When both my boys were babies, I'd have intrusive thoughts of them drowning or being dropped. Sometimes the thoughts were of me doing these things to them on purpose. It was unbelievably terrifying to me. I never spoke of them when G was a baby, but when I was having them after L was born, I knew I needed to say something.
When I admitted these thoughts to my therapist, she told me about the book Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts. I bought it and my jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that 91% of new moms (and 88% of new dads!) struggle with intrusive thoughts like the ones I was having.
Ninety-one percent?! In that moment I felt normal.
So, what is an intrusive thought?
According to Wikipedia: An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.
Only recently have I admitted to myself that I have been battling intrusive thoughts since I was a teenager. Being an anxious person in general coupled with the unpredictability and uncertainty being a mom means intrusive thoughts are likely to always be part of my life. Thankfully though, with time and finally learning how to deal with them, the truly terrifying ones I was having after my boys were born have become less bothersome.
I'm not perfect at handling my scary thoughts. Clearly, as what I went through earlier this month indicated, I still need help from time to time. I'm so thankful that my therapist was willing to call me back that Sunday afternoon to remind me of the steps:
1. Acknowledge the thought. Trying to push the thought away or analyzing it only makes you think about it more.
2. Tell yourself the thought is scary/intrusive. You can even create a script or mantra to say when a scary thought bombards you:
a. “I am safe in this moment”
b. “This is not real. This is just a scary thought.”
3. Once you complete steps 1 and 2, some suggest to continue doing what you were doing when the thought entered your mind. But if that isn't helping, you can try diverting your mind. Distraction can temporarily break the loop of negative thinking. The following is a list of activities I’ve done to try and distract myself:
- Take a shower
- Go for a drive
- Talk a walk/run
- Call a friend
- Listen to music
- Watch mindless TV (Food Network is my go-to)
If you’re a new parent and have been struggling with intrusive thoughts, please remember you aren’t alone! Don’t be afraid to seek help if they are hard to handle or are worrisome for you.
Postpartum Support Virginia has a list of therapists and counselors who specialize in maternal mental health disorders or have been recommended by patients. I'm also happy to say that there are also two local peer-run support groups that meet monthly: