The New York Times just published a first person article written by a woman who found herself suffering from maternal O.C.D. For years now, postpartum depression has had the spotlight when talking about maternal mood disorders. The tragedy as it is given to us learning about this disorder is that women can be unable to bond with their child because of their depression, and have difficulty meeting the demands of motherhood. This is indeed tragic, but it is reductive to limit this result of a mood disorder to postpartum depression.
Motherhood is all-encompassing. We want to be at our best when we interact with our child, but in reality it gets all of us, the good parts and the bad parts. Not only do we bring our full self to the mix, but the hormones, neurological re-wiring, and the constant demands of parenting can trigger latent or new psychological issues. Anxiety and OCD can be too easy to dismiss as a new parent being overcautious, but can interrupt the bonding of mother and child just as postpartum depression can. Dr. James Leckman, a professor of child psychiatry, psychology and pediatrics at Yale who studies postpartum O.C.D. is quoted, saying that “parents who are overwhelmed by preoccupations generally don’t talk to their babies as much as other parents do. They don’t respond to their child’s subtle cues. They may even avoid contact with their children to save themselves the discomfort of anxiety and intrusive thoughts.”
It’s easy to let yourself go into the role of mother. The line where your relationship with yourself ends and where your relationship with your child and yourself as a mother begins can become blurred. Whenever possible, it’s important for us to step back from ourselves the mother, and see how we’re doing as ourselves. We’re all familiar with the speech the flight attendants give us at the beginning of a flight, to secure our oxygen mask before assisting the child next to us. This is an important principle to bring to motherhood and our emotional health. If we’re not doing well, we need to prioritize self-care as much as we can until find balance again. The immediate needs of a child so easily take precedent over ourselves. Taking the time to figure out what we can do to help ourselves when we find ourselves out of whack is an important and often neglected part of parenting.