I have a beautiful one and half year old daughter. She has big blue eyes, more energy than a roadrunner, loves to dance, and says “Hi” to anyone who crosses her path. She lives for being outside and she has the most infectious laugh. She can put a smile on anyone’s face and single handedly has turned days around for me. I would do anything to keep this child safe. She has changed my life. But here’s the thing, I have a lot of thoughts. A lot of really scary, distressing thoughts because while I’m a mother, I also have OCD. When you’re carrying around these thoughts with you 24/7 it can be terrifying. But this post isn’t to scare anyone diagnosed with OCD out of parenthood, it’s actually quite the opposite. Choosing to take the plunge into motherhood knowing my OCD was coming along for the ride was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done, and I’m finally starting to realize that. If you’re in a place where you want to be a mom, but aren’t sure you can handle it while battling your OCD, I just want you to know that it’s possible. Don’t let your OCD steal motherhood from you.
Plain and simple: I wasn’t sure I could hack it as a mother with my OCD in tow. At one point I doubted if I even wanted children because of my OCD, and it took work to get me to a place where I was ready to take the plunge. I was terrified while I was trying to get pregnant. My OCD ramped up the intensity at times while I was pregnant. I fought through a pretty rough patch of perinatal depression. I worked constantly to stay on top of my OCD throughout my pregnancy and after. It has been a constant journey of ups and downs. But I would do it all over again for that amazing kiddo. Through every phase of motherhood I have had moments when I doubted my abilities and I have endlessly compared myself to other mothers. But what I’m realizing is that while my motherhood journey may not look like everyone else’s, that doesn’t take anything away from who I am as a mother. I’m fighting a different battle than some moms and it’s 100% okay that the little things are more challenging for me. I had to work hard to be able to do things that came effortlessly to some moms, but when I look back now there is so much to be proud of. I’m so grateful that I put in the work and didn’t give up on myself. I’m still a work in progress, but a work in progress that can now acknowledge how far she has come.
How have I survived as a mother with OCD? Hell if I know…but seriously here are a few things that have been instrumental in my journey.
1. Establishing a support system. My husband has always been my rock when it comes to my mental health. When we first started talking about having a family I knew that I would have struggles, so one of the biggest reasons I sought help for my OCD was because I wanted to get myself to a place where mentally I could be the most present for my daughter. For me it meant not jumping into motherhood immediately, but giving myself some time to fight battles I needed to fight. I found an amazing OCD therapist, who has provided me with the right tools to fight my OCD. I established an incredibly strong support system that has held me accountable, rooted for me, celebrated victories with me, and most importantly has held me up in moments all I wanted to do is crumble.
2. Be open and honest with your therapist about what your OCD is throwing at you. Be vulnerable with those you trust. I did my best throughout my pregnancy and once my daughter came to not let thoughts and obsessions fester. I told my therapist about them, even if it was just, “I’m afraid I may have this thought.” The ERP I had to do when I was pregnant and after my daughter was born was some of the hardest ERP I’ve ever had to do, but it played a crucial role in my ability to enjoy the little moments with my daughter. No parent wants to think about worst-case scenarios when it comes to their children, but my brain just tends to tune into that station, so I had to learn how to be okay with that. I wrote script after script of terrifying things I feared may happen to my daughter, and many of them brought me to tears. Jumping into ERP as a mother is your best bet to being the mom you want. It gets easier, I promise. Then harder. Then easier again. Having a kid is like a box of chocolates, you never know what trigger you’re gonna get!
3. Be kind to yourself. I have found this to be the thing I’ve needed most since I first became a mother. Many days I feel like society sets moms up to just feel bad about themselves. You constantly hear about all the things you should and shouldn’t be doing, and some days it feels impossible to feel like you’re doing the whole mom thing right. When you’re a mother with OCD, that voice in your head that wants you to be certain you’re doing it right can really turn up the volume. Parenthood is full of a million decisions, and every other day you’ll read something telling you what you thought was right was actually wrong or harmful. It’s overwhelming, and there have been days where triggers have completely taken me out and reduced me to tears crying in the corner of a room.
More importantly, be self-compassionate with yourself when you see other moms effortlessly doing things that you can’t do yet. These moments were often the hardest for me (and still are). When a lot of my friends were out doing things with their kids, I was quietly working away at trying to be comfortable enough to strap my kid into her car seat independently and drive her around the block. I couldn’t even get myself to drive the 35 minutes to therapy for a period of time after her birth, so instead I worked with my therapist via teletherapy. When people asked me to meet them places with the baby it was highly anxiety inducing, and as much as I knew I was doing the best I could I often felt “less-than” other Moms when I politely turned down offers to meet friends or family. Even though I put in a lot of work to be on top of my OCD prior to having my daughter, there were still many things that came up. Some I easily navigated through and others were much more challenging for me to conquer. The more you learn to be self-compassionate and acknowledge your victories, the easier it becomes. A year and half into my daughter’s life there are still things I’m afraid to do without my husband around. The more I’ve become okay with where I’m at in my journey, the more I’ve enjoyed this whole motherhood thing. Remember even though you don’t hear about it often, there are other moms out there fighting the same battles that you are. You aren’t less than other moms, no matter how loud that voice may get in your head some days.
4. It’s okay that some days are harder than others (and it’s normal). Being a mom is challenging for anyone, and it’s important to remind yourself of that. I have never heard a single person with or without a mental illness ever say raising a kid was easy. But having OCD is also hard and can be exhausting. It has been a lot of work, on top of lack of sleep, hormonal changes, breastfeeding, personal medical issues and learning to be okay with how my body looked. There were days I hid in my room and cried a lot. Days early on that as I held my daughter, tears streamed down my face and I apologized to her that I couldn’t be a better Mom. There were days I felt my family deserved more than what I could offer. These are always the hardest days, the days I feel my OCD interferes with my family’s life. These were the days my support system was crucial. When you have moments you don’t believe in yourself sometimes you need others around you reminding you what you’re capable of. OCD can be a monster, and somedays it’s okay if you need someone else to remind you that you’re bigger than that monster. Eventually those clouds will pass and you’ll remember once again you’re a kick-ass mom doing the best you can.
5. It’s okay to ask for time for yourself. Be proactive with your mental health. I’ve slowly learned when I need to check out. It’s much more effective if I say to my husband, “hey I need five minutes” or “Can you do this for me?” rather than pushing myself while I’m triggered and eventually causing a fight. Sometimes I need to acknowledge that I need 10 minutes to meditate, 30 minutes at the gym, or 2 hours to drink coffee in silence and run errands alone. I don’t need to feel bad for taking care of my mind. It’s a sign of strength when we can acknowledge what our mind needs, before we reach a breaking point.
6. Learn to practice mindfulness. Above all else this has been the most influential component to me enjoying motherhood. I have made meditation and mindfulness a part of my daily life. Learning to be in the present moment and grounding yourself whenever it’s needed opens you up to experiencing so much joy and happiness. Kids are amazing and one of their most beautiful gifts they can give you is their ability to live in the present moment. Everything is exciting and new, and they see life with such enthusiasm and awe. When you are able to ground yourself into the present moment with your children you’ll experience a joy you probably never thought possible, and it will knock you off your feet in the most simple, mundane moments.
Motherhood is an amazing thing. Despite the challenges that arise because of my OCD I am so glad I embraced one of my most daring exposures: being a mom. No matter if you’re just thinking about having kids, are pregnant, or already have kids, know that it is possible to be a mother with OCD and actually enjoy it. Find a support system, show yourself some grace and kindness, do the work (all of it), and learn to ground yourself to the present. Most importantly, don’t just do it for your kid or your family, but do it for yourself. Draw a line in the sand with your OCD and declare motherhood something it can’t take away from you. There is so much love, pride, and joy to be found in motherhood, even with your OCD along for the ride.
A couple weeks ago, it was in the most mundane moment that I realized all that I had accomplished in the last few years. I scooped up my daughter in my arms and began to tickle her. As she laughed uncontrollably with her big blue eyes looking up at me, tears began to fill my eyes. I was completely present and became overcome with emotion. Nothing else mattered. A joy that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before came over me. I realized how far I had come from that scared version of myself that was afraid to have children, to a mother who has learned to be mindful of the simplest moments and be incredibly moved by them. Embracing the uncertainty of motherhood comes with all sorts of emotions, but the joy and love far outweigh the feelings of fear. In fact, anxiety, love, fear, happiness, and joy can all coexist. I think the key to enjoying this whole motherhood thing is allowing ourselves to be present with every positive emotion no matter when or where it shows up. It just takes some practice. Be patient with yourself.