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Postpartum Panic Attacks Are Hilarious! In Hindsight.

don't panic

Try telling that to your brain! Credit: Jim Linwood

So a funny thing happened to me in the days after I had my daughter. She was in the NICU and my husband and I ran out between feedings to grab a non-hospital breakfast. And then I had a full-fledged, trip-to-the-ER panic attack.

No biggie.

It started with a stomach pain. And I thought I was just hungry. But forcing down my Subway breakfast didn’t help at all, and I couldn’t even finish the English muffin. So my hubby and I drove back to the hospital, while the pain moved into my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I was shaking. I became convinced I was having a heart attack.

So when we got back to our room, I tried to go to the bathroom, thinking maybe that was the problem. At this point, I was in tears, convinced I was about to die because I was in so much pain. My husband was worried, so we headed to the NICU for our overdue feeding visit, where I proceeded to make a scene.

The nurses could tell something was wrong with my hyperventilating out-of-breath clammy self, and they did what any good nursing squad would do: Called a “code purple” to the NICU, fashioned an oxygen mask out of a styrofoam cup (none of the preemie oxygen masks would have fit!) and got me wheeled out of there and down to the ER on a gurney. To say it was one of my “bigger” moments in life would be fairly accurate.

The nurses had me kiss Avery goodbye, which you can imagine was great for my hysteria. Then I was in the ER for hours while they tested the living daylights out of me. I think a “code purple” meant “man down” because I kept getting asked about passing out. I got a blood draw, from which they couldn’t rule out the possibility of a blood clot—and having just given birth, they sent me for more tests. You name it, I had it: CT scan, ultrasound on my legs…it lasted forever.

Once the attack passed after about an hour of pure awfulness, I knew all of the tests were ridiculous. Once the pain went away and I regained my senses, I just wanted to get released.

The ER doctor was actually fantastic. His wife had had their twins prematurely, and she had also experienced a NICU meltdown—although he was nice enough not to phrase it exactly that way. She’d been put through the same battery of tests. And the nurses and doctors who witnessed my episode were great. The several who admitted to also having had panic attacks couldn’t have been cooler, with attitudes like “Yep, that’s bound to land you in the ER. Nothing more awful.”

The funny thing is, before I had a panic attack, I would have thought it was something that could be rationalized. Calm down, breathe, etc. Having had one? I totally understand the way it takes over from head to toe and how terrifying, awful and doomsday it can be.

Of course, being the Google-master that I am, it turns out that stress is a big cause. Also? “Big changes in your life, such as the addition of a baby.” My stress, besides the fun of giving birth and hormones and all of that, was attributed to an overnight incident when my daughter forgot to breathe while eating—setting off all of the bells and whistles and monitors she was attached to. She was fine, and I hadn’t thought the incident bothered me terribly, but my body had a delayed and memorable reaction.

Strangely, I’m not at all embarrassed about my “episode.” And I laugh about it now thinking about how dramatic it all felt at the time. Hopefully if I were ever to have another, I would know what to expect and how to cope. But luckily, many people never experience a second panic attack. Personally, I’ll take it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Have you ever had a fun panic attack experience? Make a total scene? Get taken anywhere on a gurney? —Erin 


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