This is the second week of our Maternal Mental Health series, which is dedicated to perinatal Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In honour of OCD awareness week, we are publishing two blogs, one from Maria Bavetta, co-founder of the charity Maternal OCD, about her personal experience of dealing with and overcoming perinatal OCD, and another by King’s College London researcher Dr Fiona Challacombe that focuses on what we know about this condition and the challenges that need to be addressed in research in order to help treat these individuals.
My name is Maria, one of the co-founders of the charity Maternal OCD along with Diana Wilson. I also work as part of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance team, campaigning to ensure all women and families affected by perinatal mental health problems have access to high-quality, comprehensive perinatal mental health care.
I am writing this after our eldest flew the nest and has embarked on her next adventure, so what better time to reflect on the last 18 years and to consider what my next adventure could also be? As I start my new chapter and think about my daughter’s new world, I am reminded of all the ways I had to stand tall and trust I had it in me to succeed — even in the most challenging times during recovery.
Perinatal OCD — how it impacted my family and me
Perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is basically OCD during pregnancy or after birth — known as the perinatal period. Pregnancy or birth can sometimes trigger the disorder and/or a woman may have had OCD in the past. For more detailed descriptions of the main symptoms and the disorder as a whole, I would like to direct you to co-produced material with The Royal College of Psychiatrists focusing on what perinatal OCD is and information for carers.
I experienced perinatal OCD three months after my daughter was born, as the bottle washing started. My husband and I genuinely thought I was just being a little ‘too careful’ and tired from a new baby, so he washed the bottles, and we carried on.
Fast forward a few months, and I doubled our water bill with excessive washing and was very unwell. In my mind, everywhere was a risk of harm and therefore needed daily meticulous planning to ensure complete safety. This was an unattainable goal which led me to listen to my intrusive thoughts and inadvertently maintain the illness.
I often wonder how (or even if?) my OCD impacted my children, I’m not sure I will ever know. What I do know is for a while I was unable to be the mum, wife, daughter, sister or friend I wanted to be. I was unable to be truly present and had to ‘fake it’ which was exhausting especially when running on empty because of OCD.
It was also a time when OCD was not really spoken about; I am now becoming more confident in the national understanding albeit we have some way to go yet.
I do sometimes get sad for the times OCD stole from me. But I am now able to manage my emotional bank account in a way that wasn’t necessary years ago and maintaining a healthy mind is part of our planning and decision-making as a family.
My recovery journey: has there been a difference?
I am very fortunate to have been eligible for a research trial which gave me my wings.
After a vast amount of homework, working with a skilled therapist trained in a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (who understood the perinatal stage and applied techniques to the perinatal period and beyond), having supportive family and friends by my side and a dogged determination and energy that I’m not sure I could muster again, I got better. I became a typical mum who was tired because it was a long day not because OCD was demanding and stealing time from me.
As a mum, I have experienced services commissioned for people in the general adult population and services specifically for the perinatal period — it’s the latter that brought me home, the latter which helped me.
This is not a finger-pointing exercise to health care providers (HCPs) providing services for the general adult population, this is written unreservedly because for mums to recover from a perinatal mental health problem, they need and should have access to HCPs with a perinatal specialism.
Maternal OCD: who we are and what we do
Diana and I started Maternal OCD because there was nothing ‘out there’ for us during recovery and we felt alone. We found each other and realised the strength behind hearing other people’s stories and the need for raising awareness across various communities including healthcare professionals, commissioners, national decision-makers, academics and the local community.
We work with organisations who care passionately about improving services for women and families and have seen a cultural shift in awareness. This includes making perinatal OCD central to training for perinatal mental health teams, delivering commissioned training on perinatal OCD, co-producing leaflets with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, training student midwives and health visitors and psychologists, and meeting the general thirst for knowledge to support women and families impacted by perinatal OCD.
Supported by Maternal OCD patron Dr Fiona Challacombe, who also has a blog piece being published tomorrow for Inspire the Mind, we co-produce outputs including the creation of an animation, plans into computerised or online CBT, and most recently an infographic with the Perinatal Anxiety Research Lab.
For more information, you can watch me talk more about my experiences of suffering and recovering from perinatal OCD, as well as a workshop lead by Diana, Dr Fiona Challacombe and myself about ‘Dispelling the Myths of Perinatal OCD’ as part of OCD Action and The BDD Foundation’s Joint Virtual Conference 2021.
Maternal OCD will now be focusing on training and education, as a result peer support for women and families impacted by perinatal OCD will be provided by OCD Action. Find the support options below:
• Perinatal OCD support groups via Skype/Phone — twice monthly on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, 7pm.
• OCD Action Helpline: 0300 636 5478
• OCD Action email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maternal OCD contact details:
@maternalocd on Twitter