Sunday, January 6, 2013

Spoiler Alert: It Wasn't a Velociraptor

So it's been about eight weeks since my last post.  A lot has gone on since mid-November.  Namely, Thanksgiving, my birthday, the mistaken prophecy of the Mayans, and, in efforts to not bury the lead, our daughter was born.

Much to my chagrin, she was not a velociraptor.  But she's rather cute, so I think we'll keep her.

For those not familiar with the interweb reference:

What actually was the result of labor after 9 months of a rather difficult pregnancy was far less dangerous but much, much more adorable:

Not a velociraptor
Em gave birth at the Birthing Center in Bryn Mawr -- a midwifery practice where they only do natural birth.  In other words: no epidurals.

For the males of the species who may be reading this, those two words may have little impact for you.  For anyone who has witnessed a natural birth and/or delivered a baby under those circumstances, I'm quite certain you clenched your nether-regions just now.

The recounting of the story from my shoddy second-hand perspective is a sorry substitute from getting it straight from the source, but seeing as whatever hormonal cocktail the body releases in the mother's endocrine system post-delivery seems to have a total amnesiac effect on the mother regarding what she just went through, I'll have to do my best.

Em started laboring around 3:00 PM on Friday the 21st.  At least, that's when she told me that she was feeling pretty regular contractions.  You have to realize that I'd been hovering over her for the past two weeks and every time she'd wince, I was ready to load us all into the car.  

The contractions were steadily increasing in duration and intensity, but she took the midwives advice and tried to distract herself with other activities until they became too intense to ignore.  

She actually cooked herself some pancakes and vacuumed a bit before she had to sit down.  We played video games until she had to put the controller down and hold her belly.  She called the midwife and described the pain and they told her to go take a shower and give them a call in another hour.  Hopefully by that point the contractions would be closer together and lasting for a longer period of time.

At 10:00 PM (seven hours after the "pre-labor" contractions had started) we got in the car and headed for the Birth Center.  Ruby (our noble basset hound) was under the watchful care of two of our friends and the cats were well stocked with food and drink, so there was nothing to focus on aside from getting this baby out.

But first, we stopped at Wawa.

Now, before anyone strings me up for being an insensitive bastard husband, the Birth Center tells you to bring a "victory" meal with you so that when labor is over, Mom can get something to eat.  The entire pregnancy Em's been craving an Italian hoagie.  And as pregnant women are supposed to avoid cold lunch meats, it's been off the menu for the past 9 months.  

It being after 10:00 PM, the only place I could think of to stop for one was Wawa.  So, while Em was writhing in her seat, I went in an picked up a Shorti.

If our baby is going to be born and raised in Delco, she might as well get used to it early.

Mission accomplished, we made it the rest of the way to the Birth Center.  The nurse on duty opened the door for us and led us to the green suite.

At this point the midwife came in to assess the situation.  Em was still under the impression that she wasn't really going to give birth yet and that they might send us back home, but after checking under the hood, it looked like we were in business -- she was 3 centimeters along and this was going to happen.

Now, as of this point Em's been awake for about 13 hours.  She tried to nap at home but the contractions kept her awake.  Already tired, she's in for another 18 hours of labor.

By 2:00 AM, the contractions were right on top of each other, but she was no where near fully dilated, so the midwife gave her something to help her sleep.  We dozed until 6:00 AM and within a few minutes of waking back up, the contractions started back up again.  The next nine hours were the part of the movie that they'd montage so that the summary of contractions, back rubs and bath tub soaks could be compiled into a pithy 3 minute segment while "Disco Inferno" played in the background.

Would that the same could have been said of that time.  By the end of it, Em was totally exhausted and we all were the worse for wear.  The Shorti has been consumed hours ago.  But by 3:30 things were in order for Em to start pushing.  

It's not like movies make it out to be.  There's definitely an intensity and some primal noises that happen -- but maybe everyone's birth experience is different.  By the time Em was ready to push, she was so exhausted that she was falling asleep between each contraction.  She would push for a minute, sleep for a minute or two and then right back at it.

I won't go into the more gory details for the most squeamish of readers out there but I will let you know this -- helping in the delivery is (as the midwifes are fond of saying) an "earthy" process.  There will be all manner of amniotic business going down.  But when you are the one to actually help pull your baby into this world, the whole thing makes instant sense. 

And for the tough guys out there -- don't think you won't cry.  The minute you see your little one safely in the arms of your baby's mama, Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel...

Pro Tip: when grabbing your baby for the first time please note that he or she will be as difficult to grab as a greased pig.  Seriously.  The midwife told me to help grab her and I couldn't get a good grip.  I suggest a good under the armpits maneuver if you can manage it.

I can't sing the praises of our midwife / nurse team.  They were a dynamic duo and the perfect pairing for what Em needed to get her through the process.  Our midwife was a spritely, pixie type with a Skrillex haircut.

(Not our midwife.  Skrillex)
Our RN was a wonderful Delco raised girl who had a great sense of humor and a no-nonsense attitude.  When Em thought she'd never get through the process, Jen was there to set her straight.  And given the super-human strength a woman seems to develop mid-delivery, the fact that Jen repeatedly encouraged Em to squeeze her hand along with mine through the contractions, was a testament to both her steadfastness and her tolerance for pain.

So, by 4:44 our baby girl, Lily Noel, was born.  Em was elated.  I thought for certain that she'd fall asleep instantly, but she started holding court.  She didn't stop talking for half an hour while the midwife delivered the placenta and made sure everything was all right.  There was a joy in her eyes unlike anything I've ever seen on anyone's face.  And when you see this little person who looks a whole lot like the best of the two of you, it's hard to believe that everything you went through actually happened at all.

By the end of the night we'd made all the calls and let everyone know Lily was born -- all 9 lbs. 14 ounces of her.  And then it was just the three of us.  At the Birth Center you have to stay a minimum of four hours and a maximum of twelve.  As Lily was born at 4:44 PM and Em's labor had been long and exhausting, they wanted us to stay the night there to keep an eye on both Mama and baby.  

Em's appetite was back after having not eaten anything in almost 24 hours, so I made another Wawa run.  

It took everything within my power to not announce to anyone who would listen that I was a new dad.  Being the closest Wawa to the Birthing Center, I'm sure I wouldn't be the first to do so, but I hardly think the guy assembling a series of Shortis behind the counter would have been impressed.

But I was on top of the world.  I couldn't be happier that the Mayans were mistaken.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mother's Milk: Le Leche, the Jerkward, and the Honking

I took the photo below during one of our recent birthing center classes.

Not really.
One would generally assume that at a Birthing Center, your typical clientele wouldn't necessarily be the biggest of meatheads and chauvinists.

Last week we attended a class on breastfeeding, and it was a full house.  Altogether there were 12 couples, all of who were well on the way to month #9.  Most of the couples looked and behaved like you might assume a well-attended breastfeeding class at a birthing center would be.

There was a lot of plaid.  And men with ponytails.  And earrings.

When we all went around the room to introduce ourselves, we were asked to say our name, when we were due, what we did for a living and what town we lived in.  One couple who looked to be about our age mentioned that they were from the same town as us and I had every intention of introducing myself to them at  the first break.  They lived close by and were due right around the same time as we are.

I couldn't be happier that I didn't.

The peanut gallery comments from time to time were pretty funny.  At one point we were asked to go around the room and talk about one benefit of breastfeeding -- they ran the gamut from strengthened immune systems to the low cost (as compared to formula and bottles).  But the husband from down the street said, "breastmilk comes in nicer looking packaging," which, clearly, is correct.

But then he did something that blew my mind.  In a room full of 23 strangers (including the teacher) he reached over and honked his wife's boob.

Yup.  Room full of people you don't know and your impulse is to tweak her boob?

His wife didn't seem terribly put out by it, so I figured it wasn't a big deal.  But then he repeated the behavior whenever he'd answer a question.

The teacher asked the class -- "If dad can't participate in the feeding of the baby, how can he bond with his newborn?"

Our new friend from around the block raised his hand and said,"we can demonstrate how it's done."  And then he leaned over his wife's chest and pantomimed suckling.  That's right.  Pantomimed.  Suckling.

I wish I were making this up.

At this point, the poor girl who was married to the clown blushed from her neck to her forehead.  She pushed him away and stared at the floor.  The teacher was nonplussed but it seemed so strange to watch this guy at a freaken birthing center breastfeeding class bully his own wife.

That poor girl is going to be raising a human being with this turd.  And, in all likelihood, this turd-spawn will be in the same grade/school as our daughter.

By the time he was cupping her breast like he was weighing a melon at the supermarket, I was grateful that class was at an end.  Was he uncomfortable being surrounded by so many hippies?  Do boobs as food-source make him squirmy?

Why would he feel the need to assert his masculinity in that setting, of all places?  He fathered a child.  Pretty concrete evidence, if you ask me.

The good news is that it was a pretty informative class.  You'd think the whole process would be rather straightforward, but there's some art to the science of it all.  Probably the coolest part of the class was a video that showed a baby being placed, immediately after birth, onto his mother's abdomen and kicking and climbing his way to her breast and self-attaching.

It doesn't happen with babies when the mom has had an epidural, and even then not all babies will do it even if the mother hasn't had drugs during labor, but it was crazy to see.

I couldn't find the exact video of it on YouTube, but if you Google "baby self attachment" or "breast crawl" there are dozens of videos that crop up.  This one gives you the basic gist.


Crazy stuff.

Next week starts the final countdown.  As of Tuesday, we're cleared for launch at the Birthing Center.  Maybe she won't be like every other Gach and actually show up on time.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Picture (Book) is Worth a Thousand Words

And just like that, it's November.


Both of Em's baby showers are over and done (and a HUGE thank you to all the lovely ladies who did so much to make the events special) and now it's a waiting game.

Cuteness Level: Extreme
Luckily, we got a lot of books as gifts.  We registered for a few, but the very clever invite asked people to bring a children's book in lieu of a card.  Being a bibliophile, I was thrilled to begin to build out the baby's bookcase in advance of her arrival.

Ermagerd! Kids Berks!

It got me thinking about the children's books that were read to me as a kid -- and those that made regular circulation without my request.

Hands down, without a doubt, my number one contender for best picture book of all time is Where the Wild Things Are.  Max's misadventures and the pictures that Sendak created are easily one of the biggest influences on my creativity.  I used to have terrible nightmares as a kid, and there was something empowering about the way Max rules over all the wild things.  Big, scary monsters were nothing for Max to contend with, and when things got a bit dicey (and by dicey, I mean that they were looking to eat him) he left in his private boat and came home.  To where dinner was waiting for him.

Yes.  These are all mine.  And the one to the right is
my original copy from when i was a kid.
The stories that were read to me, without my asking, were slightly different in nature.  I can remember two in particular.

One was a book about a house and its non-human inhabitants who get sick of the people not cleaning up after themselves.  So all the anthropomorphic items in the house (I can remember one particularly pissed off tube of toothpaste) get up and leave one by one until, finally, the house sprouts legs and takes off down the street because it doesn't want to be lived in by people who don't take care of it.

I wish I could remember the name of it (Google couldn't help me this time), not so much because I'd want to purchase it all over again, but because I'd love to see what psychological scarring it caused.  How messed up is that?  Scaring a kid into cleaning the house because it might up and leave if you don't? 

In all fairness, it really didn't work.  I usually pushed all my toys and dirty clothes under the bed and then made my bed really well.  This (in my memory) worked for some time, before I started running out of clothes and my dad had to look under the bed to find them.

Because sharing bread would be Socialism.
The second book was The Little Red Hen.  If you've never heard the story, here's the CliffsNotes version: little hen does all the work preparing a loaf of bread.  She asks for help from Sleepy Cat, Lazy Dog and Noisy Duck and none of them want to lift a finger (or paw or wing).  Now, one might ask (and rightfully so) why are you befriending people whose nicknames are "Sleepy," "Lazy," and "Noisy" and then expecting them to do anything, but apparently the good people at Golden Books have decided that is beside the point.  In the end, the Little Red Hen makes a kick-ass loaf of bread and her schmuck friends all want to eat it, but she won't share because they didn't help out.

And the moral of the story is "Hold a Grudge because Lazy People Don't Deserve Your Charity."

Or something like that.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that The Little Red Hen might be mandatory indoctrination reading for future members of the Republican Party.  The Hen is red, after all.

I'm sure that there is a much clearer message inherent in The Little Red Hen but whatever it is, it's lost on me.    So, sorry about that one, Dad -- whatever morality you were trying to bake into your son got lost in translation.

I've got about six weeks to kill between now and Baby's arrival.  I'll probably use it to catch up on my reading.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead...

A lot of famous poets had a good deal to say about sleep:
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 
 -Robert Frost
Death, so call'd, is a thing which makes men weep,
And yet a third of life is pass'd in sleep. 
-Lord Byron 
But I subscribe to the wisdom of the late Warren William Zevron.  Who wrote this song, just so you have some basis for his amazingness:

Apparently you have to watch "Werewolves of London" directly on YouTube, but I assure you, it is well worth the 3 minutes and 17 seconds it will cost you.  Because the song might be the most perfect song ever created by mankind.

Zevron said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

Why such morose subject matter this posting, you ask?  I'll tell you. 

Three random encounters with peripheral neighbors, acquaintences and a random person at the grocery store, all offered up the same advice:

Enjoy your sleep now.  Enjoy.  Your.  Sleep.

It's a strange piece of advice to offer up to a couple.  Don't get me wrong -- I fully understand that babies will keep you up and don't abide by our schedules.  But I can think of so many other things I'd rather do than sleep.

Here is a list of just some of them:

  • Bake a cake.
  • Eat a cake.
  • Play video games.
  • Watch a scary movie.
  • Watch a lot of scary movies.
  • Read a book.
  • Write a book.
  • Draw.
  • Paint.
  • Hike a mountain.
  • Swim in a lake.
  • Run a race.
  • Go on a date.
  • Go on multiple dates.
  • Go on multiple dates where cake might be consumed.
  • Eat a cake.
See?  Plenty of variety here.  Why then are we so obsessed with catching our REMs?  Not to be confused with the following:

Because, frankly, Michael Stipe doesn't look that fast.

Of all the things to long for once the baby is here, is sleep really the number 1 priority?  All the things you could miss and sleep is what you tell others to make sure they go out and attain?

In full disclosure -- I've never been much of one for sleep.  While I'm sure most family will remember me as a late sleeper, it's mostly because I'd stay up into the wee hours of the morning reading or writing or playing video games.

When one doesn't actually fall asleep until close to 3 or 4 in the morning, 9 or 10 o'clock can hardly be seen as "sleeping in." 

At one point it got so bad that I only really saw a few hours of sunlight in the winter.  I'd fall asleep just before dawn and wake up in the afternoon.  

Furthermore, I don't fully believe that whole "you'll never sleep again" mantra.  There's some evidence to the contrary:

1. Not every parent I know looks like this:
Babies!  Babies have made us this way...

2. If it was as bad as people describe it, no one would have multiple children:

The Duggars.  Yes, those are all siblings.

3.  Okay.  There is no 3.  But 1 and 2 should illustrate the point.

I'm grateful for the advice.  Don't get me wrong.  Well wishes with a tacked-on heads-up is much appreciated.  I just don't get why that's the solitary piece of advice people deem the most important.

I'm thankful that my years of being a night owl are finally going to pay off.  The past 30ish years of my existence have just been training for the weeks, months and years ahead.   As luck would have it, I married an early bird.  So while she and the baby catch the worm, I can catch my ZZZs.  Or, at least, what little I need.  As long as I am not busy baking a cake.

Because that is the advice I will impart on the fathers that come after me.  

"Bake your cakes now!  Bake all the ones you can.  You won't have time for that stuff once the baby gets here."

Totally unsolicited baking advice from a stranger.  It's a good thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom-Mom

My grandmother (affectionately known as "Mom-Mom") turns 91 today.

Ninety-one years ago, the following events occurred:

  • The Yankees bought the land in the Bronx where they'd eventually build Yankee Stadium.
  • The Brits were occupying Dublin.
  • Einstein was lecturing about this new-fangled Relativity thing.
  • Babe Ruth became the home run champ.
  • China founded its Communist Party.
  • Hoover became Asst. Director of the FBI.
  • The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City.
  • Mary Donohoe was born to a grocer and a hairdresser in Philadelphia.
Eighteen years later, WWII would break out, but not before this could happen:

Ed & Mary

I -- like most children -- assumed my grandmother came into existence when she was 60 or so, looking like this:

Just off camera is a newborn demanding Vienna Fingers.
 But all those years ago, she happened to fall in love with a tall guy with a goofy last name.  As a result of that, a bunch of children came into the world.

In descending height order: Ed, Mary, Mary Lou, Eileen, Sue

In the picture above, my dad wasn't born yet.  My grandparents are standing with my Aunts Mary Lou, Eileen and Sue.  My dad -- Edward (like my grandfather) -- and Uncle Joe would enter the brood a few years later.  It would seem, that having a girl first, I'm following a bit in their footsteps.

A lot of crazy and significant things happened in 1921 -- but if my great-grandparents hadn't brought their baby Mary into the world, there are 18 grandchildren who wouldn't have existed.  And at this point, I've lost count of how many great-grandchildren my grandmother has.  Suffice it to say, there's a lot of us about.  Being Catholic seems to have that influence on a family.

But she could tell you all of our names and birthdays.  I still get a card on time every year.  Each one of us is inked into her bible.  But she still recites them off the top of her head.

I have more anecdotes about the woman than time to record them all.  Some of my favorites:

Growing up through the Great Depression, she has a certain penchant for being a spendthrift.  She always bought two of something, even if she didn't need the first one, because she could get a good deal on it.  Her pantry was always full of two unopened versions of every foodstuff you could imagine.

My avid love of fishsticks is a result of her microwaving them for me every Friday night I spent at her house in Drexel Hill.

Despite my weight issues as a kid, she never failed to indulge me.  Even as my father would be telling her how important it was to keep me away from sweets, she'd be handing me two cookies behind her back and telling me to go watch television in the living room.

She never bothered with getting her license until she was in her 50s.  When she took the test, she meant to switch on the turn signal, but accidentally turned on the windshield wipers.  She couldn't figure out how to turn them off during the whole road test.  When she finished the exam, there were tears in her eyes because she thought she had failed.  The instructor asked her what she was so upset about and handed her the slip to get her picture taken for her license photo.

And before you get upset with the Department of Motor Vehicles, my grandmother only drove 5 times in her entire life.  Once was to take me to a swim lesson at the YMCA.  So, in 91 years, she never had a car accident.

Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop used to take me to church when I'd stay at their house on weekends.  I was restless and agitated, but Mom-Mom kept me in check with doling out a seemingly endless supply of Tic Tacs.  When she'd stand to take Communion, I didn't understand why I couldn't get a cracker with everyone else.  So she'd appease me with a Certs.  I may not have taken to catechism, but I have a devotion to fresh breath which will last me a lifetime.

She came to all of my plays, musicals and concerts (choir and saxophone) from elementary school through college.  That's a lot of crap performances to sit through out of the love for a child.  She still has the playbills with my name underlined in each.

Mary, with Joe Cool Ed (left) and
her brother, Buddy (right)
Growing up around Mom-Mom was one of the best things about my childhood.  If you could distill everything that is good and hopeful and kind and altruistic about me ('d have to distill for a really long time) you'd probably find that the majority of that was instilled in me by this woman.

Here she is, pictured cutting her 90th birthday cake.  I hope that I can show our baby girl how to approach the world with just some of your grace, joy, and endless supply of tic-tacs.

Love ya, love ya.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Babies Having Babies

As Jack Handy once so infamously said:
I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children's children, because I don't think children should be having sex.
I saw this today on Gizmodo and did a double take:
I think this is the very definition of meta.
I'm 99% certain this is a joke.  Dear Lord, let it be a joke.

If you want to see the original, with all the details, check out this link:

And let's all keep our fingers crossed that this doesn't become an actual plaything.  I mean -- it has to be an ironic commentary about the glorification of teenage pregnancy epitomized by shows like 16 and Pregnant.

Right?  Please tell me I'm right.

Otherwise, to quote a famous doctor:

Good news, everyone.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Paid Maternity Leave -- Y U NO GIVE?

Today, I kick off with a graphic:

I saw this article back in May on and it rattled around in my brainspace for the past few months:


Here's the tl;dr version:

Now, I'm not saying we should run full force down the path of our crunchy neighbors to the north, but it is curious that Pakistan, South Africa and Mexico give mothers at least three months of paid leave.  And that's the lowest end of the spectrum.

Under FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), American women have their jobs protected for 12 weeks.  But FMLA only provides you with the time off and indicates that your position will still be there when you get back -- it does not stipulate that your employer must pay you during your absence.  Additionally, FMLA doesn't apply to any employer with less than 50 employees.  So if a woman works for a small company, that puts the employer in a bind, so they are free to backfill that pregnant employee if they so choose.

It's crazy to me that we tolerate this.  How are we so sadly lagging behind other developed countries in recognizing the importance of a mother's time with her child?  This isn't just crunchy-granola-breath-hippie-liberal-arts-major talk.

Some highlights from the articles:
  • Physical contact with infants keeps them calmer and helps encourage brain development.
  • It also lowers stress (cortisol levels) in the mother and staves off depression.
  • It allows mothers the opportunity to breast feed which has been shown to:
    • Increase a child's overall health
    • Increase a child's IQ
    • Reduce a mother's risks for hypertension and diabetes
  • And it allows mother and baby time to bond.  
How is this not important enough to gripe about? 

In 2010, Pew Research reported that about 18% of U.S. women will not give birth during their lifetimes.  Which means that 82% will.  If 50.8% of our population is female and 4 out of 5 of them are birthing a child...

That's a lot of ladies who probably would like to spend time with their babies.  

Just saying.