When I first found out I was pregnant I was confused. It was unplanned, I’d previously been told it would be unlikely that I could have children because of abdominal surgery, and I hadn’t even been with my partner for a year yet.
It was as though my life had flashed before my eyes. A baby was something I’d never prepared for. I’d envisioned a life without children, a life focused solely on my career, and now everything was changing.
It took a couple of weeks for the news to sink in, but once it did, I fell in love.
From seeing my baby’s heartbeat flutter for the first time on the screen at six weeks, to seeing him wave at me at his dating scan and finding out he was a little boy at my anomaly scan, the love I have for this tiny human growing in my belly is unimaginable. I have never loved anything or anyone as hard as I love this little boy.
But throughout my pregnancy, my love for this baby has come at a price – as I have been suffering with something called perinatal OCD.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a common mental illness that affects both men and women. If it affects a woman during pregnancy or after birth, it is called perinatal OCD.
While pregnancy can trigger the disorder, I have had OCD for years – mainly in the form of checking (routine rituals), intrusive thoughts and false memory.
For those who aren’t sure exactly what OCD is, there are three main parts: you have thoughts or images that keep coming to your mind, called obsessions. These obsessive thoughts then cause extreme anxiety. And you then perform other thoughts or actions to try to reduce your anxiety, which are called compulsions.
Unfortunately, however, compulsions only soothe the anxiety for a short time, before the obsessions come back once again. It’s simply temporary relief.
My pregnancy so far has been filled with anxiety. The first trimester was spent having anxiety about miscarriage, and my second has been spent panicking about pre-term labour, which can result in premature birth.
I am now 22 weeks pregnant and the anxiety has not let up, nor have my compulsions to soothe it.
After seeing my baby on the screen for the first time, my anxiety set in about things that could go wrong.
I would panic so much about miscarriage during the first trimester that I became hyper-sensitive towards signs and symptoms. I would worry about every little pain or twinge or ache, and I would be straight onto Dr Google to ask what was going on.
When it comes to pregnancy, you shouldn’t take any chances, so I also went to the early pregnancy assessment unit quite a lot – and was always told it was just normal pains from a growing, healthy baby.
The early pregnancy unit became my safe place during my first trimester. It became almost a compulsion to me.
I would obsess over things going wrong, head down to the early pregnancy assessment unit, and come out feeling better. But it would only last a few days or a week or so before I headed down again.
People kept telling me that once I was into the second trimester, my anxiety wouldn’t be so bad and I wouldn’t worry so much. But in actual fact, things have gotten much worse.
My mind is currently stuck on the 24-week viability rate. A baby can survive at 24 weeks. They have a 20-35 per cent chance of survival if they are born this early. Every single day my mind has been set on this, begging my body to just let me reach this point.
I’m not religious but I’ve even prayed for my baby to just make it past this point.
I’ve not been told I’m at risk for pre-term labour, when my cervix has been checked it’s always closed, which is good, but it’s like there’s this switch in my brain that I can’t turn off.
I’ve obsessed over it so much that I’ve watched videos, read stories, scoured Mumsnet for threads and joined pregnancy groups to read other people’s experiences of pre-term labour.
I can be going about my day normally and suddenly an intrusive thought about early labour will pop into my head and I will have this surge of adrenaline as my body goes into fight or flight mode with panic.
I’ve invented ritualistic thoughts in my head to promise myself that nothing bad will happen.
I also obsess over everything I could’ve done wrong throughout my pregnancy. And I feel guilt. There are so many little things that baby sites will tell you not to do that you may have done in early pregnancy when you weren’t aware you were even pregnant, and even these things can make you feel like the worst person in the world.
I remember panicking after eating a medium rare steak and panicking that it would hurt the baby because there is a risk of toxoplasmosis, even though the NHS does make it clear that this is very rare.
Or the time I dyed my hair and washed it out in the bath, and I was convinced the dye would cause some sort of infection even though I was only in the water for a short while and research suggests it is safe to colour your hair when pregnant.
I felt guilty for not being smart enough not to do these things, as though I was already a bad mum before my baby was even born.
And I can’t just sit with the anxiety, either. My compulsion is professional contact and private scans, even if I know deep down I don’t need it. It brings a relief that I can’t get from anyone or anything else.
I’ve lost count of the amount of scans I have had already. I remember having one the day after my 12-week scan because I was sure something could have gone wrong in those 24 hours.
I even had one a few days after my 20-week scan – when everything was fine – simply because my anxiety was playing up and I needed some reassurance.
Having had OCD for quite some time, I know that what I am doing is wrong. OCD isn’t helped by giving into the compulsions. A lot of the time it is recommended that you just have to sit with the anxiety it causes.
I know this, but it’s still hard, because it’s not just about me anymore – I am protecting the health of my child.
I can’t go on the way I am, because it’s not healthy to be this panicked all the time. And so I have actually sought help from the perinatal mental health team.
I have an appointment in just a few days and I plan on opening up to them about everything that I am struggling with.
I know that it is scary to be so vulnerable when you are pregnant, but I need to focus on the wellbeing of myself and my baby.
Having spoken to my midwife already about what is going on, she has assured me they will be able to help – and I’m going to let them.
One task I have set myself however is to stop booking the private scans whenever I have that sense of doom. Because I know that deep down, I will know when something is really wrong and I will know to go to the hospital.
I just have to stop letting OCD taking control of me, and take some control myself.
If you’re pregnant and have found yourself in a similar situation to me, please follow in my footsteps and speak to your midwife and ask to see the perinatal mental health team.
It’s the best thing you can do for you and your baby, and I wish I’d done it sooner.