What It's Like To Have Postpartum Panic Attacks

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What It’s Like To Have Postpartum Panic Attacks

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A month ago, my second child was forcible removed from my womb via a scheduled C-section. While I was laying open on the operating table, I thought, “He’s almost here!”  Then I thought, “Oh god, what if ‘It’ happens again?”

I quickly tried to push that thought from my mind because I had prepared as much as I could. I’d had open conversations with my doctor about it, weighed my treatment options, and had my supports in place. There was nothing more I could do. “It” you might wonder is like my version of how the Harry Potter characters call Voldemort “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

“It” is postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.

Three years ago, my daughter was born in a slightly dramatic and, as it often goes, unplanned way. The weeks that proceeded were filled with all the emotions a first-time mom goes through and then some.  Then one day, a few weeks after her birth, I woke up and had a panic attack.

Within a few days, I was having multiple panic attacks, was unable to sleep, was having multiple digestive issues, and was crying on and off throughout the day. A few days after that, I was in the car driving home from the store. I got into the U-turn lane and began driving away from my house. All I knew is that I did not want to go home. I wanted to run away from my house, my husband, and my sweet newborn baby girl.

I instantly burst into tears and felt horrible guilt for what had just happened.  Why was I not the mother who was fully, and happily embracing all things motherhood? What kind of person was I that I wanted to run away from my life? My baby?

Now, in full transparency, I have a career in the mental health field. I can recite to you in my sleep what the symptoms of depression and anxiety are, positive coping skills to help deal with the symptoms, and professionals to reach out to. But for the life of me, I could not put my finger on what was wrong with me.

In my one thousandth Google search, I came across a detailed description of symptoms of postpartum anxiety and said, “Oh God…This is me.” In the days that followed, I did what I would recommend any person I was working with do. I made a doctor’s appointment, found a therapist, and began medication.  What I didn’t realize was how difficult following my own advice would be or how much of my pride I would have to put aside to ask those around me for help.

Fast forward to my first pre-natal appointment for my second pregnancy. My opening statement to my doctor was, “Hey…So I’m pregnant again. What happened before wasn’t a good look for me. What are my options to keep the ‘it’ to a minimum?”

I would start medication directly after birth, I would have a therapist on retainer, I would line up my supports, and I would not move heaven and earth to make breastfeeding work (that story is for another time).  I repeated to myself throughout my pregnancy, “You have to take care of you first.”

Fast forward again, to six days postpartum. My eyes opened, and bam…a panic attack. “This is not happening,” I told myself. The following morning, a panic attack and the sense that I just wanted to run far, far away. As the day went on, my anxiety grew and grew until I was unable to relax or sleep.  It was happening  just as intensely and with as much force as before.

“What kind of a mother am I?” I said to my husband. “What kind of a person has a baby and reacts by wanting to run away from them? Me.  I’m that mother.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been anyone’s mom.”

That was what kept playing in my head. “What kind of person am I? What kind of mother am I?” So again, I swallowed my pride and tearfully picked up the phone and called the doctor. That night, I sat and stared at my baby full of guilt and shame and dread wondering when and if I would ever be able to climb out of this hole again.

Fast forward, one last time, to now. I’m not back to my old self, but I’m not completely in the depths of darkness. I can see light at the end of the tunnel (although some days it seems far off, light nonetheless). To be able to recite the symptoms of both illnesses is one thing. To live them is another. And I say illnesses, because that is what they are. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are illnesses that take a person to a seemingly hopeless place. They are illnesses, that at least for me, fill me with doubt and anger and guilt. Postpartum depression and anxiety are illnesses that require treatment. They are illnesses that require compassion and love and understanding.  They are nobody’s fault nor are they indicative of what kind of mother a person is.

So, I say to those people who may be suffering, I understand you. I see you and hear you. There is no shame in asking for help contrary to what the voice inside you might be saying. You are worth it and you will be better for it.

I also say to the loved ones of those suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, it is difficult to watch and you may not know how to help. Support the person in their treatment. Know that you being a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or just a person to sit with is enough.

And lastly, I say to my “it”…while I completely dislike you, you have humbled me. You have taught me that it is okay to ask for help. You have shown me how many people love and support me. You have taught me that, yet again, I can be in the depths of a very dark place and still find light.