Postpartum Scary Thoughts
Postpartum Scary Thoughts
I am almost convinced that as a parent you have already had scary thoughts about your baby. You know, those thoughts that you think are disturbing and inappropriate, and that you would never dare to reveal. Am I taking you by surprise? Know that this phenomenon is much more common than you might think. This is a taboo we need to discuss, and this is the subject of my informational video that you can watch. Or you can read the full post below the video.
Consider this story. A mother holds her baby boy who is asleep in her arms. She fully realizes the enormous task of caring for her newborn baby. She does her best to ensure his well-being. And then suddenly, awful thoughts run through her mind: What if I fall asleep on the sofa with my baby in my arms and he would die suffocated? She decides to go put him down in his bed. As she climbs the stairs, she suddenly thinks of dropping her baby on the ceramic at the bottom of the stairs. She imagines him dead on the spot. She is horrified! These thoughts scare her, disturb her and she has trouble getting rid of them. She feels bad and guilty of having such abominable thoughts. She does not understand where they come from since she does not want to hurt her child. She tells herself that a good parent cannot think like that about her baby. She does not dare to speak of her horrible thoughts to anyone. She says to herself: What if people think that I am not a good mother and that I am not able to take care of my baby properly?
Does this sounds familiar? You’ve had similar thoughts? Rest assured. These thoughts around a terrible event often related to your baby are an extremely common phenomenon for new parents. Karen Kleiman, a licensed clinical social worker, co-author of This Isn’t What I Expected and author of the new book Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, says that almost all mothers and almost all fathers have unwanted thoughts about their baby. In fact, according to a study she cites from Jonathan Abramowitz, 91% of new mothers and 88% of new fathers report obsessive thoughts about their baby. Yes, it’s almost all new parents! You are not alone! And no, you are not a bad parent if you have this type of thoughts.
So what exactly are these scary thoughts? Scary thoughts are described as anxious, unwanted, repetitive, negative, disruptive and / or intrusive thoughts that may trouble new parents. They can come from nowhere and appear at any time. They can take the form of thoughts such as: Why did I want this baby? I think my baby does not like me. Images (imagining your baby drowning in the bath, imagining your baby dead in her bed) or even impulses (What if I took my pillow and smothered my baby? What would happen if I put my baby in the oven?). If you have scary thoughts similar to these, you surely agree that they cause distress because they do not fit the way you, as a parent, usually think and that they are all the opposite of who you think you are as a parent. That’s why they can make you feel ashamed and guilty leading you to judge your parenting skills badly.
You need to know that scary thoughts are not an indication of psychosis even if you can feel as if the madness is seizing you. Indeed, since these thoughts are associated with a high level of distress and they scare you, it means that they are caused by anxiety and are not psychotic thoughts. As a result, you will not take action. Indeed, your thoughts are not associated with actions that cause you to hurt your baby. On the contrary, you feel more than ever that you must protect your child. Your anxiety about your thoughts is a good sign that they are not psychotic and that you are aware of the difference between right and wrong.
But where do these scary thoughts come from? Your brain, as a parent, is programmed to take care of your baby and take the necessary steps to keep him or her safe. It is in a high state of alert since the arrival of your baby. You are also in a more vulnerable situation given your lack of sleep, the hormonal changes, the stress associated with this new transition and probably your feeling of being overwhelmed by events. Perhaps you have a genetic predisposition to anxiety as well. All these factors can make you feel more anxious and make you more vulnerable to experiencing scary thoughts.
What if you have scary thoughts and it worries you? Talk about them to someone you trust, someone who makes you feel safe and who will not judge you. Someone you know will support you and help you determine the most appropriate next step if needed. Breaking the silence in an atmosphere of trust reduces anxiety. And, according to Kleiman, when anxiety is reduced, scary thoughts also diminish. It can also be a way of realizing that you are not the only person who has scary thoughts and that is reassuring.
Scary thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety, but they can also occur in the absence of these diagnoses. The bottom line is that it is not the specific content of the scary thoughts that is necessarily the problem but how you feel about these thoughts and how you react to them. Indeed, these can appear in your daily life without preventing you from going about your business. A scary thought arrives, it catches your attention at the moment, but then you move on and you continue your day normally. However, if your scary thoughts are causing you so much distress that you are obsessed with them and cannot function normally, that’s when it becomes a problem. Then, it is time to talk to your healthcare provider or a trained professional who can determine with you the type of support or treatment that will suit you best. Do not hesitate to ask for help. I want to add that if your suffering is unbearable, that you and / or a person close to you are very worried about the way you feel or behave, that you have suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately.
Finally, I recommend this book by Karen Kleiman: Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts.
It’s a remarkable resource that helps parents who are going through the difficult transition with a baby. It contains accurate information tailored to the reality of parents, many stigma-busting cartoons representing words and thoughts of parents and simple and concrete exercises that aim to help them start to feel better. I encourage you to get it.
Karen R. Kleiman and Valerie Davis Raskin, This Isn’t What I Expected: overcoming postpartum depression
Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts: Breaking the Cycle of Unwanted Thoughts in Motherhood
Karen Kleiman, Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts: A Healing Guide to the Secret Fears of New Mothers