2 November 2015


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/
Two scenes that I witnessed recently set me thinking about how I might have fared if I'd ever become a mother, in light of my OCD.

The first took place late at night in the waiting room of a railway station in Bristol. Amongst the other passengers were a couple of young mums whose two boys, aged about three, were happily playing together. 

Their game of choice was to lie down on the floor, roll across it, pick themselves up and do it all over again...and again and again. I shuddered at the sight. Whilst my contamination issues are secondary to my ordering compulsions, this was more than I could bear. I felt as if I could actually see them getting dirtier with every roll, turning themselves into walking, talking biological weapons. It made me feel dirty, too.

Less than a week later, I was in another waiting room, at my doctor's surgery, when I found my attention drawn by a man's voice repeatedly saying 'Don't do that; it's dirty.'

I looked up from my newspaper to see a man addressing a small boy standing in front of one of the fabric-covered chairs. The boy was bent at the waist, with his cheek touching the seat, which was evidently the cause of the man's concern; although he seemed calm, he was insistent that the boy stop doing this. 

Strangely, this child's action didn't make me uncomfortable, perhaps because people don't tend to stand on chairs with dirty shoes - although I'm sure the one he was leaning on was far from clean, given its location.

I imagine many parents would cringe if their child rolled on the floor in a public place and, equally, many would dismiss the idea of a chair being a hazard. I'm pretty sure that if I'd had children, I'd have been at the unduly protective end of the scale, as a result of both my OCD and my generalised anxiety. Incidentally, it wasn't these conditions that put me off parenthood; I just never felt the biological urge!

Of course, most parents want to shield their children from harm, but that natural instinct can escalate and trigger compulsions in people previously unaffected by them. And it's easy to see why: when you find yourself responsible for something more precious to you than life itself, the world must suddenly seem a very dangerous place.

Whether a person already has OCD, or only develops it when they become a parent, it's important not to drag children into the condition's miserable orbit. It's hard for anyone to resist complying with a sufferer's demands, but even more so for children, and their emotional wellbeing is likely to be at risk if, for example, they're forced to adhere to a parent's strict cleaning rituals. Such rituals may be designed to protect, but ultimately do more harm than good.

Whatever your particular situation, help is available from both OCD Action and OCD UK. This page, about pre and postnatal OCD, is especially useful, as is this leaflet about perinatal OCD, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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