i hope she laughs the way you do

‘Cause if she’s anything like her father, I’ll fall in love with her just like I did with you – Us The Duo, Like I Did With You

Sammy and I have had an affinity with Us The Duo since our early days of dating. Along with our family and friends, we danced to their song One Last Dance on the beach after our wedding ceremony. Now, with our little girl on the way, their song Like I Did With You has such personal meaning as well. I happened to be listening to this song when I opened my new blog post today. I should mention that I have had two drafted entries just waiting to be edited and posted, however, I have had a pretty gross headache for several days. Being able to listen to music is almost like the light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing. Headaches and migraines in pregnancy is a bittersweet kind of torture. My diagnosis with Chiari Malformation changed my life, in many ways for the good and the bad. I have been a singer (self-proclaimed) since I was in elementary school. Somehow I managed to play both Belle’s father and LeFou during a 5th grade production of Beauty & The Beast. I am cursed with the love of singing, which leads to a pressure headache for days if I do it the way that I want to do it. I’m talking, Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper Shallow style. Recently, Sam and I introduced the kids to our ability to sing at the top of our lungs in the car to The Jackson Five and the greatest songs of the 60s. Our 7-yr old’s favourite song is Build Me Up Buttercup. She gets all guttural and into it. She also freestyles her own music and lyrics on the guitar. I am a proud musical theatre mom.

Long story short, these days, I am better off if I listen without joining in. Curse of Chiari & intracranial hypertension. I feel like I run the balance of sounding like I am persistently complaining, versus explaining what life is like living with conditions of the brain. I am also still not sure how to categorize what I live with. Conditions of the brain? Chiari is a “malformation” … I acquired hydrocephalus and I have a shunt for fluid and intracranial hypertension. Increased pressure in the skull. This has not been the easiest journey, but I am grateful every day that I wake up. Even if it is with a migraine.

One of the drafts that I had written 4 weeks ago, was with the intention of going into detail with my personal (non-medical affiliated) experience with these fun brain things during pregnancy. I was so excited. Until at the end of the post, it was like Sod’s Law. I developed a sickening headache for days. Days and nights. Mentally, I could not justify posting a blog about how great I felt, when hours later I came down with a skull-splitting fuck you headache.

I am so lucky to have a wonderfully supportive and understanding husband. Sam takes care of everything. If I feel guilty for having a headache (wait, what?), he snaps me out of it. “Rest, get better.” Sam, you are a gift. My amazing mom also sent an old-fashioned hot water bottle to me within 24 hours of my latest headache. Sammy fills it, brings it to me with lunch, water & a kiss. It’s a bittersweet kind of thing. Having a partner who builds you up and supports you is beautiful. I’m not even sure if there are words for this feeling. We are halfway through our 24th week of pregnancy and the hormones are real. The kicks are real. The headaches are real. I do want to blog more, but in all honesty, when I am looking at my computer, I’m writing spec scripts. Not mad about that. It’s always been my escape, but when I sink my teeth into a new script and characters that all carry a little piece of me, I can get lost for hours in my thoughts. I had lost some motivation for a while, which I think is normal for everyone. Getting back into these scripts has given me that mental break that I need.

I am slightly frustrated with myself for not having a post ready to go on World Mental Health Day. Being such an advocate and believer of mental health support and awareness, I was being way too hard on myself. I had a raging headache, which was beyond my control. Sitting behind my laptop was in my control, and I exercised my ability to control what I could. That is my kind of a double-edged sword. Always a peacekeeper, I will apologize to prevent any situation from unnecessary escalation (even to my own cathartic blog). Perhaps a coping mechanism. These days, I find myself telling my kids to stop apologizing unnecessarily, yet I still do it as an adult. A very bad habit that I need to shake, is also at the core of who I am. I see the “Unapologetically Me” tags and think, hell yeah, that’s me! But in all reality, I am apologetically me, but I should not be. I am an over-apologizer. Accepted. Now what?

Mental health matters, speaking on these topics is important. Recognize it, change it; do something about it. Who is putting pressure on me to push a blog post on a particular day of the year? Nobody. Just me. I should be in control of those thoughts by not allowing the expectations that I have set of myself to limit my mental clarity. So let us rephrase. I am in control of my thoughts. Woooo saaa Alex, it’s all going to be okay.

The Neverending Story

Courage is an interesting concept … as a writer, words do not scare me, however, I found myself needing to work up the courage to put delicate words together for this “personal essay” of sorts. This year has been the strangest year for many of us I’m sure, especially for myself it has absolutely been the most unique and complex in my thirty-something years. A brief timeline, as we went from dreading my job in January, to the Coronavirus pandemic infiltrating our hospitality industry in February, to my husband’s furlough in March, to then the ultimate separation from my employer in April. That was a bittersweet break-up. I felt such relief but immediate anxiety with what happens next?

Having been at an increased clot risk with my VP shunt, I was not prepared to face an uncertain health scare should I contract COVID-19. There are a lot of unknowns in living with some conditions that I try to wear with confidence, but I do worry about all that could go wrong. That’s natural. Acquiring hydrocephalus was a shock to me, but I am much more fortunate than some. I have known individuals who have had more shunt revision surgeries than I can recall. Luck, that’s all I can put this down to. I am more than lucky to have had a successful run with my shunt. I am circling back to this later this week for a particular reason, but for now, I am counting my blessings to suffer with low pressure headaches that I can live with in comparison to the stories of my friends.

Our little world stood still. Schools did not open, we worked with the kids at home to complete the end of their 1st and 4th grade quarters. Playtime outside with friends consisted of masks (thank you Grandmommy!), hand sanitizers, soap, Lysol, immediate showers and as much social distance as kids can cope with. From March … through today, September 3rd … and until further notice. E-campus learning has been in progress now for two weeks. With the influx of internet usage, the parallel programs running is too much for one computer. It has been challenging for both kids to need two computers just to attend school without the risk of becoming ill. Four days after our school had opened, the first confirmed positive COVID-19 case was made public to parents. Since August 24th, it has exploded across our district and county. There are still so many unanswered questions into how children carry this virus and the risks involved. Since May 28th, this became even more of a risk that we were not willing to take.

Here’s where the courage comes in. And here’s what happens next. Infertility. Miscarriage. Two words that had not entered my regular vocabulary until 2018. They say to stop trying and then it’ll happen … that wasn’t the case. No need to hash all of that out again. I lost my job in April, three weeks later, surprise! A positive pregnancy test. How was this even possible? In February, we agreed that 2020 was going to be awful, we would take a break on trying. And when I say “we” … I mean me, mainly, because it became so deeply personal that it affected my daily life. Sam has seen me at the lowest of lows in battling infertility. What happens when you find out that you are actually pregnant during a pandemic? Sprinkle in absurd anxiety on top of it all and you’ve got the messiest kind of happiness and worry at once. Fears of another miscarriage swoop in and you find it difficult to enjoy the moment. We knew that we wanted to keep this to ourselves until we were “sure, sure,” like 10000% sure our risk of miscarrying was significantly low. Because of the Coronavirus, Sam was not allowed into appointments with me. I was next level frightened to walk back into the same office for a confirmation ultrasound, where we had learned of our missed miscarriage in April. I was shaking. I was petrified. Sam was not allowed in the lobby, he had to wait in the hallway. I had to go in expecting the worst.

June 18th, 2020: Confirmation! A beautiful little fetal pole – everything looked good. Naturally, my anxiety was sky high. We would return on July 2nd. Until then, take care of me. This news was still a sacred whisper between us, but one lone soul did know. 💕

July 2nd, 2020: A heartbeat! Let me tell you how bittersweet it is to hear the heartbeat of your child without your partner. The office allowed me to record the screen for Sam. You could hear me in the background saying, thank you! over and over again. We cried. We sobbed. The emotions were deep. My eyes are watering. Moving on.

July 30th, 2020: Hello, baby Calabro! Doing little butt lifts, stretching out completely flat and not letting us get a profile shot, our thirteen-weeker was in full action! Heartbeat – great. Position – great (we were low-lying last year, dangerously so). Stubbornness – 100%. Bittersweet, again, to be witnessing our little life without Sammy. I think I could hear his tears from the truck. After the first appointment in a cramped hallway, he would from that point forward remain outside. I had a chauffeur and a beautiful a/c ready for me to whip off my mask and sob with my husband.

I think at this point, we were both still in such disbelief, such shock. Our baby is due February 1st, 2021, but with a scheduled c-section at the end of January.

WE ARE OFFICIALLY PREGNANT!

The best kind of surprises are true surprises, we truly had no idea this was ever going to be possible again. To conceive and maintain a pregnancy?! What a blessing. I spent the next few hours working on a video that would reveal our secret to our family and friends, who live across the world. This was also, how we planned on showing Ben and Emma that they would become a big brother (again) and big sister, early next year. The video was a compilation of the past few years, moments I had captured of Sam with the kids, our beach wedding and so many more memories in-between. The video would then shift from captions about love and how full our hearts are, to our best kept secret. Our little wiggle worm and heartbeat would appear in the video and bring everyone to tears (really not my intention) but everyone cried. Including the kids, I mean Ben is always a softy, but he sobbed so much my shirt was wet. Our baby is strong and growing. This is really happening!

We learned how incompatible Android and Apple phones are, when attempting to send a four minute long video to my Android family, please get iPhones, guys … but we made it happen. So many tears! Seriously, just an amazing way to share the news during this pandemic. My parents live twenty minutes away, but to limit exposures, we have only seen them less than five times since the beginning of 2020. It’s been devastating that we have been unable to travel to see family in Virginia as well. This pandemic has changed our lives.

Sam and I have spent 132 days together, without a break, since April. We would have been lucky to have sixty-six two-day weekends together between his hectic kitchen schedules, but the world tossed a new set of parameters our way. We have grown closer, learned even more about one another, and made this time in our lives positive for both ourselves and the kids. Our levels of stress and anxiety are down, we have implemented budgets and we have reshaped our business plans to include the “new normal” precautions with COVID-19 in mind. This year, 2020, is not over yet, and neither are the changes & challenges that we accept with open hearts and open minds.

Our little girl is coming into a world that is currently experiencing so much change, hopefully for the greater good, and we will do all that we can to contribute to the future.

Baby girl, you are the luckiest little human. Your daddy is amazing, your big brother and big sister are the kindest and most loving kiddos. Your dog is a beautiful mess and your mommy is too. We cannot wait to meet this stubborn little Italian/English bundle, which we think will have bright red hair, my nose and Sammy’s beautiful eyes. 💖

Cheers to 2020, for so far, being the most incredible, unique, confusing and beautiful year of our lives.