware when I am acting out, I know I can’t be on my best behaviour for 18+ years. I can act normal around friends for a few hours, but as soon as they leave the house I’m going to be freaking out, running around cleaning every surface they touched like a mad woman. I don’t want my child to sit there watching me, observing and taking it all in, and end up becoming just like me. My husband has said that he will be there as balance, will tell me when I’m doing something that’s not helpful, and will encourage our children to play in mud, make a mess, etc. But I worry that it won’t be enough. I’m worried I’ll shut him down, or about what will happen when he’s not around, or that I won’t be able to cope with their perfectly healthy mess.
There are just too many good reasons NOT to do this. I can’t have a baby, right? Do you read this and think oh yeah, that woman will be a great mother!?
A small part of me buried deep beneath the doubt and anxiety answers with yes actually, I would be. I will love and adore my child and they will bring joy to my life that I never knew I could feel. Despite all of this I will thrive and become a better person for my child and will do better than I ever thought possible. I will look into my child’s beautiful face and laugh at the thought that any stupid disorder could ever steal away that joy. But honestly, I’m not sure if that’s the real (non-OCD/sane) me talking, or whether I’m totally kidding myself.
I would really love feedback on this one. Did you become pregnant with OCD? Did your worst fears come to light? If you were in my position, what would you do?