Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Genes and Jeans

So this week I took advice from rookiemoms and went to go buy myself a pair of normal jeans. It does feel really nice to wear a pair of pants that is neither stretchy yoga pants nor maternity wear. Wearing them makes me feel more like I’ve begun to re-enter “normal”, non-pregnant life again. On the other hand, they were a somewhat horrifyingly large size. I’ve decided not to stress about it now at the one-month-mark but I really hope that breastfeeding and daily walks will help me not to still be wearing these jeans six months from now. I think I actually went a little too big, as they are jeans with a bit of stretch to them and after a few hours of wear, they start to fall down. I vaguely remember this being the norm for this type of jean from way back in my pre-pregnancy past. Just imagine; it’s been so long since I’ve worn regular jeans that I can’t remember how to go about it!

Another significant, more serious happening this week was a call we got from Grace’s pediatrician. They did the state-mandated tests and screenings in the hospital after she was born, and it turns out that Grace is a carrier for cystic fibrosis. This was quite a surprise to Rob and me because there is no history of CF in either of our families. (For anybody who is a little rusty on your Mendelian genetics, Grace will never get the disease but if she has a child with another carrier, their child could have CF.) My first response was really overwhelming thankfulness that Grace is OK. Rob and I turned down pretty much all the prenatal testing offered to us and talked then in an abstract way about the possibility of having a child with a serious disease or birth defect. This revelation now felt so much more real and immediate, though, and really brought me up short with the realization that Grace’s health is such a blessing.

So Grace’s status as a carrier means that either one or both of Robert and I are carriers. The vastly more likely case is that one of us is a carrier and thus statistically half of our children will be carriers. However, it is a slight possibility that we’re both carriers, which would mean that a child of ours would have a 50% chance of being a carrier, a 25% chance of being “normal”, and a 25% chance of having CF. A rather important item has just been added to both of our to-do lists; I think I’ll be able to be tested at my 6-week post-partum checkup. It feels sort of surreal to be thinking about all these genetic possibilities, especially as it could affect Grace’s future. Unlike whichever (or both) of us is a carrier, Grace will have this bit of information when she gets to her childbearing years. It’s crazy to think about how that could affect her decisions decades from now about children and relationships. It reminds me of quantum mechanics and Schroedinger’s cat and all that about how having information changes reality. Rob and I have started joking that we are going to subtly encourage her to date only non-white boys. We would love to extend the cultural depth of our family regardless, but CF is most common in the Caucasian gene pool and much more rare in other ethnic groups. Maybe we can have a nice Asian or black son-in-law? Shall we arrange the marriage now? Any takers?

Thursday, March 9, 2006


Hmmm, this entry might need some kind of disclaimer as well. Don’t read further if you are not comfortable with discussions of breastfeeding.

We are exclusively breastfeeding Grace. I think we kind of had to, or else Rob would lose his pediatrician street cred. And even if we weren’t the kind of people who try to do what the AAP tells us to, there sure is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is good for babies. One does tend to hear the mantra “breast is best” in general life, but it is pretty amazing when you look a little deeper into it that this choice can reduce the risk for everything from SIDS to diabetes to allergies to ear infections. Being able to have something as necessary as feeding also become an opportunity for such intense bonding and comfort and all is also a lovely idea. Both my sister and I were exclusively breastfed (in fact, my hard-core mother didn’t ever give us a bottle, EVER) so I was comfortable with the idea and don’t view it as weird or abnormal. Robert and I were very committed to breastfeeding before Grace arrived. In our childbirth class, the instructor asked who was planning on giving breastfeeding a try and pretty much everyone raised their hands. She then asked who was going to breastfeed come hell or high water, and although the number of raised hands greatly diminished, Rob’s and mine were still there.

Our experience with breastfeeding has made me so glad that we took classes, read books, and decided we were committed to this ahead of time because it turns out that it is hard! These first weeks have been pretty challenging in the breastfeeding department. As we approach the one-month mark of Grace’s life, I am finally starting to feel like we know what we’re doing and it isn’t so difficult.

Grace nursed just minutes after being born; it was amazing to see her quiet and alert and ready to start her life like that. After that initial feeding, however, we got off to a bit of a slow start. Grace was very sleepy in the hospital and did not really get the hang of breastfeeding in our couple of days there. She dropped from 7 lbs even at birth to 6 lbs 9 oz when we left two days later, which is a little bit high for the post-birth weight loss. By the time we got home, I was feeling slightly panicky and desperate for her to start eating. She did, of course, as my milk increased in volume and changed to transitional milk and she started to be more awake. Those were such a challenging couple of days, though, as she learned how to latch on and actually eat. She would get so frustrated by her intense desire to gain sustenance from a certain part of my anatomy usually modestly ensconced in clothing, and her inability to gain said sustenance. There was much screaming and angry-baby face and whatnot. It really felt pretty awful at the time; emotionally, it felt like Grace was profoundly hungry and I did not have what she needed, that I could not meet her needs. And what arrived in the mail that day? A “welcome kit” or some such thing from Enfamil or Similac or whoever filled with samples and pictures of fat smiling babies. Evil, evil formula companies...

Those first days home from the hospital did pass, though, and Grace and I learned a lot of what we needed. However, I had gotten into the habit of tolerating uncomfortable latches when I was in the stage of being desperate for her to have any success at all, and I started to have a lot of pain around Day 4 or 5. I tried to correct the latch myself and spent a lot of time perusing the books I have and the materials from our class, but it didn’t seem to be getting better. On Day 7, I was in tears in the shower from the pain; afterwards, I marched in to where Rob was holding Grace and said that I needed help. A few days later we found ourselves at the office of the local lactation consultant. Ironically, I was actually starting to feel better by the time we saw the lactation consultant (the therapeutic power of making an appointment with a healthcare provider) but the appointment was still so helpful. I highly recommend getting help if you are having trouble with breastfeeding; having someone help me in person was so much better than trying to do it on my own with books.

My little bit of breastfeeding drama does make me realize that I am a 21st-century, upper-middle-class crybaby. I mean, human babies have been fed this way for millennia without a shelf full of books or people with IBCLC after their names. I am so glad that we have worked through our issues, though. This week I am practically pain-free, as my latch issues have been dealt with and I’ve had time to heal. I had one of my first beautiful breastfeeding moments last week. On the first day of March, we had a significant snowfall and I sat nursing this quiet, happy, stunningly beautiful baby (who amazingly enough is mine), watching big fluffy flakes fall outside our windows. I felt so calm and happy and so profoundly grateful to be one-half of such a unique and amazing relationship. Hooray for boobs!

Thursday, March 2, 2006

An Ode to Robert


This week has marked the end of Rob’s two-week paternity leave and his return to doctoring. It’s been quite an adjustment to move from the two of us caring for Grace to all Julia, all the time during his working hours. Grace is still a very new baby and wants to be held all the time; I am very accepting of this and want to meet her needs for physical closeness and show her that she can trust us and be secure. However, it does present a challenge when it is time for me to, you know, take a shower or eat some lunch. She has cried more this week, as her retinue has decreased in size by half. The week has felt somewhat draining but has gone well, and Grace is slowly gaining the security and confidence to sleep for little stretches with a little more distance between her and us.

The week has made me realize anew how glad I am that Rob is my partner in this crazy endeavor called parenthood. He was really available and proactive during his weeks at home, even taking care of things he wouldn’t normally care about, like making sure the house is neat and the dishes done and all that. I guess he realizes that things like that could knock out my equilibrium being that I’m already stretched thin. Rob’s been really great this week as well. A few evenings, I was feeling quite fragile by the time he got home after a day spent meeting Grace’s intense, immediate needs and not doing a good job meeting my own less-immediate needs (food, sleep, etc). He made me dinner and told me I was doing a good job being a mother and packed me off to bed; what a huge relief to have someone do that for me...

I think the moments that make me the most glad that I’m doing this parenthood thing with Rob are seeing him with Grace, though. I am still pretty overwhelmed by my own love for Grace and how I feel connected to her down in the very core of who I am. In some ways, it is even cooler still to see Rob love her and think she’s amazing and want to be with her. The mysterious tangle of relationships that is “family” looks pretty beautiful to me right now, and I am so happy that it’s Rob here with me.

So here’s to you, Rob; thanks for being who you are. Let’s see how your first night of call goes next week...