This wasn't part of the plan...

I guess there’s really no easy way to break this news, and I know this is kind of an impersonal medium for this particular message, but we want everyone to know what’s going on, and just don’t have the time or emotional energy for dozens of phone calls. Getting to the point, Anna has been in the hospital since Tuesday morning. Her water broke while she was at work, and she began to go into pre-term labor. After a couple of panicked hours at Seton Northwest hospital, her mild contractions stopped, she and Frankie stabilized, and they were transferred to Seton Medical Center in central Austin (the only place in town with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit [NICU]). The good news is that both she and Frankie are fine, and though we’re not entirely out of the woods yet, the prognosis is better than we’d expected.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is a little over two months early (she was right at 29 weeks, to be exact), so the situation is fairly serious. They’ve had Anna on magnesium sulfate, a central nervous system inhibitor and smooth muscle relaxer (the side effect of which has been described as “the worst flu you’ve ever had”), hoping to keep her from going into labor. She’s also had two doses of steroids, which will help Frankie’s lungs develop (the doctors’ primary concern at this point, as far as his health goes). The goal at this point is to keep him inside of her for as long as possible. They’ve told us that every day he spends in her womb translates into three days he doesn’t have to spend in the NICU. The best-case scenario would be for Anna to lie in this hospital bed until mid-August, although that seems highly unlikely. They’ll take her off the magnesium this morning, and it will be out of her system by this time tomorrow. Her body may decide to go into labor shortly thereafter, or she could lie in this bed for days, weeks, or even a couple of months. However, when labor begins, they won’t try to stop it again, so they’ll let her deliver.

In spite of the good news that she and Frankie are basically in pretty good shape, there are some downsides here. Frankie is breeched, and without any fluid in her womb, he can’t position himself for a vaginal delivery. That means Anna will definitely be having a C-section, which has been one of her biggest fears all along. Not only that, but his position and timing mean that she can’t even get the cool “bikini cut” C-section; she’ll have to have the traditional “vertical cut,” which takes longer to heal and leaves a larger scar. I think that’s bothering her less than the prospects of Frankie staying in the NICU for up to two months. They’ve warned us that he might have to stay in the hospital up until his actual due date (September 9). We’re both more than a little freaked out by that, but we’re trying hard not to let on to one another how much that scares us. Stiff upper lip, and whatnot. And of course, we’re trying hard not to think about all the developmental problems associated with premature babies, and the exorbitant cost of long-term neonatal intensive care, and the risks of surgical birth, and all the things left up in the air because this caught us totally by surprise.

In spite of all this, we’re actually doing well. Anna is awake and alert, she’s not in much pain, and she’s actually gotten kind of used to lying in bed. That said, neither of us is looking forward to weeks or even days of bed rest, but we’ve agreed that it’s better than the alternative. We’re willing to go through pretty much anything to keep from leaving Frankie alone in this hospital any longer than is absolutely necessary.

If anyone wants to send anything to Anna, she’s in Seton Medical Center (they may call it Seton Main), 38th & Medical Parkway, Room 248. For those of you who’ve called to say we’re in your thoughts and prayers, we appreciate it, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop. In the meantime, know that we’re well taken care of, and that we’re doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Anna’s not really up for many visitors at the moment, but she’s taking phone calls and appreciates hearing from everyone. If you want to stop by, give me a call on my cell (or hers), and I’ll let you know if she’s up to it.


One More HUGE Thing To Freak Out About

I kind of thought we were on top of the whole vaccines issue. Our chosen pediatrician assured us that the danger of not getting vaccines, or spacing them, far outweighed the dangers of Frankie contracting neurological problems from chemicals in the vaccines. But the increased rate of autism amongst children in the last ten years is frightening. After all, *something* must be going on.

As Dave and I worry about flathead, SIDS and hell, diaper rash, an old concern has been reintroduced: mercury additives in vaccines via this recent Salon investigative report: “Deadly Immunity”. which calls into question of the validity of a major study that claimed to prove that there was, once and for all, no connection between thimerisol and autism. I’m not one to jump on a conspiracy theory, but the evidence is pretty compelling. Though it is not the only agent that plays a role in increased neurological problems, exposure to thimerisol certainly seems to be one of the largest contributing factors.

“More than 500,000 kids currently suffer from autism, and pediatricians diagnose more than 40,000 new cases every year. The disease was unknown until 1943, when it was identified and diagnosed among 11 children born in the months after thimerosal was first added to baby vaccines in 1931.”

“In 1977, a Russian study found that adults exposed to much lower concentrations of ethylmercury than those given to American children still suffered brain damage years later. Russia banned thimerosal from children's vaccines 20 years ago, and Denmark, Austria, Japan, Great Britain and all the Scandinavian countries have since followed suit.”

And yet…we used it here in the States until 1999. Now, we ship it off to use in developing countries where it may save more kids than it harms. There’s validity to that – the vaccines do “more good then harm” – but it’s a trade off that makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

“Before 1989, American preschoolers received 11 vaccinations -- for polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and measles-mumps-rubella. A decade later, thanks to federal recommendations, children were receiving a total of 22 immunizations by the time they reached first grade.”

There are thimerisol-free vaccines out there. But what about ethylmercury? What about methylmercury? How much have those been tested? What are the long range effects? We have no idea what they may be using in place of those elements that could cause even further damage.

“Under the expanded schedule of vaccinations, multiple shots were often administered on a single day: At two months, when the infant brain is still at a critical stage of development, children routinely received three inoculations that delivered 99 times the approved limit of mercury.”

And as a further indictment of our childbirth class, the teacher knew very little about this. When another couple asked a question about it, we knew more than she did. Scary!
The next step I suppose is to see what the doctor uses. And I’ll tell you what -- I couldn’t care less if they think I am crazy -- I want to see for myself the ingredients list before anything is injected.


The Empire Of The Alpha Mom

And here I thought I wouldn’t read an article that would irritate me more than Neil Pollack's recent piece for Salon – "When Toddlers Get Fired". Of course, I took offense with Pollack’s actions, not Salon’s…

Continuing in the fine tradition of the media presenting unrealistic portraits of mothers, the New York magazine’s story “Empire Of The Alpha Mom” on Isabel Kallman’s new venture, Alpha Mom TV, allows her to paint herself as a supremely driven, frightening, wealthy, type-A Mom who sees baby as a business opportunity: “She had begun talking to Craig (her husband by this time; she liked his drive, too) about finding a new product, when the discussion somehow got knotted up with having a baby. It was soon decided that Isabel would take some time off, consider her career options, do the baby while she was at it.”

Product, eh? Clearly the article means to poke fun at Isabel, though the author never has to be obviously snarky because Kallman says such ridiculous, horrible things on her own. Turning the experience of having a kid into something marketable and/or useful is not a bad thing. But there is something disturbing about Isabel’s drive to encourage other women to be more perfect mothers and mistrust their instincts because there are better answers “out there” than what you have inside. Every discussion about her baby eerily lacks any kind of emotion.

But what’s offensive about the article is not the person it covers. It’s that a magazine would focus negative energy on Kallman, who I do not think is in any way typical of a workforce Mom. The Post continues to feed us tired images of women in the workforce who, as “business women”, are shitty Moms. Women who are "ball breakers" don’t care about their kids! They are rich bitches! They hire nannies! It’s easy to dislike Kallman – too easy. Women’s anger should be focused at Randall Patterson for presenting readers with an image that speaks very negatively of women who combine business & family.

Some thoughts via The Rage Diaries: http://schmeiser.typepad.com/the_rage_diaries/2005/06/i_have_no_idea_.html


What they mean by "no sleep"

Joel was the first to suggest that we enjoy our last months of sleep-filled nights prior to Frankie's arrival. He mentioned it during the same conversation in which he warned of the evils of cloth diapers and the unimaginable volume and offensiveness of baby shit, and in the same dire tone. "You'll never sleep again, David." At the time, I took it for what it seemed worth: one more desperate warning from a man who'd been in the trenches of parenthood for all of six months. I appreciated the heads up, but assumed things couldn't possibly be as bleak as he'd made them seem. Besides, at that particular moment I was more interested in his enthusiastic condemnation of cloth diapers, so the subject of sleep was momentarily set aside.

Since that initial conversation, the ominous threat of perpetual sleeplessness has been repeated countless times, by Joel and many other parents. In fact, by almost
all other parents. Since becoming an expectant parent, I can recall few conversations with post-birth breeders that didn't include a discussion of sleeplessness after the baby's arrival. These conversations are all strikingly similar in terms of both tone and content: equal parts funereal seriousness, sermonic admonition, and apocalyptic prophesy. Ultimately, it always takes the form of a plaintive warning: I've got to make you understand....YOU'LL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN! Of course, most folks are quick to remind that parenting is a blessing, and babies are just the most incredibly miraculous things ever, but this mostly seems like a perfunctory gesture, the performance of which simultaneously confesses and apologizes for the inadequacy of mere words. The subtext is crystal clear: this is the kind of life-saving knowledge that is acquired only through experience, and no matter how sincere and persuasive the appeal, it's a bone-deep truth you won't really appreciate until you're living it. I can even sort of wrap my head around this bare fact, and consciously acknowledge that, sleeping-wise, my life is really going to suck for a while, but that's not really knowing. And yet, they warn us anyway. And the futility of the gesture just makes me think, my God, how bad can it be?

Perhaps it's an instinctual impulse that compels those who have been through the process to warn expectant parents of the perils that lie ahead, chief among which appears to be the end of sleep(1). It might be a primal drive for collective survival, an inborn desire to prepare those charged with the care and maintenance of future generations to deal with the overwhelming enormity of the task. Books and classes might be helpful, but they don't tell you everything (2). For example, in the pompously entitled
The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two, 39 index subheadings appear under the listing for "Sleep," but only one addresses the issue of sleep for parents, referencing a scant four pages, all dedicated to persuading mothers to adopt their newborns' sleeping habits (3). There's no mention of sleeplessness, or the physical and emotional strain it creates for new parents. The American Academy of Pediatricians' Your Baby's First Year dedicates something in the neighborhood of 20 pages to the subject of sleep, but not one discusses parental sleeplessness. The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance is cute and informative, but likewise silent on the issue. Unless there is a twenty five-year-old VHS tape of parents sharing their tortured stories of infant-induced sleeplessness, we are not likely to learn much about the subject in our parenting class (4). In this vast ocean of instructional materials, nary a drop of advice about how to deal with the impending nightmare of extended periods of sleep deprivation. It makes sense, then, that post-birth breeders would feel compelled to fill in this gap, and that each conversation with an expectant parent would invite the plaintive warning. And it scares me that the so-called experts are utterly silent on an issue that is so universally invoked as a critical topic of conversation by just about every parent I know. I mean, seriously, how bad can it be?

But the worst thing about the looming period of sleeplessness isn't the fact that we can't really know how bad it's going to be until we're actually in the muck. Like I said, I understand this. I acknowledge this fact. The worst thing is that we can't even really enjoy these last sweet months, even having resigned ourselves to our inevitable fate. I began writing this Saturday morning at 5:42 am. I'd been up since 5am, when Malcolm (cat) demanded to be fed and let outside. This has become a morning ritual, as Anna has been indulging the little shit in order to train herself to be able to briefly wake up to feed Frankie and then to fall quickly back to sleep. Up until the last couple of weeks, my nights have ended well past 4 in the morning, with work on the dissertation heating up again no later than 10am the next. Neither of us has been savoring this fleeting opportunity. That's the worst part. On Saturday morning, I decided to spare Anna her 5am wake up call from Malcolm, so I gave him his food, let him outside, and started writing this. Anna slept in until almost 9am, when I set this aside to go vote in what turned out to be a losing cause, but a very nice morning walk nonetheless. It's now Wednesday night, and I'm finally picking up this half-forgotten thought. I remember that I started writing about sleeplessness because it had finally sunk in that even when Frankie falls asleep, I'm going to be lying awake, listening for his breath. If he sleeps for an hour straight, I'll be putting my head to his chest, and maybe turning him so he doesn't get flat head (5). I finally really understand what Joel and everybody else means by sleeplessness. And what I wanted to say was that finally figuring that out means this is going to be even harder than I'd previously imagined.

[Check out the messages attached to this post for footnotes (*)]


Malcolm & Frankie

Originally uploaded by silverzephyr.
Malcolm adjusts to a new position.

Domestic Bliss!

Originally uploaded by silverzephyr.
Master Brisket Griller Dave

Protein! Yeah!

Originally uploaded by silverzephyr.
The Breshears Grilling Center.


Finally, some good news!

From the Pregnancy calendar for Week 27, from Pampers.com:

From the experts.
"To help fulfill your and your baby's protein requirements during pregnancy, you should be eating 'quality' protein," says Margaret Comerford Freda, Ed.D., R.N. "Most animal protein is quality protein, while most plant protein is not."

QUALITY PROTEIN. Anna and I get plenty of QUALITY PROTEIN, so as far as that goes Frankie is covered. Last night we actually skipped our baby class because our pork tenderloin wasn't ready by 6. The maiden voyage of my new barbecue grill/smoker experienced some turbulence, causing a slight delay. The choice between ditching the pork or playing hooky from class was easy.

The grill is my first ever Father's Day present from Anna and Frankie. It's a charcoal grill/smoker combo, big enough to smoke a turkey, or about 8 pounds of brisket. I'm a lapsed vegetarian, and after a twelve year hiatus from meat, I've spent the past year and a half making up for lost time.
QUALITY PROTEIN is my middle name. If protein has anything to do with it, look for Frankie to weigh in at like 10 pounds. Good luck with that, Anna.


Give Me Back My Ribs

Dave’s Mom told us about his rather uncomfortable placement in her belly many moons ago. He’d would apparently crawl up right under her rib cage and sit there, making it hard to breathe and move. She would try to push him down and up he’d go again. Well, as they say, like father, like son. For the past week, Frankie has decided that 1) he prefers the right side of the stomach exclusively and 2) he prefers to sit right underneath my rib cage in the least comfortable spot (for me, anyway) he can find. Trying to push him down results in some squirming and an inevitable migration right back up there. He’s wasting all that nice space on the opposite side. Only two and a half more months of this to go! Eep!


Childbirth Class with Josef Mengele's Head Nurse

[This post is backdated - it should've been posted last week.]

I mentioned in passing that Anna and I have begun a childbirth class. Last night was our second session, and though we're going to stick it out, I have to say that we're not too impressed thus far. A little background: the course is taught by one of the nurses from our OB-GYN's office, one floor up from the maternity ward where Frankie will be delivered, and is attended by 7 other couples, a gal who's accompanied by her mother, and one solo mom whose husband is away for several months on business in Korea. These are all first-time parents, as you'd probably expect. Surprisingly, we are not the oldest of the bunch. Unfortunately, we're both older than our nurse-teacher, who appears to be at least a year or two shy of thirty. I don't mean to be ageist, but I'd be a lot more confident in the class if it was taught by someone who at least looks like she's seen more than a half dozen births. Each time she hesitates before answering a question that both Anna and I know the answer to, I cringe a little. My primary complaint, however, has little to do with her age or relative inexperience. What bothers me most is the fact that she seems oblivious to the enormous volumes of anxiety her class is generating.

In our first meeting, after the parents-to-be introduced themselves to one another, our nurse-teacher asked each of the expectant mothers to list their chief concerns with regard to childbirth. They needed very little prodding to produce a long list of worries: pain, emergency c-sections, episiotomies, post-partum depression, unresponsive doctors and nurses, and a variety of complications associated with labor, the delivery, and pain medications. It took longer for the women to generate the list of worries than it did for our nurse-teacher to flippantly dismiss each of these anxieties. This was hardly a reassuring exercise. Then came the film. In a teaching style reminiscent of my 8th grade Texas History teacher, coach Hyde, our nurse-teacher's favorite pedagogical tool is the VCR. Our class ended with scenes from two delivery rooms, the gruesomeness of which did little more than convince me that I want to be nowhere near the business end of Frankie's delivery when that time comes. I know, I know -
miracle of life and whatnot. Intellectually, I'm right there with you, but I can't help that I'm deeply disturbed by close-up shots of a vagina stretched beyond the limits of my male imagination, followed by a torrent of blood, afterbirth, and the passing of the placenta. And lest you attribute this reaction to my fragile male sensibilities or some misguided and outmoded brand of masculinity, let me assure you that Anna was no less disturbed. At the conclusion of the second birth scene, we were dismissed, and we all left the classroom in silence. Anna looked at me with terrified eyes. "I have to do that?" As we queued up for the elevators, each of the couples had the same stunned, my-God-what-have-we-done look. We came here looking for reassurance, but had somehow stumbled into some kind of scared straight seminar. My only productive thought was that these videos should be compulsory viewing for every teenager in America. We could cut the teen pregnancy rate in half overnight.

We chalked that disasterous first class up to the fact that our nurse-teacher hasn't been doing this for very long. Surely she'd pull out of this nosedive and give us some solid, practical advice for dealing with our mounting anxieties. The second class began with a hurried lesson on the stages of labor. The women were asked how long the average labor for a first birth lasts, and the answers were once again readily given: 3 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours. Each response was met with a gentle prod from our nurse-teacher -
warmer, warmer - but nobody came close to the actual answer: 12-14 hours! Jaws dropped, eyes bulged, and the silence of horror gripped the room. Our nurse-teacher seemed surprised by the reaction, smiled, and tried to reassure the mothers-to-be by telling them that most of this time passed during the early stage of labor, and that the active stage usually lasted only 3-6 hours at the most. And then, more video! I knew at this point we were in trouble, but as with all first-time parents, Anna and I are desperately seeking guidance and advice, so we watched, trusting that our nurse-teacher would eventually pull it together and provide some actual fear-allaying advice. Once again, the video produced the now-familiar squeamish feeling and magnified our general sense of anxiety and uncertainty. But we'd been instructed to bring pillows this week, and had been promised some actual, practical pain management exercises, the first indication that this class was not designed primarily to deter anyone from even thinking about getting pregnant.

Our nurse-teacher instructed us to sit on the floor, then handed each couple two wooden clothespins. She explained that there are three main breathing exercises that can help alleviate pain and keep the mother focused during labor: the
hee-hee-whoooo method that you're probably familiar with if you've ever seen a dramatic reenactment of labor on television or in a movie, and two variations on this method, which basically involve changing the number of hees before the whoooo. She then asked each of us to put a clothespin on one of our earlobes. "It hurts, huh?" She told us to leave the clothespin on for 30 seconds without talking. "That seemed like a long time, huh? Now try it, but do the breathing exercise." Anna and I tried earnestly to do as we were instructed, heeing and whoooing with the rest of the class. "Time's up! See, that wasn't as bad? Okay, that's it for breathing exercises! See you next class." We looked at each other in disbelief. This was the first pragmatic exercise in anxiety relief, and the whole thing took less than five minutes. Neither of us felt like we'd mastered even this simple method, and we were downright shocked at the prospect that this was the end of our training. Again, the increasingly frightened parents-to-be filed out in silence. After two classes, I think it's a safe bet that we're all a lot more nervous than when we'd started. How is that even possible?

We're going to continue going to the class, if only to test the theory that it can't get any worse. However, we're also seeking outside advice for pain management during labor (and don't say "epidural," because we're way ahead of you on that one!). So, if any of you moms out there have any tips and wisdom to share, we'd be much appreciative, as always. And don't worry, you can't scare us any more than we already are!


Hello Nursery!

You just can’t imagine the amount of time spent in Home Depot, Lowe’s, Joann Fabric, Hobby Lobby and Target that one little nursery takes. We’re finally done – except for the crib (which we’ll be picking up this weekend!). Shout outs go to Dave’s parents for the drawers, shelves & crib, Anna’s Mom for the desk and everyone for all the adorable baby gifts.

A scene from the doorway. The crib will be placed in this part of the room once we build it. The framed pictures to the right of the window are products of Dave and Anna’s early artistry. You’ll also see Dave’s old kiddie cowboy boots up on the shelf and a rocking horse he sanded and painted over the past two days:

Here’s a close up:

Monkeys! Monkeys! Monkeys!

Here’s a view looking from the far end of the room to the hallway. You can see the picture that our friend Marshall drew for us hanging on the wall. Dave had a very pleasant evening building with Tinker Toys (a present from Anna’s buddy Skye) and came up with the creation on the shelf.

This is the lamp that David had in his nursery when he was a babe.

My Mom got us this vintage “telephone” table in a St Louis antique store. It makes a perfect kid’s desk. Dave plans on stripping and refinishing it. Hey, I just thought of another way for him to avoid writing his dissertation.

This Bulletin Board covers a huge space on the wall. It was Dave’s brilliant idea to use the vintage Hearts cards we bought to make a border. He’s so Martha.

Here’s the bookshelf and above it some scenes from a Curious George book.

These small 3-D scenes were made by Dave’s Mom and appeared in his nursery, too:


Adios, poker room

For my last birthday, Anna converted the air-conditioned shed in our backyard from a sound-proofed practice space into a poker room, complete with a mini fridge, a TV with a VCR & DVD player, and the requisite print of dogs playing poker. I didn't get many opportunities to play poker in there, but over the past couple of months it has served as a good spot for late-night dissertation writing sessions. As we've converted our spare bedroom into Frankie's room, and the dog's room into an actual office, the poker room has been transformed into a storage shed, housing various pieces of furniture for which we no longer have space inside. Our work on the house is just about finished, and so is my poker room. I suppose I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that my poker playing days were numbered anyway.

Except for the rocking horse that is currently receiving its last coats of paint, and the crib that's still at my parents' house in Houston, Frankie's room is finished. We spent the weekend decorating and reorganizing the rest of the house to make room for the mountain of baby-related paraphernalia we're rapidly accumulating. But for the aforementioned rocking horse, I've just about run out of excuses for putting off work on the diss. I guess it's actually time to start working again. Damn.

Pictures of Frankie's room are forthcoming. Stay tuned.