Friday, September 14, 2012

Ugly thoughts

I had postpartum depression (PPD) starting when Soren was about 3 weeks old. (Side note: Did you know 10-15% of women self-report experiencing PPD yet only 15% of those are treated?*) Luckily I recognized almost right away that the horrible feelings--deep sadness, anxiety, inability to concentrate, lack of bonding--were indeed PPD, and I had lots of help getting better.

One of the ugliest parts of the experience, other than the complete lack of joy at having a new, adorable baby, was the jarring, often violent thoughts of harm coming to my child. I had clear visions of Erik dropping the baby over cement and the aftermath. I dreamed repeatedly that I forgot my child--in the car, or even that I had a child at all. But the worst was the thought that I had when I plummeted to my lowest: it was of my hurling my own baby over our porch railing like a football.

Shocking and unpleasant, I know. Thankfully, I had a therapist who helped me see that these thoughts did not mean that I was actually going to follow through on these actions. (Doctors and therapists had ruled out the more serious and very rare postpartum psychosis, in which case these images would have been alarming indeed.) She explained that our minds know the most horrible thought that we can think, and when our defenses are down when we have PPD and crazy hormones and exhaustion, we go there.

We know exactly how to torment ourselves best.

What's more, the very fact that I was and am horrified by these thoughts is reassuring; it means that I know these images are vile. I feel guilty and sickened when I think them because they are not who I am or what I intend to do.

I'm thinking of this truth lately as I've had some difficult feelings and thoughts about Soren. Nothing like violent images or impulses this time, but just ugly feelings and words that my mind uses to describe or think about Soren and his disability. I won't spell out what those are; they are horrifying and embarrassing, and I'd kick your butt if I ever heard you say them about my child. But I know that in the midst of stress and confusion, my mind is choosing the nastiest way it knows to question my ability and character as a mom. (I'm pretty clever that way.)

I am horrified, to be sure. But I'm not panicking. I'm giving myself a wide berth because right now, parenting feels hard and I'm pretty drained and emotional. I am oddly reassured that I am so embarrassed by these nasty thoughts because it shows these thoughts are incongruous with who I am as a parent. It's almost like my mind brings out these zingers just to keep me on my toes and see if I will fold under the embarrassment and self-disgust.

But today, dear mind of mine, I have your number. You're right--you've found the most shocking and nastiest images for me to stew over.  But I'm not taking the bait. This child of mine is loved, loved, loved. And I am a good mom.

* Please seek help right away if you are experiencing any symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. A great starting point for identifying symptoms and making a plan to get help is the site Postpartum Progress.


  1. You are an amazing mom! Soren is blessed to have you. I can't wait to see you in October -- lots of wine and gossip!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I've worried about getting PPD after I have kids (we don't have any yet, but I figure it's best to start putting in safety nets for potential issues first because I have clinical depression), but reading posts like yours helps ease my anxiety because it lets me know what to anticipate and what steps to take.

  3. what a heartfelt and beautiful post. Soren is a lucky boy to have a mother who values honesty and care so obviously. Just beautiful

  4. Such a post is difficult to comment on...because it calls for corresponding transparency. Again, thank you for writing here. (And, I like the new look of the site!)

    1. Thanks. I'm honored that you read here.



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