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

Survivor Moments

“Hello, my friend!”
she says as she enters the room and closes the door behind her. 

It’s the greeting I’ve been hearing since I met her six years ago. The sound of her voice provides a type of relief I can’t quite explain. A reminder that she knows all of it. I don’t have to rehash or explain anything because she was there from the very beginning. I’ve been seeing her more often since the summer of 2020 thanks to some not-so-pleasant concerns. In some ways visiting her office so much throws me back to the early days of regular appointments following my near-misses.

“Have you been writing?” she asks after our routine debrief about vitals and how I’ve been.

“No, not as much as I used to.” I reply.

She presses, “why not?”

I know what she’s getting at: writing has been my therapy over the years and she was the one to suggest it in the weeks following my hemorrhage. I remember that appointment very clearly despite the dense fog that led me to ask “when can I start running again?” after two major abdominal surgeries. I was trying my best to be a model patient and proactive about my health and wellness so I could be the best mom I could be- knowing anxiety and PTSD were creeping in hard- but still not fully comprehending the scope of my ordeal.
“You sit! I’m going to have to be very direct with you, aren’t I?” she asked back then.

Looking to my sister who had driven me to my appointment because I wasn’t cleared to drive yet, she asked “What does she like doing?”

“She likes to scrapbook.” My sister quietly answered.

“Ok, then. You get a little table and you sit and scrapbook. No running or walking. You need to rest and heal, my friend.” my surgeon instructed.
Full disclosure, it was really hard to sit and rest when I wanted nothing more than to be the mom I dreamed of being to the long awaited baby I had been separated from. Most people (including medical professionals) don’t fully realize the physical and mental struggle of being this sick after childbirth. Some of us shrivel inward. Some of us try to power through it. At the root of it, both are survival techniques. Realizing I physically could not care for my newborn and asking for help was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done in my life. There were some hard conversations and arguments about this at home too. Being told to rest felt like another layer to the punishment I had already endured.
During my next appointment two weeks later, my surgeon suggested I start writing to process what I had gone through. I used to have a lot of quiet time to write back when my son napped in those early years. I processed so much parked in front of Dunkin Donuts with tears streaming down my face. I was just close enough to the building to hop on their wifi, while my infant snoozed in the back seat. That was the year of iced tea lemonades and learning how to pour out my heart in humiliating vulnerability on the internet.
Those days of processing in my car are long gone and it’s interesting that I look back on them so fondly. Even the thought of sitting in my front seat writing, processing and grieving over the string of losses somehow is met with a sort of nostalgia. These were the days of the snap-n-go stroller and the Dunkin drive thru, walking at the park with the sun on my face. The sun never felt so good. I was methodically sifting through the giant pile of rubble my near-misses left; but goodness, there was contentment and healing in that place too. Those processing sessions and walks helped me breathe again. 
Back to present day.

My surgeon asked how my little guy is doing and I couldn’t help but gush. I told her about kindergarten and what a sweet boy he is, but my voice quivered when I began sharing about the day I teared up watching his swim class the previous week.
I’m so overcome with gratefulness to be here to see it. I call them survivor moments.” I said.
She turned her chair and leaned in toward me with a concerned look on her face. 
“When did this start?” she asked softly.
I realize she probably hasn’t seen this part of the survivor journey before, or at least with me. I’m pretty sure survivor moments are a thread in all our stories. The emergency may be long over, but the depth of the trauma stays and weaves its way into every facet of our life. It has a ripple effect. If we’re healing, we learn to live with it.  
“They’ve been here since the very beginning…” I reply.

“I’m just so thankful to be alive! I don’t take anything for granted. I hope this gratefulness never goes away.”

She gave me a knowing smile and nodded her head.

“Will you promise me something?” she asked. “Will you start writing again?”

So here I am once again taking the sage advice from my surgeon and processing the long list of things that I have been urgently typing on my phone in the middle of the night during my many insomnia spells over the years. It’s not that I ever stopped writing. I just stopped carving out time to sit with it and publish what comes out.
It seems fitting that my word of the year is intentionality.

This is a start. 

There's an ocean inside my head
Waves that don't ever rest
This kind of beauty ain't ordinary
You look, but do you really see?

Mood: Feeling pushed to start the next part
Music: Take Your Time- 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 illuminate the aftermath of severe maternal morbidity and give hope to other moms 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. Casey and her husband live in the Northeast, USA and in their downtime enjoy hiking with their son. If you were encouraged by this post, please consider passing it on. Find Casey on Instagram @caseycattell and @pphsurvivors.

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