When Parenthood Becomes Distraught: Maternal OCD

When Parenthood Becomes Distraught: Maternal OCD

A pregnancy is an exciting new chapter in life. Parents begin to decide on a name, plan a baby shower, and think about the future in store. It seems as if everything is perfect. Parents may feel like they are on cloud nine, waiting patiently until the baby is born. However, the perfect fantasy described is not always a reality. According to Baby Buddy, an evidence-based and National Health Service approved pregnancy tool, “Two out of 10 women experience mental health problems during or after pregnancy.” One example of a mental health problem women face is maternal obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Maternal OCD is when OCD is developed during or after the stages of pregnancy. During Maternal OCD, women or men develop intrusive thoughts towards their child that are categorized into two subgroups of violence or sex. These thoughts can be imaginations like hurting the child with a knife. Due to these notions, parents obsessively check on the baby even though they know the baby is fine. For parents, it may be hard to open up and find resources that will help them cope with maternal OCD due to the stigma behind the intrusive thoughts that are developed. However, it is important to remember that many other parents experience maternal OCD. You’re a valiant survivor doing your best in difficult circumstances and deserve all the help you can get for yourself (Baby Buddy).

Jenny is a mother who has recovered from maternal OCD. During her pregnancy, Jenny felt everything was going perfectly. Even throughout the delivery process and the first two days after the baby was born, she was in a complete state of happiness. After two days with the baby, Jenny had to get a minor surgery, leaving the new born baby with the father. Jenny was stationed overnight at the hospital to recover from the surgery. That was when her intrusive thoughts began; on her first night, she imagined her daughter in a bloody carriage. 

When Jenny came home, her Maternal OCD worsened. She continued to have more intense intrusive thoughts about the objects in her home. When she saw knives, she thought about how the knives could hurt her child. When she saw negativity in the media, she imagined those things happening to her daughter. These thoughts completely disrupted Jenny’s daily life; she developed anxiety and found herself unable to eat, cook, or perform her daily activities. The more she tried to get rid of her thoughts, the more intense they would come back. She began to question her integrity and her likelihood of being a good mother. 

Later on, Jenny realized that her new intrusive thoughts did not reflect her prior self and began to seek help for her mental illness. Jenny reached out to her doctor, who had initially recommended group therapy because the physician believed Jenny was suffering from mood swings. Group therapy was ineffective for Jenny, as her intrusive thoughts remained. At this point, Jenny did some research on her own and suggested she may be suffering from Maternal OCD. The doctor was then able to refer her to a specialist who was knowledgeable in treating maternal OCD. When Jenny met her new therapist, she practiced exposure response therapy, which encourages patients to face their fears. In Jenny’s case, she was afraid that knives could be used to hurt her child. Jenny had to have a knife beside her at all times while she was with her child so she could lose her fear. This was no easy task for Jenny, and it took hard work and persistence. She has now recovered from maternal OCD and wants to have a second child. 

In Jenny’s case, her Maternal OCD appeared like a switch; with others, it can develop gradually. Patients who are beginning to go through maternal OCD should recognize that their newly developed intrusive thoughts do not define who they are. That is the first step in being able to have the courage to find help for maternal OCD.  Diagnosing Maternal OCD can be difficult since it can be confused with other mental health problems. Jenny used exposure response therapy to help treat her maternal OCD, but there are many more treatments. It is not a one-size-fit-all situation. If your prescriptions do not lead to wanted results, inform your doctor quickly to receive proper diagnosis and treatment. 



Beginnings, B. (Director). (2020, June 13). Maternal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [Video file]. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eMZ9-h2ogA

Clinic, M. (2019, May 11). Symptoms of pregnancy: What happens first. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/symptoms-of-pregnancy/art-20043853

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