Help! I’m OCD and Pregnant

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I am five months pregnant with my first child and all I can think about is how awful a mother I am going to be. I have bought and read all the parenting books and am accumulating all the items (and then some) in the “baby starter kit,” but it’s never enough. I am always online shopping for this or that, even when I already have enough this-or-thats for an orphanage. I clean my apartment obsessively to make sure future baby isn’t exposed to something I might introduce between now and then. I eat the same organic foods at the same intervals, and I won’t go anywhere if there is even a remote chance someone will be smoking. I have a backup plan for every backup plan. I’m so OCD about this, and so anxious about failing as a mom, that I can’t even let myself think about the potential joys of motherhood.

I’ve long suspected that I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I’ve never actually been diagnosed or medicated. Now that I’m about to have a baby, I don’t want to start meds—that will only make me think about how that’s affecting my unborn child. So here I am, asking you what I should do. Is there any way to get my OCD under control before baby arrives and I go straight off the deep end? —Bad Mom-to-Be

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Dear Mom-to-Be,

You are right—it’s never enough. There is no way anyone can be prepared enough, trained enough, aware enough to be perfect at this parenting thing. The perfect parent does not exist.

Parental anxiety, however, is very real. It sounds a lot like you are having some intense, natural fears about becoming a parent. Working through those fears may help reduce the intensity of your distress.

My first recommendation would be to start working with a therapist as soon as possible to address some of the anxiety you are experiencing. That person may help you identify the underlying fears you are struggling with and offer coping strategies.

Good parenting is about creating an environment in which a kid feels loved, safe, and accepted for who they are. That starts with parents who practice self-acceptance.

There has been a cultural shift in recent years that created this myth of perfect parenting—if we just make the right choices, we will have the perfect child. It doesn’t work like that. The emphasis on perfectionism or “getting it right” has led to an increase in parental anxiety and child anxiety. When we believe there is no margin for error and mistakes are intolerable, we create an environment in which we drive ourselves to the brink trying to control everything. One reason parenthood can be so terrifying is it is a stark reminder of how little control we have.

We do our best to keep children healthy, but we can’t control that. I’ve had numerous parents tell me they just want their kid(s) to be “happy.” We can’t control that, either. We do the best we can and offer as much love as we can. Some days, we do pretty well. Other days, we don’t. If we can offer ourselves compassion in those moments, we can teach our kids to be self-compassionate as well.

Kids are resilient. So are parents. Good parenting is not about having a dust-free home or the latest in infant technology. Good parenting is about creating an environment in which a kid feels loved, safe, and accepted for who they are. That starts with parents who practice self-acceptance.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your baby (and your entire family system) is to eliminate unrealistic expectations and start to explore what really matters to you.

Parenting is hard, no question. You don’t need to make it harder on yourself by holding yourself to impossible standards. Working with someone who can help you explore your fears and work on reducing your anxiety may bring relief.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Jean

    Jean

    June 5th, 2018 at 9:23 AM

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think what you’re describing here necessarily means you have obsession compulsive disorder. Check the DSM to be sure, but I am pretty sure only a therapist can say for sure. To me you were just being a scared and cautiously prepared parent.

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