You Are Not Your Thoughts

“You’re a burden.”

“You’re a failure.”

They were completely unbidden, random, horrible thoughts that entered my mind, and they scared me. 

As I was carrying my daughter down the stairs one morning, in popped “These stairs are awfully steep. If you slip and fall, she could get really hurt or die.” You’d better believe I kept an iron grip on both the railing and my baby. Even though I had never slipped down those stairs, I had horrible images of dropping her, of her tiny, fragile body rolling down the steps. 

I’d wake up from a deep sleep with the sudden thought of “Is she still breathing?” Even though we used an Owlet and I could see from the glowing green base station that everything was fine, I still rolled over as quietly as I could to face my daughter’s bassinet, got as close to it as possible without risking waking her up, and watched her little chest rise and fall, placed a finger just below her nose to feel the air exiting. I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I knew she was all right. 

On our first road trip, I suddenly thought “What if she falls asleep and her chin gets tucked in and she asphyxiates?” I spent the whole ride any time she was asleep with my hand tucked around her side, just so I could feel every breath she took.

“You’re a bad mom, and they’re better off without you.”

“Run away, and don’t come back.”

In the spring, after a round of norovirus went through our house and I couldn’t keep anything down, not even my antidepressant, the intrusive thoughts that had abated since getting help came roaring back. This time, instead of something bad happening to my daughter, the thoughts were telling me that this is all too much, being a mom is more than I can handle, and I should run away and not come back. 

They were clear and vivid, when she woke up overnight teething and I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep, the first thing that popped in my head after hearing her cry on the monitor was simply, “Leave.” As I rocked my daughter back to sleep, her warm body snuggled in close to me, I whispered over and over to her “I’m here. I’ll always be here.” Saying it out loud helped combat the voice in my own mind telling me very clearly to leave my husband and baby behind and not come back. 

My husband has always known when something is wrong before I can admit it to myself, and he gently pressed me to tell him what was going on the next morning when I was distant and quiet. Tears slipped down my face as I told him that I was having thoughts saying I should run away, and I didn’t want to tell him that because I really didn’t want to leave. I love them both with everything I have, I never want to leave them. 

Wrapping me up in a close hug, he thanked me for telling him, that I was brave for doing so because he knew it was hard to admit that I was having those thoughts, and told me he knows that I don’t want to run away. He also said something that has stuck with me and what I remind myself when one of those thoughts pops in again: he knows those thoughts are not me. 

Intrusive thoughts like the ones I have had are so common in new moms. Sometimes they turn into Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and sometimes they just stay as thoughts that come in randomly. What makes them so very frightening is that they are often clear and vivid. 

Moms are often, like me, horrified by these thoughts. We love our families, we love our children, but we just had a very vivid thought about leaving, or our children being hurt. Moms who are frightened by these intrusive thoughts have no plans on acting on them. 

There’s also a lot of guilt and shame that happens with these thoughts because they’re not at all pleasant. I was afraid to admit to my husband that I was thinking these things, even though I wasn’t purposely thinking them or planning on running away. I was worried he’d think I really did want to leave them and not come back, and I didn’t wan to hurt him with that. 

If you have had thoughts like this, especially during the postpartum period, you are not alone, and you are not your thoughts. Those thoughts don’t reflect the mom that you are, the mom that loves your family and would never dream of harming them or leaving them. 

It can be hard, but the best way to deal with intrusive thoughts is not to dwell on them. Label them as intrusive, and let them go. They can be really scary, but they are not you

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