From the monthly archives:

September 2009

Couvade syndrome

by Milton on Wed, Sep 30th, 2009

in Psychological,Studies and rumors,Week 09

According to Wikipedia, Couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy, is a somewhat mysterious condition where a pregnant woman’s partner begins to exhibit some of the symptoms of pregnancy.  Labor pains, weight gain, food cravings, and sometimes even post-partum depression.  Now, I think this is a great idea.  Funny, at least.

Now, most of the articles I’ve read about it make it seem like a pretty unflattering condition.  In some cultures the fathers are considered to be possessed by demons.  In others, that they are simply starved for attention and trying to get some of the same sympathy that the pregnant woman gets.  Seems sort of selfish when you think about it that way.

I am trying to rebrand Couvade syndrome into something a little more interesting.  A sort of intentional empathetic bond with my wife.  And, while she starts to show her pregnancy, I can also become more proud of my little gut.  Rather than steal the attention, I can nod my head and say, yes, I can not only imagine how that feels, but also share in a tiny shadow of the feeling.

Okay, maybe that won’t really work as intended.  The symptoms of pregnancy will always be stronger in the actual pregnant person, therefore why not just let her enjoy the special treatment 100%?  I’ll consider it.  But in the meantime, this stigmatized little French syndrome seems like an interesting thing to learn more about.

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Sunlight and shyness

by Milton on Fri, Sep 25th, 2009

in Books,Studies and rumors,Week 08

I’m reading a fascinating book called What’s Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.  It’s satisfying all of my obsessive need to know as much as possible about what’s happening, how we can make the baby healthier, happier, etc.

On page 82, I just ran across mention of a very strange study indeed:

One recent study, for instance, suggests that a child’s shyness is determined, in part, by maternal hormone fluctuations during gestation.  Researchers who interviewed several thousand preschoolers in both the United States and New Zealand noted a significant relationship between the incidence of extreme shyness or inhibition (children who seem particularly fearful, anxious, or withdrawn in the presence of a stranger) and the amount of daylight their mothers were exposed to at midpregnancy. Thus, in the United States, only 12% of children born in October-November-December were rated as highly inhibited, compared to nearly 18% of those born in April-May-June. In New Zealand, where daylight hours are reversed, children showed the opposite pattern, with more shy children born in October-November-December than in April-May-June. Because the production of certain hormones, like melatonin, is known to fluctuate with the amount of daylight in each season, the researchers propose that such substances may subtly alter brain development during a critical period at midgestation, when massive numbers of neurons are migrating to form the basic architecture of the cerebral cortex. (It is also possible that other seasonal differences, like changes in women’s diets, physical activity, or exposure to colds and flu, mediate this relationship.)

Is this when science starts telling us that astrology is true?  That would be pretty funny.

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Fear and relief

by Milton on Fri, Sep 25th, 2009

in Managing risk,Week 08

Yesterday, Esther woke up and let me know, casually, that she didn’t feel sick or any of the other symptoms of pregnancy.  Her boobs didn’t hurt.  She didn’t want to puke.  Our sense of right and wrong has recently been inverted… the worse she feels, the better we assume things are going.  It’s a little twisted, I guess, but I hear many of the same sentiments on the baby boards.

Later in the day I got a text informing me that she was going to go to the doctor.  I was at work, and immediately had a sinking feeling.  Perhaps because I had this sinking feeling last time, I was already well trained in the full mental exercise of fearing a miscarriage.  It was the saddest, sinkingest, feeling.  Of remaining hopeful while also gravely afraid of what might happen.

For about an hour and a half, I stirred.  Esther was finishing her client and I had very little information, so I decided to go for a walk, and head up the hill to the doctor’s office. The sun felt good. I wanted to soak up the sun and make it replace the sinking feeling. I distinctly remember feeling that desire for emotional replacement.

I also had this strange new reaction that I never had before. I saw people with kids on the street and had the smallest twinge of resentment for them. The ease that they went about their days. Of course, it’s all an illusion, and I was merely projecting a crazy scenario on an unwilling demographic, and I caught myself and tried to correct the impulse almost as soon as it occurred, but it occurred anyway.  Weird, right?

We arrived at the doctor’s office and after tracking down our new insurance info (we don’t have cards yet, for some reason) I hustled into the ultrasound room where I was immediately informed that the nurse had found a heartbeat and our little embryo was doing just fine.

RELIEF.

Despite my hope, I was actually expecting the worst, and only upon realizing that things were good did I let myself actually consider the thought that this was going to turn out okay. They say that after you can find the heartbeat that chances of miscarriage are 3-5%.  Much better than the 6-week estimate of 10% (or 13% in the case of those who have had miscarriages before). And, our first ultrasound wasn’t scheduled for another 3 weeks… so, in a way, I was really glad that we got to come in sooner and experience the heartbeat and have our most risky statistics reduced just a bit.

Statistics roulette.

I’m so glad there’s a little heart beating in there.  Somewhere in the 131-139 range (both Esther and I heard different numbers from the nurse).  Estimated to be at about 6 weeks, 5 days by length, though that’s about 1 week younger than we had originally estimated from her last menstrual cycle. Totally okay though, cause there’s a heartbeat.

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Us

by Milton on Wed, Sep 23rd, 2009

in Week 08

We enlisted a photographer friend of ours to sort of document Esther’s pregnancy.  Rather than do it in the traditional belly-shot kind of way (we’ll do those too, but separately) we thought it would be fun to capture more of the spirit of that point in the pregnancy, and to allow us both to be in the picture.  Here’s what we did for the Week 8 picture:

milton-esther-week-8

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Solidly in week 8…

by Milton on Sun, Sep 20th, 2009

in Week 08

We’re at day 2 of week 8, and according to some books and statistics and rumors and elevator chat the likelihood of having a miscarriage gets lower and lower with each week.  It’s now somewhere between 5-10%, I believe.  If we went to the doctor and were able to confirm a heartbeat, then we’d be at 5% for sure, but our first doctor’s visit isn’t until October 14th, more than 3 weeks away.  The reason for this is that we’re going to be going to New York City for 9 days starting next week, and, well, we’re suckers for suspense I guess.

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A whole other person

by Esther on Fri, Sep 18th, 2009

in Challenges,Psychological,Week 07

This afternoon, I had a long chat with a girlfriend on the phone.  She is in the throws of trying to conceive.

I haven’t yet told her of my own pregnancy.  I’m hesitant to talk about it openly at this point, because it seems so possible that this pregnancy will end like up to 60% of other first-trimester pregnancies do- in a miscarriage.  I have shared my information with some good friends, but mostly prefer to keep my information to myself (and this blog) at this point.

Anyhow, this good friend was talking about the recent possibility of being pregnant.  She kept referring to this possibility, and saying things like, “I mean, I could have been carrying a whole other person.”

This got me to thinking… what exactly do I consider my 7 week condition?  Do I consider myself to be carrying a whole other person?

Let’s make a list of how I am feeling this week:

  1. I am stressed out about our living situation. (definitely related to pregnancy)
  2. I am stressed out about my family. (maybe only related because of the elevation of hormones)
  3. I want to puke.  Sometimes I want to puke more than other times… but I could summon the feeling at any moment if I were to really tap into it. (definitely a symptom of pregnancy)
  4. I am on a boat.  In motion.  I am constantly dizzy. (also a major symptom)
  5. I feel as if I’m stoned.  This is particularly annoying when I can’t find simple nouns in my regular vocabulary. (yep.  pregnancy apparently makes you stupid.)

All in all, taking these things into account, I am definitely 100% pregnant.  And, if the old adage of “The sicker you feel, the stronger your pregnancy” is true, this pregnancy really seems to be sticking a whole lot more than the failed pregnancy I had 6 months ago.

So… am I carrying a whole other person?  I don’t know how I feel about that just yet.

I feel as if have a condition.  That condition could progress to a birth.  I really hope that condition DOES progress to a birth.  I would like to ultimately give birth to a whole other person. But, right now, I feel detached from my body a whole lot.  Little changes are happening that impede my regular life.  I can’t drink my beloved wine.  My belly is just beginning to swell and get into the way in yoga class.  My boobs are alien creatures who apparently have minds of their own.  My usually successful attempts at fashion suddenly do not work.  I am having mild panic attacks when looking at pregnancy gear at A Pea in the Pod.

All of this, for me, does not add up to carrying a whole other person. But, hey, I’ll totally let you know when I feel differently.  Not feeling as if I’m carrying a whole other person certainly doesn’t affect my level of anticipation or excitement for the future.

Hopefully feeling that my condition adds up to a whole other person will happen at some point, but it might not happen until birth.  I guess we’ll see.

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From 5 to 10 weeks in utero, your baby is developing his or her BRAIN.  This is scary to me.

We are in the 7th week of our journey.  Not even a quarter of the way there, and already there is a brain inside my womb, developing.  This brain will dictate my child’s emotional and intellectual status.  Any damage I inflict on this precious brain could reflect badly on both my child and myself, forever.  Right?

While I intend to have a European pregnancy, allowing the occasional glass of wine and loosened rules about cheese, lunch meat, etc, I am being sure to be strict in the first 12 weeks of this pregnancy. After having a miscarriage 6 months ago, I’m also being careful to follow all the food recommendations- which is pretty easy, since my main craving is for greens and I’m already a fish oil devotee, anyhow.

I am worried about a few of my habits, though.  Namely, I have been taking Claritin every day for about 3 years now.  I developed an allergy to my beloved cat about that long ago, and found that a Claritin a day pretty much eradicated  any problem.

Claritin is classified as a class B pregnancy drug.  This basically means that it is not recommended, but only because no studies have been done.  It is probably not harmful, but should be taken at one’s own risk.

If I stop taking the Claritin, I instantly become super allergic to my poor kitty.  Now, I promise that this kitty will be the last kitty in a the short line of kitties that I have mothered.  I’ve known this for a long time.  Once she is gone, there will be no other kitty until I can fork over $5,000 for a kitty that is completely hypoallergenic.  Fine.  But, in the meantime, I am dedicated to this cat.  I love her little snuggle face!  But, what will taking this drug do to my developing baby?

I’ve cut back my pills to only taking one every other day, and with fish oil.  I haven’t had a doctor’s appointment yet to find out exactly what my doctor says… but have done a ton of inconclusive research.  I feel guilty pangs every time I take that little pill… much like the guilty pang I had the other day at my neighborhood coffee shop when I realized HELLO I AM PREGNANT AND EATING A CAKE THAT IS SOAKED IN RUM.  Geez.

In the meantime, we are addicted to watching Mad Men on AMC and I am always moved by seeing Betty Draper looking fabulous while pregnant, smoking, and drinking unlimited glasses of wine.  It seems that that generation didn’t have issues with ADHD, FAS, or any of the other childhood ailments that plague modern society.  Heck.  That child probably grew up to be a doctor or a laywer.

Whatever.  Claritin can’t have anything on the Demerol that Betty Draper was shot up with during her delivery.  Right?

UPDATE- I spoke with a nurse at my obgyn office this afternoon and got the green light to take Claritan.  Betty Draper, eat your drug and alcohol addled heart out!

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First thoughts about motherhood.

by Esther on Wed, Sep 16th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 07

My mother was young and vibrant.  She had me at 22, during the long sunset of her first marriage- which started at 18.  I remember us being best friends during my early years.  Looking back, I see now that we grew up together during those early years.  We were very poor during her time as a single parent.  My mother worked 3 jobs to send me to a good school- where she was snubbed for being a divorcee.  I spent much of my time at my grandparents’ house, where I became their 8th child and had raucous good times with aunts and uncles who were only a few years older than me.

When my mother was 28, she married my step-father.  This upset me bitterly for some time.  In my child’s mind, I felt as if the camaraderie I had with my mother was intruded upon by her new relationship.  I am sure that I was affected in large part by the breakup of my mother’s first marriage, as well.  My biological father was, to a great extent, absent from my everyday life.  This anger and resentment was unconsciously projected on to my step-father until I became much more self-aware in my adult years.  Now, my mother, stepfather, and I have a sound and loving relationship.

Children are so sensitive, and begin with such a small world view.  I wonder what sort of issues I will unwittingly imprint on my child’s ego.  I hope I will be able to make sure that my child is strong enough to ultimately see past himself in order to become a terrific success.  I feel as if my husband and I have a step over the situation I was born into. We are older, well established in a marriage trust that I can’t see either of us ever questioning, much less betraying, and obviously in a much more sound financial condition than our young parents were.

When I have my first child, I will be 34.5 years old.  I will have lived through my party years with a youthful mixture of bubbles and melancholy, I will have already established my career.   I feel totally ready at this age to face my parenting years.  I feel as if I’m still vibrant enough enough to be idealistic, which is, in my opinion, an important positive emotion to convey to my child, even as that child is in utero.  I hope to be the kind of parent who is engaged, active, responsible, and actually fun.  I hope to be able to protect my child from making some of the mistakes I made, or forgive my child if they walk headfirst into the mire without first taking into account my own personal story.

I know for certain that my husband echos my sentiment.  I also know for certain that we are excellent partners.  I am looking forward to this whole lifelong family-building business.

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Is it worth the risk?

by Milton on Wed, Sep 16th, 2009

in Managing risk,Week 07

Okay, I admit, I’ve been hanging out on community baby boards.  There are some 2,000 people in my month alone (May 2010)!

It’s pretty addictive to be in a community of 2,000 people who are all going through the same anxiety, excitement, learning, uncertainty, etc as I am at the same time that I’m going through it.  Other than that one major thing we have in common, I would say that I’m in the huge minority as far as being a dude, and then things like age, number of previous children, ethnicity, political views, economic status, etc are all over the place.

I think it’s actually really interesting to participate in the group… unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  Such a high level of interest, opinion, emotion, and yet also so much we don’t know!

The fact that most of us are newbies as far as pregnancy is concerned, and that we’re all equally emotional about it, leads to some seriously interesting conversations.  Some of them are enlightening, and others are scary.

One trend I notice is that there’s a lot of both opinion and sensitivity around the issue of what’s safe for the pregnancy.  Topics like whether or not you should get a flu shot, for instance.  Surprising to me, 50% of the people in the group are going to avoid the flu shot even though almost all medical literature recommends it.  The US Center for Disease Control and prevention, for example, recommends that pregnant women get the vaccine as soon as it’s available.

That particular issue is evenly split.  Others, like whether or not to drink a glass of wine, are more weighted on the side of being “okay in moderation”.  And then there are things like smoking pot that got one unfortunate lady practically excommunicated from the message board for her naive question about whether or not it was okay to smoke pot.

Through them all, there’s the constantly re-iterated judgment on whether or not a particular behavior is “worth the risk”.  Because, it turns out, almost nothing is conclusive.  Everything is a risk.  And some risks are more worth it than others.

Getting in a car and going to the hospital, for example, is a risk.  But it’s deemed worth it because it’s a very difficult risk to avoid.  Our culture deems it okay.  Not getting a flu shot is sometimes deemed worth it because, perhaps, you’re a SAHM (stay at home mom) and you figure you won’t be in much risk of catching a flu from someone.  Or, you believe that the vaccine actually causes you to get sick (a popular anecdote).  Or, you think that there might be long-term unknown consequences (and assume that those long-term unknown consequences are greater than the unknown long-term consequences of getting a flu during pregnancy).  It’s a bit more even, even though the actual risk being deemed worth it or not is probably the main factor in the decision.

Some people love Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, and for them that risk turns into something of a guilty pleasure.  Same with a glass of wine, or a piece of sushi.  And then there’s the risk of more minor bacterias from cold cuts or hot dogs that are pretty much swept under the carpet because they’re cheap eats.

I’m fascinated by the idea of risk and the way that we justify it.  Pregnancy is one of the scariest gambles we take due to beginning with such a fragile little being with such a high chance of something going wrong, on top of all of our hopes to start or continue growing a family.

I’m very interested in documenting the kinds of risks that face pregnancy, and also judge them on whether they’re acceptable or unacceptable risks, how our culture judges the risk, how emotional the decision is for different groups of people who might be more attached to the risk, etc.  For now, I simply want to bring it up as an area of discussion so that I can become more aware of my own biases, my own desire to ignore certain big risks that I’m personally attached to, and also to my own judgment of others who take risks that I’m not personally attached to.

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First thoughts about fatherhood

by Milton on Sun, Sep 13th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 07

My father was awesome.  He passed away from lung cancer when I was just 16, but we had a great relationship all throughout my life.  He and my mom had me when they were both 25, 8 years younger than I am now, almost 9 by the time our baby is born, and I find myself thinking about him a lot now that I am possibly going to be a father myself.

He had a difficult life, a difficult family, and I remember him saying many times that he wanted our lives to be better than his, for us to be happier, more successful, etc than he was.  He also was an entrepreneur, working in software for many years and eventually starting his own company with his best friend a couple years before he passed away.  At the time, I wanted to be a painter or a genetic biologist (yeah, I know, very similar… both got to draw animals is how I saw them being related), and was applying for colleges.  And now here I am as an entrepreneur in the software development / Internet industry.

My parents were pretty poor when I was born, but eventually as his jobs got better we moved to the suburbs and eventually to a fairly wealthy planned community in Southern California.  I remember him saying to me in my early teens that he feared my life had been too easy, that great people are never born out of easy lives, and he wanted me to have an easy life.

As things would go, his departure sort of started in motion a long series of events that would be anything but easy.  While our lives aren’t yet chronicled in the history books, it’s safe to say that life is great, and that the challenges and lower lows have helped me find a place of earned happiness that I might not have otherwise achieved.

And now, I have the chance to think about raising a son or daughter of my own.  I want to be the best father just as my father was the best to me.

My mother also shaped a lot of how I see the world, and I want to make her proud to have a son that can pass on some of the things I’ve learned from her.

It’s weird making the transition from random married dude to an actual father.  It makes me rethink my posture, my habits, etc.  And yet, there are plenty of fatherhood stereotypes that I want to avoid.

I don’t want to be absent.  I don’t want to be aloof.  I don’t want to be too serious.  I don’t want to be the the one that’s only around for big events or for times of punishment.

I do want to be active and engaged in every step of the process.  I want to be a teacher, a leader, a role model, etc.  I want to carry a full half of the responsibilities of parenthood.  I want to encourage growth rather than simply be a protector. I want to give this new person every chance to be great, and to have the will power to let them also be their own person when the time comes, making their own mistakes and taking credit for their own successes.

Existing parents may scoff at my idealism, but we have to start with idealism and not compromise anything but the most necessary ideals when absolutely necessary.  That’s how my brain works at least.

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