Updated: Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 3:01 AM
THE PARENTS: Juliet Sabella, 32, and Karl Stabler, 33, of Manayunk
THE CHILD: Cecilia (CeCe) Beck, born January 17, 2017
HOW THEY NAMED HER: Juliet loved the name Cecilia, along with its nickname (“she could be a writer or a super-powerful businesswoman”), and the middle name was a no-brainer: it had to be after their beloved dog, Beckham.
When Juliet was pregnant, friends and strangers slung plenty of unsolicited advice her way. Some said she shouldn’t work out so much. Others encouraged her to “embrace” her changing body.
One woman described the “magical” experience of breastfeeding her infant daughter at the zoo while locking eyes with a gorilla who was also nursing her baby. Juliet’s response: “OK. Wow. Thanks.”
But no one talked about the spirit-slamming anxiety and depression that could come with the first trimester. Juliet had taken medication to tame her moods before but stopped when she became pregnant, concerned about the drugs’ effect on the baby.
In the early, hormone-addled weeks of pregnancy, her anxiety and depression spiked. When she taught spin classes at the Wall, the Manayunk cycling/barre studio she and Karl own, she feared everyone was staring at her belly. At doctor’s visits, she stepped on the scale backwards so she wouldn’t have to view her weight. She began isolating herself from friends.
And at her worst, most despondent moment, Juliet stepped off a sidewalk into moving traffic.
She was uninjured, but shaken. “I spoke to my doctor and said, ‘I need to go on medication.’ ” A prescription for Lexapro, which treats depression and anxiety, made a seismic shift in her outlook.
There were still acquaintances who were shocked to learn that Juliet was pregnant in the first place. For years, she’d made her feelings about children clear to anyone who asked: They were messy. Full of germs. A little annoying (though she made an exception for her niece).
Besides, she and Karl were laser-focused on their work, happy to hang out at their favorite Manayunk haunts and busy with the dogs Juliet referred to without irony as “our children.”
It was one of those dogs, a chestnut-colored boxer named Beckham, that brought them together. Juliet used to pass by a certain Manayunk house on her way to McGillicuddy’s and tap a quick hello to the dog in the window.
“He would never bark at me, just paw the glass,” she remembers.
One night at McGillicuddy’s — on the second floor, quiet enough for conversation — a friend introduced Juliet to Karl. It wasn’t until their first date, when Karl popped out of his house to meet her and she heard him say, “Beckham, get over here,” that she realized he was the owner of the dog she’d been greeting.
There were more dates — a dinner at Winnie’s LeBus; a trip to Clearwater, Fla.; a series of family events — and, after about a year, Juliet moved into Karl’s place, a big house he shared not only with Beckham but with his sister and three longtime friends.
For Juliet, who had lived alone even in college, the group-house ambience took some adjustment. “We cooked dinners together, went out together; it wasn’t a random shared house,” Karl says. She nudged him to alter their room’s décor, swapping his Ferrari flag for photos of the two of them.
Beckham, along with a new French bulldog puppy named Brooklyn, had cameo roles in the couple’s July 2013 wedding, trotting down the aisle with flower wreaths around their necks. Juliet remained adamant about not wanting kids; Karl felt indifferent to the idea.
Then, gradually, something began to change. “What happens when we’re old?” Juliet remembers thinking. They wondered if there might be more to their future than Saturday nights at a wine bar.
Karl was on a work trip in Dallas when Juliet sent him a photo of a positive pregnancy test. “Really, J, in a text message?” was his response. Even though he was about to speak to several hundred people — he’s vice president of risk for a finance company — he felt elated. “It all kind of came together,” he recalls.
And once the meds had stabilized Juliet’s emotions, the pregnancy was healthy. She ran a half-marathon at 22 weeks, and another one at 32 weeks. She was determined to endure labor without medication — that is, until she’d been in fierce pain for 26 hours at Lankenau Medical Center and a doctor advised a C-section.
“I was numb from the waist down,” she recalls. “I had a panic attack because I couldn’t move my legs. I remember feeling pressure, and then I just wanted to go to sleep.”
The doctor kept asking Karl if he wanted to peer over the drape. “I had zero interest in doing that,” he says. But once Cecilia was out and on the table, “I put my hand down, she grabbed my finger and stopped screaming.”
Juliet remembers seeing someone hold the infant above her. “She was making these little faces, pursing her lips, breathing air for the first time. But also turning her head left and right. I didn’t think babies could do that.”
The two call themselves lucky: CeCe is a calm, even-tempered, inquisitive baby who slept through the night at two weeks. They still go out to dinner — just a little earlier than before. And Juliet wakes at 3:30 a.m. four days a week so she can take a quick shower, pour a cup of coffee, and be at the studio in time to ready it for a 5 a.m. spin class.
She still takes medication to keep her anxiety at bay. But she also believes her daughter has had a calming influence. Now, when things go wrong at work — there’s a glitch in the sound system, or an instructor is sick and no substitute is available — Juliet reacts with equanimity.
“I’ve learned to apologize to our clients. I say, ‘OK, we’ll figure it out.’ ”
Karl’s time with CeCe is the early morning; lately, he says, every day brings some new trick: a goofy expression, a bye-bye wave, an utterance they’re pretty sure means “hi.” And when Cecilia does that thing with her mouth, making an O-shape and a yip-yip sound, they’re certain that she’s talking to the dogs, in a language all their “children” understand.
Read full story: The Parent Trip: Juliet and Karl Stabler of Manayunk