Three weeks after Betty’s daughter was born, Betty saw a television ad from the government with a stern warning about COVID-19. The commercial discussed washing hands for twenty seconds, practicing social distancing and leaving the house only when necessary. Betty became scared and started to Google COVID-19. She researched symptoms, confirmed cases and deaths – including one infant in the USA. She researched COVID-19 for three hours while the baby was napping. Betty thought that there is a significant possibility her daughter could die if Betty wasn’t careful enough. She wasn’t going to let that happen.
Betty began washing her hands more diligently and more frequently: before and after diaper changes, before breast feeding and soon enough before handing her baby at all. Betty’s husband started working from home and Betty required him to wash his hands before handling the baby too. Betty stopped allowing visitors in the house and cancelled pediatrician appointments. She started ordering Click and Collect Groceries, permitting her husband to leave the house only for this purpose. The fear of contracting COVID-19 kept Betty and her daughter indoors all the time. Betty stopped going for walks with her daughter and checking the mail. She refused to be anywhere near the door for fear it could open and contaminate her with COVID-19. The moment her husband came home, Betty asked him to sanitize all groceries and surfaces the groceries touched. He then was asked to take a shower and wash the clothing he wore out of the house.
Betty was constantly living in fear and began experiencing what-if thoughts related to COVID-19. She would experience thoughts about having it without knowing it and then passing it to her baby through breast milk – so Betty stopped breast feeding. Her hands were calloused, cracking and bloody from washing them so often. Betty put on disposable gloves to prevent her blood from giving COVID-19 to her daughter. She wore the latex gloves in the house most of the time and frequently asked her husband if a safe way is to handle the baby is with latex gloves.
The contamination list continued to grow as did her husband’s concern. To Betty’s husband, she was getting worse with each passing day. She involved him in cleaning routines and constantly asked if something was safe for the baby, or if he thought she had COVID-19. The concerns Betty was constantly experiencing started to impact their marriage and Betty’s husband became increasingly more frustrated with her demands. He told her that her concerns were unreasonable and if the baby did get sick it wouldn’t be her fault.
Eventually Betty’s mom got involved and together, they had a three-way video appointment with her doctor. During this meeting Betty told her doctor about the what-if thoughts and how she knocks on wood when they arise. She told her doctor why she stopped breast feeding. She disclosed so much. and it felt so good to stop hiding behind this fear. At this point, Betty had done enough Googling to know the diagnosis coming her way: Postpartum OCD. She was scared about what this meant but she knew that the best way to help herself, her marriage and her baby was to get professional help.
Most new parents; both men and women, normally experience intrusive and upsetting thoughts about harming a new baby. This becomes OCD when a meaning is given to the intrusive thought as it happened for Betty.
Betty’s treatment consisted of support groups for mothers experiencing similar symptoms and treatment called Exposure and Response Prevention. Betty’s case is fictional but based on an article written for the International OCD Foundation from a mother experiencing ppOCD.
Carrie, F. (2004). For the Love of my Baby: My battle with Postpartum OCD. OCD Newsletter, 28 (1).
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