Scary and intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression.
Intrusive thoughts lead many women to believe that they are terrible people, unfit mothers or a danger to their children. While many women experience them in some form, they don’t always recognize that they are intrusive or involuntary. Instead, they believe that the thoughts are how they truly feel, or what they are thinking subconsciously. They don’t talk about them for fear of what others will think of them.
It’s important to speak up about intrusive thoughts, but before a woman can do that – she needs to understand what they are, where they come from and what they mean. This is the only way she will be able to accept that the thoughts she is having are not who she has become, but rather, a side effect of her mental illness.
Here is some more information about intrusive thoughts.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are an idea or image that come to your mind involuntarily. The thoughts may be extremely out-of-character and can be shocking when they happen. They are almost exactly the same as the thoughts and images that you normally have, except that they are not created nor welcomed by you. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of mental illness and prove that your mind is playing tricks on you.
What are NOT Intrusive Thoughts?
- They are not hallucinations
- They are not third party voices in your head
- They are not an indication of postpartum psychosis
- They are not subconscious thoughts or images
- They are not part of your normal train of thought
- They are not how you truly feel deep down inside
Types of Intrusive Thoughts
The most common type of postpartum intrusive thoughts are of doing something bad to the baby. They can be “what if…” type of thoughts such as “what if I drop my baby down the stairs” or “what if I stab my baby with a knife.” They can also come in the form of intrusive images such as watching the baby drown in the bathtub or crashing the car with the baby in the backseat.
Intrusive thoughts can also be about harming yourself. Many women experience suicidal thoughts but have no actual desire to commit suicide. Postpartum depression can cause women to experience thoughts of running away, jumping out of a moving car or falling asleep and never waking up again. Intrusive thoughts often make a woman believe she is unfit to be a mother and that her children would be better off without her.
Another type of intrusive thought includes harming a spouse or another loved one. It’s normal to complain about the annoying things a spouse does and imagine doing something bad to them, but when it affects your relationship or comes out of nowhere it could be an intrusive thought. Postpartum depression, and especially postpartum rage, are often misdirected towards spouses and partners – making a woman believe that she really does hate her husband. Add in intrusive thoughts like running them over with the car and it’s a relationship nightmare…
Some intrusive thoughts are inappropriate and violent. Many can be sexual in nature or include things like harming animals, behaving violently or setting the house on fire.
Basically, any thought or image that enters your head that feels scary and unnatural is considered an intrusive thought.
The Danger of Intrusive Thoughts
Thoughts and images alone are not dangerous. But intrusive thoughts can cause several unwanted side effects that can become dangerous both physically and mentally.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Intrusive thoughts can cause a woman to develop postpartum OCD and become obsessed with certain thoughts and images. If she imagines the baby dying in their sleep, she may stop sleeping in order to check on baby several times through the night.
Stress and Anxiety. Knowing that intrusive thoughts are a possibility is a big source of stress and anxiety, which can worsen symptoms of postpartum depression. Intrusive thoughts can also cause panic attacks and other physical symptoms.
Acting on Intrusive Thoughts. It’s rare that a woman would go so far as to act on her intrusive thoughts but the danger that she might still exists. Being unable to recognize the difference between intrusive thoughts and reality can signal something worse (like postpartum psychosis). If you feel a strong urge to act on your intrusive thoughts, make sure to speak to your doctor immediately.
Stigmatizing. Intrusive thoughts play a major role in the stigma of postpartum depression. Many mothers who try to open up about them are treated like crazy people or seen as dangerous and suicidal. If intrusive thoughts are confessed to someone without enough knowledge about them (even a medical professional), the consequences could be devastating. Its important to find a safe place to discuss intrusive thoughts.
The Truth About Intrusive Thoughts
The truth is, they are not real. They may stem from the feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm caused by postpartum depression but they are not part of the subconscious mind. They are a figment of your imagination and a by-product of mental illness. In order to eliminate them, and avoid having them control your life, you need to accept that they are coming from somewhere else, and not from what’s within your heart.
How to Get Rid of Them
As long as a woman is suffering from a mental illness, the intrusive thoughts will always be a possibility. So the only way to eliminate them altogether is to treat the underlying condition. There are still several things a person can do to keep intrusive thoughts from affecting their lives.
Document Them. Writing down scary thoughts as they happen can help make them less frightening. You can write them on paper, in a journal or workbook, on your phone or use an app. If you really want to take a stand and connect with other women who are having them, you could even consider blogging about them.
Release Them. Intrusive thoughts are perhaps one of the hardest things to speak out loud when battling postpartum depression. Many people are not nearly as informed about intrusive thoughts as they should be, and this makes talking openly about them risky. The best place to express the scary thoughts you’re having is to find a safe and positive space, such as a support group. The Postpartum Stress Center offers a safe place online for women to anonymously #SpeaktheSecret. It helps to read some of the thoughts other women have had, and even submit your own to release them from your mind.
Online Therapy. Speaking to a mental health professional is always a good course of action for women battling intrusive thoughts. With online therapy, you have the option to chat with your therapist anytime throughout the day, as opposed to waiting for a scheduled appointment. This is a great option to be able to discuss scary thoughts as they occur. (If this is an option you’d like to explore, try online therapy using my affiliate link: https://runningintriangles.com/OnlineTherapy).
Meditation. Clearing the mind on a daily basis can help reduce the instances of intrusive thoughts. Meditation can also help to create mindfulness in general, making you feel a little bit more in control of the thoughts and images in your own head. Meditation, either alone or while doing yoga, should become an important part of your self-care routine for battling postpartum depression and intrusive thoughts.
Positive Imagery. Surround yourself with sights that make you feel happy. You can put together a photo album of some of your happiest photos and look at it regularly. Or keep flowers and plants in your home. Hang motivational posters or family photos on the walls. Subconsciously, your mind will soak up all the beauty around you and be a happier place.
Get Enough Sleep. Sleep deprivation is known for causing all kinds of problems in new mothers. A lack of sleep is like leaving the door wide open for scary thoughts. Try changing around your bedtime routine, invest in a better mattress or look into other ways to fight off insomnia.
Distraction. Keeping the mind distracted will allow less time for scary thoughts to creep in. Music is an excellent way to keep the mind distracted. Try playing music in the background while you’re home, call or visit with a friend, read a book or put on the television. Maintaining a proper self-care routine can also help keep intrusive thoughts away.
The most important factor in dealing with intrusive thoughts is to know the difference between your actual thoughts and the unwanted ones.
Having frightening thoughts may make you feel like a bad mother with the potential to do something harmful but it’s not the truth. Focus on the positive thoughts and try your best to ignore the ones that make you feel anything but joy. Accept that they are a side effect of postpartum depression and not who you have become. It may take a while for the thoughts and images to go away, but as long as you remember that you are still you inside, you can defeat them.
Oh Canada – the land of free healthcare!
While healthcare in Canada is free for citizens – and I wouldn’t want it any other way – it can be a challenge for mothers to find and access proper postpartum depression resources.
Obviously, speaking to a doctor would be the first step. But often, our family doctors, obstetricians or gynecologists were not our first choice, but rather, the ones with the shortest waiting list. It’s difficult to speak to someone about something as personal as postpartum depression when a strong relationship doesn’t exist.
For mothers in Canada, it’s important to have a list of postpartum depression resources we can access when we don’t get the answers we were looking for from our primary healthcare providers. Free healthcare doesn’t have to mean that our options are limited.
Here are a few different postpartum depression resources available to Canadians…
Postpartum Support International
PSI (postpartum.net) is perhaps one of the best postpartum depression resources available to women regardless of where you live. View their list of postpartum depression resources in Canada for contacts you can reach out to in each province. At the bottom of the page, you can get information for different support groups available in cities across Canada.
The PSI helpline is available to Canadians (and internationally). If you’re not sure where to begin on your journey to recovery, but simply know that you need help, calling this number is a great first step.
PSI Toll Free Helpline: 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD)
A postpartum doula is a fairly newer trend in postpartum support. While many women hire doulas to help them through labor and delivery, a postpartum doula is specifically there to help you in the postpartum period. They will do anything that you need – from helping with the baby to cleaning the house and running errands. Even if you have the support of a spouse or family members, a trained doula comes with a ton of knowledge, both about newborn baby care and maternal mental health.
So if you’re struggling, or worried about getting through the postpartum period on your own – consider hiring a postpartum doula to help.
Where to Find a Postpartum Doula
The best places to find a postpartum doula near you is by searching the member directories on professional certification websites.
Doula Canada | doulatraining.ca
A Canadian organization that trains doulas and childbirth educators. They offer listings of doula practices by province.
CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association) | www.cappa.net
An international organization for doula training and certification. Check out their list of CAPPA certified postpartum doulas in Canada.
ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association) | icea.org
A non-profit organization that supports doulas and other professional childbirth educators. Their list includes both certified and non-certified doulas in Canada.
DONA International | www.dona.org
One of the most widely recognized doula certification organizations – you can search their database for a postpartum doula near you!
Online Support Groups
An online support group is a great resource for mothers suffering from postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders. There is something so freeing about chatting with a stranger, commenting on posts from women who feel exactly the same as you do, and being able to share any knowledge you’ve come across or support another mother who is struggling.
The Canadian Postpartum Depression Support Network on Facebook has over 600 members and is a very active group with extremely supportive members who comment on nearly every post almost immediately. There is a benefit to joining a specifically Canadian group, as the members can relate to the healthcare system and treatment options available. Join this group here.
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group is a Facebook group run by Patricia Tomasi – maternal mental health writer for Huffington Post Canada. With over 1700 members, you’ll find great discussions and a very supportive group. Join this group here. You can also follow her Facebook page for lots of great information and articles about maternal mental health.
Postpartum Support International has their own Facebook group as well and it has well over 8,000 members. You are sure to get a response and lots of support from women all over the world who are struggling with maternal mental health issues. Join this group here.
Mother Matters is an 8 week online support group open to residents of Ontario. It is run by the Mental Health Program at Women’s College Hospital, and registration must be done in advance. Find out more here.
If you’re looking for a more specific group, simply search on Facebook groups for one. Once you find a group that’s the right fit, it can easily become one of your most treasured postpartum depression resources.
Provincial Crisis Hotlines
In addition to Postpartum Support International’s Helpline, there are several local crisis hotlines available throughout Canada.
A crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency or if you are contemplating suicide, hurting yourself or hurting someone else. The hotline operators are trained to handle emergency situations, especially those pertaining to mental health, so you can rest assured that they will understand what you are going through.
A local crisis hotline is one of the most important postpartum depression resources to keep nearby in case your mental health worsens suddenly. In the event that you need physical intervention or support, help can be dispatched immediately.
Visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to locate the crisis centers in your province – suicideprevention.ca/need-help
A list of different crisis hotline numbers available by province can also be found on the Your Life Counts website –www.yourlifecounts.org
Counseling is an excellent treatment option for women with postpartum depression, however, there are many barriers to meeting with a counselor in person.
Some things that may discourage mothers from seeking face-to-face counseling:
- Difficulty finding a counselor that you feel comfortable talking to
- Unable to arrange childcare while attending sessions
- Unmotivated to leave the house for appointments
- Scheduling conflicts or a lack of extra time
- Fear of others finding out that you need counseling
Online counseling is a much better option for mothers with postpartum depression. Through sites such as Online Therapy and BetterHelp, mothers will be matched with a counselor based on their needs, and the sessions conveniently take place from the privacy of their own home.
Genetic Research Study
Mom Genes is a genetic research study being conducted in Canada by the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. (It’s also being run in several other countries by their own sponsors). They are currently trying to collect information from women who have postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. With this information, they will hopefully be able to find out the cause of postpartum depression as well as develop better programs and treatment options.
To take part in the study is very simple – it just requires downloading a free app. If you qualify, you’ll be asked to provide a DNA sample in the form of a saliva kit which will be mailed to you. In addition to contributing to this important study, the app provides postpartum depression resources, such as a tip of the week and important phone numbers.
Health & Wellness Products
Aside from anti-depressants, there are many all-natural and herbal supplements available that can help with the symptoms of postpartum depression.
A few popular products known to improve the overall mood and well-being of mothers with postpartum depression includes:
One of the best online sites to purchase health and wellness products in Canada is Well.ca. Whatever natural products you need for your own self-care routine and to help improve your mental health can be found here. Check out Well.ca’s Women’s Health Section to find all the products you’re currently using.
Aromatherapy has amazing health and mood-boosting benefits. There are so many different blends and oils available to treat specific symptoms and create a more positive environment. Learn more about how aromatherapy can benefit you.
Decent, Canadian, online shopping sites are surprisingly good postpartum depression resources because it’s difficult to find the motivation to leave the house to find the products we need for our own health.
Platforms to Spread Awareness
Postpartum depression is dark and ugly. It’s shocking and harsh and evil and all the bad things in the world. But it’s also something beautiful. It’s powerful and real and truthful. A postpartum depression story, when shared with the world, can change lives.
To see what I mean, check out some of the stories from brave sufferers and survivors of postpartum depression in The Ultimate Collection of Postpartum Depression Stories. Or read more from real moms in our 10 Questions About Postpartum Depression.
Are you ready to turn your postpartum depression story into something beautiful? Share it in the form of a guest post right here on Running in Triangles.
Here are some other platforms where you can share your postpartum depression story:
- Postpartum Support International – Tell Your Story (this is a good platform if you’ve ever used the services of PSI along your journey)
- Muddy Boots and Diamonds – Surviving the Darkness (share your story in the form of an interview. Read my interview here)
- I am 1 in 4 (share a story about your mental health journey to help raise awareness and break down the stigma. See my story here.)
- The Mighty (follow other sufferers of mental illness and submit your own story or poem about postpartum depression)
- YouTube (view postpartum depression stories that other moms have uploaded)
Or, consider starting your own blog! Mental health bloggers are doing some incredible things to help spread awareness and end the stigma by speaking up and sharing their stories. If you’re interested in learning how to start your own mental health blog, check out this tutorial: How to Start Blogging About Postpartum Depression.
It’s unfortunate that there isn’t enough awareness about postpartum depression resources in Canada.
There are a few groups on Facebook that are working hard towards spreading awareness, including Maternal Mental Health Progress in Canada and Postpartum Depression Awareness and they’re definitely worth a follow.
Get this FREE printable PDF Quick Reference Guide of National Crisis Support Numbers in the Running in Triangles Free Resource Library, available exclusively to subscribers of the Postpartum Depression Survival Guide. Click here to subscribe.
Know of a Canadian postpartum depression resource that’s not on this list? Let me know!
I’ve given birth to three kids, experienced three similar pregnancies, labored through three natural, drug-free births, but ended up with three very different postpartum recovery periods…
What’s the difference between the baby blues vs. postpartum depression? It’s a question that many mothers have asked themselves because it’s hard to know for sure if you’re suffering from a maternal mental health disorder or not.
The baby blues is not an actual mental health disorder, but a common experience in the early days postpartum, however some women don’t experience it at all. Postpartum depression is often explained away as a bad case of the baby blues when, in reality, it’s much more serious.
To help end some of the confusion, here’s what it felt like first hand.
The Baby Blues
Shortly after the birth of my first child I experienced symptoms of what I believe were the common baby blues. They didn’t last long and they didn’t disrupt my life (much).
The mood swings were my first indicator. I remember watching my husband interact with the baby while our two dogs sat at his feet watching. I thought about how the dogs had no idea how much life was changing and I instantly burst into tears. I’m not usually a sensitive or emotional person so this was a sure sign to me that I was experiencing some type of hormonal imbalance. It was very similar to the mood swings I experienced during pregnancy. [Try tracking your moods with a printable mood tracker]
The sleep deprivation added to my emotional state. The way someone would feel after staying up partying all night long (which may or may not be a familiar feeling for me *wink wink*). I felt irritable and edgy but sleep, when I could get it, was welcome and helped to alleviate the stress. [Keep track of how much sleep you’re getting each night].
My brain was foggy and I was easily distracted. The “mom brain” was probably one of the hardest symptoms for me to manage as someone who prides themselves on having a great memory. Suddenly I couldn’t multi-task because I would forget what I was doing in the first place. I wrote down absolutely everything in a log book, significant or not, in a vain attempt to remember everything.
I felt an overwhelming urge to protect him and I worried a lot about everything he did. I worried about holding him too much, or not enough. I worried about the way others were holding him. I worried about his diaper being put on properly. I worried about such small and insignificant things (in addition to all the normal motherhood worrying like how much he was eating, pooping and sleeping). [Document your worries in a worry workbook]
I didn’t bond with the baby as much as I thought I would. I spent a lot of time talking to him but the lack of a response discouraged me. I wasn’t absolutely head over heels in love with him the way motherhood is portrayed in the media, but I didn’t feel anything negative either. I was just so tired and still adjusting to this new lifestyle.
We didn’t get out of the house much at first. I was extremely overprotective of him and convinced that he would contract bad germs from strangers. Aside from worrying, I honestly just didn’t feel like leaving the comfort of my own home.
It eventually went away on it’s own. Similar to a really bad case of PMS, I started to feel “normal” again. I didn’t cry at the mere thought of something sad and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and socialize. By the time he was 2 months old he was smiling, making eye contact and interacting and I did fall head over heels in love with him.
After the birth of my second child, things felt a little bit different. That first baby that I didn’t bond with? Well he was two years old now and the absolute center of my world. So for the first couple months, things were monotonous and scheduled and boring – as long as the baby was concerned, at least.
She had basic needs and I didn’t try too hard to bond with her. I figured it would happen eventually, so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself this time. The first two months after her birth were extremely busy in my social life so I didn’t have time to stew over the fact that life as I knew it had completely changed.
But when the dust settled and I was left at home, alone, with a toddler and a newborn who wouldn’t stop crying – things changed…
I was tired and emotional but this time I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. Every time I closed my eyes I thought I heard the baby cry and got up to check on her. Sometimes it was 15 times in an hour but I couldn’t stop myself because I knew the one time I didn’t check on her would be the time something bad happened. If someone else offered to look after her while I took a nap, then I would lie in bed for 2 hours worrying if she was alright.
The mood swings were extreme and uncontrollable. As the weeks went on, I started to despise her. I blamed her for everything I was feeling. She felt my negative feelings and cried harder and longer which made me dislike her even more. But then I would think about how I’ve always wanted to have a daughter and I would suffocate her in love – until she started crying again. The slightest things could send me into fits of rage and I got offended and jealous very easily.
I was terrified to leave the house with her. I was certain she would cry and I wouldn’t be able to handle her and everyone would stare at me and think I was a horrible mother. So I stayed in my house where no one could judge me. I avoided contact with almost everyone.
And the worst part of all was that I lied about what I was feeling to everyone. I felt humiliated and inadequate and worthless but I hid it the best I could. I dressed the baby up in cute outfits and took cute pictures of her to post on social media. I posted captions about how much I loved having a baby girl and how all of my dreams had come true but in reality I just wanted to rewind life to a time before she existed.
The more I tried to “fix” things, the worse they got. Even when I tried to “snap out of it” the baby was still reacting to my negative energy and crying all day and night. My brain was full of terrible ways I could get her to shut up but instead I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for what seemed like hours. The guilt eventually built up huge walls that closed in on me. I even contemplated suicide.
For months I battled in silence, not knowing it was postpartum depression. I kept waiting for this funk to pass, waiting for the “hormones to regulate” but they never did, not without help, that is. Read more about my personal battle with postpartum depression here.
For more information about postpartum depression and other maternal mental health disorders, check out this comprehensive guide from Parenting Pod. If you need help with what you believe might be postpartum depression, you can speak to an online therapist from Better Help. Visit https://www.betterhelp.com/
No Postpartum Mood Disorder
Considering I went to hell and back with my last baby, I must have been absolutely crazy to have another one, right? The postpartum depression was forefront in my mind but this time I felt more prepared. I knew what to look for, and I knew that I needed to speak up if I felt something was even a little bit off.
The first time she was placed in my arms, I felt it. That immediate love that legends were made of. I couldn’t wait to hold her and I didn’t want to do anything else except just stare at her perfect face.
The early days with her were peaceful and calm – despite the sleepless nights. The other two children often played with each other and so I had her all to myself. The fact that she couldn’t talk back to me actually made me want to spend MORE time with her!
Trying to balance three children was definitely a challenge, and extremely overwhelming at times, but instead of being afraid and nervous and frustrated – I felt excited and determined to make the best of it!
I felt like I could control my mood. Even on days when she was extra fussy or I was extra tired, I always managed to stay calm and relaxed around her. I never felt a sad or negative thought about her. And she was a calm and relaxed baby because of it.
Initially I worried about how the older children would handle the new baby. But they never once showed any signs of jealousy towards her and completely welcomed her into our family. I cried more tears of joy in her first few months than I ever have in my life.
I worried about how much she ate, pooped and slept and whether she was hitting her milestones on time. Mostly because I was always comparing her to the other children. In an attempt to get things right this time, I asked a lot of questions, I sought a lot of help and I socialized as often as possible.
I took all three kids out as often as I could. It was next to impossible to manage all of them in public (and it still is) but I sure didn’t want to get stuck inside the house with them!
When it comes to the baby blues vs. postpartum depression vs. no postpartum mood disorder, I can’t say for certain what factors affected these different outcomes. It was only in hindsight that I was able to really identify the differences. But regardless of my three experiences, I feel the same kind of love for all three of my children. When I think about life with a newborn, I try my hardest to reflect on the happiness of my last one, but will never forget the darkness that came before.