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  • Writer's pictureInga Bentley

A Post of Hope: Ashley’s Story

*Trigger Warning: intrusive thoughts

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. I dreamt about the beauty of being pregnant, feeling a life grow inside of me and giving birth, I envisioned those moments of meeting my baby and feeling an instant connection to him or her. I did have most of those things, but my story is also different. Because along with those beautiful moments, I also experienced the darkness of postpartum OCD. This is my story:

When I was pregnant with my second child, I would experience intense feelings that something wasn’t right. I became obsessed with checking my heart rate to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack, looking at my legs to make sure there wasn’t a blood clot and counting my baby’s movements to make sure he was okay. I made countless trips to the ER, Cardiologist, OBGYN and every time everything came back normal. Whenever I left the doctor, a new fear would pop-up even more intense than before which meant more and more checking. My doctor assured me it was anxiety and I tried so many things to make it go away. But the more I tried, the more intense the thoughts and feelings became. I made it through the pregnancy and delivered a healthy, beautiful baby. I was so thankful and thought the anxiety was behind me.

During my first nights home, I was hit with a fear of someone breaking in and kidnapping my son. I would try to sleep but every little noise made me jump up to check that everything was fine. I brushed it off as normal, new mom anxiety. But as the weeks went by, my sleep lessened. I soon became fixated on the fear that I was developing postpartum psychosis. I would spend hours researching and looking for clues that It was going to happen to me. I felt that at any second I would lose my mind and something terrible would happen. I was terrified of being alone with myself or my kids so I begged and pleaded family to stay with me at all times. Things got so intense that my life was completely consumed by fear. I didn’t want to hold my son and I didn’t even recognize who I was anymore. I was a mess and didn’t know how to put myself back together. I begged my mom to take me to the doctor because I just wanted to feel normal again and I thought they would know what to do. I remember sitting in my doctor’s office crying and begging her to tell me how to make this stop. I craved being the mother I had imagined. I wish I could say that after this visit it all went away. I did start medication and therapy, both of which helped a little, but I was still unable to stop the constant intrusive thoughts.

I then joined a Facebook support group called Circle of Hope through Moms Mental Health Initiative. Through this group, I met some amazing women who shared their struggles and who were all at different places in the healing process. It was around this time that I was diagnosed with OCD. Prior to this, I thought OCD meant just being super organized (which I am not). I quickly learned that OCD actually means having extreme anxiety combined with the urge to perform compulsions in order to decrease that anxiety. I was able to identify that my compulsions were checking and seeking reassurance and that the more I gave into those compulsions, the stronger my OCD got. After many conversations with moms in Circle of Hope, I decided to try an intensive program to learn Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). This therapy is considered the gold standard for treating OCD and involves being exposed to all your fears while not engaging in compulsions. After a lot of work, I began to get moments of my life back. In hindsight, as badly as I wanted it all to go away, I have also learned a lot from this experience. I remember asking “why me?” and feeling like I’d be stuck in that place forever. I don’t ever want to relive those moments but I can say that sharing my story and offering hope to other moms is very healing. So, if you are going through postpartum depression, postpartum OCD or any other perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, hang on because you WILL get through this! There is still such a stigma around mental health but I promise you that you are not alone! I survived this hell and so will you! Please reach out for help. Today is almost three years since my son was born and I can honestly say that I am getting to be the mom I always wanted to be. <3

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