I’m going to paint a picture for you
You’ve been home with the baby for about 2 weeks. You kind of feel like you are just getting some sort of confidence in this whole new parent thing – falling into a semblance of a routine. You are upstairs changing the baby’s clothes for the 3rd time this morning after she spit up all over herself and you.
You are tired. You are so, so tired. You pick her up and go to head downstairs. As you put your foot on the first step an image flashes into your mind of the baby tumbling from your arms and falling down the stairs. If it vivid and it is gruesome. You keep walking down the stairs as this image continues to play through your head – only as it replays, instead of her slipping from your arms you picture yourself throwing her.
This terrifies you. This disturbs you. Omygod what is wrong with me, you think. What kind of person am I, who thinks this about their baby? You believe you would never hurt her but now you are scared because of the thought that played in your head.
That is a “scary thought”. They are the thoughts mothers have that they are afraid to speak about. They come suddenly, unwanted, and vividly, leaving a mother feeling terrified and disgusted with herself.
New parents have heightened anxiety levels, which fuel these kinds of thoughts as well as make new parents, both moms and dads, susceptible to them.
These thoughts do NOT mean that you are going to hurt yourself or your baby or that your client will hurt themselves or their babies. As stated, these thoughts greatly disturb the parent having them and they are afraid of these thoughts.
When people do end up hurting their infants it is usually as a result of a more severe psychotic disorder, referred to as psychosis. A person with psychosis would not be alarmed by these thoughts and would be disconnected from reality. It is important to note that having scary thoughts does not mean that you will become psychotic.
These intrusive thoughts usually have some sort of specific trigger such as heights, sharp objects, or water. They can be violent toward oneself or the child. They can also be vivid thoughts of harm coming to the baby and not necessarily the parent harming the baby. They can be sexual in nature. The important thing to remember is that they are not wanted (hence intrusive) and that they are disturbing to the person having them.
Because of the nature of these thoughts, they are incredibly isolating. A parent will not speak aloud about these thoughts in fear of being judged, or worse, in fear of having their child taken from them. These thoughts can lead to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in parents as they may try to avoid triggers or compensate for triggers.
Can you imagine feeling this way? You are already probably feeling isolated because you have a tiny new baby and that in and of itself can be isolating and then to top it off you are having these thoughts that make you feel like a crazy person and you are too scared to tell anyone. How crappy is that?!
The good news is that if you have had these thoughts you are not alone. They are more common than you think. There is even a whole book about them – however if you are currently having scary thoughts or recently have had them, I would not recommend reading it because it may trigger you.
The best thing that you can do is talk about them to a trained professional. Speaking to someone who is trained in treating postpartum clients is essential, as someone who isn’t trained in this area might not know what a scary thought is and how to treat it.
If you don’t know how to find a trained therapist call Postpartum Support International‘s warmline – they can connect you to one in your area.
If you ever feel unsafe with your baby, put them down. Take a break. Call a friend or a family member to come hang out and help you out.
This post is meant to draw attention to this issue and let moms and dads know that they are not alone and that they can reach out for help – it is in no way a substitute for real in person therapy! Please find help if you are suffering!