Alexis’ Story: Intrusive Thoughts Became My Norm
My story starts with a birth no mother would ever wish for. If I’m being honest, my first encounter with intrusive thoughts occurred after the birth of my first son, but thankfully they were less traumatic and short-lived. No one could have ever prepared me for what I’d experience with my sweet Leo.
An Early and Unexpected Arrival
October 17, 2017, I sat in my kitchen while my older son, Noah, napped. At 33 weeks pregnant I was already in full-on mommy-prep-mode. I was (on page six of) writing notes for my parents and mother-in-law who would take care of Noah while we were bringing his brother into the world. Fools make plans.
I decided to take a shower while Noah napped and felt (what I thought were) intense Braxton Hicks contractions. I noticed Noah was waking as I exited the shower and went to greet him with a song and outstretched arms ready to offer him a dance. In an instant, my world changed. I felt something awful and reached down to see my hand covered in blood. I knew my son wasn’t ready.
I’ll spare you the horrific details and tell you that my son was born, alive, at 2:29 AM on October 18, 2017. Staff whisked him away before I could see his face, or smell his skin and intubated him immediately as his lungs were not able to function on their own. He spent the first 21 days of his life in the NICU and his dad and I were beside him as much as possible.
All things considered, I was doing great. My older children needed me, my spouse needed me, most of all, my premature baby needed me. He needed to know and feel that he was loved, and that we were doing everything in our power to get him healthy. We were praying, each and every day, for the moment we’d be told he could come home.
A Hard Homecoming
Leo’s homecoming came but it was not easy. His prematurity greatly affected his digestive system and his reflux was more intense than we could have ever imagined. On doctor’s orders, we kept him upright 24/7 – my husband and I taking shifts. When it was my turn to sleep, I still exhausted myself by setting an alarm to pump for my miracle baby.
With time, Leo got better, and that’s when I fell apart. It was as if my brain had a sensor that knew the moment I wasn’t on high-alert for my son, that it must deal with the trauma I’d just been through. Intrusive thoughts became my norm.
Overnight, the humans I cared most about became the ones I feared the most. I was terrified to be alone with my children. What if I went crazy? What if I hurt them? What if I drowned them? What if I stabbed them? I could not be trusted with these precious lives.
But no one ever told me. No one ever told me that intrusive thoughts were a NORMAL symptom of PPA, PPD, and PP-OCD. No one told me being terrified by my thoughts was actually a GOOD thing! No one told me that there was help and there was hope.
Searching for Help and Finding Hope
In my desperation, I searched Google for a support group to help me and I stumbled upon Postpartum Support International’s website. There, I found a warm line where I left my contact information and I was promptly contacted by a PSI Coordinator. She connected me with a local non-profit called Moms Mental Health Initiative. Miraculously, they were able to get me into a therapist that VERY.SAME.DAY. They also welcomed me into their Circle of Hope – a peer support group filled with moms who were on journeys similar to my own.
I want to share my story because I don’t want other moms to feel like they need to fight their battles in isolation. I want to advocate for the mom who doesn’t have the strength to advocate for herself. To the mama who is struggling and reading this – it takes courage, strength and perseverance to ask for, and receive, the right help it but it IS out there.
Your baby deserves it, your family deserves it but, most of all YOU deserve it! You don’t have to suffer in silence or miss out on an experience that should be one of the best of your life. Please know that you are not alone. I see you, I hear you, I am you.
We’re honored to share Alexis’ story as part of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative’s Marathon of Moms campaign. Stories of lived experience are one of the most powerful tools we have to combat stigma and the shame surrounding mental illness. They’re also vitally important as we look to develop tools, resources and treatments that work for moms and meet their needs. Thank you, Alexis!