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

The Messy Middle:

Toward the end of May 2015, we had a mini photo shoot for a project related to my baby shower. If you can’t tell by the glow on my face, I was so happy! I was so hopeful! I was so excited! I was one of those women who LOVED being pregnant. This was the nearly two trimester long stage I call my “blissful pregnancy” because life was good!  

When we finally found out we were pregnant after nearly 14 years of marriage, my heart dared to dream. Just getting that statement out is excruciating, because I’m reminded of how many of those dreams have been crushed by this chaotic journey. These pictures still make me smile, but it’s mixed with a deep sadness now. They represent the calm before the perfect storm that would ravage everything. 

What we didn’t know at the time was that in just three and a half short weeks, my battle with two near-death experiences would beginThey were lurking, stalking me really, and I had no idea how much they would steal from us. We didn't know how their effects would turn our world upside down and reverberate long after the physical emergencies were over. Four years ago today, I sat in an Emergency Room and learned about a deadly pregnancy condition that would be the start of a life changing experience.

Today, I'm allowing myself to surf the waves of grief and gratitude that crash in together without warning or invitation. I'm giving myself the space to feel it without hesitation or apology. Because June 22 was the day the first of many balls dropped and this isn't how I ever imagined motherhood would be.

I’m told I have to name what I’m feeling, ride the waves and let it out.

I’m told there is no timetable for grief and it charts its own course.

I’m told grieving losses is not the same as complaining.  

I’m told that healing is happening when I can feel joy and grief at the same time.

As I sit, holed up in a coffee shop on the same sunny, summer day that was very nearly our last four years ago, it feels right to reflect on how far we’ve come. We’ve lost so much personally and as a family, but we’ve also gained and grown so much too. I was struggling a few weeks ago leading up to today (which seems to be my typical response to anniversaries so far), especially the week following my grandfather's death two weeks ago. In so many ways, it felt like that first year of survival when Nanny died. Then after a few days, the heaviness lifted almost overnight. Life went on… because it has to when you are caring for a little person. There are meals to prep, loads of laundry to wash, lego towers to build, hugs to give and bedtime routines that take over. The rest is pushed aside until you can't ignore it anymore.

I woke up this morning and for the first time in four years (and my seventh crack at these days overall), a survival anniversary felt like any other day. Then Postpartum PTSD set in a few hours later like an involuntary reflex. I can channel it like I’m doing now, but I can’t control when or how it strikes. Every innocent look at the clock was a reminder today. At 9am, I was gasping for breath in the stairwell. It's 10am. I was being wheeled out of my office on a stretcher and felt like a parade float around this time. It's 2:30pm. I was hearing the words “we suspect you have a pulmonary embolism.” right about now. So much came flooding back. Like how my mom was waiting for my ambulance to arrive at the hospital. The look on her face while I was being unloaded. How I told my husband not to bother coming to the hospital because he was working in Pennsylvania that day and everything was fine. We were just being extra cautious. How my husband didn't listen to me and arrived shortly after. You never thought I'd say this: thank you for not listening to me that day.  I started remembering a conversation from a year or so ago, when he recounted his frantic call to his sister on his way to the hospital that day. How he feared he was going to lose both of us. His life could be so different.

I know so much more now. I cringe when I think back to how uneducated I was about the maternal health crisis during my pregnancy. I was in the dark and so deep in denial that anything could be wrong. I'll never stop shouting about the warning signs of complications, because I’ve read their stories, heard their names and seen it up close myself. I’ve seen pictures of the babies and families they left behind. I’ve met their families at memorial events. We were so close to being counted among the lives lost in this crisis... so incredibly close. I can almost touch it. As I reflect on this day, along with the weeks and months that changed our life far beyond having our first baby, I realize how incredibly miraculous it is that Nathan and I are still here. I’m so glad the world has a little Nathan who loves all things yellow. What would the world be like without this sweet, affectionate little boy with such a big personality? I’m so thankful I get to snuggle with my little man and watch him grow up. So, so thankful. 

Four years ago today, the first ball dropped and so much began to unravel. Four years ago today, the first of two second chances emerged and a wild journey began.

This isn’t how I would have written our story. If I had my way, it’s fairly certain my draft would have been much closer to a fluffy, feel-good, chick-lit beach read. I suppose that is one of the lessons in all of this too. Every good story has escalation of conflict, plot twists and an eventual resolution. There is also a beginning, middle and end. We are developing characters somewhere in the messy middle. I'm confident that someday we’ll see the whole story and all the complexities and intricacies will finally make sense. Now more than ever, I’m thankful I’ve never been the Author of our story. Without question, I never could have written something as intense or compelling. 

#maternalhealth #wecandobetter

Mood: Pensive
Music: Vance Joy- Nation of Two

New to The Heart of Home?  Click here to catch up on our story!

Related posts about maternal morbidity, survivorship and pulmonary embolism:

Part 8: Crisis Strikes
Part 9: Can I Go Home Yet? 
Part 10: I Am A Survivor
Part 11: Know The Signs

About the Author: Casey Cattell struggled with infertility for more than a decade before giving birth to her son in 2015. She is a two time Maternal Near Miss Survivor writing to give hope to women in the midst of hardships.  She is a Patient Advocate, Heroes For Moms Ambassador, Survivor Support Group Leader and has shared her patient story with the National Blood Clot Alliance and co-authored Nobody Told Me About That. Casey and her husband live in the Northeast, USA and in their downtime like to explore new places 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.

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