When A Mother Needs Mothering

by Joelle Wisler

About 6 months after I stopped breastfeeding my first child, I had a panic attack—on an airplane, while my son slept peacefully in my arms. I remember looking over at my husband, eyes wide, while my heart threatened to exit my chest and sweat ran down my forehead and soaked the armpits of my shirt. My husband didn’t know what to do, so he just took the baby from my arms while I panicked. I just wanted to breathe. Nothing else mattered. My hands shook and my stomach heaved. I can’t even remember coming out of it, but I do remember that the rest of the day I continued to fill sick and disoriented and completely bewildered.

After the mother of all panic attacks, I continued to have them. Not often, but often enough that I felt myself losing a piece of me a little bit at a time. I became weepy and droopy and I couldn’t shake the feeling that my threads would simply unravel at any moment. I couldn’t figure out who I was as a human being, let alone a new mother.


I went to a therapist who diagnosed me with adjustment disorder. Which was possibly influenced by a hormonal imbalance when I had abruptly stopped breastfeeding. I went to a few appointments where I cried a lot, we talked, and then one day I came up with “The Plan,” which the therapist wholeheartedly supported.

The Plan was, essentially, to take a break from motherhood. What a strange thing to write. My son was only 15-months-old, and I already needed a break from being a mother? I tried not to let those guilty thoughts overwhelm me. You see, The Plan was to leave my husband and home in Colorado (where my husband was immersed in the beginning stages of starting his own business) for 15 weeks, take my son, and go live with my parents in California. There I would work full-time to cover a maternity leave at the physical therapy clinic where I had worked for 4 years, leaving my son in the care of my mom for the day.

And that’s what I did. I selfishly took those 15 weeks. And I slowly began to find myself again. I found myself, not only in the familiar work I did with old friends, but also in being mothered by own mother. I came home each day to a home-cooked dinner and neatly stacked piles of clean clothes and the sweet cuddles of my very happy baby.

My panic attacks stopped as abruptly as they had started. And, most importantly, I was able to watch my mom mother my child with a naturalness that had been missing from me since that breathless moment on the airplane. Each night that I got home, I couldn’t wait to hear about all of the adventures that they had taken that day: “He walked all the way to the beach today!” or, “He hid from me in the mall and scared the crap out of me today!”

After the 15 weeks were over and it was time for us to go home, it was a very painful thing to split my mom and son up. And she let me know that he was actually her baby now, and that I was very lucky that she was allowing me to take him home.

To this day, my mom and son have a special bond, built from those long days of sandcastles and slides and sunshine, when they gave me the space to grow into being his mom.