Not to brag, but worrying has always been something I’ve excelled at. And becoming a mother has catapulted me from one of the worrying greats to one of the elites.
A key component of the particular way that I worry are intrusive thoughts. Sometimes intrusive thoughts are severe enough or occur in concert with other mental health symptoms and require professional intervention. But often, they’re just thoughts– millions of people deal with them, most live with them as a sort of annoying background noise.
When I lived in New York City, unless I was listening to a particularly distracting podcast, my inner monologue was basically a litany of strange ways to get injured. I didn't alter my behavior as a result of them, just let them float by me like demented rubber ducks.
What if an air conditioning unit from that building fell on my head? What if the subway grate I’m walking on collapses? What if I jumped onto the subway tracks? What if a toilet rat bites me when I’m peeing in the middle of the night? What if I shove the person who gets to the top of the subway stairs and stops right in front of me so that they can look at their phone? What if the elevator breaks? What if terrorism?
Intrusive thoughts are a common occurrence for mothers during the postpartum period, because having a child can break your brain and turn even the most chill of ladies into the occasional nervous wreck– the structure of the maternal brain physically changes to enable this. Nature is cruel to mothers of every species and humans are no exception.
With some postpartum women, intrusive thoughts become so pervasive and disrupting (and disturbing, as for some people, they're about hurting their own child) that they can be diagnosed with something called postpartum OCD, a condition that thanks to a medical establishment that spent much of its history ignoring maternal mental health needs, we still barely understand. I cannot imagine the agony of suffering from this condition; a “normal” amount of postpartum intrusive thoughts are draining enough.
I recently wrote a post about how odd it is that baby products that are unsafe or unhelpful are for sale alongside things parents actually need, but it’s also strange that the things we do need are just festooned with warnings.
Giant warning labels on every single baby-focused product aren’t to blame for my mind’s new hobby of brainstorming horrible things that could happen, but they certainly don’t help.
SUFFOCATION RISK, warns the tag on my breastfeeding support pillow, which I noticed the other day when my daughter was attempting to chew on it. BABIES HAVE SUFFERED SKULL FRACTURES, warns my Baby Bjorn bouncer. BABIES HAVE STRANGLED, warns the car seat. DO NOT LET THE BABY SLEEP ON HERE. DO NOT LEAVE THE BABY ALONE. DO NOT LET THE BABY EAT THIS. DO NOT PUT THE BABY HERE. THE BABY IS TOO SMALL FOR THIS. THE BABY IS TOO LARGE. THE BABY IS TOO YOUNG. THE BABY IS TOO OLD. CHOKING HAZARD. SUFFOCATION HAZARD. DON’T PUT THIS ON A TABLE WITH A BABY IN IT. DROWNING HAZARD. BETTER NOT RISK IT. BETTER NOT RISK IT. BETTER NOT RISK IT.
Hm, how is this a hazard? says my brain. And then I spend the next several minutes coming up with all of the things that might have happened that necessitate the warning labels. What is the “it” that I am risking? Let’s take the next 10 minutes getting upset by that!
But even when I don’t have external writing prompts for my anxiety, I come up with things to worry about on my own. What if I dropped the baby? What if the baby randomly stops breathing for no reason in the middle of the night? What if she chokes on a piece of string? What if the cat sits on her? What if I get into a car accident with the baby? What if a dog walking on the opposite side of the street gets loose and runs across the street and attacks the baby? What if I turn my back for a second and somebody steals the baby? What if she rolls off the couch? What if she figures out how to get out of her crib? What if she gets bitten by a spider?
The other day, my daughter had a mild heat rash and I thought, briefly, what if this is smallpox? When she was first riding in her stroller facing forward, I worried that she’d fall out without anybody noticing.
Typing them out, I almost feel silly. Because some of them are silly, even though they’re distressing. But some are rational. Some help keep me on my toes. I have noticed that now, when I enter an unfamiliar environment with my daughter, I scan the whole place for danger, like a Terminator sent from the future to check for child safety hazards. That has to be a valuable skillset, right?
Better get going. My daughter has been napping for 30 minutes and I just want to make sure a goblin king didn't kidnap her.
[If you are suffering from a postpartum mental health crisis, please, please do not hesitate to ask for help. You are not weak and you have not failed. Here are some resources:
Or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U) to find local treatment
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