What do you say when you hear the words “I’m terrified that I’m going to harm my baby”
Those words are ones that would be hard to say if you’re a mother. But if you’re a professional, be it a midwife, a health visitor, a doula or a counsellor, they can be hard to hear too. Those words represent an ultimate taboo. A mother wanting to harm her own baby…..
But just wait a minute. If you are very astute, you will have spotted my deliberate error there. Can you see it? They are not the same thing. “I’m terrified I’m going to harm my baby” is not the same as “I want to harm my baby”.
If you hear a mother say “I’m terrified I’m going to harm my baby” the chances are she is suffering from an anxiety disorder, and she is not a danger to her baby. She is about as dangerous as some-one with fear of heights, who stands near(ish) a cliff and says “I’m terrified I’m going to jump off”. You wouldn’t call the crisis team in this instance would you? Instead, you might say “no you’re not, you’re just scared”. It’s the same with mothers. If a mother is anxious (and especially if she is suffering from perinatal or maternal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) then she might talk about suffocating her baby, but she can be reassured that she isn’t mad or bad, she is scared. And of course, if you make the mistake of reacting like she is mad or bad, and call the crisis team, you certainly aren’t going to ease her anxiety!
To find out more about perinatal mental health problems, come to my workshop for birthing professionals on Friday 10th June 2016. For details, click here
Mia Scotland, Author of “Why Perinatal Depression Matters” and Perinatal Clinical Psychologist.