My OCD takes the baby blues to a whole new level
From believing she had HIV to developing a mortal fear of cheese, Bryony Gordon's pregnancy has not been easy
People told me lots of things about pregnancy, about sickness and tiredness and swelling ankles, but they never said it would make me crazy.
There is, of course, the chance that I was ever-so-slightly crazy prior to becoming pregnant, having been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at 17 and put on antidepressants soon afterwards, but this has been different. This has been a level and type of OCD I have never experienced before, and I once spent a week only leaving my bed to go and wash my hands, hands so sore that they bled all over the duvet.
Was I surprised to learn yesterday, from a report in this paper, that new mothers are four times more likely to suffer from OCD than women in the general population? No. Not at all. In a way, it made perfect sense to me.
OCD is a worrier's illness, and there can't be much more worrying a time than pregnancy and after childbirth, when you and you alone are responsible for the life of a helpless other. Is it any surprise that a new mother might become obsessed with her baby's breathing, or whether her breast milk might do her newborn harm?
At the beginning of pregnancy, addled by hormones and off my antidepressants, my OCD became particularly bad. One night, while my other half was out at a work dinner, I called him 78 times, fearful that some harm had come to him when in actual fact he was perfectly well – some might say too well – enjoying the finest whiskeys and cigars his hosts had to offer.
Cheese, not all of which is dangerous during pregnancy, became the mortal enemy of myself and my unborn child. It had to be cordoned off in the fridge, and I could not eat anything that touched it in a shopping bag (even though both items had been packaged).
Hand-washing took place dozens and dozens of times a day; if I walked past dog faeces in the street I would have something approaching a panic attack ("Did I touch it?" I would ask my bemused boyfriend. "Are you sure I didn't touch it?").
The week that the midwife tests you for anything that might harm your baby, I became convinced that I had HIV, even going as far as calling up the Terrence Higgins Trust to talk a stranger through every single encounter I believed might have led to the illness. The poor chap on the other end of the phone, who actually did have HIV, clearly thought I was mad, and that's probably because I was.
When we got past the 20-week scan and found out that, statistically, everything was probably going to be OK, I started to worry whether my beloved, adored other half was the father of the child.
Because I could not pinpoint when we conceived, I started to worry that it might have happened the night I went out and got drunk with friends.
Never mind that my other half never left my side on the night in question – OCD is clever enough to worm its way in and make you doubt everything. And so it was that I spent a day going through emails and telephone bills from the end of July, trying to retrace steps no sane-minded person would bother to retrace.
I even "confessed" my non-confession to my endlessly patient partner.
Exhausted by the constant internal dialogue between my brain and OCD, I sought help, and it was suggested I go back on a low dose of antidepressants. This in itself caused anxiety – after half an hour of googling I became convinced it would damage my baby.
So I refused to take it.
Refused and refused, until the tears and the stress became so overwhelming that a consultant told me he felt it would be dangerous for my health not to take it.
I think I knew that this would happen when I had a child. I have had the best part of nine months now to get help and to put in place the network needed to try and prevent it. Others are not so lucky.
For new mothers who are taken by surprise by OCD, there is a real fear that they are going mad and that their child might be taken away.
But OCD can be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
And it should be known that this is an illness that doesn't happen to thoughtless harridans who couldn't give two hoots about their children. It happens to people who care a lot, and from that, you should at least take comfort.