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The Silent Struggle: A Look at Postpartum Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Amber October 28, 2019

My knees knocked hard and my teeth chattered as I fought with every ounce of my being to quiet my insides down so I could try to make sense of what my friend was saying to me.

I took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I muttered. “I’m not sure I understood what you asked me.”

She looked at me funny and then repeated herself, asking, “Amber, are you ok?” 

I struggled to breathe, my throat threatening to close up. This wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, but this time around it was threatening to consume me. I’m pretty sure at that moment it did.

The terror that engulfed me had become commonplace for me after each one of my births. I was always so excited to see two pink lines on a pregnancy test, while at the same time overwhelmed at the feelings I knew would be as present after my new baby arrived.

I couldn’t quite explain it other than to say that after delivering a baby I felt out of my body. There was never a place where I felt safe and relaxed. My breathing was often erratic, my throat was tight, and fear consumed me day and night. I was unable to get a good night of sleep.

The words, “calm down” — as many well meaning friends were so willing to say to me — didn’t help. As if that was the missing element…”Ohhhh, I just need to calm down! That’s the key!” Forget it! Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing would calm the feelings inside of me.

Worse yet, I had no idea what the feelings even were and where they were coming from. In my naivety, I only knew that after giving birth, my otherwise manageable feelings of panic and anxiety were out of control. As in life dominating. Forget trying to welcome visitors, eager to see the baby or the task of running a household. It took everything just to remember to breathe. It was horrible.

Panic Attacks

Now, I was (and am still) not a stranger to panic attacks. That’s another story in and of itself. Panic is something I’ve dealt with since I was 16 years old when I was graced with my very first panic attack (at that time I thought it was debilitating) at one point, causing me to pull over to the side of the road while driving so I could catch my breath. At the time, I thought it was horrible, but I soon realized that my panic attacks from years ago were nothing compared to what I felt postpartum. Nothing.

As I said before, a positive pregnancy test was warning to my husband and me that hard days were coming, but I never truly understood why.

Until one day, I happened to be exploring natural ways to help panic attacks (and I must have thrown in the word postpartum into the Google search). Suddenly, the light was turned on. I happened to come across an article (I have no idea where that article is anymore) explaining that postpartum anxiety was a thing.

WHAT?? I had heard a ton about postpartum depression. In fact, I passed the postpartum depression test at the OB’s office with flying colors. Me? Depressed? On the contrary! Aside from the panic feelings (that were, indeed unmanageable) I was happy as a lark to have a new baby. I was definitely not depressed.

The article I found on Google went on to explain that the idea of postpartum anxiety or panic was a newly embraced idea. It was supposedly caused by the dip in hormones (or perhaps for some, the rise) and that as the woman’s body adjusted to postpartum life, some women may indeed feel unpleasant feelings such as panic attacks and anxiety. (Unpleasant is an understatement!)

My mind was blown! For one, I finally had a name for what I was experiencing. It wasn’t something made up in my head (not that anyone made me feel like that). I wondered often if maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was just the extra responsibility of adding another baby to our already busy household (we now have seven kiddos). For the first time, someone was telling me that what I was experiencing was normal, albeit difficult.

I was relieved to find the name for what I was feeling. It meant that I could start working toward the solution! And that’s exactly what I did! I have never been one to sit back and accept that an adversity is reason to sit down and accept it. I needed to find an answer! I’m happy to report that I did find answers and that my seventh delivery was way different, as was my postpartum recovery.

I want you to know that if anything at all that I have said resonates with you, please know that you are normal. You are not alone. And there is help! Whether or not you have experienced the degree of feelings I have, or you feel like my story is nothing compared to yours, postpartum panic is a thing. It’s a real thing!

So what did I do to help make my seventh delivery so different? There are several things that I’m excited to share with you.

Have Realistic Expectations

The very first thing I want you to do is to stop pressuring yourself. For me, nothing I said or did would or could make the feelings of panic go away. As a result, I needed to remind myself that these feelings were for a season and they weren’t gonna last forever. Panic has a funny way of making you feel like something you perceive to be true really is.

The truth is, feelings of fear and panic are the result of your imagination working over time. Panic can’t really hurt you. Now I know that telling you that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference when you feel like you’re dying. I can assure you that reminding myself I wasn’t gonna die, did not take away the feelings of panic. Not entirely. But over time, as I keep reminding myself that panic couldn’t hurt me, I eventually began to believe it.

That means when you’re feeling despaired, you remind yourself that it’s normal, and panic can’t hurt you. Then realize that if you struggle with postpartum panic/ anxiety, you will go through some tough times. Don’t expect any different. If you’re like me and postpartum panic/anxiety happens after every delivery, remind yourself that it’s coming (or maybe it’s already here) and accept that. It’s ok. Remember? It’s not gonna last forever!

Talk with Someone You Trust

No one should have to go it alone. You need support to get through the tough times. For me, that person is my husband. I’m freely able to share with him as the feelings arise. I let him know when I need someone to ground me and he’s able to be the steady when my world feels like it’s about to spin off it’s access.

I highly recommend you find someone that will really understand you, even if they don’t understand the panic. You don’t want someone who will judge you or make you feel like what you’re feeling is weird. That person may need help understanding what you need.

Even though my husband has always been amazing in helping me through, the truth is, he’s never felt panic like I’ve felt it. In that case, I try my hardest to communicate to him exactly what I need so that when the fear and panic comes, he can walk me through it.

Let Your Healthcare Provider in On Your Struggles

I let my doctor know about the struggles that I have after the baby is born. Now, the caveat is, if you see a traditional medical doctor, letting him or her know does mean you run the risk of them suggesting you take medication. I have always refused the medication and let the doctor know that I’m handling it naturally. And that’s totally ok.

The reason I believe it’s important to let your medical practitioner know is because they can keep an eye on whether or not anything physical is going on in your body that might need attention. It also helps just to let a professional know what you’re feeling. They’re there to help you!

Seek Help if You Need To

You may find that you need to talk to someone who is able to help you cope with the feelings you’re experiencing. That’s totally ok. If you feel like counseling would help you deal with your emotions, then go for it! Seeking help does not mean you’re weak. It means you are strong enough to know when you need help.

Realize That it Will Get Better

As is the case with most things, the passing of time helps a whole lot in helping you feel better. For me, it took the better part of the first year of each of my baby’s lives. (Until I finally got help!) But that doesn’t mean it has to take that long for you.

In fact, now that I’ve shared the things that have helped me with you, you may find you bounce back even quicker! My hope is that in sharing with you, I’ll spare you the struggles I endured.

These are the Things that Made All the Difference in my Postpartum Anxiety

Of course I chose to go the natural route in dealing with my postpartum panic attacks. Personally, I don’t feel that medication is necessary in order to treat panic and anxiety. I have found great results with the following natural treatments for postpartum anxiety and panic attacks.

  1. earthley.com/product/anxiety-calm-oil/”>CBD Oil – This is a gem. I cannot even begin to explain to you the difference it made in managing my panic attacks. In fact, my husband and I refer to it as liquid gold! Once adding it to my daily life, I have cut my panic attacks down considerably. The postpartum phase was so much more manageable. I have even used it while nursing.
  2. BioIdentical Hormones – These are naturally based hormones and not synthetic. I worked with a holistic doctor who did blood work to make sure that he was giving me exactly what I needed. I do not recommend treating yourself on your own. I was not surprised to find out that my progesterone, as well as my estrogen were very low. Once I was able to get those levels up, it made such a difference in calming the panic attacks.
  3. Essential Oils – When the panic attacks came I diffused lavender for a sense of calm. My husband lovingly rubbed my feet at night, with a blend of lavender, frankincense, and coconut oil, while I snuggled the baby. Essential oils gave me a sense of calm and well being.
  4. Water – It sounds funny, but making sure I had enough water each day was a major proponent in my feeling better. It didn’t take away the panic attacks, but I do know that not drinking enough water actually contributed to them. Often times I would feel a tight gripping on my throat and I wasn’t sure why. After trial and error, I realized that when I didn’t drink enough water, it made my throat tight and in turn the panic attacks were worse.

If you are a mama who struggles with postpartum panic/ anxiety, my heart goes out to you. I know the feelings of despair and fear. I wish I could give you a hug and let you know that it’s gonna be ok. Overall, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and what you’re experiencing is normal. And now you even know that what you’re experiencing has a name!

Have you had feelings of panic or anxiety after having a baby?

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Amber is the proud mama to seven great kids ranging in age from 16 years old all the way down to 6 months. She is married to Ben who also happens to be her pastor. Amber has a passion for helping people and enjoys finding new recipes to accommodate the various food allergies of several of her kids as well as her husband. She homeschools all her kids and has a love for things all natural. Finding ways to eat clean and natural is a high priority. No preservatives for this girl!
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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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