It has been described how one’s own mind can “try to torment you with the thoughts of whatever it is you consider to be the most inappropriate or awful thing you could do” (Baer). Lee Baer, Ph.D., Harvard professor and author, describes how a person’s most vulnerable self can become engulfed by thoughts that cut to the core of his or her fears. To a mother, there is no fear that comes close to that of harm coming to her baby. This is an absolute. It is universal. It is primal. This is precisely why a mother is so susceptible and at great risk for scary thoughts. The unpredictable demands of motherhood, along with biological, hormonal, and psychological challenges, combine to generate anxiety and worry of unprecedented proportion.
Not all anxious thoughts are scary, and some women don’t worry as much about this noise in their heads. They understand it to be part of feeling overwhelmed and are able to dismiss these thoughts without major difficulty. However, postpartum distress can manifest in copious fashion; it is frequently expressed as thoughts that mothers find unpleasant, offensive, or uncomfortable. Most people, at one time or another, have had a thought that scared them and wondered why in the world they would think such a thing. These thoughts or images or impulses may range from being mildly uncomfortable to vividly disturbing. This phenomenon appears to be part of the human condition. Fortunately, humans also have the capacity to compartmentalize these thoughts and protect themselves from these fleeting aberrations. But sometimes, for some people, under certain circumstances, the ability to filter these thoughts becomes compromised.
Motherhood is one of those circumstances.
Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts by Kleiman & Wenzel (Routledge, 2010)
photo credit: Vanessa Vander Eeckt