Author Archives: Elana

Roundhead

First, baby news: we took H. for his 4-month checkup last week. He weighs 15 pounds, 7 ounces, and is 25 1/2 inches tall, putting him at exactly 50% for height and weight for male infants his age. So, good news!

Also good news: his head is “perfectly round”, according to his doctor, who went on to explain that many babies spend too much time flat on their backs and develop “parallelogram-shaped heads”.

His doctor was generally pretty impressed with his roly-polyness and overall development, but NOT IMPRESSED ENOUGH. It was embarrassing, Seth and I were totally showing H. off, trying to get him to smile more and stand up and cure cancer.

It’s weird! I normally don’t really get into bragging about my kid, and I feel totally comfortable disregarding our doctor’s opinions*, but I also really, really wanted him to be impressed by H.’s development. MORE impressed. Really the only thing that could have satisfied me would have been if he had gone into the hall and yelled for all the other doctors and nurses to come CHECK OUT THE MIRACLE BABY IN EXAM ROOM THREE.

H. also got more shots. Because I had to take him for two sets of shots by myself while Seth was away, and also because I am a horrible person, I was kind of looking forward to his dad having to hold him for this round, and really understanding HOW TERRIBLE it is to hold your baby as he gets injections. But no! Instead the nurse gave him two shots and there was so little crying I actually had to ask if it had happened yet.

(Like I said, a terrible person.)

At home, H. slept for an hour or two, and then woke up, upset. There was screaming. Inconsolable screaming. We called the triage nurse at the pediatrician’s office, who tried to blow us off.

One of the weird things I have noticed about… doctor’s offices, I guess? Is how maybe they are pitched to people who are kind of frantic and concerned about stuff. So they tend to really downplay your concerns, and be very “Oh, that’s totally normal!” – whereas we are basically not very frantic or concerned people, even when our baby is screaming. (I mean, it sucked. But I didn’t start to get worried until the screaming had gone on for some time and could not be stopped by offering Magic Boob, which is entirely outside our guy’s normal range of behavior.) So for us to call, we have already considered and rejected “this is a normal response”, and also we have looked up known side effects of the pertussis vaccine on the CDC website and discussed them at length and tried to define “persistent crying” and looked up the rate of adverse reactions to this particular vaccine AND WE ARE STILL WORRIED.

But it’s very difficult to communicate this to medical types! There’s no real shorthand for “Yes, I understand that you think that I am a nervous first-time parent who calls the doctor every time my kid looks like he’s suffering from ennui, BUT THIS IS NOT THE CASE. So maybe you should actually listen to what I’m asking you and give a thoughtful response.”**

Maybe what you need is a kind of taxonomy of personality types for patients. Like you could say “Doctor, I am very concerned about this weird lump…” and they’d say “You probably bumped your head and don’t remember it.” and then you could say “Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m PERSONALITY TYPE 2A” and then the doctor would go “Holy shit! You’d better come in for an MRI.” OR you could say “I’m personality type 1c!” and the doctor would say “How did you get this number?”

Anyway – of course H. was ultimately fine. But his response to this second round of the vaccine was worse (and worse for a lot longer) than it was last time. I felt pretty bad for him, and also kind of annoyed by the anti-vaccine movement and the CDC’s response to it, YET AGAIN. See – I think it’s pretty obvious that some percentage of kids is going to have a crappy response to a vaccine. Right? And yet, because nobody wants to give the anti-vaccine people any ammunition, your doctor’s nurse and your doctor and the CDC… everybody has to downplay the odds of your kid having a really lousy day. They can’t just go “Listen, sometimes babies totally lose their shit after getting the pertussis vaccine. It happens, and honestly we don’t really know WHY “persistent crying” is a side effect, it just is. But if your baby screams for more than like two hours at a stretch, give us a call.” because some parents would take that as evidence of the autism-causing cabal at work.

HMPH HMPH HMPH! CRANKY FIRST TIME MAMA IS CRANKY.

___________________

Seth has mentioned previously that babies are basically like tubes full of potential, and that their brains come online and their DNA cracks the whip and their development tick-tocks along all by itself. It’s pretty amazing to watch. One thing that has been startling to me is that our baby doesn’t really ease himself into a new development: it’s not really a gradual thing. It’s like his brain and body work furiously at acquiring some new skill, but 90% of that work is under the surface. Until one day he gives it a try, and then BOOM! suddenly he’s a guy, for instance, who can pick up objects and explore them with his mouth. Literally from one day to the next. So that’s what he does now. Lie around and concentrate on acquiring things you dangle over him, so he can lick them. It’s pretty cool to watch.

*Not on anything big – just, like, you’re supposed to give your baby these horrible vitamin D drops that come in DEATH GRAPE flavor, and instead I found these drops that are tasteless and require literally a drop, as opposed to the shot glass full of the other stuff. And Dr. S- said that, unfortunately, these other drops were only approved by the Canadian FDA, not the American one. And he thought I should stop using them and go back to DEATH GRAPE, but instead I went home and kept right on using them, because if I had one spot in the lifeboat, it would go to the Canadians. Sorry, American FDA. I know you try.

**Of course, everybody in the world probably thinks that about themselves, “Listen, I get that everybody else is panicky and whatever, but you should take ME seriously.”

Advertisements

In which we are terrible, no-blanket-having people.

Going outside with Henry is like going somewhere with Zac Efron. People flock to him and want to touch him and talk to him and interact with him, and you are kind of like his non-famous friend from middle school or something. People throw you a perfunctory smile and then focus on the STAR.

Which is fine. People like babies. People apparently REALLY like babies. I get it! That’s cool, man. It’s like how I am with dogs. You want to know all about them and comment on how awesome they are and maybe see if you can give the dogbaby scritchescuddles.

FINE.

But… it’s also sort of weird, sometimes. The weirdness falls into three distinct categories:

1 – SO BIG/SO SMALL

99% of Henry’s interactions with strangers go like this:

LADY
How old?

HENRY’S NON-FAMOUS FRIEND
He’s about four months.

One of two things happens now:

LADY
(in amazement)
He’s so big!

or

LADY
(in shock)
He’s so small!

Yes! Our baby – who in actuality is right at the low end of “TOTALLY AVERAGE” on growth charts – is simultaneously huge and tiny. It’s like a not very useful superpower.

2 – TOUCHING

People like to touch babies.

I am a person who doesn’t like to be touched by people I don’t know. I don’t like to be touched by people I don’t know SO MUCH that once when I was picking literary managers I picked the guy I picked in part because the other guy had hugged me at the end of the meeting. Ahhhh! I AM NOT THAT KIND OF PERSON! I don’t care that we’re all LA people! ENOUGH WITH THE HUGGING, STRANGERS!

So I guess it’s possible that I kind of overproject weirdness on this. But still – what’s with the touching of other peoples’ babies? Henry has been felt up ALL OVER THE LAND. Once I was buying snow boots and this lady came up to him and rubbed his back without even looking at me – and, you know, Henry was strapped to my body, so this took HUGE BALLS. His cheeks get squeezed on the regular. People toy with his feet and hands. People pat his butt. During our recent travels, I would kind of dread walking around in the hotel with H., because of how the housekeepers would swarm him and fondle his extremities unless you walked the gauntlet REALLY FAST while repeating “He’s about to take a nap he’s about to take a nap he’s about to take a nap!”

I am in part too polite/lame to say anything about this, but mostly I’m just so startled that I never know what to do until it’s too late. (Obviously I should just go “My child has Ebola! Please don’t touch him, for your own safety.” but I never think of that until later…)

3 – BLANKETS

Sometimes we take H. into a store in – gasp – our BARE ARMS. Without a carrier or a bucket carseat or a stroller or anything. Just the baby and then some arms. And you’d think this would be fine, and mostly it is. But twice now ladies have felt compelled to go “THAT BABY NEEDS A BLANKET” in the most disapproving and unfriendly way imaginable, as though by carrying a baby you are committing a terrible foul, and by not covering him with a blanket you are just making it worse.

Of course I know that by having a baby you are agreeing that everyone in the world gets to have opinions about your child and your parenting choices, but… blankets! It seems like such an odd place to draw the line.

AND NOW, FOR BALANCE, LOVELY THINGS PEOPLE SAY

1) Multiple ladies have come up to me while I was awkwardly trying to feed H. in public to say that they had nursed their own babies and that it was a good thing I was doing.

2) Once an elderly lady looked at H. snoozing in his carrier and shouted, in the tones of someone who has turned her hearing aid way, way down, “WHAT A LOVELY WAY TO CARRY YOUR BABY.”

3) “Aaahhhh, THOSE PANTS ARE HILARIOUS!”

(To H., not to us. Our pants are ordinary or garden-variety.)

Help I’m trapped under this baby and I can’t get up

Baby Stats

Henry had a checkup/horrible vaccine appointment last week. He is now basically a normal-sized 3-month-old, falling somewhere around the 35th percentile for weight and head bigness:

Weight: 12 pounds, 10 ounces (I had to take him in for his thousand-dollar shot today, and he’s 13 pounds 2 ounces.)

Length: 22.5 inches (although I think he’s 23 and the nurse wasn’t stretching him out adequately. CRAZY FIRST-TIME PARENT IS CRAZY.)

Head circumference: 40.3 centimeters

He’s a LOT OF BABY now. You totally get arm fatigue from carrying him around. Yesterday I walked three miles to the post office and back with him strapped to my front, and about halfway through the return trip I felt pretty much like I was at the gym.

Developmental Milestones

When he’s on his tummy on the floor, if he gets sufficiently angry about being on his tummy on the floor, he will flip over onto his back. I’m not sure if this gets a checkmark on the developmental milestone chart or if it just goes under “Baby has functioning Outrage Gland.”

He’s very strong. (I mean, for someone who’s 13 pounds.) He likes to stand while you’re holding him under his arms. He also likes to fling himself backward or sideways when you’re holding him, or to launch himself off your lap by pushing with his legs.

He makes eye contact. He grins. He has practice conversations with you, where you say something, and he waits his turn and says “AY GUH!!!!”

Henry in the process of conversating.

He likes to lie on his back and kick his legs. He tends to look serious and industrious while doing this, like he’s powering some kind of device, or training for a triathlon.

He grips your hair really hard.

He has discovered objects. (As distinct from people, or “the vague haze of everything that isn’t a person”.) Little toys hang from the “roll bar” of his car seat, and he stares up at them in amazement. This morning he was trying to talk to the Eeyore. He was undaunted by its lack of response (which I feel gives you a little bit of insight into how the world seems to work, to babies.)

He likes to be sung to.

He is going bald on top. This makes him look EVEN MORE like Winston Churchill.

The Husband Vanishes

So – Seth is away doing Army things. He was initially in Hawaii (silent resentment goes here) but now he’s in Washington state. Which is at least rainy, if not covered in snow.

DRAWBACKS OF HUSBAND BEING AWAY FOR ARMY SKOOL:
*He doesn’t get to watch Henry become more and more excellent with each passing day.
*Nobody to get things down from high shelves.
*We have to have our debates about wacky autism theories over email.

BENEFITS OF HUSBAND BEING AWAY FOR ARMY SKOOL:
*More room in the bed.
*Nobody trying to show me particularly great episodes of TOP GEAR.
*…?

Interactive Baby

As Henry turns himself into a person with a personality and preferences and a charming toothless grin, I have finally figured out why we had a hard time adjusting to parenthood:

1) I suspect that adjusting to parenthood is ALWAYS hard, for almost everybody. I guess there are some super-sunny people who just roll right into it, but I don’t know them. There is basically no way you can be prepared for how rough adjusting to parenthood is. People tell you, but you are blithely confident that this will not apply to you because you are just that awesome.

2) The first month of your baby’s life, he’s like a plant. A pooping, crying plant. He doesn’t turn into a charming baby human until his system stops going “OMG HOLY SHIT!” and his brain comes on-line and starts looking around and doing science experiments like grinning at you to see what happens.

So even if your baby is full-term, you’re going to have that rough first month. But if your baby isn’t full-term, you probably have to wait until his due date and then add Plant Month on top of it.

Many times I turned to Seth and said “Why didn’t anyone at the hospital tell us how hard it would be until he hit due-date+1 month? And Seth would blink and say: “…they did. They all did.”

I am inclined to blame my not-remembering of this on the fact that I was sick or on drugs or recovering from those things, but honestly I think it’s down to THINKING I WAS JUST THAT AWESOME, again. I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe that parenting will be hard for you because it’s hard for everyone.

Actually- yes, I do. It’s a brilliant bit of Darwinism. Who would have babies if they believed what people were telling them?

(As an aside: I think that maybe sometimes the way we talk about our baby makes it sound like we’re UNNATURAL PARENTS who are UNAFFECTIONATE. But that’s just how we talk. I do really like him quite a bit, and he’s getting more splendid by the minute. For instance, he does this awesome thing when he’s starting to get upset about something where he kind of windmills his fat little forearms, like a bad actor miming a bare-knuckle fight. Also, he doesn’t really cry. This is basically pretty great. I mean, yes, he cries, but only because there’s something specific wrong (usually what is wrong is that he is NOT EATING RIGHT THIS MINUTE, or that you have TAKEN AWAY HIS PRECIOUS PANTS) and he stops immediately when you fix the problem.)

So – I just want to say, if you are a new parent and you are thinking “OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE”, you just have to hold on until your baby is about six weeks past his due date, and things get pretty cool!

(You will still long for more sleep and a sense of purpose in life and a shower, but you won’t be filled with despair.)

Help I’m trapped under this baby and I can’t get up

H. does not really like to be put down. He likes to be carried, he likes to sit on your lap and be sung to, he likes to nap on or next to you. Fulfill these needs, and you have yourself an extremely sunny baby. Try to put him down, and he’ll give you a five-minute grace period and then start to complain. So you mostly carry him around like a baby-shaped nuclear football.

The short days and freezing weather here, combined with HELP I’M TRAPPED UNDER A BABY, are turning me into JABBA THE HUTT.

Sigh.


I wake up in the morning and think “Yes! Today is the day I leave the house!” but then after an hour of being awake, Henry needs a nap. So then I… don’t leave the house. But the whole day I’ll think “This afternoon I am totally leaving the house!”

And then of course I do no such thing. It’s very weird.

(PS: don’t worry! I know that this will pass. Also I will never actually turn into Jabba the Hutt: I have legs. Whoo!)

Vaccines

As mentioned, he got his first vaccines last week (well, because New York wants babies to have a series of four shots for Hepatitis B, he had the first one in the hospital when he was tiny. But aside from that.)

It was totally weird.

I am kind of a hippie, but I’m a SCIENCE-MINDED hippie. And Seth is very sciencey. And we believe that vaccines are pretty great: there’s a very small risk of something crappy happening when you get vaccinated, but that risk is worth it because of the benefits to the baby, and the benefits to society at large.

Etc.

So I’m just saying – I really think that vaccines are pretty cool, and I think that they save lives, and that they’re the reason that we don’t have polio outbreaks anymore. And I don’t think they cause asthma or autism or whatever.

And I still found it SUPER NERVEWRACKING. In part because the anti-vaccine people have penetrated all vaccine information on the internet. All of the pro-vaccine material (even by such dull people as the CDC) is written basically as an argument against crazy vaccines-cause-autism theories. It has the lame side effect of being very un-reassuring to people like me, who don’t believe vaccines cause autism to begin with. You know? You get very “WHY DO THEY KEEP TELLING ME THIS WON’T KILL MY BABY? I DIDN’T EVEN ASK!” and paranoid and embarrassing.

And it made me feel some empathy for anti-vaccine people. Because by the time I had to go to the pediatrician’s office with my little 12 pound, 10 ounce baby boy, and put him on the table, and undress him, and lean over his tiny body and hold his fat little hands in mine, and pretend not to be horrified when the nurse stabbed him in his tiny rubberbanded thighs three times in quick succession–

By that time, I will not lie, I practically wanted to refuse to ever get him a shot again. So part of me can see how parents end up in this camp of refusing vaccines. Part of me, in fact, suspects that the “They cause asthmautism!” thing is just cover for the fact that it’s horrible to have to take your baby to get shots and they don’t want to do it.

Henry spent the rest of the day asleep and whimpering and mildly feverish. It was very sad. But now he is all better again and partially protected against pertussis, and also contributing to herd immunity.

The power of the herd.

we take detailed notes on nearly everything for your edification

First, Seth and I have decided to tell people who ask that we named H. after Henry Hill from Goodfellas.

Second, here’s everything I know so far about having a baby:

CLOTHES

When a baby is brand-new, especially if he’s extra-tiny and kind of reminds you of Gollum, you don’t want onesies. You want kimono shirts. Once the baby hits eight or nine pounds and has a little bit of head control, onesies are great, and prevent the problem where the shirt rides up above the pants. But at first you’ll feel like you’re going to break him. Also your baby will insist that by pulling clothes over his head, you are KILLING HIM.

(Seth here, in the first of many interruptions/guest contributions to this post. If you live in an aggressively cold climate, like upstate New York or Chicago or the moon, I recommend the Classic Pooh bear-shaped snowsuit, available at Target in blue and pink for newborns or brown for older kids. Look, trying to “layer” your baby in jackets and mittens and stuff is just asking for crying. The polyester fur on this baby suit was, I heard, developed by Jacques Cousteau for dives under the polar ice cap; it covers the whole baby head to toe; and it has, of course, the added benefit of making your baby look like an adorable little bear. Seriously, get one. We have two.)

BREASTFEEDING

I just want to say that although we are serious about breastfeeding and it has many benefits (health, not having to buy expensive formula, getting to continue to be lazy and not having to tackle bottles and washing them, etc.) I can now also understand why people embraced formula when it was introduced.

Breastfeeding on demand is really limiting for the mother. I can imagine that later on when a baby goes longer between eating and is more reliable, schedule-wise (“My baby usually eats at 11 and then again at 2.”) it’s different, but when you have a new baby, you are tethered to him BY YOUR BOOBS.

Seth is leaving for a few months of Army Skool in a few days, so yesterday the three of us ran around doing errands. We mistimed the final errand; we hadn’t been out of the house that long, we’d fed H. just before leaving, and he was snoozing in his car seat. Surely we could make the last stop and get home before he needed to eat again? WRONG WRONG WRONG. I came back to the car to find Seth trying to soothe a screaming baby who was sure that he was STARVING, ABSOLUTELY STARVING, WHY WERE WE DOING THIS TO HIM. It was dismaying.

So, yes, in some ways breastfeeding is more convenient (when I go somewhere, I don’t have to bring a big system of bottles and water and formula) but in other ways, it’s just not: you can’t count on an infant’s tiny tummy to be able to go more than X minutes from the start of one feeding to when he needs to eat again, so there’s pretty much a circle that radiates from our house in terms of where I can go and what I can do.

The other thing I didn’t realize is the sheer time volume sucked up by breastfeeding. A couple of weeks after H. came home I dutifully logged every minute he spent breastfeeding, because I LIKE DATA, OKAY, and discovered that he was eating for 7+ hours in every 24-hour period. That’s a lot of time. That’s basically like having a job, only it’s a weird and low-paying one where your job is to stay close to someone and whip your breasts out whenever they start crying.

I get the impression that a lot of stuff has to come together for breastfeeding to be as relatively easy as it is for us: you need support and to be surrounded by people who think it’s normal and ordinary instead of weird and OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU PULLING OUT YOUR BOOBS. I feel blessed that I grew up around hippie ladies who thought that breastfeeding was normal. And I feel blessed that my mom and my mother-in-law both breastfed their babies and are really helpful and supportive. And that the nurses at the hospital were supportive. And that my husband is supportive. Because as much as sometimes it’s weird to be kind of like Ray Liotta in that movie where he had an exploding torque around his neck and if he past a certain invisible line, THAT WAS IT, I’m very happy the human dairy has worked out for us.

(Seth again. One thing we’ve worked out as a strategy is that if it’s been a really bad night and he’s been getting Elana up every hour to nurse, I like to get up earlyish and take him downstairs so she can sleep in peace. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t time this right and he’s ready to eat again. He starts crying inconsolably, and I’m faced with choosing between my kid, who’s HUNGRIER THAN ANYONE HAS EVER BEEN HUNGRY, and my wife, who’s starting to get that Gitmo-crazy-eye thing happening ’cause she hasn’t slept more than 90 minutes at a time since November. At such times, I’d like nothing more than to fill the kid’s belly with Simulac. And opium.)

DIAPERS

Becoming a parent is so humbling! Before I had a kid, I thought that I would probably use cloth diapers when he was born. Here was my reasoning: I am of the opinion that environmentally, cloth diapers and disposable diapers are kind of a wash. It’s kind of popular in cloth-diapering circles to claim that cloth diapers are way more green, but I think that’s questionable. Yes, disposable diapers clog landfills and take eleventy billion years to decompose! But cloth diapers have to be washed in lots of hot water and rinsed in lots more water, and traditional-style cloth diapers are made of cotton, and non-organic cotton farming is really hard on the environment. And then there are all those newfangled cloth diapers that involve little in the way of natural fibers. So I don’t know what the math is there: yes, you’re not throwing out disposables, but it’s made from petroleum. It’s not like this puppy biodegrades in four months or anything.

BASICALLY I SHRUG IN CONFUSION.

(There are apparently some hybrid-style diapers that use a flushable insert that comes apart in the sewer system, and some disposable diapers that are biodegradable, and some others that are compostable. So those might actually ultimately be the better option, environmentally. I don’t know. Also I don’t have time or energy to research those or seek them out, HAD I MENTIONED THAT I BREASTFEED FOR LIKE SEVEN HOURS A DAY.)

The other things I considered, when I was an untested pregnant lady who KNEW NOTHING, were ease of use, comfort for the baby, and cost.

Cloth diapers win on cost, but much more so if you’re using traditional cotton flats or prefolds you own, and much less if you’re using the newer all-in-one diapers that run about twenty bucks each- you have to do some creative math to make that worth it, I think. Even so, I’m interested in NOT SPENDING MONEY, so this part is still appealing to me.

Ease of use, disposables win by a narrow margin. Cloth isn’t hard. Seth is better at it than I am, but it’s not difficult once you do it once or twice: take off the used cloth diaper; put on the new cloth diaper; you pin it shut or use a Snappi to close it (or if you’re Seth you just casually lay it in the cover); you put on the waterproof cover; you put the used diaper into a waterproof “wet bag” or pail; you put it out for the diaper service once a week, or you wash the diapers yourself every two to three days.

Not rocket science. But compare to using disposables: take off the used diaper. Throw it away. Put on the new one. Occasionally buy some more. That’s it.

Comfort for the baby, I don’t know: you definitely feel that the baby is wet much sooner in cloth than you do in disposable diapers. Ultimately I can see how that would be a boon if you’re trying to potty-train earlier. People used to say “How would you like to sit around in wet paper?” about disposable diapers, but Today’s Disposable Diapers aren’t wet paper. They have absorbent gels or something in them. They don’t really feel wet even when they ARE wet.

So. In using both cloth (my in-laws kindly bought us cloth diaper service, and we’ve been doing a part-time setup, using cloth when we can during the day, and disposables at night or when we’re out of the house) and disposables I have reached the conclusion that

DISPOSABLE DIAPERS ARE OBVIOUSLY THE VASTLY SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGY. I mean, come on! You don’t have to juggle bags and laundry and covers and pins! You use them and throw them out! They have those insane little gel crystals that absorb liquid! They never feel wet! You can fit your baby’s pants over them!

I can still see why you would use cloth: it’s undeniably cheap if you go with the right set-up, and you’re not producing as much waste, and honestly I could see how for the right person it would be kind of an exercise in thoughtfulness, a kind of diaper-based spiritual discipline. I hope we can revisit the cloth diapers when we’re more organized, because I do think they have cool aspects. (But being “easier” is not one of them.)

(One other factor — cloth diapers don’t really smell like anything, because they’re, you know, cotton. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, come in a wide array of scents, from “chemical weapons factory” (Target store brand) to “nuclear talcum” (Pampers Swaddlers). Strangely, the best diapers we’ve used so far, in my opinion, were the CVS store brand. They didn’t have any noticeable smell, and (unlike the Huggies we tried) they didn’t leak any weird absorbent crystals onto Henry’s skin.)

SLEEPING

(Seth from here on out, so I’ll relinquish the italics gimmick.)

As you may have read, the State of New York is very concerned about how our baby sleeps. And I’m going to report to you, right here and right now, that not only does our baby sleep in the bed with us, but he sometimes sleeps on his stomach. Yes, that’s right — the Back to Sleep campaign is a joke. On his back we get ten minutes, max, before he’s awake with reflux and spit-up and NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.

I know two pediatricians: Dr. S., with whom we’d like to hang out socially because he’s so cool, and My Sister The Doctor. And both of them, when sleeping on the back comes up, act slightly embarrassed. Yep, they say, the research definitely shows that back-sleeping lowers the incidence of SIDS. But longtime observation shows that tummy-sleeping pretty consistently yields better, deeper sleep.

(I’m not sure these two things are unrelated — remember the scene in Monsters vs. Aliens where Bob forgets to breathe? I think babies might be about at that level, developmentally, and maybe in the throes of deep sleep they, you know… forget to breathe. Hey, I know a blonde joke about that! So this blonde walks into the doctor’s office for a checkup. She’s wearing earphones and a tape player that she refuses to take off….)

Anyway, both pediatricians, when I brought up the “Back to Sleep” thing, admitted that although they counsel their patients to put the baby on his back, they’re glad they had their children before that advice became the standard.

So Henry sleeps on his side. Sometimes on his tummy. Screw you, SIDS nazis.

Elana: man, people are going to write and yell at us. HENRY DOES NOT REALLY ROUTINELY SLEEP ON HIS STOMACH. Sometimes he falls asleep during “Tummy time” (I think of this as his time at the office) but we don’t put him to sleep at night on his tummy.

But, ah, I cannot deny the thing about sleeping on his side. I’M SORRY.

Also, as long as you have him in bed with you, our kid is a pretty great nighttime sleeper and although I long for the days when I got 8 hours in a stretch, I do know that we really have nothing to complain about. He goes to sleep, he wakes up and eats a few times, that’s it.

EQUIPMENT

Slings. If you are at all handy, I highly recommend you make at least one device for carrying your baby around hands-free. If you are not, you can buy one. While your baby is new and has no neck muscles, you will need a carrier that doesn’t require him to hold his head up. We have three. One is about fifty feet long and requires several costumers to put on, but at the end of it you have a sort of samurai garment that securely immobilizes the baby against your chest. He will sleep UNBELIEVABLY deeply in this thing, but be warned: he will oversleep his hunger cues and wake up ravenous and confused. (“You know I like to eat! Why didn’t you wake me up??”) I don’t have a picture of this one because I don’t know what it’s called, but email Elana if you want details.

Elana: it’s a “stretchy wrap” (wraps are just really long pieces of cloth you wrap around you and your baby, and they come in stretchy and non-stretchy varieties. Stretchy wraps are easier to use with new babies and new parents, I think. But non-stretchy ones are probably more supportive if you want to carry a bigger baby.) and it looks something like this (although this isn’t ours, just a picture I STOLE. From the internet. Ours is off-white.):

We call ours 'The Obi-Wan'

Recently we were in a restaurant, and Seth started to put on the Obi-Wan (which is indeed a little bit of an event) in preparation for sticking Henry into it so we could eat, and afterward a man came over and said “When you started doing that I wasn’t sure if it was for the baby or if you were about to conduct Mass!”

A stretchy wrap is so easy to make I don’t know why you’d buy it, but a company that sells them is Moby. If you want to make one, you buy 5 to 7 yards (depending on how big you are) of cotton or cotton-blend knit fabric. It has to be in one piece! Seams would make the wrap less sturdy. And then you cut a long strip, 20 to 30 inches wide. You can taper the ends if you want less bulk, but you don’t have to. That’s it. No sewing need be involved.

The second type of sling we have is basically for lazy people, because it’s not that hard to sew (or at least, it doesn’t look that hard when my wife does it) and it takes about seven seconds to put on. It’s basically a circular trough of cloth that becomes a kind of sash. You put it over your shoulder and stick the baby in the pocket. Pretty much foolproof.

Oh thank God -- I can finally brush my teeth!

The only thing is that it’s not very secure. If you bend over, the baby swings out precipitously and, quite reasonably, startles. Also, he’s definitely tucked off to one side, so it’s not like you can stick him under your coat or anything.

Elana: people call this kind of carrier either a “sling” or a “pouch”. We call it “The Baby Tube”. Unlike a wrap, this kind of carrier isn’t usually adjustable and needs to be sized correctly for the wearer. Seth and I can basically wear the same size, but if your spouse is much taller or shorter than you are, you’d probably need two. A commercial company making these is Hotslings. If your pouch is the right size, it shouldn’t swing very far away from your body if you bend over, but I agree that it’s not as hands-free as the other options.

We also use the Mei Tai, which is an Asian invention that walks a nice line between simplicity and snugness. Much easier to put on than the giant one, but it still cinches the baby tight to your body so he’s not swinging around all over the place. Also, you can wear it in front when he’s a newborn and then use it as a backpack when he can hold his head up. It looks like this:

Mustache optional.

Swing. The swing is weird. Henry will sleep in it, sometimes for a couple of hours at a time… but he doesn’t seem to like it. He makes weird faces and seems to cycle up and down in irritation even as he’s being lulled to unconsciousness by the motion.

Elana: I have total buyer’s remorse about our swing. Swings are expensive! And people call swings “neglect-o-matics”, which is pretty exciting, because I enjoy neglecting my baby to do frivolous things like take a shower. But Henry will kind of humor you for three minutes and then indicate that he’d like to get out. (We do not actually put him in it for hours at a time. Sadly.)

Bassinet. Sounds cool, like some sort of creepy instrument you’d hear on a Jon Brion score. But not that helpful — Henry refuses to sleep in it. Actually, that’s just for us parents. His grandmother can get him to sleep in it somehow — I suspect voodoo.

Snuggle Nest. Also known, in our house, as “the cat bed.” I sang its praises in an earlier post, but I spoke too soon. After a few days, Henry refused to sleep in it anymore. While I’m away doing ARMY, Elana is trying to re-introduce it. if that works out we’ll let you know.

Elana: This is such a mystery! Henry will sleep next to the cat bed, but not IN the cat bed (not for longer than ten minutes, at least). I am conducting an experiment to see if proximity will desensitize him to how awful it is to lie in a snug little bed at a comfortable, reflux-soothing incline.

Bottles. I’d just like to give a little love to Dr. Brown’s “Natural Flow” bottles, which have a clever little tube to allow air to escape into the top of the bottle rather than your child’s esophagus. We only rarely use the bottle to feed H. expressed breastmilk, but these seem to work quite well. Plus they’re made of glass and the nipples are silicone, so if you’re paranoid about BPAs, set your mind at ease!

Car seats. Here I have no useful information. There seems to be no way to actually install one of these things according to the directions (“There should be no more than one inch of movement to either side”), so I say wrap your kid in bubble wrap, just to be safe. Also, unless you drive a Cadillac, chances are good that you won’t be able to put the front seat all the way back without hitting your kid’s car seat, so if you can, mount it in the middle of the back seat. Sure, your friends won’t be able to ride with you anymore, but you’ll be able to lean back in sweet compact-car luxury.

Elana: Car seats make me kind of annoyed. Apparently something crazy like 70-80% of all car seats are installed incorrectly, which is lunacy. If a relatively bright person can read the seat’s manual and the car’s manual and look things up on the internet and STILL BE UNABLE to install the seat correctly, I think that’s way beyond “People are stoopid” and deep into “This product does not actually work.”

But we of course use ours. Even though it’s tempting to just tuck the kid in a basket of clean laundry in the back or something.

(I AM KIDDING.)


That’s pretty much everything you need to know to be the parent of a newborn, I think. Good luck!

My new parenting dogma is unstoppable!

If you have a baby, there are many people who will be happy to tell you how to treat your infant. Many of them have written books. Many of those books contain handy little mnemonics for memorizing that book’s particular dogma. Like Dr. Sears, who espouses a kind of lite version of Attachment Parenting, has the Seven B’s of Attachment Parenting. Or Dr. Karp, of Happiest Baby on the Block fame, has the Five S’s to make your baby STOP YELLING.

Seth and I have decided to come up with our own parenting dogma so we can write a book about it and make literally hundreds of dollars selling our theories to other desperate parents! Here’s the fruit of our efforts so far:

The ABC’s of Fumbling-Through Parenting ™:

A is for ANY MEANS NECESSARY

B is for BABIES ARE WEIRD

C is for CRAM A BOOB IN IT

D is for DON’T LEAVE YOUR BABY UNDER A BUSH

E is for EVERYBODY’S DOING THE BEST THEY CAN, MAN

ANY MEANS NECESSARY: having a newborn is super-hard. You don’t get any sleep and you spend a lot of time staring into the dark wondering what you have done. So whatever you have to do to get some sleep and occasionally a shower and maybe a cup of coffee, that’s what you have to do. For instance, if your baby doesn’t like to be put down, don’t put him down! Why not train the household dog to carry him around while you’re peeing or off at the store buying vodka?

BABIES ARE WEIRD: sometimes your baby is going to freak the hell out for no good reason. You can run through the checklists and try to feed him, burp him, change his diaper, etc, and if he’s still freaking out… well, who knows! He just got here. Before this he was in a climate-controlled environment so luxurious nutrition was pumped directly into his veins! By comparison, the outside world must be depressing like a gulag.

CRAM A BOOB IN IT: this is the solution to most of my kid’s problems, as it turns out. Someone out there probably thinks that you should try everything else before resorting to this, because what if he’s just comfort-nursing and by sticking a boob in his mouth when he’s upset you are failing to help him learn to self-soothe?!????? And to that person I say, LISTEN CHIEF, you are welcome to come over to my house and babysit, HAD I MENTIONED THAT I’M OUT OF VODKA.

DON’T LEAVE YOUR BABY UNDER A BUSH: it’s so weird how when babies are brand-new they are actually not all that cute and they are super-needy and cry-y and they don’t make eye contact with you or smile or really seem to notice that you exist. They’re just these balls of frantic need. (Why would evolution set it up this way? Surely many many early humans left their irritating infants out in front of the cave when it was time to sleep.) But you have to just count on the fact that it gets better: the baby gets fat and cute, he starts to hold his head up and look around. He makes eye contact. He gurgles and coos. Sometimes he looks at you in a very calculating manner and then cracks a huge, toothless grin. So don’t leave your baby under a bush. It gets better.

EVERYBODY’S DOING THE BEST THEY CAN, MAN: parents, especially parents of the female persuasion, have a hard time not being competitive and judgmental. I guess it’s because raising a baby is like the super-charged version of growing the biggest pumpkin in town. You want there to be an objectively best way to go about doing things. You want to do what is right, not just “right for your family”. So you obsess over the right baby books, the right parenting dogma, the right hats, the right car seats, the right sleeping arrangement, the right way to talk to your baby. You want to have all the answers. You want, quite frankly, to be better at it than other people.

But that way lies madness.

There may be a science to parenting (and if there isn’t, nerds like Seth and I are fucked) but mostly it’s alchemy, mostly it’s faith, mostly it’s faking it until you make it.

Everybody’s doing the best they can. Even you.

Thousand dollar shots

I wrote this two weeks ago. You know what’s weird about having a baby? How your life becomes really fragmented. You get to do things in ten-minute increments, constantly on high alert in case somebody starts complaining loudly. So the measurements are out of date – we took H. for another doctor’s appointment more recently, and he was eight pounds, nine ounces. He probably weighs FORTY-TWO POUNDS by now or something. You should see his jowls. Sometimes I like to kind of tuck his chin into his chest, because I’m a jerk and it makes him look exactly like Winston Churchill.

Key quote: A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality.

Key quote: UNGH GAH! UNGH GAH! UNGH GAH!

But anyway. Here’s a somewhat-out-of-date tale of some stuff relating to our kid, Captain Jowly Gruntles of the RAF:

Henry is seven pounds, 11 ounces today. And he’s 20 inches long. And his head circumference is – I forget, but it’s some number that gets his head ON THE HEAD GROWTH CURVE. In fact, he’s now on the curve for everything: in the bottom 1% for weight and length for baby boys who are 1.6 months old, but in the 4th percentile for head circumference. So if he were in a room with 99 other babies, he could beat up three of them USING ONLY HIS HEAD.

We were at the pediatrician’s office yesterday morning. In addition to getting a set of measurements, we got our kid a shot of antibodies that will theoretically help him fight off Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

We had a hard time deciding to do this, deciding to agree with his doctor’s recommendation that he get these shots once a month for the duration of cold and flu season. And not because we’re Opposed To Vaccines. (For some stupid reason it is very important to me that everyone understand that I LOVE SCIENCE and do not believe that the MMR vaccine causes ASTHMAUTISM… parenthood is kind of a trip in terms of how it smashes your face into a whole bunch of your less-ignorable character flaws.) And not even because watching your seven pound, 11 ounce baby get a shot is kind of a horrifying experience. Although I freely admit that I am morally weak and it is a horrifying experience.

But because this shot is insanely expensive (and because the experience of being convinced to get it made me feel really bad about a lot of things relating to the American health care system, ahem.)

How expensive, you ask?

Well, of course nobody in the US can actually just say “This is how much Shot X costs”, because it depends on if you’re a sucker who’s paying cash, or if you have an insurance company (partially) footing the bill, and if so which insurance company – the cost of everything DEPENDS. So I couldn’t nail down exactly how much this shot costs. But it’s expensive, somewhere between $1000 and $3300 (the highest number for a cash-paying patient I saw On The Internet) per shot. And your baby gets one shot a month. For up to six months. So you can see how this could add up to quite a lot of money.

Henry’s pediatrician – who is so cool Seth and I wish we could hang out with him on a social basis… you know, maybe go see a movie or something – said of this drug that he recommended it for premature babies, but that it was crazy expensive and that most insurance companies refused to pay for it. And if ours, as he expected they would, refused to pay for it, he wouldn’t advise us to pay cash for it or anything. It wasn’t a disaster if we couldn’t get it, it was just some extra protection for a developing immune system during cold season.

So it was pretty clear that Dr. S- didn’t expect our insurance company to approve the drug. And Seth and I felt fine about that. Even before we got in the car and talked it over, I knew we felt fine about it. Guess how I knew! It was because when Dr. S- first said “This drug costs about a thousand dollars per shot”, Seth and I looked at each other and shared The Gaze Of Cheap/Bad Parents, where both of us were clearly going “HAHAHAHAHAHA” in our heads.

But then Dr. S-‘s biller started calling us. “I’m still working on getting that approval!” she’d say. And we’d go “…oh.” because we had expected our sensible military insurance company to immediately shut this nonsense down, possibly by sending our kid a letter reading “TOUGHEN UP, BUTTERCUP”.

In the meantime, we started Googling this drug and this disease (I know! You should never do this. Who among us hasn’t decided that he or she has a terminal case of TOE CANCER after some late-night Googling?), and discovered the following:

  • Different medical groups have different ways of deciding if this drug is appropriate, but generally, it’s recommended for premature babies during cold and flu season, but only if the babies have one or more added risk factors in addition to being premature. Such as “lungs are not so great” and “lives with a bunch of other babies who bring home illnesses a lot”.
  • RSV is not that big of a deal for the vast majority of people, something akin to a cold. But it can be bad for little babies and end up giving them permanent lung issues. Like wheeziness.
  • The drug doesn’t actually keep your baby from getting RSV. It just tends to make the course of the illness less awful.
  • Bearing in mind our layperson’s ability to read study extracts, it seemed to be the case that this drug did not actually reduce mortality – reduce the number of babies dying from this virus – it just reduced the number of hospitalizations.
  • The drug is super-expensive. HAD I MENTIONED THAT?
  • Most parents of babies, premature or otherwise at elevated risk for this disease, were desperate to get their hands on this drug. They lobbied their doctors, they lobbied their insurance companies, they lobbied their state legislators to make it available, they paid outrageous co-pays gladly, they went into debt to pay for the whole course of shots themselves. Cash. Because their insurance companies said no dice. But apparently, the drug company was sometimes willing to help desperate parents arrange financing. How nice of them.

After some debate, we pretty much decided that this drug wasn’t for us. Henry was premature, but he’s really healthy (yes, I knock wood, typing this) and he doesn’t have any lung issues. And it’s not like he hangs out with a bunch of other babies at baby nightclubs snorting lines of baby coke and compromising the integrity of his airways. It was hard to see how you could justify the cost in his case. We were pretty sure that our insurance company was going to deny the request, which was PERFECT, because then we wouldn’t have to seem like bad, unfeeling parents and actually reject the drug ourselves.

AND THEN THE PEDIACTRICIAN’S BILLER CALLED AND SAID WE HAD BEEN APPROVED, dangit.

And then, when we didn’t immediately schedule the appointment to get the shot, the company that makes the drug started calling us. Was I Henry’s mother? Was I aware that this wonderful drug had been approved for his use? DID I WANT TO SCHEDULE THE APPOINTMENT IMMEDIATELY? I DID, RIGHT?

It was a hard sell in the vein of talking to a car salesman. It was really bizarre.

Also the company sent us a “starter kit” in the mail. Which was a sales flyer talking about how terrible it would be to HAVE YOUR BABY DIE BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T GIVE IT THIS MIRACLE DRUG.

Finally, cementing my “this is so totally creepy” feeling, the car/drug salesman, when attempting to lock me into a six-shot course for the rest of the winter, told me: “And your co-pay is zero dollars! So it’s free!”

Now, okay, getting really outraged in a moral-high-horse way over that probably means I need to take a meditation class.

But even so, it’s kind of weird. There not being a co-pay doesn’t mean that it’s free. It’s just free to me, the end user. But you know who pays for it? Everyone else in the risk pool. That’s how insurance works. And in the case of our insurance, although we pay into a pot for it, it’s also underwritten by you, THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER. So no. It’s not “free”.

And also, just to get this out of the way, it makes me have COMMUNIST EMOTIONS to think about how this super-expensive drug is available to only some babies, basically at the whim of their parents’ insurer, and it’s available at vastly differing prices, and some parents can get it and some parents can’t, and some parents go into debt for it and some parents don’t have to because it’s “free”.

All of that strikes me as basically not okay.

But. In the end, we got him the shots. Seth got on the phone with Dr. S, who proved his awesomeness by understanding our ambivalence and saying “Would it be better to use this money to get 800 kids a polio vaccine? I don’t know. Maybe.”

Also, Seth pointed out that at this point H. has cost our sensible military insurance company quite a bit of money, so they probably would rather pay for ridiculous shots now than risk a hospital stay later.

Also, Seth’s sensible doctor sister said we should probably do it.

So we did, but I still don’t know if that was the best choice or not: Making medical decisions for someone else is much harder than I would have guessed. And I feel much less qualified to do it than my know-it-all personality might lead you to believe. I keep wanting the answers to be starkly black and white, and I guess they never are, they’re always going to be vague and best-guess-y and sometimes they will involve someone sticking a needle in your baby’s thigh when he’s not paying attention, leading to a serious case of the UNGH GAHs.

Oh my God, motherhood DOES mean mental freeze.

Henry came home from the hospital about a week and a half ago. He is doing really well and has no health issues, and we’ve mostly figured out breastfeeding (as I may have mentioned, the nurses at this hospital were basically FASCISTS about nursing… which is ultimately great and admirable but tough to deal with when it’s 3am and you’re in the ICU and a lady walks in and flips on the lights and trills “TIME FOR YOU TO PUMP, DEAR!”) and he’s gaining weight and crossed five pounds when we saw his pediatrician last week.

That’s all the good stuff. The tough stuff:

OH MY GOD YOU GUYS. I didn’t know having a baby was so hard. I thought I knew it was kind of hard, but- HA HA HA, I had no idea. You people who are parents are heroes. LITERAL HEROES.

YOU ALL DESERVE PURPLE HEARTS OR SOME SHIT LIKE THAT.

It is so rough, you guys. Babies, even ones that are pretty good sleepers like mine (knock wood), wake up every two hours during the night. Except it also takes about a half-hour to feed and change them and settle them again and then you need a little time to actually fall asleep again… so really you get about 70-80 minutes of sleep between feedings.

This is crazy hard.

Have you ever seen that episode of Battlestar Galactica called “33”, and it’s about how the fleet has to hyperjump every 33 minutes because that’s when the Cylons find them?

IT’S LIKE THAT.

ONLY CROSSED WITH A CIA BLACK SITE PRISON WHERE THEY TORTURE YOU TO EXTRACT INFORMATION YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE

YOU’RE JUST THIS UNFORTUNATE LUCKLESS UIGHER WHO KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT ANYTHING

AND IS TOTALLY CONFUSED AND CRYING ALL THE TIME

I was reading something in this baby book I have about post partum depression, and it made me really annoyed. Because, would you say that in general one might define “depression” as “feelings of sadness that aren’t directly tied to external circumstances”? Like, a person could have a really great life but also be extremely depressed, right?

Well, post partum depression is A BULLSHIT PHRASE. Because if a new mother is freaking out and losing it, it’s for good reasons like:

*hormones going crazy
*sleep deprivation levels set to: “GITMO”
*life as you know it carpet-bombed into oblivion, never to return

etc etc etc

So come on man, “post partum depression” is just kind of dismissive and patronizing, you should call it something like “You Have Good Cause To Feel That Way Syndrome”… this is just my opinion, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Henry is fine. He is napping beside me in his Snuggle Nest right now. His dad is off to do Army Things in the morning, so we banished him to the couch. Now I am torn between sleeping myself and the knowledge that Henry – who may be going through a growth spurt – will want to eat again in about 45 minutes. Is it worth the 45 minutes of sleep to suffer through the staring-into-the-abyss horror of having to wake up so soon? Or am I better off staying awake until he wants to eat and then falling asleep afterward?

I USED TO BE AN INTERESTING PERSON. I HAD A PSEUDO-CAREER. I WAS GONNA BE A CONTENDER. Now I lie awake and stare at the ceiling and plot imaginary charts where the X axis is “time to next feeding” and the Y axis is “level of despair experienced when you have to wake up for said feeding”.

(This is pretty bleak stuff.)

So, the Snuggle Nest. Let me tell you my big lame lesson about all of this pregnancy and parenthood stuff: I am trying really hard to be less judgmental. Not because I think that being less judgmental makes me more moral or whatever, but because I have come to the understanding that

I KNOW NOTHING.

NOTHING.

When I was pregnant, I happened upon the Snuggle Nest at some point. And I laaaaaaughed and pointed and laughed some more. What a ridiculous product! What kind of sucker would buy this? Why not just stick the kid in bed with you? Why have the little baby-in-a-box setup?

Now, of course, I think that the Snuggle Nest is the greatest thing ever, responsible for me getting those 70-to-80-minute stretches of sleep. Which doesn’t sound that great but is up from 40-50-minute stretches when Henry was in his sleeper thing.

I had other awesomely ironic examples of this kind of thing, of how something I used to make fun of was now the only thing keeping me from the edge, but you know what? I can’t remember them. This is a big factor in my life right now, being unable to remember things. Like about 40% of my conversations start with me saying “So I probably already told you this – did I already tell you this?” because I’m trying to hedge my bets, and you know, I probably DID already tell them this, it’s very FOG OF WAR in my brain these days.

Here is a picture of Henry in his Snuggle Nest – or, as I like to call it, ELANA’S HUBRIS BOX. He is so comfortable and snuggly! I am jealous.

so comfortabuhls.