December 1, 2004
For whatever reason neither of us think the child will be born today. Right now I feel it will be tomorrow night, Jenn has been cagey.
We keep wanting to do things, but it's hard to make plans in more than 6 hour chunks of time, especially when our doctor keeps telling us it could be any minute.
Still we try not to think too much about the actual timing, because if we do, we become like kids waiting for a Christmas that never comes.
In some ways these last days have been the hardest of an otherwise easy pregnancy. Balance is an issue. Clothes don't fit. The belly is itchy. Stuff like that. All that said, Jenn has been calm and productive. We've been cracking each other up. The mood is light.
My dad just told me when my mom was pregant with my youngest brother, she went out and cut the grass which threw her right into labor. Jenn with a lawnmower would be quite a site. Sadly we have no yard.
It's windy and sunny after a night of rain. The house has been quiet except for my tunes playing in the attic office and the sound of the whirlybird on the roof.
I've been informed we are going out for a walk.
December 2, 2004
Nothing to report on the baby front. Watched pots and all... So we try to go about our days.
We read the paper over breakfast. (Jenn is fascinated and repelled by Vladimir Putin, always taking special interest in news of his friends or foes. Sometimes, between spoonfuls of cereal, I will hear my wife chuckling ruefully, "Khodorkovsky, my friend, bad move. Bad move." or "Watch your back Yushchenko, the next time the poison will take."
We plan on naming a dog Putin someday.)
We putter about and run errands.
I do work.
And act like everything is totally normal.
I'm done with making predictions and will let the biology take it's own mysterious course without prognosticating and getting everyone all riled up. Jenn is enjoying a nice bath.
p.s. does anyone else find it odd that if you google "Russian Phrases" the first thing that comes up is a page from a dating site with phrases like "I liked your photo and message very much" and "I dream to meet a woman to share my life with." I especially like this sequence "You are so soft. You are so gentle. You are so delightful. You are so supernatural!"
December 4, 2004
Jenn had a pre-labor contractions, but nothing major... and these pre-labor contractions can last for days...
I've discovered our ice cream maker can double as a poor man's slurpee machine. Yum.
December 4, 2004
We have a humidifier in our bedroom that makes water sounds. Combine that with a tangled pair of long johns, free floating anxiety about the upcoming birth, and a baby kicking me in the back through my wife's belly and it all combines into one monster of a bad dream. The short version is that I'm in a straight jacket mid-ocean trying to stay afloat and get my wife to the hospital on time.
We've largely stopped being worrying about "when" and are instead just focusing on staying ready. In the meantime we've made the mental shift from thinking about a Thanksgiving baby to a December one. I'm not sure why this makes a difference but it does. Our current worry is that our daughter will crowd her aunt Becky's birthday. The Yuns take birthdays seriously and we want to give Becks plenty of space to revel and be appreciated.
But these are idle thoughts. Most of all we just want this girl to be healthy and loved. We, like all parents, have a million other hopes and fears... that she will avoid some of the mistakes we have made, that she won't be as difficult as we were, that she will see us as friends... ultimately that she will be better than us. But of course she must fail to learn and must sometimes hate us in order to grow. We know all this.
I've been computerizing our family tree of late. We are an unlikely mix of Gutierrez' and Yuns, Mudges' and Paeks, Perez', and Townes. A hundred years ago our ancestors lived on 3 continents and probably would have killed each other on site. I'm sure this child will have a bit of the best and worst of us all.
December 5, 2004
I talked to a friend today who had a baby girl about a month ago. He's in the curious situation of not living in the same city as his wife. She and the baby are hundreds of miles away. The situation is perfectly logical (they plan to be together at some point), there are good reasons they are where they are, and yet the situation seems so cruelly unfair, his sadness palpable. I can't imagine being away... and yet I know it happens all the time. Another friend of mine lives in London, his wife and kids in Miami simply because he couldn't give up his job nor she hers. Every other cab driver in Manhattan has a family half a world a way... Still, hard for me to wrap my mind around...
My dad was still in Vietnam when I was born. My mom in was in the Hospital Muguerza in Monterrey Mexico. Shortly after the long labor a nurse came in, waking her, and repeating the word "nieve". Confused, my mom kept saying she didn't want "nieve" which she understood as the word for ice cream. But the word can also mean snow, and eventually my mom was led to the window. Almost two feet of snow fell that night in a city that never sees snow. My mom had been worried about my dad, but looking out at the snow she took it as a sign he was ok.
My dad's tour of duty had months remaining and news of the birth travelled slowly as communications between the Mekong Delta and Monterrey were sketchy at best. A telegram arrived almost two weeks late followed a week later still by a letter containing a dusty bit of umbilical cord (not knowing what to do, he buried it). Oddly enough news of the snow came almost immediately in the Stars and Bars. Knowing the storm had hit around the expected due date, he took it as a sign everything was going to be ok.
December 6, 2004
I just wrote a long post and then accidentally clicked it (and a picture!) out of existence... Sigh.... it's been that kind of day.
Here is all the news friends and family need to know: We went to the doctor today and everything is normal. Jenn is 6 days overdue (do you say Jenn is overdue or is the baby overdue) and the doctor will allow her to go one more week before doing a medical induction. So come hell or highwater (highwater or high water?), the baby should be out here with us by next Tuesday night. In the meantime, we slogged through a rainy cold day and did all the things you are supposed to do to promote labor. Now I am summoned downstairs. Apparently touch promotes good hormones.
December 7, 2004
Jenn's labor began at around 4:00am while she was asleep. At 6 it woke her up and by 10 we were in the hospital. It's 3:35PM now and she's finally been able to take a nap... So far everything is normal. I'll write an update if I happen to find another wireless connection... It's been intense. I might need a nap as well.
December 7, 2004
December 7, 2004
10 seconds after birth.
December 8, 2004
4am Dec 7
Jenn's labor began quietly enough... Tuesday morning at around 4 am I heard her moaning in her sleep every couple of minutes. The thought "Oh she's in labor" crossed my mind, and I fell back asleep, a weird reaction considering all the anticipation building up to the labor. We had just passed the 41 week mark and people were starting to worry. The OB was ordering lots of new tests and exams, I was worried about Jenn's discomfort. Our families were antsy. But perhaps I knew I had to get my rest too, so I slept.
5:57 Jenn woke up thinking she was having cramps. The day before she had been examined and a midwife in our OB practice. The midwife did something called "stripping the membrane: in which she used her finger to slough off some of the outer membranes of the placenta by reaching through the cervix. Painful? God, I can only imagine. This is supposed to stimulate labor and perhaps it did, but Jenn didn't recognize it as labor. She was upset because she was in a kind of pain that she hadn't experienced the entire pregnancy and was cramping. In retrospect those cramps might have been the uterus getting warmed up.
So Jenn woke up and headed to the bathroom with a bout of intense nausea. My wife can dislocate her shoulder without a wimper, but she doesn't do well with nausea. She began shaking like a leaf. I felt a pang of panic, but we were fairly well prepared. I already called our doula, made sure the bags were in order, made sure I had cash, phone, phone numbers, etc. The contractions were coming about every 5 minutes and were a minute long... in other words everything seemed normal. But within a few minutes the intensity increased and Jenn wasn't getting the sensation of release in-between. The release is what is supposed to make labor bearable, but it wasn't happening. This scared both of us.
The doula, Terry Richmond, arrived promptly and went right into trying a number of positions to ease the pain. Some were working, but the nausea and the shaking were getting worse. Also the contractions were speeding up. We tried the tub for a while which helped, but again there was no sense of release. By 9:15 we were headed to the hospital.
I had been dreading the drive to the hospital thinking that I would be so stressed that I wouldn't be able to focus, but I felt oddly relaxed and in control. Rush hour traffic was not that bad and more importantly the ride seemed to settle my wife a bit. The pain felt bearable she said.
Arriving at the hospital we found it easier to walk upstairs than to use a wheelchair. We were brought into a triage/examination area outside labor & delivery. The place was busy. 6 babies had already been born that day and it was early still. Jenn was put behind a curtain with an external monitor. A few minutes later our doctor came in did an internal exam and everyone was surprised to learn that Jenn was still at 4cm. This was the same dilation she had in the days before labor. Babies are generally delivered at 9 or 10 cms so this was disheartening. Also a second bit of bad news. The baby was very high, it hadn't even begun to descend. Our doctor, Dr Paka, a good natured MD from Hyderabad with a habit of calling my wife by the wrong name, shook her head and clucked, "I think this baby is very big." Then she went away to attend to other deliveries. An IV drip was inserted into Jenn's wrist and a saline drip was started. She was dehydrated and quickly absorbed 2 full bags of saline.
Privately a resident told me he had expected Jenn to be at 8cm based on the strength of her contractions and her general demeanor. This resident kept filling out forms with lots of repetitive questions. I thought it odd that he kept asking Jenn the questions as opposed to me, but I know they have procedure to follow. At this point we had a choice, get an epidural to ease the shaking and the pain, or go down to the birth center to try to deliver totally naturally.
Our plan had been to use the birth center. It's rooms are bigger, quieter, just in general nicer (relatively speaking). The birth center at St. Lukes Roosevelt has the feel of a two star hotel while the hospital rooms are, well, hospital rooms. The birth center has very different set of procedures than in Labor & Delivery. There is much less monitoring, fewer contraptions, no epidurals, and etc. It's an approach that trusts the woman's body to do the right thing. The idea is to put couples comfortable room with a whirlpool where the woman can get into any position that works for her without too much medical intervention. By most accounts with normal deliveries, and with women who are prepared for birth without an epidural, the birth center is one of the best bets in New York City for a satisfying birth experience with the safety net of being near a hospital. Also after the birth, the couple and child are pretty much guaranteed a private room. In Labor and Delivery you must ask for a private room and they are doled out as available. Husbands aren't allowed to spend the night in shared rooms. So the decision was upon us, birth center or labor and delivery (and epidural)? The decision was easy: labor wasn't progressing normally, and we all felt Jenn's shaking and nausea were side effects of the pain. She was laboring with high pitched non-productive squeaks as opposed to the productive deep moans we were looking for, and she was throwing up. So we decided on the epidural in the hopes it would relax her and allow labor to progress. My concern as that she would feel upset, because she had invested so much in the idea of a totally natural childbirth, but at this point she was just looking for relief. But even after we put in the request we had to wait... All the anesthesiologists were tied up.
The triage area was extremely noisy with other laboring women and people coming and going, there were 2 people ahead of us for a delivery room... so we waited. This probably was the most agonizing part of the entire day. We spent almost 90 minutes in the holding area but it seemed like an eternity. I kept re-assuring Jenn that a room was coming, but kept getting word that the room wasn't ready. Annoyed by the noise and clatter, I said, "It will be quiet, you'll get some relief and you can rest". Jenn, much to the amusement of the doula, the resident and myself, said, "oh it's nice and quiet in here..." She was going internal.
We were wheeled to a room in labor and delivery. The room was small a phalanx of machines. Despite 2 broken chairs, and a large wall clock stuck at 12:05 the room was comfortable. Outside we had a fairly decent view of the city. An anesthesiologist, the head resident arrived at 12:50. He had a firm calming manner (and he was wearing the cleanest chucks I've ever seen) and went to work. The epidural procedure which involves a needle in the spine was performed with merciful speed.
Within 20 minutes Jenn started becoming her normal self again, even cracking a few jokes. Now we just had to wait. The plan was for her to try to get some sleep and see if contractions would start again, if not Pitocin, an artificial form of Oxytocin to stimulate contractions would be delivered. Despite the reprieve from the pain, Jenn was upset. This was exactly what we had been trying to avoid, she said she felt like she had failed. I did my best to let her know how proud I was of her and how I thought this was the right decision given the slow progression of labor, but she was having none of it. Pitocin was delivered via IV and the contractions, which had been calmed by the the anesthesia started again on charts. Finally she simply slept.
I took a break for lunch.
Dr. Paka examined Jennifer. No progress, so she decided to break the bag of water. I wasn't in the room for this, but apparently the procedure was painless.
On the way back from lunch, I ran into the doctor. She had told me she thought the baby was big and might need a c-section. I tried to make her promise that as long as there was progress she would hold off. While she wouldn't promise, I think she heard me...
In the meantime Jenn's sister Becky arrived. In typical Becky fashion she bopped into the room in good spirits, took a flash picture of Jenn and then held the camera out and took a picture of herself. "So will the baby be here soon?" she asked. She was unaware of the drama of the morning.
Dr. Paka returned. "Let's see how Judy is doing."
"Jennifer," I said.
"Let's see how Jennifer is doing."
The results of the exam were disheartening. 5cm. But it was progress. The doula and I kept emphasizing the point. Dr. Paka looked worried and said she would be back soon. Also a fever had started. Fevers after epidurals are common, so antibiotics were added to the saline drip.
Hours passed without much progress. Outside, the scene was a chaotic with babies being delivered every hour. Q nervous Pakistani man, a tough looking man with a scar from the Bronx, and an Orthodox man and assorted soon-to-be grandparents paced the hall.. The respective wives were making incredibly varied noises from sing-songy sounds, wolf howls, to something that sounded like a yodeler being strangled. None of this was particularly calming. The noise bothered Jenn and I had to keep closing the door. I admit I also kept closing the doors to the other room. By 6pm, twelve babies were born. The clock on the wall still stuck at noon was beginning to really bug me. Luckily Jenn couldn't see it.
And inside our room, Jenn's epidural started wearing off. She began to feel everything again. The shakes returned and the nausea.
The epidural was "topped off" and Jenn instantly began to feel better again.And the second epidural had kicked up the fever. At 6:00 it was 101.9. More antibiotics were ordered as well as two internal monitors. One for the baby, one for the mom. The baby monitor involves inserting a long thin tube with a tiny wire inside. This wire is actually screwed into the baby's head. At this point Jenn had these monitors, a catheter in her elbow for saline/pitocin/antibiotics, the epidural in her back, another tube connected to the sphygmomanometer on her arm... All this was scary for me, but for Jenn it was disheartening. Again we had invested so much in doing all this naturally that she kept saying that she felt like she had failed. I'll admit hearing her say this got me choked up because I was so darned proud of her. She had been working so hard, and had been so calm. At one point we kicked everyone out of the room and just talked it out. I don't know if I said anything helpful, but afterwards she was more focused and calm.
The epidural was wearing off again. Again Jenn was feeling everything.An anesthesiologist was called in. She performed a series of simple tests. "Do you feel something sharp on this leg? How about this leg? What about here?" Her conclusion was the epidural was in properly but that for whatever reason the nerves to the pelvis were not being saturated and that the only possible solution was to remove the current epidural and insert a new one. She left the room to call in another doctor. A second doctor confirmed the analysis of the first. A new epidural would be required.
A new labor nurse was on call, Jaye. Jaye is super cool, with lots of arm ink. She told us not to worry.
And at this point a small miracle: as pain increased, Jenn began letting out low sonorous sounds with the contractions... she started laboring productively, ie the baby started moving. We could see it on the chart. With every group of contractions, an inverse blip on the baby's chart, let that let us know the kid was on the move. It was obvious to everyone that the pain was shattering but Jenn was working with it. Later she would say the feeling of the baby moving meant everything in the world. She was dealing... all the while letting out long operatic moans that seemed to come from the base of her soul. The anesthesiologist showed up to redo the epidural. Amazingly she turned him down saying simply, "don't worry, I can deal." All the while, the encouraging blips showing were showing the baby moving. We each one we let her know what was going on. At one point Jenn actually smiled between contractions. During all of this, our doctor had been called away to attend an emergency delivery which gave us about an hour... Jenn told the labor nurse she was feeling the urge to push and the delivery nurse paged in a doctor for an evaluation. As Dr. Paka was busy, another OB came in and did a quick exam. She was at 8cm, almost through transition to the pushing stage. This was an intense time. Jenn's mom was in the room praying. I was letting Jenn know what was going on with the contractions based on the charts, and Terry was providing comfort by cooling Jenn's head, giving us all water and generally keeping things on track.
Dr. Paka was paged. She seemed shocked find Jenn fully dilated, as she had been preparing for a c-section and had already ordered a us a room. The news kicked everyone into action. Dr. Paka was still worried about the babies size. As a precaution she brought in a full team of residents and nurses. There were 8 or 9 people in the room in addition to the doula and myself. The bed was broken so the doctor could have better access. I was given the job of holding one of Jenn's feet. The pushing part of labor is athletic and extremely focused. Jenn did not need any help here. She was pushing beautifully. The thought I kept having was that if anyone ever doubted the power of women they needed to witness a this. When the head appeared Jenn was told to push as hard as she could. With one great concentrated effort an arm appeared. One of the nurses shouted that he was coming out hands up. I did not know it at the time, but this was a small gracenote because with one arm up the shoulders are narrower and the baby can move through the birth canal easier. With large babies the danger is that they get stuck and the doctors are forced to break their shoulders to remove them. The doctor would later call our situation her worst nightmare. Hence the large team, hence all the worry. So with the hand, the entire room visibly relaxed.
A second or two later the rest of the body slipped right out. Dr. Paka stood their holding the baby for a moment clipping the umbilical cord. The baby lay there eyes blinking, covered in blood hands up in the air. "This is a very big child," she said softly and quickly handed the child to a pediatrician so that meconium could be suctioned from the babies mouth. I think it was a delivery nurse who said, "It's a boy." Dr. Paka I don't think had noticed as she was so focused on just getting the baby out and on dealing with the umbilical cord. I think everyone in the room repeated "A boy?" to themselves at least once. I ran over to the warmer as the boy was cleaned and checked. He let out sharp cries as he was poked and prodded but was otherwise quiet and alert.
I was literally speechless. Jenn was calm, a bit stunned, but looking surprisingly relaxed given that she was still in the middle of delivering placenta. "A boy?" she kept repeating. Then the weight was announced. 10 pounds 10 ounces. Even the doctor seemed flabbergasted. Later Jenn would say she was also shocked by the number of people in the room. She hadn't been aware of anyone other than myself, the doctor, the nurse, and the doula.
I stood by the warmer holding the boy's hand with my finger and snapping pictures. I was checking to make sure everything was in the right place. 10 toes. 10 fingers etc. It was all there.
Soon Raul Andres' eyes were open and calm. I was anxious to get him to his mother. After a few mintues which stretched like an eternity he was on Jenn's breast for a first feeding. Jenn's mom came in. She had been peeking into the birth and was, I'm afraid a bit traumatized. The baby calmed her. I called my parents and Becky. All were at bedside within thirty minutes.
The family stayed around for about an hour. The whole time, the Raul Andres was calm and alert. Jenn was feeling as well as could be expected. Everyone was happy, a bit dazed, full of emotion,but quiet. Surprisingly no tears were shed. We also exhausted. Soon was time for everyone to go. Jenn was wheeled to her recovery room. The baby was wheeled over to the nursery for some tests.
No private rooms were available so we had to share with a girl who kept the TV on seemingly all day long. After about an hour the baby was returned to us (everything normal) and Jenn and baby finally went to sleep. I was kicked out at around 3:30am. As I walked out of the hospital onto the quiet rainy streets of New York City I certainly didn't feel like a dad yet, but the tug on my heart was strong, and it took everything I had not to try to go up and sneak back into the room with my wife and child. The streets were empty. I didn't have an umbrella but I didn't care. I walked all the way over to my parents place on 5th and 60th full of wordless emotion.
December 8, 2004
a boy... a 10 pound 10 ounce, BOY!
Jenn showed true toughness today. Much more on the labor later.
Our son, yes son, is so perfect... At conception we had thought this baby was a boy, but 2 OBs and a couple of fuzzy ultrasounds convinced us otherwise.... so a closet full of girls clothes will have to go into storage awaiting #2 or 3. We know Olivia Magalene Min-Ok is out there waiting to be born... and I think we have to miss her just a bit... In the meantime, please say hello to Raul Andres. The boy entered the world to a roomful of amazed delivery nurses and doctors not to mention two impossibly proud parents.
Raul Andres is the name I was supposed to have before a mixup between Monterrey and Vietnam left me Raul Antonio. We are lacking a Korean name just yet, but that will be settled in a day or two. 'Raul' is because Mexicans name their firstborn after the dads; 'Andres' is for my great great grandfather. We had chosen the name in the first few weeks of pregnancy before doctors thought they had determined the sex.
The boy spent his first hours calmy looking at the faces of his family who had gathered round and then taking a healthy feed. He barely cried, remarkably comfortable in this world. His first major facial expression was a yawn. The baby's eyes are dark and penetrating and remarkably present. Both parents are vaguely terrified. In size alone this kid seems like a handful.
I have been up 24 hours. Must get a few hours shut eye. Much love to both our families, and everyone who was so great in supporting us today.
December 8, 2004
After yesterday's shock and awe. Sleep and eat. Sleep and eat.
December 9, 2004
I'm preparing a long post with the gritty details...
In the meantime more parent-into-his kid pix:
Answers to 5 frequently asked questions.
Question: What is the name? (alternately do you have a Korean name yet?)
Answer: Raul Andres Min Gutierrez
Re Min: Korean names generally have 1 to 3 syllables (most commonly 2). Each syllable stands for a Chinese character. Most brothers and sisters have the same first syllable... family of Korean kids might have names like Ji-hyon, Ji-ho, Ji-moon. As we had reserved Min-Ok when we thought the baby was a girl, we decided to stick with with Min theme. We played around with several second characters, but liked Min on it's own. It's unusual to have a one character name, but it works for us... sort of like he's the leader of the rest of the Mins to come. There are a couple of characters for Min. We will use the one that means 'clever' over the one that means 'democratic"... not knocking democracy, but we prefer cleverness....
Question: Does the fact that he is a boy when you were told the baby was a girl freak you out or make you sad?
Answer: No. Not at all. It was love at first site. Practically speaking it's a drag to have a closet full of girl stuff and gifts, but we'll save those for our future girl... or they will eventually be re-gifted! We did put lots of thought into a future little girl (just scroll down this blog to read some of the yammering), but we originally thought this kid was a boy and went through the reverse sensation when we were told it was a girl. Also always in the back of my head I thought this was a possibility. In fact just 2 nights ago at a deli a woman told me not to say the baby was a girl with such confidence....
Question: How is Jenn?
Answer: She's doing great... physically she's back on her feet and recovering nicely. Emotionally, she made the transition to momhood seemingly instantly. Practically she's amazing, (how does she know how to do all this baby stuff that vexes me so...)
Question: What are his eyes like?
Answer: In most of the pictures here, his eyes are shut and he looks quite Asian. But when he opens them his eyes are large and with a fold, so they are much more western looking. So he's a real mix. Hard to pin down.
Question: Are you tired?
yes. I'm hanging up now.
December 11, 2004
There is an funny dichotomy in the congrats emails from our friends who are parents vs those who aren't... The non-parents tend to say things like "isn't it wonderful" or "are you so happy" whereas virtually all the parents say things like "hang in there" or "pace yourself...it will get easier in a few days".
Well for us it's been both, exhilarating and darned taxing and all the emails have been great. Sorry for the lack of phone calls, we'll need a few days to streamline the operation here...
I'm still working on that blow by blow report of the labor. As a new dad I don't think there are enough nitty gritty labor stories around on the web to refer to to really get a sense of what labor really looks like from the dad's perspective. Thank goodness we took classes at Realbirth. I had a pretty good grasp of the medical realities of birth, but only in a textbook sort of way. The classes did a good job of going through all the various stages as they are actually played out both emotionally and physically. In a way I think that the classes are more helpful for the dads than the moms. The moms are so in their bodies that in the moment of labor they often have the urge to do the right thing somewhat naturally. But as the dad dealing with the doctors/hospitals/etc who sometimes push the moms in directions they don't want to go, it was important to know what was going on, what was normal, and what the options were. In our case knowing those options I believe helped us prevent a c-section.
Believe it or not I don't have a picture today. Must change a diaper. More tomorrow.
December 11, 2004
This kid is the first grandchild on both sides. It's amazing how fast how our parents instantly become doting grandparents. Jenn's mom keeps raving about how smart the boy is... on day 4! What will it be like when he can actually count to 3? My dad and stepmother are equally enamored and are already planning secret trips that "your parents won't know about". And we're figuring out the parent thing. Everyone is gone from the house now so we're finally on our own. When everyone decamped I had the memory of the first time I ever took a sailboat alone on the ocean. I was in England off the coast of Eastbourne and suddenly I was out beyond where I could see land and it was getting dark. My first reaction was a small panic, but then one by one, I started remembering everything I had been taught and gradually made my way back to land.
December 12, 2004
December 14, 2004
Things are finally quieting down around here. The relatives are gone, and we're figuring out a routine. It's just the three of us now. The last week has been intense and things are just now starting to feel normal.
Managing family has been interesting. Jenn's old-school Korean mother for example left a few days ago to return to Philadelphia. Yesterday, I saw her number on caller id.
"Rara," she said, "I have groceries. Are you near 8th Avenue?"
"You're here in New York?" I answered somewhat confused.
"Yeah. No problem. Jenny need meat. So I brought meat. Also she doesn't eat enough soup, so I make her eat seaweed soup. Koreans are weak and must eat lotta soup."
Half an hour later Jenn's mom and 2 aunts showed up, cooked up a storm of Korean dishes, filled our refrigerator to the brim, and then hovered over Jenn watching her eat under pressure. They left as quickly as they came, but I expect they'll be back regularly.
Tonight was the Geminid meteor shower...with the family asleep downstairs I snuck up un the roof for a bit to catch the show. I got a lucky break in the clouds and was immediately rewarded with several displays over the rooftops of Brooklyn before the obscuring clouds sent me back downstairs. Good stuff. If you are out tonight or tomorrow you should see clusters of shooting stars a few hours before and after midnight. Bundle up, it's cold out there.
December 15, 2004
Please note dear friends that our kid is not a Jr. At least in our family Jrs. are uncommon. Mexicans tend to prefer "itos" (as in Raulito). Also we often have different middle names.
We followed that pattern.
My dad is Raul Mario.
I'm Raul Antonio.
The kid is Raul Andres Min.
Some of you have asked me via email for some more info on why we chose Andres. First of all it's pronounced Ahn (as in Ah-ha) + n (as in nose), dress (as in dress, but a bit softer). It was the name of my grandfather's grandfather and was originally suggested to my mom as my middle name by my great grandfather (lost yet?), but there was a mixup and I got another name. There are no known pictures of my great great grandfather Andres, but he is known to have lived in Paras in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico where his ranch, El Violin, thrived for several generations (my grandmother's people come from a nearby ranch named El Cascabel (the rattlenake)). Andres' son, Jose Dolores was my great grandfather and was spitting image of his dad. This is a picture of Jose taken December 5th , 1895 in Agualeguas, Neuvo Leon:
and here is a picture of the man taken December 6th, 1968 with me on his lap.
Old timers who knew both Jose Dolores and his father Andres marveled at how similarly they resembled each other both physically and emotionally. My own grandfather Rodolfo continued this trend and is virtually indistinguishable from his father in pictures. My brother carries the man's strong chin.
We've been studying Raul Andres for little family signposts. He has agile Yun toes, but the Gutierrez gap between his big toe and the rest. His ears are Paek, the mouth Yun, the chin might be Perez, his early ability to raise one eyebrow is definitely a Gutierrez trait. My guess is everyone does this with their newborns. Nice to do it now while they are in a state of grace free from any insecurity and open to our scrutiny.
December 15, 2004
The one week mark passed uneventfully...
December 17, 2004
December 20, 2004
The first snow of the year just started falling (and is falling hard). All our fireplaces are going. The baby is asleep. Things are good.
December 20, 2004
I looked at this picture of the baby on the changing table and realized, "We've become what we hate." We're dressing up the kid in bizarre outfits, just like our parents did to us. Hard to believe the little guy has been on this side of the womb for less than 2 weeks.
Jenn's family is set to descend on our house Christmas day. They will be horrified by our Christmas tree. The older Korean family members are strict artificial tree kind of people. A live tree is considered extravagant, wasteful, perhaps even foolish. Last year I told Jenn's mom I was going to buy a live tree for her house like it or not. The modest tree eventually ended up in grandfather's house. All the aunts came around, took a good look, and concluded that plastic trees were more practical and less messy. This tree was huge they said (it was about 5 feet). They tend to prefer tabletop models. At least their plastic trees are green. My grandparents in Mexico always had a silver tree made of hammered tin. It was lit by a little light in the shape of a fan with a rotating red, green, blue and yellow filter...
It was always hot down in Mexico and we would have to pretend it was cold, wearing sweaters until the sweat made the charade unbearable. My brothers favored Christmas music which they played in agonizing loops not seeming to recognize the dissonance of Johnny Mathis singing about Frosty the Snowman when everyone was in shorts barbecuing carne asada out back. Christmases in Texas were not much better, although at least it was often overcast and rainy (we would turn up the air conditioning and light the fireplace). I always dreamed of Christmases... well, like this. Bracingly cold weather. A nice Vermont pine inside. Warm fire. Perhaps as a consequence of all those Christmases, you will rarely hear me complain about cold weather, and I don't think I've ever said a bad word about snow. I wonder if the boy, who will have "real" winters weaved into his life, will get that small rush when looking out into the night to the sight of snowflakes falling through the pool of a street lamp or if he will grumble about the cold and pass the window without notice.
December 23, 2004
At his two week checkup today we found the boy has grown over an inch and is now 11 pounds and a couple of ounces. While the doctors keep reassuring us that his current size will have nothing to do with his eventual height, they always seem to chuckle a bit when telling us the news. Also when we ask how his size compares to other kids the answer is always "off the charts"... and again that chuckle. So our fear has been that we have bred a giant. Anecdotal tales have not been helpful. For example today I was talking to a woman from Minnesota. "All our babies our big up there", she said, "I had an 11 pounder myself... but then again, he's 6 foot 5 now."
December 24, 2004
December 25, 2004
Just the three of us here on a quiet Christmas Eve. All's well. Merry Christmas everyone.
December 25, 2004
Our friends Michael and Becky came by to check out the kid and share an impromptu Christmas lunch.
I showed them around the neighborhood...
By the time I returned mother and child were tuckered out.
Then Jenn's brother and sister arrived and it was like Christmas morning all over again.
random aside: One strange side effect of having a baby-I now look at people and imagine them as infants. So I'll be listening to a waitress or a butcher or my mother-in-law and mentally I'll find them in my arms reduced to a couple of pounds, quite helpless, and trying to shush them. It keeps happening over and over again. I also keep imagining myself in that state. Maybe I'm trying to hard to get into the mind of the baby... to find out what is so fascinating to him about the shadows on the ceiling... or maybe I haven't been getting enough sleep, but sometimes, I feel like I KNOW, in a visceral way, what it's like to be lying there a bundle of Want, half animal, always on the thin divide between delirious comfort and utter agony.
December 27, 2004
Over an inch fell last night. This morning we wake to the sound of snow shovels all across the neighborhood...
December 28, 2004
...we had just landed in Rome...
exhausted and disheveled from the long flight, but happy as pie...
December 29, 2004
since I got bad news late last night via email. My friend and fellow traveller Peter Brel was one of the thousands killed in Sri Lanka on the 26th. He was at his home in Kahawa finishing a leisurely breakfast with his young wife Alva when the wave came. Seeing children out on the beach being swept up in the water he ran out to help, was sucked under, and has not been seen again. Alva, safely on the third floor was unhurt but is obviously distraught. She is pregnant with their first child and is currently trying to get back to Holland to be with her family.
How to describe Peter. He was a rascal. A scoundrel of the first order and good friend. The first time I ever met him, he and a lovely Brazilian girl, both naked, were emerging from a sleeping bag on a freezing cold morning. They were camping illegally behind a Mongolian bus station. Even though they had just met the previous day on a bus he had somehow convinced this girl that skin to skin contact was the only way they would generate enough heat to survive the night. Years later, camping in Tibet, I overheard him whispering this technique to an Israeli girl we had met on the road. As we were preparing to sleep I heard them snuggling up, "What about your friend," she asked worried that I would become a human popsicle. "Don't worry about him, I'm trying to save you," he said.
For a few years Peter's base of operations was a horrible Chengdu hotel, The Black Coffee, a renovated 1950's Chinese bomb shelter built to protect against Soviet attack. The door to the street was unmarked and to get in one had to descend many narrow dark stairwells, past solid steel blast doors, and into a maze of low hallways. I would have happily stayed anywhere else but having recently been robbed, it was the cheapest place around and I was holed up waiting for a new passport from the consulate and money from Visa. This was around 1992. Peter cut me a deal on his 50cent per night room. I could have a bed for 20cents per night. Three other down on their luck backpackers had made similar arrangements, but there were no complaints about his profit because the guy was so amusing. Peter was using the hotel as his basecamp taking long trips around Sichuan and knew the area better than any other backpacker. He had bribed officials and had special stamps that gave him virtually unlimited access, unheard of in those days. He could frighten at first sight with his shoulder length hair and wild eyes, but his disheveled appearance masked a European sophisticate-- multilingual (he spoke 9 or 10 languages), incredibly well read, impossibly well travelled, and darned charming. One night he turned the Black Coffee's dark subterranean corridors into makeshift disco and invited 100 of his "good friends from the PSB". He was the guy who always knew the way to get to the place beyond the edge of the map and he always made sure you had a hell of a time getting there. When giving travel advice he would always say something like, "Well you could go that way, but if you want to see something really interesting..." He would never mention that his way might take months and involve several illegal border crossings.
I ran into him several times during my years of backpacking... not only in Mongolia and China but in Vietnam, and in India and we trekked to from Langmusi to Aba on the Tibetan plateau. No matter where I would see him, he would always greet me as if it was not usual to run into someone several thousand miles from where you last departed.
We lost touch as people who meet on the road usually do, but last year another traveller who knew us both gave him my email address and he reappeared in my life In recent years he had put his large family fortune to good use working with a variety of charity organizations around India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. He favored local projects that have real tangible effects--micro-loans, water pumps, etc. His long hair had long been trimmed, and was greyer than mine, but he was otherwise unchanged. I had missed his wedding by four years, but he sent me long emails waxing poetic about Alva, about his collections of Chinese art and Indian illuminated manuscripts, and about the house he had built by the sea. He had given up smoking and drinking and several other bad habits and was, I think, at peace. "Travel and my wife are the only vices I have left" he wrote, "God help me if I lose a taste for either."
After the birth of my son, I sent an email announcing the news. On Christmas he replied, "Jolly good. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear your good news. You must make me a godfather or compadre or some other honorific. I must be more than simply Uncle Peter. I'm sure we can work something out. Let's pray Alva gives birth to a girl child so I can watch her torture your son. The child is due in March, you know, so you must tell me everything to blaze the path. Be well my friend and lets plan a trip together with the kids. I know a few good places."
December 30, 2004
Several of my friends had babies within a month of us... and it seems that right now we are all dealing with a period of newborn development that happens between 2 and 6 weeks called the adaptive stage in which they fuss often, cry loudly, and are hard to put to sleep. The only thing that soothes the child is his mom. So what to do. In our case we have been going through a small library of books and asking friends with older kids for advice. But frustratingly the books (and our friends) have a range of suggestions often contrary to one another. On one end of the spectrum you have those who say that you should stop jumping ever time the baby cries, establish a routine stick to it, and let the baby cry it out; at the other end you have those who say the baby wants what it wants and for now your job is to fulfill those needs as much as possible. Particularly troublesome for us and most of our friends is the child's tendency to snack... ie to have small feeds and fall asleep at the boob only to wake and appear to be hungry 45 minutes later only to have another tiny snack. The snacking seems to leave the baby more gassy than when he has a big spaced out feeds (and of course the gas leads to more crying). This is particularly hard on the wives who barely have a moment for themselves.
These are the general solutions suggested both by friends and in the books:
Method 1: Don't "reward" the baby for crying by running to him each time he gets hysterical. Establish a fairly strict routine of sleep and feeding with at least 3 hours between feeds. Hold and comfort the baby only when he is not crying, and otherwise let him cry it out. Train the baby, don't let him train you.
Method 2: Map your babies habits fairly rigorously and establish a flexible routine based on his needs. Try to space out feedings as much as possible but don't let the boy get to the shrieking level. The baby is probably using the boob for comfort because he is over-stimulated. A good portion of his crying is not because he's hungry, but because he's tired. Try to get him to sleep much more than you are doing by limiting stimuli, putting him in a darkened room with some white noise. Also limit visitors and trips out. Try wrapping him tightly and allowing him to calm down before the crying gets into the crazy phase. Try having him sleep in a bassinet. Also make sure to put him down before he starts fussing and try soothing him to sleep in the crib (as opposed to in your arms rocking and stimulating him). The more he sleeps the less he will cry and more time you will have between feedings.
Method 3. The baby is in the 4th trimester. It's not even really human yet and in survival mode. It's brain is only 20% functional and what you need to do is simulate the womb environment where he is rocked, fed, warm and comfortable all the time. If he wants the boob, give him the boob. If he wants to feed for 10 minutes let him feed for 10 minutes. The child doesn't understand cause and effect yet. Comfort him by simulating the womb with gentle rocking, by swaddling tightly, and by using white noise. Just know that this phase will end in about 6 weeks and then you can start establishing routines.
#1 doesn't work for us. Neither of us has the ability to just let the kid cry. Also from what I understand about newborn development they don't understand causality so any Pavlovian training you might achieve might also leave the kid with a sense that world isn't secure... I understand why this technique might work later but for newborns...well, not for ours.
Method #2 makes the most sense to me, and I do believe newborns are generally overstimulated (all those new nerve endings are firing at once). Jenn tends towards Method #3 and that's generally what we've been doing, but we're being flexible in trying to figure things out. Ultimately #3 does work for us. The baby does calm down when he feeds and does sleep in Jenn's arms. But the burden is all on Jenn. Other than taking the baby out for stroller rides (which put him right to sleep), method 3 is very mom-centric.
In the meantime. I've created this handy chart for tracking sleep/wake/diaper. In the sleep column I just X out the blocks where he's asleep and use a A for agitated. C for crying. Q for quiet. L for Alert. G for hysterical. In the Feed column I draw boobs with numbers in them for the number of minutes on each. You can probably figure out the diaper column on your own. The chart really helps you get a sense of what's going on and where you might be able to tweak things. For example yesterday we realized the baby had gone almost 7 hours without a decent sleep. That's bad news for a newborn.
Update on the previous post.
Peter's body was not identified, but might have been one of the ones found and quickly buried on Wednesday (there were few foreigners in Kahawa). Peter's wife Alva is apparently on a flight scheduled for later this week and is staying with friends near Colombo. The house was seriously damaged and later looted. Alva is considering leaving Sri Lanka permanently. I have heard all this 2nd hand, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the information. The family will probably set up some sort of of charity based fund in Peter's name. I'll admit I've been thinking about this all day...
December 30, 2004
Whatever works right?
December 31, 2004
In the past I think I passed stranger's children without notice. But that casual indifference has been replaced with a strange curiosity. I watch parenting styles to see if I can learn anything. Study the kids for annoying or admirable traits and try to discern how much of is nurture over nature. All this feels very odd as if my persona has been bodysnatched.
I've also found myself studying photos of kids from my travels. Children are a frequent subjects as they follow foreigners entranced by our strangeness, calling us names, and laughing. And parents, always proud, display their children for you. Anyway, I've been looking at my pictures with new eyes, now, I often wonder simply how the kids survived in such harsh places.
I've finally gotten around to posting the nitty gritty details of the labor.