This past week was Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (you can read more about that here: (MMH Coalition) . Given that I’ll happily discuss the post-partum state of my pelvic floor with casual acquaintances at baby yoga (pretty much okay, still pee if I cough hard more than 4 times, thanks for asking), you can guess I’m in no way ashamed to say that since Bertie was born, I’ve struggled twice now, with a resurgence of my old pal, Anxiety Disorder. For me, Anxiety Disorder comes in the form of OCD thought patterns.
The best way to describe how it feels for the gloriously uninitiated, is … imagine you’re casually flicking through the TV channels and you accidentally come across an advert for a really scary horror film. You hate horror films. The remote stops working. You’re stuck on the awful advert. And it’s scaring the shit out of you, but that bastarding remote control just WILL NOT work. You know that Masterchef is on in two minutes but you can’t change the channel. Another advert flicks up. Even more horrifying. You jam the button on the remote again in desperation and – excellent – BBC1 appears on the screen, and all is well. Greg enthuses about a rhubarb crumble, he even does a weird sexy wiggle about a creme anglaise, and you sort of forget the scary films for a bit, but when you get up to get a class of wine… shit. You step on the remote and the TV flicks over to … another horrifying, gory, graphic trailer.
Out of nowhere, anywhere between once and one hundred times a day, I’ll suddenly be thinking about what to make for dinner, or whether I might finally be able to go for a run this evening, and I’ll be seized by a fear of something awful – and usually enormously unlikely – happening to Bertie. This ‘happening’ might either because of an awful twist of fate, or more often, because I’ve in some way, failed him as a parent.
He might get sick… with something incredibly rare. Like Zika. Because there are mosquitoes in London these days, especially around the canal. I might trip up while I’m carrying him off the boat and drop him in the water and he might sink into the mud and I’ll never find him. A random dog on the towpath could appear from nowhere and bite his leg off in the baby carrier…..
I can almost see these horrors happening in my minds eye.
The ‘horrors’ are called ‘intrusive thoughts’ by psychologists and 91% of new mums report suffering them to some degree (this excellent book can tell you more) . I’m lucky – I’ve had lots of counselling in years gone by and I’m currently wading my way out of the mire of what is only my second ’bout’ of intrusive thoughts since Bertie was born. But if you don’t know what they are, experiencing these bizarre, scary thoughts for the first time as a new mum could be truly terrifying – and make you wish you could just put the baby into a safe bubble, or zorb, until they were 16 and able to walk around without falling eyebrow first onto the edge of a coffee table.
It might seem that a narrowboat is an enormously dangerous place for a small baby – so I have every reason to worry. All that water! And the engine! And isn’t it COLD? (I’ll say this only once – no – living on a boat is not cold. If anything, I’m sweltered 75% of the time). But the reality is that living on a boat is no more dangerous than living in a house with a baby, if you take reasonable precautions – it’s just the detail of the things you worry about that’s different.
Land mums might worry – a little or a lot – about dropping the baby down the stairs. I worry about dropping the baby in the canal. On land, the busy road just outside the front door might plague a mum with visions of escapee children playing chicken with transit vans… a boat mum might worry about the 5 or 6 feet of water that waits through the stern doors. In a house, there’s no engine room with heavy machinery to keep locked up – but there might well be a utility room full of household chemicals, or a cupboard under the stairs full of sharp ice skates, baseball bats or barbed fishing hooks.
Living on a boat isn’t making me worry more about keeping Bertie safe – all mums do that. I’m just one of the 91% of all new mums who suffer intrusive thoughts – from fears that they might accidentally hurt their baby themselves, to obsessing over everyday ‘dangers’, to worrying without any apparent cause that their baby is sick – that disturb their ‘usual’ thought patterns. The only thing different about intrusive thoughts for me, compared to mums on land, is the nagging realisation that actually, living on the water, an inflatable zorb might actually not be a bad idea…