I Kept a Heart-Pounding Secret

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2:03 AM

I woke up with a jolt from a nightmare. My heart was pounding and I was sweating. As the nightmare faded from my memory, my heart continued pounding. I took a few deep breaths and opened my eyes to convince myself it was all over, but my heart wasn’t getting the message. I sat up in bed and started to panic.

My chest felt tight, my heart was pounding like I had just jogged up three flights of stairs and I was rapidly fluctuating between sweating and freezing. When pain started shooting down my left arm, I decided it was time to wake my husband up. He took one look at my panic-stricken face and sprung into action. He asked if I thought I was having a heart attack and all I could tell him was that I thought I was too young for that. 

His mom rushed over to stay with our two boys and we headed for the emergency room. As we drove, my temperature stabilized and the nausea faded but my heart was still pounding faster and harder than I had ever felt it. Walking into the ER with chest pain is not taken lightly and I was in a gown hooked up to electrodes within minutes of the sliding doors whooshing open. 

As the nurses prepared the first test, I started sobbing and asking if this test was safe…because I was five weeks pregnant.

After a multitude of tests and exams, I was declared healthy and advised to cut back on caffeine. But it was only a few weeks before it happened again.

My entire third pregnancy was a blur of tightness in my chest whenever I drove on the highway, waking up in a full-on panic every few nights and being completely convinced that I was going to die during childbirth, and I told no one. Now that I had been medically advised that my heart was healthy, I attributed it to dehydration or too much salt or that I had accidentally consumed some caffeine…I didn’t tell my OB. I didn’t tell my friends or my sister or my mom. My husband knew about the middle-of-the-night attacks because he was there, but not the rest.

I was embarrassed, I thought I was making it up, I thought if I was taking better care of myself it wouldn’t be happening. I was suffering alone.

My third son’s birth did come with a terrifying hour or so, but I recovered and was sent home.

 I Kept a Heart-Pounding Secret

As the weeks passed, I was plagued with the normal newborn worries: is he breathing? Is he eating enough? When will he ever sleep more than an hour at a time?

And I was plagued with regular occurrences of chest-tightening, heart-pounding anxiety. 

My son was around four months old the next time I went to the ER. I woke up at around 6 a.m. with the same symptoms as before, and this time they were accompanied by jaw pain and shooting arm pain. Any google search will tell you that this is definitely a heart attack so I went to the hospital. They did a more comprehensive exam than the last hospital and I left with a diagnosis of Pleural effusion. The cardiologist told me that between carrying my son’s heavy baby car seat and picking up my middle son when he needed me, I had caused a buildup of fluid in the tissues in my chest. He recommended not carrying the infant seat or the three-year-old and sent me home. 

I suffered through months and months with these symptoms. I still did not confide in anyone. I still did not tell my OB. I had been cleared by a cardiologist so obviously, I was fine.

Except I wasn’t. 

It wasn’t until my son weaned and my hormones returned to normal that my symptoms stopped. And it was then that I realized what had been plaguing me: Post-Partum Anxiety

Looking back at the months I suffered in silence, I wish I had told someone everything. I wish I had read some of my friends’ posts on facebook about PPA and PPD and compared my symptoms to theirs, but I didn’t.

I kept it inside and smiled through full-blown panic attacks because I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it. 

I’m not quiet anymore and I hope you won’t be either. If a friend tells me she is feeling down a lot lately, I push for more information. I will tell her to talk to her OB, her partner, anyone! I will beg her to not suffer in silence because the loneliness of going through something like that only inside your own head is unnecessary and unfathomable. 

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