Monday, November 17, 2008

Yes, Every Time

When LL was 6 week old, I took him to visit my lab. I hadn't seen any of my labmates for two months, and I wanted to catch up and give them all a chance to meet LL. So, I arranged with my advisor to keep open one of our weekly lab meetings so that we could visit. (He actually emailed out a "talk" announcement as if it were a normal seminar... something along the lines of: "Nicky will be presenting this week. I don't have a talk abstract, but I hear she'll be bringing a live demo.")

I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating: the members of my lab, from undergrads through grad students and on up through post-docs and full-time research staff, including my advisor, are all, without exception, single guys. Specifically, single nerdy techie guys. For the majority of the meeting, LL was lying on a blanket on top of a table in the middle of the room, with all of my labmates gathered around him, asking me questions. Not holding him, not cooing at him... just kind of staring down at him in confusion and asking me questions. At one point, one of them reached out and poked LL in the stomach, just to see what would happen. I handed LL to one of the guys to hold, and he awkwardly obliged for a few seconds before commenting that he couldn't tell who was more uncomfortable, him or the baby. I did get my advisor to hold LL for several minutes, but only after promising him that LL would not be scared of his beard. (He wasn't. And I now have several priceless photos of LL laughing hysterically while my advisor made funny faces at him.)

When you bring a newborn infant into a group of normal people, you get questions like: How's he sleeping? What color are his eyes? Isn't it great when he smiles?

By contrast, here is a representative subset of the questions that I got from my labmates:

Why doesn't he have any teeth?
Every time he makes a mess, you have to clean it up?
Why won't he look at me?
What can he do?
When will he [ talk / read / stop crying / stop drooling / eat pizza ] ?
So, he was inside of you, and now he's not... how did that go?

I actually had a lot of fun visiting the lab, but it was a stark reminder that my life is divided into two very separate spheres right now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mommy to the Rescue!

LL had a totally "off" day today. His late-morning feeding was at an odd time because we were meeting out-of-town friends for brunch and wanted to feed him before we sat down to eat ourselves. Then he was so fascinated by the restaurant that he didn't want to nap like he normally does in loud busy places. He fell asleep when we were driving home, but woke up when we took him out of the car, so it was way too short of a nap. Once his morning routine was that far out of whack, he never got back on track. He was over-tired, so he cried. He got himself all worked up, so he was too upset to eat well. Without eating well, he was unhappy, so his next nap was fitful and he remained over-tired. Lather rinse repeat.

By early evening he was hysterically crying. Giant sobs punctuated by shrieks. Awful thing to listen to. I finally got him calmed down, and attempted to soothe him with his last meal of the evening and our usual bedtime routine. It all went okay except that he refused to close his eyes. He'd lie quietly in his bassinet for a few minutes, then burst out sobbing. After the 8 millionth time calming him down and attempting to put him to bed yet again, I sat next to his bassinet for a bit. He was quiet and calm, then suddenly he started kicking his legs and rolling around, followed quickly by the sobbing and crying. And then, a loud fart. And he was quiet again.

It probably should have happened sooner, but right then is when the lightbulb went off in my head. All day, I had been blaming his fussiness on us forcing him to attend brunch, but it suddenly occurred to me that he was just really gassy. Yes, he was over-tired, but it all stemmed from being uncomfortable. And I had totally misread the signs. Poor little guy.

I brought him over to the changing table and spent a good 10 minutes bicycling his legs and pulling his knees up to his chest. I've never heard anyone fart so much in my life. (He's pretty small... how in the world was he holding in that much gas?!) After 10 minutes he let out a huge sigh, then smiled up at me with the sweetest little expression of gratitude. Problem solved.

S is proclaiming me a hero for figuring out what the problem was, and I'll admit to feeling a bit triumphant. LL is not even two months old, he has very limited means of communicating, but his totally in-tune mommy deduced the problem and figured out how to solve it. Go me! At the same time... it took me all day. And it was probably something I ate that gave him the gas in the first place. Apparently I'll take my triumph tinged with guilt.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Baby Science

Many people are familiar with the quantum physics paradox of Schrodinger's Cat. Briefly, a cat and a vile of poison are sealed in a box, with the release of the poison linked to the detection of radiation. The paradox says that, because of quantum mechanics, before one looks in the box, the cat exists in a state of being both alive and dead. Once the box is opened, however, in order to check the status of the cat, one sees the cat in one of the two states, not in both at the same time. This paradox is often interpreted, in lay terms, as an observer's paradox: the act of looking at the cat, in a way, forces the cat into one of the states.

That's all well and good, as far as high school physics is concerned. But are you familiar with the lesser known paradox of Schrodinger's Baby? It goes something like this: a quiet baby in a darkened room exists in a state of being both asleep and awake (ie, if the baby is quiet, you don't really care which state the baby is in). However, the act of walking into the room (or in some other way spying on the baby) forces the baby into the awake-and-waiting-to-be-picked-up state. Even if you make no noise at all.

From my own field of theoretical computer science, there exists a problem known as the Halting Problem. It says that, for certain types of computer systems, if you ask a question of a computer, you may never know the answer, because the system might take an indeterminately long time to respond. A simplistic analogy: remember calling someone on the telephone before there were answering machines? If the person answered the phone right away, you knew they were home, but if they didn't answer, how many times should you let the phone ring? If they don't answer after, say, 5 rings, you can't conclude that they're not home, because maybe they just haven't gotten to the phone yet. No matter how many times you let it ring, you can't actually conclude that they're not home, because maybe they would have answered on the next ring. The only way to be 100% sure, in fact, is to let the phone ring forever.

Which brings me to the Baby Halting Problem, in which we attempt to determine whether a baby has finished pooping. How long do you wait after the last grunt and fart before concluding that it is safe to change the diaper? No matter how long you wait, you might still be surprised by the sudden arrival of more poop once the baby is naked on the changing table. The only way to be sure is in fact to wait forever, which is supremely uncomfortable for the baby, and results in an infinite amount of poop.

The Baby Halting Problem actually has a second, less messy statement, in which we attempt to determine when a baby has been successfully rocked to sleep, as opposed to just faking it by closing his eyes and lying slack-jawed in your arms, waiting to surprise you the moment you attempt to put him down. The formalization of this alternate statement of the Baby Halting Problem is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's Not Simple Like Knee Surgery

For today's topic, I'm going to briefly turn from the adorable newborn pretending to sleep in the next room, and instead focus briefly on me and my recovery from major abdominal surgery (as I am constantly being told), which has been a bit up and down.

My L&D hospital stay marked the first time I'd ever been admitted to a hospital for any reason, as well as the first surgery I'd ever had. To put it mildly, I was impatient to get home, get recovered, and get busy developing my new "normal." In the hospital, I was up and out of bed as soon as the nurses would let me, and I never looked back. I had horrible swelling in my feet and ankles, even worse than during my pregnancy, probably because I flatly refused to get back into bed and elevate them. The swelling didn't go down until somewhere around week two. (On a related topic: I have no shoes that fit. My entire pre-pregnancy shoe collection is too small, and my pregnancy shoes are about half a size too big. It sucks. But I digress.) Also, I hate how I feel when I take strong pain killers, so after the c-section, I was only on Advil. In retrospect, not my smartest decision.

For weeks after LL's birth, I felt okay when I was just sitting still, or even walking, but "transitioning" between states really sucked -- standing up, sitting down, shifting in a chair, getting in and out of bed... those were all excruciatingly painful for the entire first month. I also developed a horrible rash across my abdomen from the tape used to hold down the surgical sheet during the c-section.

Anyway, I apparently over-exerted myself during that first week, which caused repeated bouts of increased bleeding until my family intervened and ordered me to sit down already. (Or so I'm told... my labor and delivery are clear as a bell in my mind, but the two weeks immediately afterward are really blurry.) We had a rotation of family members staying with us for the first three weeks, and between them and S, I was carefully watched and kept from even pretending to do anything remotely strenuous. (Driving, lifting things, carrying things, bending over, sitting on the floor, kneeling.) There were advantages: I probably wasn't as exhausted as I could have been, and my incision seems to have healed quickly. Also, S got very good at changing diapers, since I had a hard time bending over to do it, so he's still handling the majority of the poop in our household. There were also, however, disadvantages: my abdominal muscles are completely non-existent now. The result right now is that I'm practically incapable of doing anything with my abs, and my back is really sore from compensating.

I had my 6-week post-partum doctor's visit this week, and I'll admit that I expected to be healed by the time this visit came along. Instead, the area between my incision and my belly button still feels really really tender, I'm still having a lot of vaginal discharge and bleeding (making me continually anemic, which is adding to the fatigue), and I still have to steel myself a bit to stand up out of a chair, get up off the floor, or roll over in bed. Dr. M says all of the above is normal, and when I asked when I could expect it to go away, he kept shrugging and saying, "A few more weeks." Sigh. But at least I'm now cleared for any and all physical activity, so I can start trying to build my abs back into shape. Never before in my life have I been excited to start exercising!

Also, good news: I've lost 23 of the 28 pounds I gained during my pregnancy. The bad news: once I lose those last 5 pounds, I get to focus on the 12 I gained during fertility treatments. And after that, I should really address the weight that I should have lost before even trying to get pregnant. But, um, yeah, one step at the time. For now, the frustrating thing is that, despite the weight loss, I'm still not really fitting into any of my pre-pregnancy clothing. My shirts are too tight around my breasts, which are huge from breast feeding, and my pants are tight around my hips, which is ironic, considering that my hips weren't wide enough to birth LL. At the same time, my maternity clothes are all way too big on me -- the shirts balloon down around my belly, and the pants continually fall down off my waist. Given the continued tenderness around my incision, I'm preferring the too big over the too small, but I feel hideous in everything I own. Blech.

Okay, enough about me. Next post returns to LL: his bris, his ongoing parade of admirers, and our attempts to get him onto some sort of sleep schedule.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Turn Around! He's Right Behind You!

You know that moment at the end of horror movies, where the bad guy looks like he's dead but you know he's really not? He's lying on the ground, perfectly still, and all the good guys start to relax. The camera slowly pans over the face of the bad guy, and all is quiet, when suddenly POP! The bad guy's eyes fly open!!! He was never actually dead! OMG! Heart pounding!

I go through that every night now. I rock and comfort LL, he seems to be asleep, I put him in his crib. His head lolls gently to the side, totally at peace. And then, as I stand there looking down at him, he does this crazy horror flick move where his eyes pop open and his head snaps to attention. I've tried standing at different places around his crib, and no matter where I am, and no matter which way his head is facing when I put him down, he always manages to be focused squarely on my face the moment his eyes pop.

It's kind of creepy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eat, Poop, Sleep, Repeat

Today's topic: our healthy boy

Other than a few small glitches, any of which would have been even easier to deal with if breast feeding had gotten off to a better start, LL has been in excellent health. (Being almost 9 pounds at birth will often do that.) He lost a lot of weight early on, but that was more my breasts' fault than his. All newborns lose weight immediately after birth, but he lost as much as they would "allow" him to lose before medically intervening. Then, he plateaued at that weight, refusing to gain. His pediatrician said that she wanted him to be back to birth weight by his two week appointment, and at that appointment he was... exactly at birth weight. Since then, he has gained weight admirably, averaging exactly 1 ounce per day, as recommended by the AAP. (He's quite literal, our LL. No overachievers here!) Now, at 6 weeks of age, he's well over 10 pounds, and quite comfortable in 3-month clothing.

LL also flirted briefly with jaundice, but we managed to quell the problem before it got too serious. His bilirubin levels kept rising for the first week, but never quite got high enough to merit intervention. Each time the pediatrician checked his blood, she'd give me a number above which she would be concerned, and each time, his number came in just a hair below. They told us the levels would drop if we could get him to poop more, which is accomplished by getting him to eat more, which wasn't happening because of the latch problems... so you can see why there was a lot of frustration and tears early on. The only "treatment" recommended for him, though, was sun-bathing, which is how we discovered that LL loves lying naked in the sun. I envision a future conversation with teenage LL about the dangers of skin cancer, but for now, this kid is quite the sun baby. The sun kept away the more serious jaundice long enough for us to solve the breast feeding problems, so it all came out well in the end. (And yes, he is now a champion pooper as well.)

There was a day or two there when we thought that he might be having problems with reflux or tummy upset, but it went away, so I'm hoping that it was just something I ate (spicy Chinese shrimp?) or a transient reaction to the thrush medication.

Overall, he's doing great. I am much relieved, because his sleep patterns are, um, not as great, and I was feeling so physically icky for so long after the c-section that I'm not sure I could handle it if he had health problems, too. So, after spending the first several weeks of his life focusing mainly on eating, we are now turning our attention to Newborn Issue Number Two: Sleep. (Thankfully, he's overall a very happy baby, so we've been able to avoid focusing on that other big newborn issue: crying.) Our attempts to get him to sleep are a whole other topic, though, so for now, we'll just say: healthy baby! Yay!