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

If You're Losing Sleep

FLASH BACK: September 9, 2019

It wasn’t the first phrase that came to mind, but when I said it aloud, I knew that was it. I had been busying myself with a number of major transitions over the last year- a move and a long list of home improvement projects- and now another one was added to the mix. My son started preschool. I was sad time was going by so incredibly fast and excited for him at the same time. I couldn’t wait to hear about his day and all the new things he’d learn, and yet, I was standing in my kitchen at 10pm on a Sunday night feeling anxious. Or jittery. Or just out of sorts.

What’s wrong, he asks.

Nothing, I say.

That wasn't necessarily true. Something was off but I didn't know what it was. I didn't have the words to describe it. But I could feel it. It was like a tightening in my gut, but not a scary kind that would warrant a trip to the ER. Believe me, I played through that mental checklist already. No, this... I knew I felt this before. I was just having a hard time pinpointing it.

I open the fridge. Maybe I’m hungry. Maybe I want something sweet before bed.

I really don’t want anything in here.

I open the cabinet and grab the marshmallows. Maybe a toasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate. That sounds good.

I’m not hungry. Why am I making this at 10pm?

This banter with myself continued for another ten minutes while I was thinking about the week ahead. Interestingly, a new small group focusing on grief was starting at my church that Saturday and I told myself it would be a good thing to go when my husband’s work schedule allowed. The timing was good. It was 3-4 weeks ahead of my anniversary. Then it hit me.

I know what this is.

The insomnia had already started. Why didn’t I see it sooner? The introspection. The near tear-fest at the preschool meet and greet the other day when I saw my son's name on a paper apple up on the wall with the other students' names. "I almost missed this", I thought at the time. The angst. It’s a handful of weeks before my anniversary... and I’m struggling.

When I say it, it’s almost like I gave myself permission to feel it. I’m struggling. I’m not myself. I told myself earlier today that I’m feeling depressed all of a sudden. Nathan and I went for a walk after dinner because I just couldn’t stand to be in the house anymore. I knew I had to get moving to get out of this funk I’m in. I hadn’t yet realized what it was though.

PTSD rears it’s ugly head in a lot of ways. I’ve experienced the nightmares and flashbacks before. As time goes on, thankfully, they have lessened considerably. The thing that haunts me is insomnia. The complete and utter inability to turn off my thoughts at night. Laying there awake staring at the ceiling (of course, during the rare, unicorn phase of 8+ hour sleep cycles with my son) and it becomes maddening fairly quickly. I should be asleep when he is asleep, but it’s like a button pressed on the back of my head the second my head hits the pillow and I’m on for the rest of the night.

It’s why I’m still standing in my kitchen writing this when my little family is fast asleep.

It’s why I feel like a giant hand gripped me from head to toe and just squeezed.

I want to throw up.

I also really want to go to sleep.

I don’t know why PTSD cycles like this. More often than not, I feel fine. Maybe I’ve suppressed it enough where I *think* I’m fine. Lord only knows. But the cycle goes on. At the rate I’ve been going over the past few years, I should start to get some quality sleep in about six weeks. 

Until then...

Present Day, January 19, 2021

PTSD season is hardly rare in the maternal morbidity and birth trauma community. It’s something most of us deal with on a regular basis in one form or another. Yet, one of the things I continually hear from members in our support group is that no one around them understands why our birth trauma still affects us years after the emergency is over. And I’m talking about new mothers who were diligent about seeking help too. Women who spent countless hours in therapy. Women who tried EMDR. Women who take care of themselves through diet and exercise. Imagine the effects for the new mothers who don't have the time, energy or resources to begin addressing the aftermath of their trauma.

Another hurdle for survivors is that many providers are not trauma-informed. It's incredibly defeating to make and keep these appointments only to be met by medical professionals downplaying your concerns, ignoring your well articulated requests for help only to be flip about birth trauma. And worse yet, some providers are not open to feedback when a survivor actually musters up the strength to speak up about the insensitivity of their care. That’s usually when I advise them to seek another provider, but often there are barriers to that too. Insurance coverage, distance or whether a good practice has room to accept a new patient... not to mention the emotional energy it takes to rehash your entire medical trauma history to someone new all over again... to someone who may be just like the last provider you left.    

PTSD from birth trauma may be one of the next areas of the journey I illuminate more publicly. It has certainly popped up in a few of my past posts, but I want to dive deeper. I want to start a raw and candid conversation about it from the survivor perspective. I want to normalize PTSD as a reasonable response to birth trauma. No, it's not a sign of physical, mental, emotional, psychological or spiritual weakness. It's a sign of the depth of what we've been through.  I want to talk about common misconceptions and offer some things to consider. I also desperately want these mommas to know they aren’t alone. 


Oh if you're losing sleep...

Oh if you're losing sleep, scared of shadows.

See it's just a chair, see the clothes hang there.

Oh don't go losing sleep, scared of shadows.

Oh don't feel bad...

Oh c'mon sleepyhead, get yourself to bed.

Don't go losin, oh, the nighttime.

You are loved, you are loved, you are loved...

Mood: Tired. So tired of insomnia. 
Music: EmmyLou by Vance Joy

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About the Author:
Casey Cattell struggled with infertility for more than a decade before giving birth to her son in 2015. She is a 2x maternal near-miss survivor writing to raise awareness of perinatal complications and to give hope to women in the midst of these hardships. She is a Patient Advocate and Heroes For Moms Ambassador. She has shared her story with many publications, including Propublica, The New York Times, the Empowered Health Podcast and is a chapter author of Nobody Told Me About That-The First Six Weeks. If you liked this post or were encouraged by it, please consider passing it on. Find Casey on Instagram.

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