A journey of hope and healing after a decade of infertility and two maternal near-misses.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hitting Back On A Common Postpartum Phenomenon

Maybe you've had this experience too: coming home from the hospital after delivering a baby and feeling like you are not as prepared as you thought you were.  Parenthood is so much harder than anyone said.  No one receives a comprehensive education on how to be a new parent, and you might often say "nobody told me about this!"

I felt that sentiment myself in many different ways.  No one told me how determined and deliberate I needed to be with breastfeeding.  No one told me how time consuming pumping would be, especially in the beginning.  And then there are the obvious ones: no one told me about the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in this country!  No one told me about the warning signs of life-threatening pregnancy and postpartum complications!  Who knows if that knowledge would have helped me seek medical attention sooner and changed the course of my near-misses.   

Since the very beginning, I have wanted to reach future moms and share the things I wish I knew before the nightmare of a lifetime unfolded.  I had no idea how I would begin to take on such a task.  I started where I could, with maternal health themed blood drives and it is the reason why I have been so open about our experience.  No one said "hey, here are the symptoms to look out for.  Make sure you seek immediate medical care if they occur."  I wish they had!  I've always wanted to turn around to warn the future moms and to help make things better for them, because sadly, many will face similar catastrophic circumstances too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Our Story Part 18: Even Unto Death

I listened to two albums on repeat for most of my early recovery.  I heard the song Georgia by Vance Joy on Sirius radio the week before Nathan was born and downloaded the album a day later.  I don't know what it was about it that resonated with me even before all of the postpartum drama began.  Maybe it was the anticipation of delivery, knowing that it was high risk thanks to the blood thinners I was on.  There are so many lines on that album that ended up aligning with my battle in such a profound way.  Grief.  Heartbreak.  Suffering.  I’m sure he never thought a maternal near-miss survivor would extrapolate so much from what is very clearly a break-up playlist.  The other album was Inheritance by Audrey Assad.  I remember breaking down in my driveway with my infant sound asleep in the backseat of the parked car when I first heard His Mercies Are New and Even Unto Death.  They became a part of how I processed the trauma and a way that my heart overflowed with gratitude when I couldn't quite articulate my thoughts and feelings about everything yet.  Little did I know the melodies and lyrics would float along with me and bring me right back to those days long after they were gone.  If you have ever wondered how I dig up the emotion and rawness for most of my writing, it's a combination of music and my piecemeal journaling from the early days.  It’s amazing how they have the power to dredge it all up so easily.   

This is what I have been waiting two and half years to write.  My mind has played through it millions of times.  The thoughts.  The feelings.  The great uncertainty of whether or not I was going to have the privilege of raising the sweet little miracle I had prayed and pleaded for for more than a decade.  How would I even begin to tell this part?  Then after more than a year of avoidance, I listened to Even Unto Death on a whim and I knew.  Everything came flooding back with a vengeance.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Someone I Used To Know

November 21, 2017

I ran into her in the middle of the baking aisle and my first instinct was to give her a hug.  It’s been more than two years, yet seeing her again made it feel like it was yesterday.  It took a second for her to place me; we were in the grocery store after all, and then the gaze of recognition set in.  

“Oh my gosh!  How are you?  Wow, you look great!”  

All it took were those last three words for a mixed bag of weird, sad and heavy to set in.  Of course, I know she meant well.  Most of the weirdness was on my end.  Everyone who says it means it as a compliment but her acknowledgement of the changes she saw in me physically would feel so much different if they were because of a new set of fitness classes I had been taking.  Or running.  Or anything really.  Anything but the real reason behind the drastic transformation standing before her.  I could feel the tears welling up the second the words left her lips.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Turning Over A New Leaf

I have been an incredible slacker with my blog lately.  I knew it had been a long while since I last posted but when I counted four posts over the course of the last year, it made me really sad.  It’s not because of a lack of things going on- far from it actually- I guess I’ve taken to Instagram a lot as my place to process and share news in real time. 

Shortly after my classmate died last year, I stumbled on her widower’s blog and still check in from time to time to see if he’s written anything new.  His posts aren’t literary masterpieces ready for publication, but yet, in a sense they are because they are raw and real.  And maybe, just maybe, someone out there was checking in with my little old blog and wondering why the heck I’m not writing anymore.  It dawned on me that the rawness is what I crave here.  I often wish I had used my blog more to process in real time but I guess the nature of my experiences also made me hesitate and make a bit of sense of it all myself before letting the world in. 

I think my biggest hurdle has been my initial goal to catalog my experiences chronologically.  It’s also my perfectionist mentality- and the quest for accuracy and precision- that has been drilled into me over the course of 15 years by the never ending review processes of working in biotech.  I write something and then I sit on it because it’s not quite ready for prime time yet.  Sigh.  I kid you not; there are dozens and dozens of blog posts and thoughts just waiting to see the light of day.

So, friends, I’m turning over a new leaf.  I’m getting ready to let an awful lot out and in ways I can’t even believe I'm about to post publicly.  My story will continue but all of the side musings and tidbits are coming out in between too.  It’s not going to be perfect but I can assure you, it will be the honest ramblings of a near-miss survivor.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Our Story Part 17: Waiting and Fading

This post has been a long time coming.  If you have been following along over the last two years, you've probably noticed there is a huge gap between Part 16 and 17.  Thanks to super vague hospital discharge papers, I didn’t know exactly what procedures I had, how much blood I lost, how much blood I received or where my internal bleeding originated.  Every doctor appointment since my hospitalization has provided snippets of the unknown, new information gleaned during routine medical history assessments, leaving me with even more questions and a lack of answers.  I think it was a combination of my doctors not wanting to overwhelm me with all of these facts during such a fragile time early on and my inability to register what they were telling me.  I was so deep in survival mode that I inadvertently shut out a lot.  Even now, random bits of conversations I had with doctors from the confines of my hospital bed will come back to me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Same Song, Second Verse

I still vividly remember the first time I walked down the now familiar corridor to the elevators.  I was so slow and the 40 metal staples, embedded in my wounded flesh like a zipper, pulled and twisted with each step I took.  I grumbled to myself when an elderly person passed me.  After all, I was young!  Why was this so hard?  Maybe I wasn’t tough enough after all. 

Come on, I said.  Get it together.  

You don’t need a wheelchair again. 

Gosh, this hallway seems to go on and on.

There are times I wish I had the foresight to write what I was going through in real time.  There are so many things I have wanted to share that I’ve held back because I wanted my story to be chronological.  For some reason (I blame the science brain), I felt like if it wasn't in order, there is no way anyone could ever understand.  Ridiculous, I know.  So, when I tell you I have dozens and dozens of half written blog posts waiting to see the light of day, I’m not even kidding. 

As I drove to yet another hematology appointment earlier this morning, I realized I have to let all of this out.  Certainly, I write to encourage my readers to lean on God but I also write for myself too.  I probably write for my own benefit far more than I initially intended or believed.  It’s cathartic.  It’s literally saved me thousands and thousands of dollars in trauma therapy bills and as the story continues to unfold, I want to be able to tell it. I want the depth of emotion, fear and uncertainty to ebb and flow just as it does in my every day.

After two and a half years of appointments, it finally dawned on me.  As much as I’ve healed physically and emotionally, the aftermath of my near-misses is never going away.  I’m not talking about the grief either.  I already know that has set up camp and is here to stay.  I don’t know why it took me this long to fully realize the long term physical impact but when my hematologist said “You need to let us know in advance about any procedure you have in the future.”, I could actually see it reverberating 20, 30, even 40 years from now.  Every procedure.  Every battle with a yet-to-be-named enemy.  Maybe that doesn’t seem significant on the surface but with a family history chock full of heart disease and various cancers, procedures like a catheterization or angioplasty suddenly become even scarier.  

All of this time, I have been wrongly compartmentalizing.  I didn’t just have an obstetric emergency.  Even if you removed all of my non-essential organs, the problem persists.  Pregnancy may have brought the issue to light but it didn’t end when I delivered my son.  And it didn’t end when the doctors cut me open, patched me back together and sent me on my way.  A few weeks ago, I was reminded that “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11) by one of our blood drive supporters.  I have a problem with the very thing that sustains life.  How can that not affect everything?

Truth be told, the appointments are getting old.  I am tired of trekking in and out of Specialist's offices with little more than a reminder card for my next appointment.  While I’m thankful that no stone will remain unturned as my hematologist investigates the potential underlying cause(s) of pulmonary embolism, postpartum hemorrhage and disseminated intracoagulation (DIC), the lack of answers is frustrating.  I know someday the doctor visits will diminish and I may get a temporary reprieve until the next health issue strikes- which is hopefully many decades from now- but either way, it seems ridiculous to me that I am destined to rehash my near-miss history even when I’m 60 or 70 years old.  The complications will stalk me to some degree long after my little one has grown. They will always be lurking in the shadows preparing to swallow me whole again should the opportunity arise. 

So much was taken away during those five months that we struggled to survive that it is disheartening to come to terms that the effects will still be felt decades from now.  Gone are the dreams of a larger family.  Gone are the early moments of motherhood that I will never get back.  Gone is the possibility of closing this tragic chapter for good and moving forward without any lingering effects.  Maybe I should have seen this coming but I didn't.

As I gathered my things and headed to the elevator in the medical school academic building, I paused in the vestibule and noticed the railroad tracks again, this time from a different vantage point.  It’s true my medical gauntlet doesn’t fit neatly in a box.  It certainly hasn’t been sealed up tightly and tied with a bow, content to stay confined within one frightening chapter of my life.  No, it’s determined to thread its way through them all now. 

The elevator dinged and I walked away from the sun soaked windows overlooking the tressel.  Another train thundered past and a moment later I found myself in the long corridor once again.  Click, click, click.  My boots echoed on the tile floors.  It’s funny how this hallway brings back so many strong emotions and memories with it.  I don’t remember how many times I’ve been down it but I walk much faster now.  I let those words sink in.   

I walk much faster now.

We should all be so lucky. 

New to The Heart of Home?  Click here to catch up on previous posts!

Mood: Look How Far We've Come
Music: Vance Joy- Snaggletooth

About the Author: Casey Cattell struggled with infertility for more than a decade before giving birth to her son, Nathan, in 2015. She is a two time Maternal Near Miss Survivor writing to give hope to women in the midst of hardships that challenge their faith. She also enjoys sharing her latest creative exploits. Casey and her husband live in the Northeast, USA and in their downtime like to explore new places and hike with their young son. If you liked this post or were encouraged by it, please consider passing it on. Find Casey on Instagram and Twitter.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Improving Maternal Health and Safety

On January 23, 2018, New Jersey families will be one step closer to having increased maternal health awareness, helping to ensure that fewer woman will lose their lives or experience catastrophic illness as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. All hospitals, healthcare providers, professional associations and New Jersey residents are invited to participate in the campaign to raise awareness regarding the rise in the incidence of maternal deaths in the United States. According to the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1993 and 2013 (the most recent year reported), maternal mortality rates have increased nearly 56% in the U.S. Unfortunately, New Jersey is not immune to some of the same issues that we see across the country. By creating what appears to be the first Maternal Health Awareness Day in the nation, the state is recognizing the importance of ensuring all women have safe pregnancies and proactively helping women and their families by empowering women’s voices throughout the birth process, providing increased education for women and their family members and implementing safety bundles through New Jersey’s participation in the national Alliance for Innovation for MaternalHealth (AIM). As a two-time Maternal Near-Miss Survivor, I am proud to support Maternal Health Awareness Day by co-hosting a Blood Drive with Woodside Chapel Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) to send more families home as healthy as possible.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This Isn't How It Was Supposed To Be

The Golden Falcons- 1987
Late last month, I heard the news that a former classmate had died.  She was 38.  I haven’t seen her since our days playing high school soccer but my memories of her go all the way back to the 1st or 2nd grade.  I guess I felt a connection to her again after so long when I learned she also gave birth to her first child one month after me and after a string of losses due to infertility.  Both of our boys coincidentally share the same name and similarly, she was rushed to the ER one week after delivery.  But instead of pregnancy and delivery related complications like me, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and given 18 months to live.  I often saw updates on how she was doing and vividly remember the first night I started to pray for her while I was recovering myself.  I prayed she would get the same news I got: "You've been through hell but it looks like you're going to make it."  The news seemed to get worse for her.  She endured repeated surgeries and rounds of research drugs that may or may not have been working.  She fought hard for the chance to see her miracle baby learn and grow and while she got the chance to hear the sweet sound of laughter from her one and only son, the doctors had been right.  Brain cancer stole the hopes and dreams of a new mother and left a gaping hole in a young family.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Meeting Doctor Mills

With my Pulmonary Embolism Survival Anniversary and the New York City Walk to Stop The Clot coming up in less than two weeks, it is high time I posted about some other #stoptheclot related news from earlier in the year.  I had every intention of writing about this months ago, but you know... life with toddlers.  :)

If you have been following my story at all, you know the Emergency Room Doctor was crucial in the discovery and diagnosis of my bilateral pulmonary emboli when I was 24 weeks pregnant.  I shudder to think about what life would be like for my husband right now if we weren't fortunate enough to have a doctor who recognized the symptoms of blood clots.