More than a vessel: take care of your postpartum health

Gasping for air, I jumped out of bed at 3 a.m. during my seventh month of pregnancy with my firstborn. Before this jolt, I had been sleeping. Now fully awake, I forced myself to sit on the edge of my bed. Breathing was difficult, my heart was racing, and I felt an overwhelming urge to escape my house. I nudged my husband, and said, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” My husband had never seen me like this, and he agreed we should seek medical attention. We rushed to the ER as I reclined in the front seat, filled with panic.

When we arrived at the hospital, the staff immediately treated me, connecting me to various medical devices and asking me questions. The ER doctor soon approached my bedside, laid a hand on my arm and said, “You’re going to be just fine. While the symptoms are similar to those associated with a heart attack, that’s not what happened tonight. You suffered a severe panic attack.”

I instantly felt ashamed. I apologized for wasting the doctor’s time, and he said, “The heart racing, the shortness of breath—all of those symptoms are very real. You suffered tonight. Don’t apologize.” I asked him how I could suffer a panic attack while asleep. After all, I was asleep, so what could have scared me? He explained that pregnancy hormones—mixed with a predisposition to anxiety—never sleep. I experienced several more panic attacks during that pregnancy, once while happily watching my guilty pleasure, Dawson’s Creek. While I was preoccupied with my television, my subconscious was cooking up a different kind of episode.

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