Postpartum Panic Attacks Give Way To Postpartum Joy

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When I asked the members of the Postpartum Progress Facebook Fan Page for their stories on postpartum panic attacks, I was actually surprised by how many moms had them. I was fortunate not to experience a panic attack, but I’ve had postpartum anxiety, and I’ve been with people who are in the midst of having them and it’s a horrible thing to watch someone overcome by the symptoms and unable to control them.

Today, I’m sharing another story of panic attacks, this time from Laura Pejsa. It may be tough for some of you to read about she went through, which is why I’ve put up the emergency stop button, but there is a happy ending.


6 a.m.

It is 6 am. I know this not because I have heard an alarm or looked at my watch. I know this because “it” has started—just like “it” did yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. “It” starts with a muffled, scratchy sound in my ears, similar to radio static, which gradually builds to a roar. My heart begins to race too, too fast, and I sweat and shiver simultaneously. Sometimes everything goes dark and I must wait a few moments before my vision returns. Always, I am terrified. But I keep telling myself that I am not going to die, because I thought I would die those other days, yet I lived. I live.

As I wait for the roaring and racing to pass this morning, though, I start to experience a new sensation. My skin is trying to slither right off of my cold, sweaty body. I feel as if there are worms scurrying up and down my legs and arms. I clench and unclench my fists and kick my legs against the mattress — somehow the movement gives me something to do — but I cannot make it stop. Tears well up in my eyes as I flail in bed. I do not want to bother anyone, but I’m so, so scared. I call out for my mom. She comes rushing in to my childhood bedroom, bleary-eyed from the night of waking with my baby. I am here, at my parents’, because my husband has to work and I am afraid to be home alone with my four-week-old son. He slept next to her bed in a laundry basket last night while I tried desperately to sleep. I don’t think I did, at least not for more than a few hours. I am now sobbing and trying to explain to my mom that I feel bugs all over me and I can’t stop “it”. She grabs my hands and holds them tight while I kick and arch my back against the horrible slithering. I don’t know how long we are here like this — mother and daughter — both terrified, both holding on for dear life.

My mom spends the morning on the phone with doctors and nurses, trying to find help. Finally, an appointment is made. She pulls clothes from my suitcase and helps me dress, stopping to hold my shaking hands a few times and doing her best to smooth the static from my unwashed hair. She leads me out to the living room, where my dad is slowly rocking and feeding my little boy. My dad looks so tired. I see my parents, scared and growing older before my eyes, and I hate myself for doing this to them. I feel like their dreams of seeing their daughter as a mother are shattered. I look down at my baby, dutifully sucking down the formula we starting feeding him yesterday, because I couldn’t keep up with the feeding and pumping. I notice with some detachment that he is beautiful. The thought hits me that he is safer, more comfortable, more loved there in my own daddy’s arms than he ever will be with me. I feel this with all of my being. And then “it” starts again, and I have to steady myself on a piece of furniture to quell the shaking.

We go to the hospital, where, after a long wait in a freezing cold room, I am interviewed by a new, young OB. She cannot hide the fear in her own eyes, and I wonder if she’s ever seen anything like me before. But she does the right thing. Thank God she knows what to do. Later that night I will swallow an Ambien and for the first time in a month sleep for longer than a couple of hours. A week later I will face a new day without “it” — no more sunrise panic attacks.

Months later, I will find myself at 6 am snuggled in my own bed, next to my slumbering baby boy, watching him sleep with the groggy joy of a new parent. Finally at peace … finally a mother.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. Story brings tears to my eyes as I could have written it myself. It is nice to know that the madness does eventually end, and cuddling with your baby is finally joyful.

  2. At one point I had actually told my mom that I didn't want my daughter and she told me that she would take her and my mind thought that my baby would be better off with her also. (I don't think she realized at the time that I was serious.) I started out with anxiety. I felt I had to keep watch constantly and ALWAYS be with her. I also did not sleep much at all and would straight up forget to eat. I had some panic attacks but luckily not severe. Mostly if I was alone with her but once I was holding her with my mom right next to me and it confused me because I knew we were fine.

  3. Amanda Wingate says:

    Oh my goodness… I just sobbed and sobbed as I read this to myself, and then aloud to my mother. It is my story, as if I had written it myself. Never, have I ever, read anyone put into words exactly how the panic attacks felt, and the guilt because of them. To this day, I feel guilty over my PPD, PPA, although I know it wasn't my fault and there wasn't anything I could do about it, I just still feel guilt. Thank you so much for not only this entry, but all your work. You are making a difference and it matters. When I finished ready this, mama wonders aloud if it helps me to read this (because I sobbed so much) to which I answer, oh mama, more than you'll ever know, because I know I'm not alone. And I think that is the most important part of this site. As I look at my precious daughter who will be 2 in September, and I am so thankful for being strong enough to admit I had a problem and needed help. I'm thankful for my mama listening and taking over, and I am thankful for the help I received. I am eternally thankful for this site and what it means to me. Keep up the good work.

  4. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    What an awesome thing to read. I am so glad that you found something that helps validate your experience!!!!! I will be sure to make sure Laura sees this, so she knows how much her words helped you. Big hugs! Please don't feel guilty. It's not your fault.

  5. Finally at peace…boom. i am so so happy for you. This just prooves that this demon can be overcome. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Melissa says:

    I could have written this. Although I did not suffer from panic attacks, I did suffer from Conversion Disorder – where I was unable to move or speak other than shaking. Just looking at my little girl could send me into a fit for upwards of 30 minutes.
    My mom was also my hero. She took care of me and called everywhere looking for help for me. I can't thank her enough for what she did.
    I am so grateful to God that Laura got the help she needed. And that I did too.
    Much love.

  7. Thanks for your kind words, everyone. My thoughts go out to all of you who have been through this or are battling it now. It does get better. Sometimes I think the panic may have been a positive thing, in my case, because it was so severe I couldn't hide it from my family. Though I didn't want to ask for help with my voice, my body cried out for me with un-ignorable physical symptoms.
    The panic and anxiety is a hard thing to put into words, but the more we all do it, the sooner other new moms might realize what is happening to them and get help. Early intervention really did save me and gave me so much more time with my son.

    • I don’t know how to thank u and thank this site. . It’s really help me through my PPD. . I thought I’m alone and I have gone crazy but reading your story and the comments made me feel that I’m not alone. and at one day I will be happy with my family. . Hopping that day will come soon. .

      • I also have panick attacks I have developed a lot of symtoms like left arm numbness, tingling sensation on my face, arms, head shorthness of breath chest pain and horrible horrible thougts I can not stop thinking my mind is always busy with awful thoughts I keep thinking I’m glj ng to have a heart attack and die and never see my baby grow I cry and pray to god to give me strength I hope one day this go away and I change my mind I dont want anymore children my son will be my only child I do not want to go through this again. Pregnancy has messed up my life

        • I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Please know you’re not alone and postpartum panic disorder and anxiety is fully treatable. You don’t have to keep living with these panic attacks. Reach out to your doctor and let him or her you need help. It’s okay to ask for help. Really.