How my time on the neonatal unit led to an OCD diagnosis – Laura’s story

When Laura gave birth at 26+2 weeks she struggled with her mental health, here she talks about how she got support.

My waters leaked from about 22 weeks and I felt constantly ignored by the health professionals. At 25+2 weeks I started to get contractions so I went to my local hospital and was told my baby might be making an appearance earlier than expected.

Two days later I was transferred to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. I kept smiling throughout, not wanting to show anyone that I was worried. After a week of contractions, my waters broke and I was rushed into the operating theatre.

As I was wheeled out of the room my husband and parents were crying and I said: “Don't cry; everything will be okay.” As I was put to sleep a single tear rolled down my cheek.

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The next day I finally got to meet my baby. Charlotte was born 26+2 weeks weighing just 823g. I remember looking at her and crying because I hated seeing such an ill and frail baby. I felt like this baby in front of me wasn't mine.

It was a long 14 days before I finally got to hold Charlotte. I didn't cry or feel any emotion as I didn't have a connection with her. I felt like the worst person alive.

Six weeks later we were transferred back to Ipswich Hospital. After another month in hospital Charlotte was discharged home on oxygen.

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The day I brought Charlotte home was extremely nerve racking. She was sitting in front of me in her car seat with oxygen tanks and tubes stacked beside her.

One evening, when Charlotte was well enough to go out, we went shopping. I started to feel as if I was having a panic attack. I was standing in the car park about to load the shopping into the car when I felt as if somebody was going to attack us and harm Charlotte. I knew this was irrational as nobody was around and nobody would attack a baby.

Whenever I went out with Charlotte I would panic as I thought somebody would hurt her. I was even scared that my husband would harm her by giving her porridge that was too hot. I felt like I had to watch over whatever he did to make sure she was okay.

I could never sit down and relax. After five months I started to realise this is not normal and that I needed to get help . I spoke to my health visitor who told me about a mental health team who I should contact.

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I was appointed a prenatal mental health nurse who was amazing. She explained why I was feeling like this and how it is completely normal. After all, the neonatal nurses had looked after my baby for 10 weeks so when she came home I didn’t feel as if could do what they did.

I was trying to keep Charlotte safe but it wasn’t till somebody made me take a step back and made me realise that what I was doing was not normal. In actual fact, it was OCD. It went undiagnosed for so long as mums do panic about their babies. Mums always check on their babies in the night so what I was doing was classed as ‘normal’ behaviour until someone properly analysed what I was doing and why.

When Charlotte was six months old I started therapy. My therapist explained how feeling the need to check on your baby was normal but the intensity I felt made this a problem. After a few sessions I understood what was going on and what I had to do to help me get past this feeling of control.

I now understand my diagnosis and have moved forward since. I couldn't fault the treatment I received. It took me a while to see my progress and it was hard to make the changes but sometimes you have to be tough on yourself to get to the place of happiness.

As a family we are now stronger than ever, the life lessons we were taught through our NICU journey and from my mental health issues have only made us more open and stronger.

If any mums or dads feel like they are worried about their mental health please seek help. Something small can turn into a lifelong diagnosis. Help is there, whether it’s friends, family or health care specialists, please ask. Mental health is not to be looked down upon, especially when you have just been through an extremely rough journey that only NICU families will understand. Speak up and ask for help.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can call our helpline on 0808 801 0322 or view our online support pages.

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