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

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. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When God Says No: Finding Purpose in the Trenches of Infertility

It was a warm, spring evening at my nephew's end of the year school concert. We stood outside eagerly awaiting the kids to join their families after an adorable program. My little one, only 8 months old at the time, was fast asleep on my chest in the baby carrier. It wasn't long ago that I stood in this very spot at a previous concert, feeling so incredibly alone and very aware that I was the only woman of childbearing age without a child in attendance 

I remember the gut wrenching feeling of those days. After all, there were many days that I put on my brave Auntie face so I could be a part of my nephew's lives knowing the experiences I lovingly shared with them could very well be the closest I ever got to having children of my own. I remember babysitting the boys with my husband and rocking my youngest nephew to sleep in the dark with tears streaming down my face all the while soaking up a small portion of his sweet baby love knowing this could be it! That despite my millions of prayers and pleas for a family, whether biological or not, God may not give me the desire of my heart.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Listen Up: Infertility Isn’t a Choice

My husband and I were newly married and had it all figured out. We would start trying for a family by the time our fifth anniversary rolled around. We would have four children, raise them in a house on a beautiful, one acre property with a white picket fence and a dog.  Maybe we would have a pool too, maybe not. We figured we had some time to decide on that.  We had so much time to figure it all out.  That was fifteen years ago and life hasn't exactly gone according to our plan.  Not even close.

So often, the vision young people have about their future is entirely trouble free. No one plans on anything tragic.  No one hopes for a laundry list of diseases or medical conditions.  No one ever thinks they will struggle to achieve their dreams.  But for one in eight couples, the struggle to start a family is very real. 

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, a campaign to spread the word and reduce the stigma by bringing attention to the details, issues and costs surrounding all ways people can build a family.  When I heard this year's theme was "Listen Up!", it sounded a bit aggressive at first but maybe that's what we need.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Our Story Part 16: The Dark Days

These are the days that have haunted me for the last four hundred and ninety five days.  They have stolen peace and sleep, leaving a tremendous heaviness on my heart in their wake.  I have hesitated to share too much and yet I have also grieved the thought of not telling enough.  So much of me wants to forget that these days ever happened and another part of me wants to document them in excruciating detail.  This is the part of my story that is the hardest to write and the part that I so desperately want to capture as accurately as possible in an effort to convey the intensity and depth they deserve.  And yet I simultaneously have avoided this part for a very long time because revisiting these days is such a monumental and gut-wrenching task that requires me to pull the heaviest feelings, thoughts and memories from the place inside that I have attempted to bury them.  But it’s the part of my story that propels me the most to help others and the part that has given me a beautiful future purpose.  Despite all of the trials and challenges that came before it, these are the days that took whatever strength I had left and wrung me out like a wet towel.  God allowed this to drain me of my very last drop of strength so that the only way I could go on was by His strength alone.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Purpose Beyond The Pain

Life forever changed on a cold, blustery day in February 2015.  That morning, I was shocked to discover that my husband and I were expecting our first child after a decade long battle with infertility.  And yet, my son’s conception wouldn’t be the only miracle we saw during our journey to parenthood.  The beginning of my pregnancy was like a dream those first few months but then my elation turned into the fight of our lives.  At 24 weeks, I arrived at the hospital by ambulance where an ER doctor was instrumental in recognizing the signs and symptoms of bilateral pulmonary emboli so my unborn son and I could live.  From then on, our lives were hanging in the balance between life and death by a thread known as blood thinner therapy.  I was considered very high risk thereafter and I was monitored very closely for the duration of my pregnancy.  When I delivered our son that autumn, I felt like I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  We made it!  All of the challenges to becoming a family were behind us now, or so I thought.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Did Someone Say Dairy-Free Sugar Cookie?

I’m constantly on the lookout for dairy and nut free recipes ever since our son was diagnosed with a milk and peanut allergy earlier this year.  Unless he grows out of both, there are so many things he will miss out on (and well, that I have missed out on since I was his only food source until recently).  I miss baked brie and macaroni and cheese like I can’t even tell you!  You just can’t fake cheese!  Thankfully, he doesn't know any better but it still makes me sad he won't ever have the joy of warming up inside to a bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese after playing in the snow.  But one thing I have learned during this journey is that there are no rules when it comes to baking.  You can still get most of the flavor and consistency while completely omitting things like butter and cream depending on the recipe.  Case in point: it took several tries but I finally found the right combination of ingredients for the perfect sugar cookie that isn’t loaded with 4 lbs. of butter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Tale of Two Survivors

One year ago today, I sat in the car in my sister's driveway in tears.  We had just attended a small group Bible study at a friend's house.  It was my first time out of the house for something other than a doctor’s appointment and I was so incredibly weary.  There really are no words to sufficiently convey the tremendous weight of this type of weariness.  Crushed physically, mentally and in spirit, I was just beginning to pick up the pieces of our life that had been shattered by a catastrophic series of events over the previous six months.

I remember looking at my sister in the dark car while the words just poured out. "There has to be a greater purpose!  There must be someone out there who will go through some sort of hell for the Lord to have brought me through all of this.”  While I knew God was using this trial to build character and perseverance in me, I was also acutely aware that God intended to use it to help someone someday.  I didn’t know when or where.  I envisioned it would be years or even a few decades from now.  What I didn't expect was to learn her name the very next morning.