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.

It Continues.

Still, somewhere amidst the chaos.

Seriously … we are experiencing a moment in our world that will be marked as a major event in history for the rest of all time. Generations will learn about this. Our children growing up in this era will have a different outlook on the future of this planet. These are not bad things, but they are different. Life is different. Life is unique. We have all been trapped in this going-through-the-motions for years when it takes something like COVID-19 to make the world stop turning. I’m not a fan of the “well only -x- many people are dying” compared to the 1918 flu pandemic. We do not get to decide that. Ethically, morally, whatever you want to call it – acknowledging that the 100,000 death count is better than a million … those 100,000+ deaths are lambs? Are you kidding me? Mr. POTUS is in an abusive relationship with the citizens of this country. Again, apologies on the political references and obvious loyalties of my own.

We are repeating history. This is what a cyclical world will do over time; this, we have proven. The CDC.gov has a timeline on the history of pandemics. Almost every single country in the world has had at least one case of the novel coronavirus. We are all at risk. Some at a higher risk, for sure. I am still trying to figure out of I am at a higher risk since I had asthma as a child, I have failed every lung test that I have ever taken and a few months ago, a CT scan revealed a spot on my lung. (A spot? I don’t even know what that means, but for someone who has never been a smoker, I’m not thrilled to know that’s in there and I don’t know what that spot even is.)

Sidebar, I have been having some balance and brain oddities this week. I am still working, but I did have to call out today. There was no way I could drive. I still battle Chiari, Hydrocephalus, VP Shunt & Intracranial Hypertension every single day, but some days are worse than others … today is one of those days. That being said, the brevity of the current state of our world, country and state, the importance of mental health for those who are finding themselves in new routines with new stress factors. This is real, no matter how hard we might want to try to blink this away, it is not going away anytime soon and it will likely get a little bit uglier before it does. Until then, support those around you with love and compassion at this time (and always, duh, but even more in this moment) as some may be suffering deeper than they realize.

Help is out there. Hold the ones that you love. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Do all that you can to help this earth. Nobody else needs to die. Nobody else should be dying. Shut the damn country down and fix this once and for all.

Read this.

References

CDC.gov & WHO.int

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.