Posts in Return to Work
Answers to Your Questions About Postpartum

Most questions we received this week were related to Postpartum OCD (ppOCD), so our brilliant and kind Dr. Michelle expounds on the topic here.  

Postpartum OCD (ppOCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive, unwanted, and repetitive thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions), which may or may not be accompanied by compulsive behaviors. While the exact cause of ppOCD is unknown, experts believe that it results from a combination of hormonal, psychological, genetic, biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors. Obsessions and compulsions can take many forms for different people and usually focus on the baby.

Obsessional thoughts might include:

  • I’m terrified my baby will get sick and die.

  • What if my baby stops breathing in the middle of the night?

  • I’m scared someone will steal my baby if we go out in public.

  • What if I accidentally or intentionally act on an urge to stab my baby?

  • Why do I keep having an image of my baby falling off the changing table?

Compulsions can include:

  • Repeatedly checking on the baby’s breathing in the middle of the night

  • Excessive bathing and washing rituals

  • Repeatedly asking others for reassurance that baby is okay

  • Taking great measures to avoid the baby

Obsessions are unwanted, difficult to control, and increase anxiety. In order to neutralize the anxiety associated with these obsessions, one might then engage in overt or mental compulsions or avoidance. For example, a mother might have repetitive images of something terrible happening to her baby while driving in the car. As a means to decrease the anxiety associated with this thought, she may avoid driving anywhere with her baby. Another mother might have unwanted thoughts that she will act on an urge to intentionally harm her own baby.  This mother might then begin to avoid her baby altogether. It is important to understand that in the latter example, this mother does not have these thoughts because she actually wants to hurt her child, but rather she is terrified that she might act on these thoughts. The obsessions are unwanted and conflict with a person's self-image and character.

According to the International OCD Foundation, up to 80% of new mothers report having strange, unwanted thoughts. This means that most new parents have similar experiences with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, but would not be diagnosed with Postpartum OCD. A diagnosis of OCD might be made when preoccupation with the intrusive thoughts is clearly disruptive to a mother’s normal functioning and greatly interferes with her ability to care for herself and her baby. It is no surprise that this can have devastating effects on the parent-child relationship and highlights the immense need for treatment. Due to the fear of stigma and feelings of intense shame, however many women are resistant to seeking help. If you or anyone you know is experiencing these symptoms please know that you are not alone and it is okay (and important) to reach out for help from a qualified and licensed mental health professional.

Others of you wanted to learn a little more about psychological and emotional responses to weaning. Dr. Michelle responds here: 

It is not uncommon for women to feel tearful, depressed, irritable, or anxious when weaning. Not much research exists on this topic, but some hypothesize that a shift in hormones when weaning may be a major cause for these feelings. Other factors might involve feelings of sadness around the loss of this special time with your infant. These mood changes usually go away on their own, but some weaning mothers may experience more severe symptoms that require treatment.

Adjusting To Life With A Baby After 20 Years Together

By Lindsey Staples

A Wife, Mommy and Career-Focused Wine Lover

Lindsey Staples

For the first 15 years of our marriage, we were the “if” we ever have kids, not the “when” we have kids kind of people. We have been together for 20 years and spent that time growing our careers and making memories while enjoying the freedom that being DINKs (dual income, no kids) provides! But once we decided that parenthood was for us, we tried and tried and I was eventually diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. Basically, I had no eggs and if, according to the doctor, I did have any, they were likely “no good.” We were devastated, to say the least.

I began questioning our decision to wait for so long. Did my career-focus stand in the way of us having a family? We got married when I was 20 years old – if we had started our family then, I would have had plenty of eggs, right? The guilt and regret was overwhelming. So overwhelming that my husband and I decided to put our house on the market, move to the beach in Southern California and completely reboot our lives (my firm has an office in LA, so I could transfer easily and the hubs owns his own business, so he can work from anywhere). I needed the beach. It’s a happy place for me. 

Did my career-focus stand in the way of us having a family? We got married when I was 20 years old – if we had started our family then, I would have had plenty of eggs, right?

In the meantime, we were referred to a fertility specialist and made an appointment even though we had told ourselves we were not willing to use medical intervention to conceive. Much to our surprise, the specialist disagreed with the diagnosis. And even more to our surprise, shock and awe actually, she did an ultrasound at that appointment and told us that I had an egg, prime and ready to be fertilized. She told us to go home and make a baby. I had no faith that it would work, but who were we to question our doctor’s orders? So make a baby we did and two weeks later, we got the answers to our prayers: a positive pregnancy test. Well, 5 positive pregnancy tests to be exact! We pulled our house off the market and Northern California became home again; the place where we would raise our family. 

When discussing starting a family, we promised ourselves that our marriage would always come first. We were committed to this baby not changing who we were as husband and wife. The reality is that our relationship as husband and wife did change. Seeing my husband love our daughter so deeply changed the way I look at him. I admire his commitment to being a dad; he is so natural at it. I am so blessed to have him as my partner in parenthood! Becoming parents has changed our marriage, which still comes first, but the love I have for him is so much deeper. Something I never thought was even possible.

Lindsey Staples

To be honest, I also didn’t want having a baby to change who I was as an individual either. In that vein, I was so naïve. The evening before my first day back to work I held our daughter and rocked her to sleep. With tears streaming down my face, I felt something I never thought possible: I felt like my daughter was enough, like I wanted to be a stay at home mom. Who had I become? I never understood how a child could be enough. Had I lost my sense of self since becoming a mother? I had always prided myself on my commitment to being an executive, my strong work ethic and my ability to travel the state, working long days while tirelessly keeping up with our busy social calendar. And now I was ready to throw in the towel on that. What had my daughter done to me?

I went to sleep that night and awoke the next morning to head to the office to begin construction on the build-out of my office, which had been put on hold while I was on leave. As I walked in, I was greeted by an office full of people who were happy to have me back and met with my construction crew to kick off our project. I felt fulfilled in a different way than I had been for the past two months. Not a better way, just a different way. I felt like I was right where I was meant to be. I knew then that I had indeed changed, but that I didn’t need to throw in the towel on my career, I just needed to find a balance.

Lindsey Staples

Fast forward nine months and I can say that motherhood is the most demanding job I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding. My husband and I often joke that the first eight months were spent just keeping her alive. What does a newborn really need other than intermittent sleep, a little food, a lot of diaper changes and a ton of love? Nothing…that’s the answer…nothing! But now we are entering the fun zone! I love coming home from work each night and ditching my Director of Operations body armor and getting silly during bath time or participating in our family 3 piece band, where Juliet plays the tambourine, daddy plays the guitar and I become a world renowned maraca shaker! 

I felt fulfilled in a different way than I had been for the past two months. Not a better way, just a different way. I felt like I was right where I was meant to be.

I will forever be grateful that the stars aligned and we kept that appointment with the fertility specialist and that we followed doctor’s orders and my one good egg turned into light of our lives!

Lindsey Staples
There is No Roadmap For Adjusting as a New Mom
Totum Women

Wendy Sylvester Thomas

Toronto, Ontario

South African/American/Canadian Friend, Business Lady, Mother, and Eternal Optimist 

From the moment I was pregnant, my mind was consumed with planning for our baby. Every type of new born decoration, detergent, dust buster and diaper was purchased for our precious baby. I gave no thought to me and how I would adjust to being a mom. I never thought about how I would feel about my new life with a baby or how it would feel to leave our precious baby with a stranger when I returned to work. It was the moment when we returned from the hospital to our NYC apartment, bucket seat with baby in hand that I realized that baby did not come with a manual and that there was certainly no manual for me on adjusting to my new life.

Being pregnant was the closest I came to being a celebrity. From always getting a seat on the subway to strangers speculating on the baby gender, it was me that was in full focus. The day after we returned from the hospital, celebrity status became a very distant memory and baby needs became omnipresent. What about me and the anxiety I felt adjusting to this new life?

I quickly realized that most questions were answered by trial and error and with many a Google search. I was lacking that central place to go, that central support system that could relate to my transforming life. My husband was beyond incredible as we adjusted to parents but no man could understand the emotional transformation that I was taking on.

I realized that baby did not come with a manual and that there was certainly no manual for me on adjusting to my new life.
Totum Women

As luck would have it, I had a few close friends who had babies weeks apart and together we branched into the new moms club together. Still, without guidance, we leaned on each other and those experiences we shared from the first few months bonded us for life. The stories we shared gave us the strength to adapt to our new lives as moms. As some brave moms returned to work, we relied on their guidance back into the workforce. That certainly did not come with a manual and lucky for me, I had great mentors who encouraged me along the way.

I have become so passionate about growing my career while being the dedicated mom that I have always wanted to be. Motherhood provided me with the opportunity to appreciate every moment in the day and to find that fine balance between work and family. The excitement of seeing my kids at the end of the day drives me at work. No matter how old my kids are, seeing them at the end of a work day is the best feeling in the world. My kids and husband are an inspiration to me and I can honestly say that since becoming a mom, I am a way stronger person. But every new phase brings a new set of challenges, concerns and the ever-present working mom guilt.  

I find that keeping a sense of humor and positive attitude makes a big difference for me, and I try to mentor younger women at work who are looking for support. Whether it's working from home after the kids are asleep, jumping on the trampoline and into Nerf gun battles after work before stopping to change out of my dress, or dedicating myself to fully focusing on the kids on nights and weekends until they're in bed, I'm consistently looking for the best way to hold myself accountable to high standards at work and at home. And sometimes it's exhausting. But I'm proud of being able to show our boys (husband included!) that I can lead a team at work while maintaining my sense of humor and softness toward family and friends.

I'm excited about the launch of this brand because it will mean that we can all give each other a bit of a hand and acknowledge that there's no one way to make it all work.  

Totum Stories Totum Women Blog
The Difference Between Happening FOR You & TO You
Sarah Gibbons

Meet Conscious Working Mama Founder, Sarah Gibbons. Sarah is a legacy builder. She believes that feeling fulfilled is a result of marrying inner purpose and outer expression. A high-achiever herself, Sarah helps ambitious, driven women experience their truth and express it authentically in order to create unique, dynamic, and fulfilling lives. Conscious Working Mama offers 1-1 coaching and workshops for mothers in business.

Sarah is one of Totum's expert contributors on motherhood. To read more from our experts, click here.

The other day I was caught up with getting ready for a school holiday, prepping for a trip, packing up my family, and all that goes into taking a break from my practice. I was buzzing around, tying up loose ends, when my middle son looked up and said, “Look mom, the trees are dancing. They’re trying to delight me.”

It stopped me in my tracks. I looked up, and sure enough, it was windy, and the trees were dancing.

It was the last part of his observation that really got me though: “They’re trying to delight me.”

What a beautiful, joyous way of seeing the wind in the trees, as though they are there just to delight you. This simple idea that things are happening for you.

Imagine if that was the way you perceived everything around you?

How much more joy would you be able to receive?

What if you were able to perceive even the challenges as “happening for you” rather than “happening to you”?

That is my challenge to you this week, Mamas: Can you awaken your consciousness during one moment of stress and become so present to this new idea that you’re able to shift your perspective away from “This thing [fill in the blank with whatever awful, joyful, or even mundane circumstance is before you] is happening to me” and toward “this thing is happening for me?”

Would you perceive mundane things like wind in the trees as happening just for you, to delight you? Would you perceive challenging things, like an argument with your partner or an email from your boss, as happening just for you, to grow you, to awaken you, or to connect you rather than to you as punishment?

What if you were able to perceive even the challenges as “happening for you” rather than “happening to you”?

How would the landscape of your day change if you were to practice this perspective shift? What if you went from practicing this once a day to five times a day, to eventually seeing everything around you at every moment as happening just for you, as a gift, as the perfect package delivered just to your heart for you to continuously renew your experience of life. What if you believe that everything is happening to you for your own growth and expansion?

Imagine the infinite possibilities.

I’m the first to admit that when something goes wrong, it can feel good to point fingers. But talk about a joy robber. Let’s leave the victim number behind and own this, ladies. If we want to experience a calmer version of ourselves, and one that’s able to make a greater impact and laugh a heck of a lot more, then this spiritual tip is how you’re going to do it.

Remember the distinction: life is happening for you vs. to you.

Onward powerful women,


Read more from Sarah on her Conscious Working Mama blog.

Sarah Gibbons