Rebecca Zamolo has made a whole career, an entire existence really, out of untangling tricky puzzles.
Whether devouring whodunits as a kid—everything from Nancy Drew mysteries to hand-me-downs from her parents—making use of her vast collection of '90s era Spy Tech gear or figuring out how to navigate nearly a year with an ostomy bag after having her colon removed at 29, she's always seeking solutions. "I'm solving things," she explained to E! News in an exclusive chat. "I'm trying to fix things, I'm trying to learn and just try to do better the next time."
So when it came time to pen her first book, The Game Master: Summer Schooled, based off the popular YouTube series she launched with husband Matt Slays, creating an adventure-mystery book for kids "where also you're able to learn and solve clues and be interactive within the story," as she described it, was a no-brainer. "I really want to make this generation feel like they can do anything. And, to not be afraid to solve things, not be afraid to fail, not be afraid to keep trying. And obviously I'm doing that now in my own life."
Of course, her personal struggle can't be fixed with a few good clues or a top-notch disguise.
For the past year-and-a-half, Zamolo and her husband of seven years have been riding the emotional rollercoaster that is IVF. With doctors telling Zamolo that getting pregnant would be more challenging due to her surgery, a result of a years-long battle with ulcerative colitis, the 36-year-old chose the more scientific, structured route to build their family thinking "it would be more of a for sure thing," she explained. "Obviously I was very wrong."
Admittedly, "I didn't understand how much work it was going to be," she shared. But she worried that months of trying with no results "would be very defeating," and leaning into science would mean more monitoring for herself and her future baby. "I thought, 'Oh, I'm just going to, like, get some shots and then I'm going to get pregnant and then it's going to be easy.'"
What she got instead was 18 months' worth of daily "shots in my stomach, shots in my backside" (something a needle-adverse Zamolo never imagined she could do), plus three egg retrievals and two heartbreaking setbacks, their first round of IVF ending in a chemical pregnancy last year and the second, a miscarriage at nine weeks that left her, as she put it, her voice raw with emotion, "Devastated."
But after those two knock-down blows—and one April surgery to get two polyps removed from the scar tissue her D&C left behind—she's still in the game, calling E! News on her drive back from her latest IVF appointment, her finger's crossed that this third time will be the charm.
In the three months since she and Slays revealed their loss, laying their emotions bare in a Feb. 13 video released to her nearly 11 million subscribers the same day they'd planned to share their pregnancy news, she's heard from countless others in her same position, each one enforcing the crucial point that none of this was her fault.
"I felt reassurance in the fact that they're just like, it's nature," Zamolo explained of hearing story after heartrending story. "And for whatever reason it didn't come to term because it wasn't right. Something wasn't right. That's just the way biology works. And for me, it was like, 'Okay, well, it didn't work, it's upsetting, but for whatever reason it just wasn't right.'"
That's the messaging that helps her say with full conviction that she and Slays will have their happy ending. "There's so many times where you try to control everything, but in the end of the day, I think things work out the way they're supposed to," she insisted. "I believe everything works for you, not against you, even though sometimes it doesn't feel that way. I guess that's what gives me hope, like, it wasn't meant to be."
Not to undercut how crushing the whole journey has been.
Two days after receiving a call from her doctor telling her she was pregnant last year, her phone rang again, this time with bad news. "In an instant I was no longer pregnant," she explained of the chemical pregnancy. "We were disappointed, but we had found a great nurse and we have a great doctor, and so we decided, you know what, let's do another round."
This time, the results were even better, three store-bought tests and one blood draw confirming she was, in fact, expecting, with her levels of the hCG hormone produced during pregnancy heading in the right direction.
"It was going so smooth and all my levels were high that I really wasn't holding my breath because everything looked so positive. I had no reason to think it wouldn't work," she shared. "I was like, 'Oh, everything's great, my levels are great, I have no morning sickness. I'm good!' I was definitely overly positive."
Though not without reason. At the eight-week mark, "we heard the heartbeat," Zamolo said. "And it was so special." It was also a signal that their chance of miscarriage had dropped dramatically, doctors even altering her daily hormone injections to every other day because her body was doing such a good job of producing the hormones on its own.
Which is why they decided to film their nine-week appointment as well, planning to compile the footage for the big announcement they could not wait to make.
"This was going to be a very exciting video, which turned, obviously, into something that's very different," she shared. "But at that point, when I was that far along and with all of the levels and all of the tests that had been done, I honestly had hardly any doubt. I mean, obviously, I was like, 'There's a chance.' But they were like, 'It's so slim.' I wish I was a little bit more nervous because it would have been less of shock."
In that moment when the familiar flicker was absent from the ultrasound screen, everything changed, including her ability to experience any subsequent pregnancies with unbridled optimism. "I think this next time going around, I will be a little bit more worried," Zamolo admitted. But she outright refuses to be negative.
"I would definitely never want to downplay my feelings," she shared. "But, I mean, I've talked to people who've had eight miscarriages. I've had people that made it to week nine three times in a row and it was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is very common.' And it gave me, I guess, a little bit more hope, but also made me feel like it's not only me going through these really hard, difficult situations."
As she put it in her YouTube video, "I look at every, like, low time in my life and it's always led to something beautiful that I never expected. And it was so hard at that time, but I always know looking back, like, 'Wow, I'm really glad that happened, for whatever reason it was.'"
With her hope firmly in tact, she's allowing herself to imagine what those newborn months might be like ("Once they get older, they're like, 2, 3, okay, they can move, they can walk around. A baby, I'm just like, 'Oh my gosh, I don't know what to do!'") and how excited she is to have a front-row seat to years of childlike wonder and joy.
"I just love the way kids see the world because it's like they can do anything," she explained, a feeling she connects to having faced her critical health issues. "Once you get to a place where you're sick, it's like life or death, I know that sounds dramatic, but it really changes your perspective on everything. And I feel like my perspective of life is very similar to a child's."
Thanks to her life-saving surgery, "I really connect to kids—I love their innocence, their eagerness, their fearlessness," she said. "I just want to really nurture that for that generation. I don't want them to lose it." Because there were certainly points while battling ulcerative colitis where she could have grown cynical, hateful even, but after her procedure, "I was like, 'Oh, I get to, like, live again,'" she said. "This is a second chance."
Having experienced more than her share of lows, "For me, life is beautiful, all the good and the bad," she insisted. "There's just so much to be positive about. And I think that's the only way that I can live."
(The Game Master: Summer Schooled is out June 1.)