Surprise, Surprise, Puppy Surprise!

Well …

We did it! We kept a secret from the kids for eight weeks. Operation: Christmas Came Early! Kona Calabro was born on September 9, 2019 and was one of seven in a surprise litter with a work colleague of Sam’s. Since Roxy passed away in January, we had had two very emotional little people with us. A memory album and some “fur” kept in a little music box kept her memory very much alive every day. Ben would walk through the front door and shout, “Hi Roxy!” and comment on how the home still smelled like her. Sam and I went through the miscarriage (with the kids having absolutely no knowledge) and experienced the second loss of the year in our little family. The idea of a puppy was fleeting; we had mentioned to the kids every so often that we would “think about it,” classic parenting move. But in my spare time, was I totally scoping out a Christmas puppy? Yep. A thousand percent.

When the opportunity presented itself, we knew we had to keep it to ourselves in case something did not go according to plan. Sam and I went to visit the puppies after soccer one day. The kids were out of town and the moment to be surrounded by puppy nibbles was ridiculously emotional for me. As soon as I sat down, Kona and I became fast friends. Sam laughed at me prior to arriving after I had said that we wouldn’t pick our dog – that our dog would pick us. Blasphemy, he thought! WELL … I showed him! Kona picked us. Without a doubt.

Bringing Home Puppy

There are a lot of great puppy “reveals” out there, but we were not exactly sure how to proceed with this one. Logistics of after work and after school pick ups along with a puppy pick up … we ran with the best plan we could successfully pull off. The kids managed to convince themselves that they knew who the guest was … and I did not convince them otherwise. We had a little bit of time before Kona and Sam arrived, so the kids rushed to tidy up their rooms and the living room. Most importantly, the removal of any and all shoes. I propped up my phone and hit record about seven times before Sam opened the door. The kids were sitting on chairs facing the door and were truly not expecting a four-legged friend. Both Ben and Emma were surprised and slightly let down when Sam opened the door and they were not greeted by the friends they had anticipated were coming over for the weekend. Sam took another step back and seconds later, opened the door to bring Kona inside. Immediately, both Ben and Emma adopted high-pitch “Aw! Who’s that!?”

The Realization …

It’s no secret that Ben has been having a difficult year. From anxiety to bullying at school, paired with the loss of his beloved Roxy, Ben was struggling to enjoy the normal day-to-day moments. With a steady regiment of counseling and moving to a new classroom at school, he had finally started to feel like his old self again. However — the emotions of the year were still working their way out of him. Emma was excited, but Ben was completely overcome with emotion. When I say he sobbed for half an hour … he wailed. Following that, he would spontaneously burst into tears every fifteen minutes or so. It was HEAVY! Watching the video over again gives me all of the feelings again. Once it sunk in for the kids, that was it! They are in love. We are in love. Kona is so very loved.

For any parent considering a dog for their family … do not think twice. Kona completes the Calabro family. ❤

Boop.

This tender hearted boy was overwhelmed.

World Mental Health Day: 2019

It is no secret what day of the week it is anymore. Every day as a hashtag. Scroll through Instagram in the morning and have subtle #reminders that it’s, duh, #mcm – #mychefishotterthanyourchef it’s MONDAY. It’s not, actually. Today is October 11, 2019 – a Friday (which is actually my work-week-Thursday) – and yesterday was World Mental Health Day. If you ask me, this should be every single day, but I’ll take it for now. I remember taking a home economics class in 8th grade. There I learned how to cook a meal (it was pretty elementary compared to my skills at the time), watched that birthing video, and last but not least, I learned about health. Health, in this curriculum, was not just physical health. It was physical, mental and emotional.

There was a large drawing of a pyramid with three levels, almost like that terribly wrong daily food chart, and those three words written in each block: mental at the bottom, emotional in the middle and physical at the top. To this day, I recognize emotional and mental health as the foundations of physical health. Your mental state is a wonderful tool; it completes the jurisdiction of the mental health like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle fitting into place ever so effortlessly. For the most part, your physical health is under your control. Your emotional health is also, for the most part, under the control of your own will. Mental health, for what we can control, there is a hell of a lot of what we cannot control.

control

The brain is such a fascinating little lump of synapses, fluids, genes and algorithms. The stigma attached to anything less than pristine mental health is so yesterday. Today, there is a day that the world can celebrate together with a common core: accepting that mental health is also accepting the fundamental challenges of mental health conditions. “They say it’s inherited,” – said the naysayers. Not really, but you know. Can mental health conditions and disorders be genetic? Yes. I am not keeping statistical analysis on what would be a flawed demographic data of mental health conditional patients by number, but if I were to do that, I’d say 1 out of 2 has a mental health condition that is beyond their control. Just like any other possible genetic combination for your traits, it is possible (and probable? Sure!) that your mental condition is in full swing because of your pre-disposition with a diagnosed, direct family member.

STIGMA

World Mental Health day was pretty interesting to watch as an individual with diagnosed anxiety. Ed Sheeran and HRH Prince Harry looked like long lost brothers bonding over their commonality. Let’s back up for just a second here too. Prince Harry, a royal man, was quite brave for breaking the stigma in his own rights of sharing his mental health challenges with the world. Diana would have been proud. As I was born in England, I can attest to the odd and unique tailored approach to mental health. The idea that someone would speak out about their mental health was unheard of, so to have a member of the royal family … that was huge. HRH Prince Harry, along with Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, began a campaign in the United Kingdom by the name of Heads Together. Resources became available on how to live with, deal with and support others who were living and dealing with mental health challenges. If we were to rewind twenty years and take social media back in time with us, I would have needed this site. I still do, if I’m honest.

COPING

It is not easy living with anxiety, but I am finally managing it for the first time in my life. I recall anxiety from early elementary school days and deep into adulthood. We all have a precipice that takes us to the brink of awareness, I believe. I know what mine was. I went to therapy once a week and found a healthy combination of medicines that worked so that anxiety was not ruling my daily life. Nothing quite like being a working mom of two that has crippling anxiety so bad on some days that you can’t explain why you cannot get out of bed. It’s a beast. It does not help that I carried postpartum depression into clinical depression. I never asked for that. I thought I was happy. I thought everything was fine. But I had to learn and truly accept that I was not in control of these conditions. Thankfully, through a healthy routine of cognitive behavioral therapy with my psychiatrist and exercise, I was living with and coping (the most important word in this blog post) with anxiety and depression.

Even today I have triggers that cause ebbs and flows in these conditions. When my kids go to spend time with their father, I take a little dip in the valley of despair. Then I pick myself up (100% with the help of Sammy) and shift focus to the end of the week. In between then, I clean the house, do a thousand loads of laundry and save a shit ton of money on groceries until they are home again. At some point, I realized how normal I was … am. Coping with anxiety and depression was normal, acceptable and okay. There was no need to fight it any longer. I had to accept that it would be here to stay. I have seen the same psychiatrist for years. He still reminds me that I need to be at peace with my mental health and the treatment of both conditions. He’s having me back every 3 months again this year due to the complete and total spiral of depression after our miscarriages. Spoiler alert, I’m back into the infertile category again. Any way, that’ll be a different post. This makes me even more normal.

Make mental health a topic of conversation. When you ask someone, “how are you?” ask them like you mean it. You should want to know that they are mentally okay as much as they are physically okay.

What is #normalize and Why is it Trending?

Social media has united silenced voices across this globe. Where every single human is a keystroke away, from your favorite celebrities & Presidents to your work colleagues; the platform that social media has given to the freedom of speech is unprecedented, scary and ultimately massive. The “normalize” trend has been reaching me lately, and I agree with many of the tagline key phrases. #normalizebreastfeeding is a big one. First let’s just get breastfeeding out of the way … this is normal. It always has been and it always will be. It’s a personal choice, you either choose to do it or you don’t. Not one person on this planet can tell you that you are right or wrong for your choice — therefore, we have no need to “normalize” something like that. It should be #normalizemydecisions instead, no?

I am going to move into some sensitive topics here, most of which, men will shudder and run with fear from. Guess what, guys? The miracle of life … the menstrual cycle.  Cue The Twilight Zone music. Congratulations on avoiding it as much as you can, but if you want a steady lady in your life, you’re going to have to: hashtag, normalizeperiods. When you’re at work and you have to go home because the clots are the size of grapefruits, let’s normalize this for women in the work environments of the world that are dominated by men. How many of us can actually sit at a desk blasting through a super plus every hour, only to laugh, sneeze or cough (and give yourself a quick Chiari migraine) and ruin your favorite pants? Ugh. What was that you said? Try a cup? What? I would drown that sucker in ten minutes. All joking aside, there are a few (and by a few, I mean like 20) odd Instagram hashtags for normalizing something. Do some lunchtime browsing and see what has inspired others to trend along with the “normalize” movement.

Before you proceed, this is now officially a sensitive post. I have warned you. This is a therapeutic and personal story that very few individuals in my life are aware of. 

Where I might have come off a bit harsh in that intro, I am going to soften to break my silence on an experience that changed my life. I am about to #normalizemiscarriage. As a mother of two, I was fortunate enough to have been blessed with two children in my twenties. I did not think for a hot second that I would ever want to think about being pregnant again in my thirties. I was very careful so as not to conceive as I never even had to try for long in my early twenties when planning Ben and Emma. Without any surgeries under my belt, I was younger and diagnosis-less (yep, I did that), it was simple. Fast forward ten years … a lot had changed. I was divorced, I had been under the knife five times, had about 25 MRI’s, been diagnosed with a few odd things here and there; I had been through therapy, focused on self-care and fallen in love with my flame, Sam. So much had changed in a decade. Including such a deep desire and yearn to try. Sam and I had made a conscious decision between the two of us, meaning we did not share with any family, that we had been facing infertility. After a year and then some, Clomid & Femara were on the table. My thyroid levels were finally in range, we had gone from Armour Thyroid to Synthroid, increased the dosage and my levels dropped from 9.7 to 0.35. I was prescribed Metformin for insulin resistance, diagnosed with infertility, PCOS, you name it. To top it all off,  I had recently been tapering down from a  daily dose of Xanax for some pretty ugly anxiety. So, there we were … fighting a personal battle with my body, yet again, just begging on a monthly basis to “please stick, little cluster of cells – stick, stick, stick, stick!” On the 4th of March, 2019, my wonky 21/40 day cycle was meant to be in its “short” phase. My boobs were sore which was not a typical cycle symptom for me. I think after a year plus of peeing on sticks with negative results, the anticipation was purely to receive another negative result. I took five tests. I went to the ob-gyn that day. I went to buy more tests. I peed on digital tests with diluted urine at 4pm. I was pregnant! We were pregnant! We had conceived! We had conceived three weeks before my ob-gyn was prescribing Femara. I truly could not believe it. I laughed, I cried, I took ugly selfies out of the shower with my positive test. I wondered how I would tell Sam? I wondered what I would feel like in the morning, if it would feel like a dream or if the shock would still feel like tasers soaring through my blood?!

I went to the Nike outlet to find a tiny pair of black, white and gold Nike shoes. I bought a pink Hallmark box. I found the perfect card and I wrote the perfect words. I kept it in all day, even making a pit stop to take forgotten work keys to Sam … I wanted to throw up and burst at the seams when I saw him, but I knew I had to reveal the news at home. It was a ridiculous day. Every other minute or so, I was either laughing or crying. Finally, after what felt like years, Sam came home to find a gift box on the bed. He read the card and I had intense butterflies dive bombing out of my nose. “SHUT UP!” was the repeated phrase for a few seconds, then tears, kisses and hugs. The digital test an even bigger confirmation other than my ultrasound that morning. We kissed, we cried, we laughed in disbelief some more and did this over and over again for hours. It was a beautiful moment that was conjured up after an unsuccessful year with the ultimate, successful conception. I had never understood the journey of infertility as I had never been in those emotional valleys of booby traps before. There we were … after months of coming to terms that it might never be our path together — and we had confirmation of a tiny miracle of the two of us. 

Pregnancy is normal, right? Should we normalize that in the workplace, hashtag? Don’t get me started, America. But in all seriousness, pregnancy is different for everyone. Every pregnancy is different for the same person. I was feeling the feels. Lordy. I was nauseous. I was sore. I had bloat in my gut so good that I could not button my jeans. At 6 weeks. By 8 weeks, I caved. I had to buy new jeans with some stretchy panels at the hips (why aren’t all jeans made like maternity jeans?). Each day passed with more affirmation that everything was okay. My hCG numbers were rising, everything looked good. I felt pregnant. I felt like I should have felt. But this isn’t a post about #normalizenormalpregnancy – this is my post about loss.

On April 17th, our 10 week appointment, we were scheduled for a routine check-up and sonogram. I’m pretty sure Sam was about as anxious as I was, but he is always calm and cool – despite being a passionate Italian – he is my rock (a very personal rock who gave permission for this blog post to be out there). Here’s the part where we #normalizemiscarriage – because it happened. Full of hormones, no bleeding, no warning … no heartbeat. I wailed. The sonographer left the room and I wailed. I do not think my husband has ever heard the depths of sorrow come from my lungs before. I cannot recall another moment in my life when I have howled in sorrow. My husband held me – he consoled me – he let me cry. We moved into an exam room and I continued to wail and sob. My ob-gyn (she’s a lovely human) was outwardly devastated for us. I had not seen her since finding out that we were pregnant. At my previous appointments, the office shuffled me around to a new provider, which I was not too pleased about, regardless, my doctor came in on this occasion. She had been with us through the struggles over the year she had been helping to get my thyroid regulated. She knew how badly I resented my own body for not being able to conceive naturally. She knew how badly we wanted to conceive without medicine. She was there for every step of the way – and in that moment, she was there to do her job.

After the news was delivered once again, protocol, I suppose,  is where you’re presented with options. None of which are pleasant. Six days from that day, Sam was scheduled to have kidney stone surgery and stent placement, where he would be placed under anesthesia and I would be his driver and nurse. Thirty-eight days from that day, we were scheduled to get married on the beach in Sarasota. The options presented were:

1. Misoprostol, induce labor/force “abortion” and be in quite a bit of pain, take narcotics, pass visible remains and possibly require surgery if the pill did not work …

2. Wait, essentially, do nothing and let the miscarriage happen naturally, meaning at any point within the next 38 days you might have a miscarriage naturally or you might not (we asked) – the thought of marrying Sammy on the beach with a lifeless fetus in my uterus was particularly disturbing …

3. Schedule the surgical removal procedure, the “D and C” – dilation and curettage and run a slight risk of bleeding as the embryo had implanted on scar tissue from previous c-section/uterine incision.

Sitting in an exam room, contemplating how to make this decision with all of these factors was excruciating. I could not breathe, I could not think … I did not know what to do. I looked at Sam, I looked at my doctor … I was in disbelief. Let’s try this again. Miscarriage is normal. Making the decision on how to handle your miscarriage is also normal.

With a prescription for Misoprostol and Percocet, a doctor’s note and a plan of how to take the pill, when, and time it correctly so that I was not taking Percocet when I needed to drive Sam to and from the hospital the week after … we left the office. The girls looked at me with sad eyes, which is also, normal. I stopped again just a few feet down the hall and leaned against the wall to sob. My husband, my Sam, my incredible partner had just found out that he too had lost his baby – his first baby. He held me, he looked into my eyes and he told me, “We did it. We made a baby, we can do this again.” I debated tirelessly about how to tell my family. I needed my mom and my sister to know; I was beyond excited to share positive news when the time was right. We were so close. Sammy and I were overjoyed to make his parents grandparents for the first time. Sure, B & E are amazing bonus grandkids, but it is different when you have your own child bring another life into this world.

Facing some pretty heavy anxiety and depression that night, Sammy helped me to calm my nerves. The next morning, I woke up in a complete panic. I could not take that medicine. I could. not. do. it. I called my ob-gyn before they opened; left a voicemail for the nurse and within an hour had a call back with an appointment time set at the hospital for a 3pm dilation and curettage. As Sam and I are intermittent faster’s (that looks so funny), they asked if I had already had anything to eat or drink that day. I was relieved and devastated in the same breath. The pregnancy that Sam and I nurtured between the two of us, was about to be stripped away. 

Text_Mom_Victoria_April17
When you cannot speak without crying …

I thought of how to break this ugly news to our families. I wanted to be able to share this without sadness, but in the positive light that Sam allowed me to see. We were able to conceive, therefore, we were no longer considered infertile. I sent a group text message (how mature of me) to my mom and my sister. I knew I would not be able to put the words together if I had called.

I sent a message to Sam’s mom. We spoke, I sobbed. Sam was laying beside me, he sobbed. My mom called, I sobbed. It’s normal – but it does not make it any easier because it’s normal. This “rainbow baby” trend is a subtle nod in social media for women to be allowed the opportunity to share normality with an emoji and a phrase, as if it is socially unacceptable to have acknowledged a miscarriage prior to a successful pregnancy. We should be able to normalize miscarriage without a hashtag, without a 🌈 and without judgment. 

If and when we are able to conceive again, which at the moment folks, will not be anytime soon, I will have no choice but to recall this experience and live in the face of miscarriage as every other woman. Today is August 31st and my body is still giving me a giant middle finger (#normalizemiscarriagefact I bled for 58 days after my D and C procedure, holla!), I will likely fall victim to feeling like I need to acknowledge a successful pregnancy by sticking a rainbow icon by the face of a positive pregnancy announcement. Perhaps, we will share the news (again, if and when) and acknowledge the birth of a healthy baby without the mention of the journey prior to that moment? Who knows. Until then, I celebrate the success and ease of conception in my twenties with two wonderful children, who have an amazing stepdad. A personal tribute to my Samuel, who still today, four months later, helps me through the pits of recognizing, accepting, understanding and conquering miscarriage. This man, the other half of my soul, is a phenomenal stepdad — and I cannot wait for the moment he will hold a child of our own his arms for the first time. ❤

After recovering from the procedure, Sam whisked us out to our favorite beach. We stood on the sand where our upcoming wedding would be. We watched the sun until it melted into the ocean.

The Importance of Consumption Changes during Lifestyle Changes

Sammy has recently lost and maintained a one-hundred-pound weight loss. This was a journey; not a short one, nor an easy one.

Lifestyle changes are never easy. You may have heard the phrase: “it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit.” Take those 21 days and multiply them by three. It’s actually more like sixty. I will be heading into a lot more detail of portion control, how to pair meal items, intermittent fasting (what it is, how to do it and why it works for some), along with the ketogenic change in diet (which in my personal and non-medical opinion should only be temporary). Until then, consider the rule I share with my kids: your stomach is the size of your closed fist. Yes, it expands – but it does not need to expand for every. single. meal.

Portion control is vital. Timing of meals is vital. Liquid consumption … surprise, also vital.

Most of us will weigh ourselves on a scale … so why not weigh our food too? Ounces vary based on their dry weight versus cooked weight. It is crucial to understand what an actual portion is. Again, I will dive into a lot more detail soon. I rely on my MaxKare Digital Kitchen Food Scale, because eyeballing is not all that accurate … as much as I like to believe in it when I am working through a weight loss and weight management program.

This week, I will be posting a recipe that will provide a necessity for this little gem. It’s also super light weight and fits comfortably on our kitchen shelving. It is tempered glass, so I do not stack it.

Happy weighing!

Always Forward

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

If this did not instantly take you to “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” then we might not be able to be friends. That’s not true … I binge watched Game of Thrones for two months before the season finale for the first time ever, true story. Knowing nothing, however, is exactly how I felt the moment I was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation. So many parents learn of this painstaking diagnosis via ultrasound or within the first few years of their little lives.

Not me, no, of course not. I lived my life well into my late twenties without knowledge of the word “Chiari” … I truly thought I was an oddball. A medical anomaly. Never in a million years did I attribute any of my lifelong symptoms to my brain. I know exactly what I would call the precipice in my decline, which was a pretty bittersweet part of life. At 37 weeks pregnant with my eldest son, I was rushed to be induced. Clearly, my body was not ready for an induction. After being administered the usual culprit for forcing a baby into the world that Thursday night, it was not until Saturday afternoon, via c-section, that my precious little man was pulled into this world just a little too soon. As he was grunting with fluid in his lungs, he was whisked away and I was left in the operating room to finalize the surgery. Dead weight and full of fluid, I was mortified. The triage nurse who took all of my details upon arrival said, “Don’t worry, I’m a big girl too,” when asking my weight upon arrival. I was never a “big girl” to begin with, but the fluid retention of the pregnancy was a legitimate cause for concern.

Following the procedure, I was moved from the surgical table to a bed (not very gracefully …) and into the post-surgical room. I was told that this was a ten minute spot, however, it was shift change and I may be in there for an hour. Within fifteen minutes of laying in this small room, I had pressed the gimme-meds button seventy-five times … 75. During labor, I had not pressed the button once. I remember thinking “I do not think I should be able to feel everything yet.” I was seeing stars, the room was closing in on me. My resting heart rate skyrocketed to 158bpm. The epidural catheter had come loose … my back was wet and I was headed into shock. The team was acting quickly to administer medicine to help, but this was the beginning of the slope. I was in that room for 12 hours. And I was in there for 3 before anyone from my family had been notified, side note, this is still a hot topic for my mother.

That pregnancy, delivery and epidural into my spine, in my non-medical opinion, is when my body and my Chiari Malformation set its wheels in motion for signals of distress. It took eleven ER visits in one year, chiropractic visits for my spine as I could not walk for long periods of time, a second painful pregnancy with hips separating from my pelvis and finally — an incidental finding via CT scan in an emergency room that dubbed my pain as TMJ. The next day, I received a phone call from the ER asking if I had my results. Silly of me to have believed TMJ was the answer, but I did until this moment. The CT scan had been reviewed and a “heart shaped incisura” was discovered. I was suggested to request my primary care to order a brain MRI.

November, 2015: The Beginning of My Journey.