Her husband brought her to me because she was not caring for the baby. She was fine till the baby was 6 weeks old and then started withdrawing from her, not wanting to hold her or bathe her. She would feed her but that too as if it was a chore. She didn’t appear to be depressed but was definitely distressed.
She was sleeping well and eating fine. She was also doing other household chores. Strangely, she seemed to prefer to do house work rather than baby care! Her husband was at his wits end. He had tried cajoling, sympathizing, scolding and even threatening that he would leave the baby with his parents, but to no avail.
When I met her, she looked ahead, her eyes filling with tears, as her husband described what he felt was `difficult’ and `unnatural behaviour for a new mom’.
I decided to speak to her alone. I had seen this too often and knew the signs. “I know that you really love your baby”, I told her gently. “I also know that sometimes, when you love too much, you also have fears for the baby’s well being and that can be scary”.
She looked at me with grateful eyes. Relief writ on her face, as I carefully tried to understand the reason for her fears of being with her baby. “I know you are a good mother but sometimes even the most loving mothers can have very difficult thoughts. Thoughts that you can’t talk about or share because they are so scary” I told her.
“Sometimes mothers get thoughts that they might do something to the baby and that it is safer for their baby to be away from them. Can you tell me if such thoughts worry you? “I asked.
She nodded and burst into tears. It was as if a dam had burst. She shared with me how she feared that she might harm the baby or be negligent. How she was plagued with thoughts that her presence in some way would cause the baby an infection or an illness. She had tried her best to care for her baby and knew that her thoughts were not real. She adored her baby and would never let anything touch her beautiful child but then every time she went near her, the thoughts would take over and she would flee from the room trembling with anxiety.
Anxiety disorders in the postpartum period, may often present as a bonding disorder. Family members may complain that the mother is uncaring and does not love the child. They may get angry and even separate the baby from the mother.
The mother may have severe anxiety related to the infant or may have obsessions about the infant, especially that the baby may get infections, fall down or she might hurt or harm the baby in some way. The anxiety usually comes down with avoiding the baby and this causes double distress to the mother. She is dismayed about getting these unnatural thoughts about her baby and at the same time not being a good mother.
My experience in treating and helping mothers with severe anxiety and obsessions related to the infant has been extremely rewarding. The relief on a mother’s face when she realises that you understand her and are not judging her; the gradual improvement with medication and behaviour therapy; the support they get from their husband once he realises what is amiss and finally the joy on the mother’s face when she is able to bathe and feed her baby, able to cuddle and coo to her precious one and is not a slave to her fears!
You can check out these websites for more information on postpartum OCD and for experiences of mothers who had OCD.