by Siné Stabosz, Birth Center Mama
It was less than 12 hours since I birthed my sweet Liliana; I was sitting up in bed nursing her when I started to feel as though someone was tightening a belt around my chest. My heart was racing and I couldn’t catch my breath. I cried out for my husband; all the while, the invisible belt around my chest was getting tighter. Through terrified tears and a conversation held between gasps for air, the decision was made for my husband to call 911.
By the time the paramedics arrived, the belt had loosened and I was able to feel my heart beat slowing its pace. When I explained what had been happening, one of them immediately identified that I had just experienced a panic attack. At the time, I was thoroughly relieved that it was only a panic attack and not the medical catastrophe I thought I was experiencing. When asked if I wanted to go to the hospital to get checked out, I declined in favor of nursing my baby and getting some sleep. Little did I know that this panic attack would be the first of many and the beginning of my journey through postpartum anxiety.
The weeks that followed that first panic attack were a bit of a blur. I was definitely experiencing a higher level of anxiety than my normal, but I didn’t think too much of it. I mean wouldn’t anyone adapting to life with a 16-month-old and a newborn be a little more stressed and anxious than usual? I thought so. Even after waking up at 5 in the morning to another panic attack 2 or 3 more times it didn’t occur to me that this anxiety I was feeling wasn’t normal. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.
It wasn’t until almost 3 months later that I found myself screaming at my 16-month-old son because he had accidentally knocked over a tub of nearly 200 crayons that I realized something was clearly wrong. I had never yelled at him before and here I was raving like a lunatic. I knew I needed to do something to make whatever was causing me to feel so crazy to stop. After calming myself down I popped my toddler in a seat with a spoon and a container of yogurt and I sat nursing the baby until my husband got home from work. When he walked in the door, I let him know what was going on. He told me he was going to help me get help and proceeded to call The Birth Center. The midwife he talked to gave him a referral for a counselor and a few strategies to help me start feeling better while I waited for an appointment.
Over the next couple of months, I met with a counselor who helped me figure out what I needed to do to help keep the anxiety and panic under control. In the depth of winter, I started taking an hour long walk every morning. I let go of my complete and total resistance to screen time for my toddler in favor of 30 minutes of quiet while Liliana napped. My husband, who I am pretty sure deserves a major award, helped me to figure out how I could get an hour or two out by myself every week. Slowly but surely, I stopped having to think about my breathing and whether or not I was starting to panic. I stopped waking up to full blown panic attacks in the middle of the night. I was getting better.
5 years ago, on Memorial Day weekend, I experienced my last panic attack. By Liliana’s 1st birthday in November, my anxiety levels finally felt 100 percent manageable.
Click here to learn more about prenatal and postpartum anxiety and mood disorders. Never hesitate to reach out to your provider if you are experiencing any symptoms of a prenatal or postpartum anxiety or mood disorder.