[Editor’s Note: When I asked the members of the Postpartum Progress Facebook 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, so please stop reading now if you’re not in a safe place. -Katherine]
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, 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 six o’clock in the morning 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.