Archive for April, 2010


It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good old fashioned gripe on the blog. Thankfully, the radio provided today.

Driving in to work, the morning show we typically find ourselves listening to got onto the concept of the “push gift”. This is a gift that is apparently a trending topic lately (Janelle saw a bunch of forum threads on baby site The Bump as well today). A push gift is a gift that a father gives to the mother of his child because she went to the trouble of carrying and delivering the baby.

I was instantly in “rant and rave and make hand gestures at the radio while I drive” mode. The idea of the gift itself is not something that bothers me. I like to get Janelle little gifts. I don’t have many really good reasons to, and we spend so much time together that it’s tricky to pull off a surprise (and a cardboard box from Amazon, while easy to pull off, is not romantic, no matter what’s inside). I’m looking forward to the event of the birth to be a reason for celebration and gift giving. The notion that Janelle is owed a gift from me because she did all the work in the pregnancy, however, is just slightly maddening to me.

Let’s break it down.

Janelle and I are consenting adults. We knew what was coming up when we started trying to have a kid. It’s not as if I pulled a fast one on her and so my gift is a necessary expression of apology.

Pregnancy is often a very uncomfortable stint of time for mothers. There are many physical and emotional discomforts that can plague a mom before (and after) the baby’s arrival. An attentive father, though, is trying to contend with those discomforts for nine months and, depending on how things are shaking out, may end up being berated for his efforts. Janelle gets massages in one form or another just about every day. She also needs assistance with virtually any chore that requires any little bit of physical effort. We’re both lucky in that her discomforts are mild and if her personality has shifted in response to her changing hormone levels, I haven’t noticed it. If I were an inattentive partner, she might have it much rougher, and might then deserve a little retribution in the end. But if I were an inattentive partner, what are the chances I’d be concerned about getting her a gift? The push gift is just there to be a guilt item for fathers who are already geared to be concerned.

It’s also not fair to claim that a mother is owed for her efforts when a father has no choice but to simply be a bystander. I cannot volunteer to take on Janelle’s discomfort no matter how much I wish I could. By this logic, if she gives me a cold, should she then be expected to go buy me a flat-screen TV because she has been responsible for my discomforts? It’s silly.

The DJ at one point cracked the joke that he had gotten his wife a push gift: a baby. A caller then rang in to say, in a manner that I assumed was just bantering but Janelle heard to be more earnest, that the gift wasn’t a gift from the DJ, but from God. That one really sent me over the edge. I understand the sentiment behind the statement—that a baby is a blessing—but it removes the father from the process to a degree that is pretty telling. And, really, if God reached down and blessed you, are you in much of a position to clamor for more riches to be lavished upon you?

Ahhh ranting. How I have missed you.

Just to reel it back in before I get beat up by my readership (if the “likes” my posts get on Facebook are any indication, 90% of the readers of this blog are mothers or women who wouldn’t mind being mothers one day) I think getting gifts for your partner is wonderful. It’s something everyone should do more when they feel like it. It just so happens that it tends to feel like a good time to get a gift around major events, like a birth. However, I will be bitching and moaning about this while they lower me into my grave if this turns into the kind of thing that becomes canonized as obligation.



It’s going to be pretty hard not to be ready for the baby’s arrival at this point. In the next 5 weeks, Janelle and I will be visiting the doctor or hospital a minimum of 15 times. 16 if you count the actual delivery. We’re getting a rolling start to the baby being in charge of our schedule.

In the last month of her pregnancy, Janelle is scheduled to meet with the doctors once a week. But on top of that, she has to go in for non-stress tests (NSTs). Non-stress testing involves sitting the mother down on a bed and hooking up two monitors to her belly. One will keep watch on the baby’s heart-rate and the other tracks contractions in the mother’s uterus. Mom is also given a clicker, like a Jeopardy buzzer, to poke every time she feels a distinct movement from the baby. The idea is generally to see the baby’s overall activity level and to ensure that if there are contractions in the uterus, that the baby doesn’t freak out and do fun things like stop breathing.

Stepping into the room for the NSTs has an odd mass production feel to it. When we were set up for the test, we made the fifth active test in the room, meaning you can hear a rhythmic shooshing thump coming from the heartbeat of each of the other babies in the room. It ends up sounding like some odd radio-static masked recording of galloping horses, and calls to mind pistons driving production machinery.

The experience captures at once all the worst and best parts of the hospital experience. The nurses are busy and a bit gruff at first, but once it’s clear that they’re not super busy, they’re nice and helpful and will answer all your questions. The goal is to get you in and out as quickly as they can… but you can tell that they have performed the tasks they are undertaking thousands of times and are expert at it by now. Plus, if anything goes wrong, you don’t have far to go.

What I took away from the experience was a sense of feedback. This is what really began to help for the attachment to the baby for me, and why I think it seems like new mothers are so much more easily bonded to their babies. For a father who is not attending doctor visits for whatever reason, and who does not take time to interact with the belly a bit, the baby is just a lump until it pops out of Mom and is crying. But for the Mom the baby is a living and responsive companion who shapes and is shaped by daily activity. Tagging along for the NST is going to let me experience a bit of that reflected through a muffled heartbeat and a pulse monitor.

I could watch the readout from the little EKG-ish type machine Janelle was hooked up to and see what the baby was doing, or even predict what it was about to do. Its little heartbeat, normally around 120 bpm, would jump to 140 or even up to 170 when it was about to be or was in the midst of squirming about. I could see the heart-rate begin to rise and then watch Janelle start poking on her buzzer to record movements from the baby. I could also watch as the machine recording minute spasms in Janelle’s tummy muscles and then say, “Oh, baby’s gonna start moving around after that one.”

It’s the give and take that has me excited for the baby. Being able to the poke the belly and see the baby move in response, or to talk at the base of Janelle’s tummy (where the baby’s head should be staying all the time at this point) and then have the baby go all crazy in response because it can hear me or putting a hand on the belly to provide pressure to calm the baby’s movements is what says to me that Mom’s not the only one who gets to have a relationship with the baby before it enters the world.

And for a total non sequitur, I was pondering the other day how it’s amusing that male naughty bits are measured in inches here, but the female bits are measured in centimeters (though they’re really only ever measured during birth). And you may feel free to use Imperial Penis or Metric Vagina for your band names.

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April Showers

It’s been a busy week. Janelle and I have had four different baby showers this week. One was a luncheon she had with some co-workers, another was a larger-scale work shower at her office. The other two were ones for family and friends, one in Long Beach and one at our place. I was almost hoping that something would be a little off at one of the parties so that I’d be able to write up a cautionary post with clear do’s and don’ts for planning a shower. But they both went really well. There were differences, though, so I’ll break those down a bit.

Showers are pretty typically seen as ladies-only events, and the Long Beach shower was for the most part—I was only present for the very start and the last hour or so. But considering that the party is usually just people sitting around and talking, there’s no reason that a Dad can’t join in and enjoy. But, at the same time, if you’re not around it’s doubtful the Mom-to-be will feel abandoned. She’ll be busy having various attentions lavished upon her for a few hours.

The biggest different between the two showers was location. One was at a restaurant, the other a home. Both have their stresses and benefits. Hosting at a restaurant commits you to a certain cost and time frame, it also means that any decorations or plans you make must be mobile. So consider how easy it will be to take your show on the road. On the plus side, meal prep and clean up is non-existent.

At our house, it’s easier to set up what you want how you want it. There’s no need to worry about time constraints. If you’re going to cater or bring in prepared food, you still incur that cost, but if you’re prepping your own food there’s shopping and cooking and storage to worry about, not to mention clean-up. Cleaning was the largest part of the shower project for us. Our tidying needed to be a bit more intense, as we’re still partially in boxes from the move, but even for a house more or less put together there will be a heck of a lot of frantic tidying and polishing in the days before.

The decision on location really ends up hinging on the space you have available in a home (for people, food and supplies) and how willing or unwilling you are to clean and cook up a storm. If you want to have a loose and open-ended party as well, it’s something you’ll need to arrange in advance wherever you’ve booked or, most likely easier, just have at home.

There were four games played between the two main parties. One involved giving the guests a line from a nursery rhyme and having them then name the first line from that rhyme. Another involved a series of clues that hinted at specific candy names and guests had to connect the two. Gift bingo is a pretty typical game that gives everyone something to do while the bunches of gifts are being opened. Guests simply fill out a bingo-grid ahead of time with what gifts they think will be given and as those items pop up they get crossed off (pro-tip: just bring multiple small items and you have yourself an instant bingo). The last game was a “The Price is Right” style knock-off. Using gifts from the Long Beach baby shower, we looked up pricing on-line and then had guests try and guess as close to that price as they could.

I wanted to have some sort of philosophical jag to close on, but I’ve got nothing beyond making sure that you don’t stress so much about the setup for your shower that it ends up basically voiding the celebratory aspect.

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Failure is something that I don’t want to say I am looking forward to, but I think it’s something I need. It’s also something that I hope doesn’t hurt any feelings.

I’m a gamer. It doesn’t matter if I run out of time to play any games, I function like a gamer. Gamers love to try things out. They like to dive in and they like to see what makes things tick. For a gamer, much as any other subset of nerd, reading the instruction manual is a matter of last resort. Unless that manual has some sweet manga art in it, you shouldn’t be reading it until you’re desperate because it’s clear the game designers hate you. A gamer will gladly lose a few of their extra lives in the process of pounding on buttons just so they can tell themselves they figured it out. They mastered the system.

Babies, you may note, do not have manuals at all. I know, surprising right? They are, however, an adventure and a challenge. The baby is not unlike a super awesome game that I pre-ordered nine months ago and have been excited to unwrap and play once it delivers ever since. It’s a co-op game, and I always enjoy being able to convince Janelle to take on new games with me, so I’m pretty stoked.

When a gamer gets a new game, he is happy to show it off. He’ll call friends and have them come over to check out the sweet new game he’s got. When he’s done having a go ’round, he will gladly hand off the controller and sit back satisfied as his buddies share in his enjoyment of the product. What that gamer does not like, however, is someone standing next to him saying “You need to jump now. Jump! Jump! Aww, man. You should have jumped.” I knew people who were like that when I was a kid. I wanted to punch them in the throat. Now if that same gamer fails at a jump over and over, he will turn to a friend eventually and say, “Why don’t you give it a shot?” But he needs to get there in his own time, else the rage.

The same’s going to go for this baby, but without the urge to punch people in the throat. Hopefully. I know that I’m going to want everyone to see the baby. Hell, I wouldn’t mind having a weird nomad camp set up downstairs in our place filled with people who want to hang out with the baby. But I want everyone to be there to enjoy the baby, not be there to help in the business of the baby. At least not without being prompted.

This is a delicate area, and I was nervous about covering it in a public forum like this, but I tend to express my ideas more fully in text anyway, so I figured maybe it’s the safer bet. I am really looking forward to both sets of grandparents and any other relatives and friends being around. I want to hand the baby over to them and watch them enjoy the new little kid in the world. I’m not going to lie, I’m getting a little misty-eyed just typing about it. It’s going to a little like getting to see how they must have looked all those years ago when they saw me or Janelle for the first time, and I’ll be able to see a bit of how I feel reflected in them. It’s going to be pretty special.

I feel strongly though that Janelle and I need to be allowed to fail, especially at the start. I’m a little worried we could be inundated with so much easy help that the first few weeks are a breeze, but that as people go back to their homes and lives we find ourselves totally overwhelmed. Finding our limits feels like a critical point in parenting and I want to be sure we get to experience that. I worry about that stance being too standoffish, and I worry more that it will be interpreted that we simply don’t want people around, when the opposite is true.

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Repeatedly, I’ve stressed the importance of being flexible and relaxed about the birth experience. You have probably noticed that this is as much advice for you as it is for myself.

I haven’t trained myself to be able to accomplish either of those tasks very effectively. Since high school, I’ve been on a fairly manic schedule and am probably more tense that I am relaxed. It would be a lie to say I’m always stressed out, but I am far from a chill dude. My rigidity comes about not because I’m stubborn, but because I tend to need to solve problems. It’s been my job for a long time. My day job as a help desk manager means that I am at all times focused on a multitude of problems and people unhappy about those problems and it’s my job to find solutions quickly and effectively. So, I like to come up with lists and schedules and methods to think about the problem that will help us get it done faster. It’s very tricky for me to just lean back and say, “It’ll be cool” because I believe for it to be cool, I need to make it be cool.

The chance of Janelle’s birth going entirely according to our plan is basically zero. Due to the gestational diabetes, she’s considered high risk. This means that a birth center that would honor our wishes would not take us. We’d be referred right back into the hospital system. And the hospital system has already told us how it’s going to go down.

Since babies in mothers with gestational diabetes tend to get enlarged shoulders, even if the rest of their size and weight are normal, hospitals do not screw around with timing. We’ve been told that they’re going to want to induce Janelle at 39 or 40 weeks. I know that ultimately this decision is made to ensure optimal health for both mother and child, but the drugs given to induce tend to be gateways for other parts of the birth process we’ve tried to avoid.

The plan is simply to, around 38 weeks, begin to try and get Janelle to induce naturally. There are a variety of ways to do this, and most are pretty basic things-you-do-anyway kind of tasks (take walks, light exercise, etc.). I need to work on remembering though that deviations from our plan and, for example, an inability to tease in a natural inducement are not failures. We didn’t do something wrong. In my world if something goes wrong it’s because you

A) Didn’t have a good enough system in place to handle the problem

B) Don’t know what you’re doing

C) Were lazy

It might seem defeatist, but I think I need to entertain the possibility that many of the things we were hoping to avoid in the baby’s birth will happen, and I think I need to stop focusing so hard on ensuring that it goes according to our relatively arbitrary plan. There are things we can affect and things we cannot affect. Things we can be assured we don’t need to have happen, and things that we can just tell everyone we’d only prefer to happen if totally necessary.

I believe I’ve written a couple posts on this topic now, and with the same point in the end. Repetition. That’s another system of mine. Ironic that I’m using a system to get myself to stop depending on other systems? Mmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaybe.


A Rain Check

It’s 10:20pm and I’m just getting settled after being up in LA for the first of Janelle’s two baby showers. The next will be this coming weekend in the SD area.

So, I’m not in great shape for writing up a post for today… but what I will do is advertise a post-mortem of the two events. Considering what the event is, that phrasing is either ironic or morbid. You decide.

I’ll be interviewing Janelle to find out what things she thought worked particularly well for the showers, what things didn’t work and what things she wishes she had and had not done for the event. Also, we’ll be able to give a good breakdown of what it’s like having a shower with the dad around and without, as I just made a cameo at the LA one, but will be around for the entirety of the SD event.

With that, back to getting ready for bed.

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The birthing positioning system is very important. Mothers don’t need to just be on their back, stirrupped up. There are a wide variety of options so that you can birth in comfort and style. I’ve prepared (supplanted) this handy visual guide for your reference and edification. (NB: I do not know why all these women have chosen to swallow a balloon.)


Give Them to Me

Give them to me.

Your recipes. Give them to me.

I’m looking for your favorite recipe. It doesn’t have to be easy, but it does have to be something you like to make for other people. I’m looking to expand the repertoire beyond simply knowing how to fillet and marinate something. So, help me find the way to a tasty menu for myself.

You know the drill, people. Comments.


The Last Man

If this were a century ago, I might be freaking out about this. To the extent of my knowledge of my family, I am the last of the Scarpelli men on this continent. There are other Scarpelli’s (more than you might think), but they’re not related to me. Should I not produce a boy, in all likelihood that’s the whole ballgame.

Of course, the bloodline continues, but the name does not. Assuming of course my sister has a kid in a marriage and she’s taken her husband’s last name. I’m pretty sure in reading that she either made a “pfffft” or “snrxk” noise as she either rolled her eyes dismissively, or choked on something she was eating.

Whenever anyone asks Janelle and me what we’re hoping to have, we answer pretty honestly that we don’t have a preference. But, really, I’ve always figured that having a girl would be the easier way to start things out. Maybe it’s my experience with one too many rambunctious young cousins, but having a boy has always seemed like starting out on hard mode. Outside of the rampant and uncontrollable stream of urination when they are infants, they grow to enjoy hitting things and running and smashing one thing into another thing while making “pew, pew” noises. Girls of course have their fair share of stereotyped difficulties, but it seems like those occur a little bit later on, allowing for a more gradual learning curve.

Thinking about family in terms of continuity is an interesting exercise. The pressures I can feel and anticipate around having a child are bad enough, but if I was really weighing some of the more classic notions about what it is to extend the family name into a new generation, I think I’d have an ulcer. It’s no surprise to me that no one before the early 1900s seemed to have any fun at all.

Most everyone already assumes Janelle is having a boy, including my father. It’s the overwhelming majority of guesses from all her co-workers as well. Popular consensus is that since she is really only gaining weight and size in her belly that she’s carrying a boy. I’m not convinced, but then again, I have no basis not to be.

So, while my preference may be to start off with a girl, having a boy does have its benefits. Perhaps my first words to him should be “Well, Scarpelli, now it’s your problem.”


As Lord Xenu Commands

I’m not saying that I want some eerie Scientology birth where there’s no sound and everyone treats the affair as some induction ceremony. I do want things to go smoothly. Problem is, much as I like the tenets of the Bradley Method (for those of you who haven’t been playing along, this is a father-coached, natural childbirth method), it sets you up for delivery room combat.

Bradley spends a lot of its time teaching you the evils of things like epidurals (meant to numb pain for the mother), petocin (meant to induce labor), episiotomy (just… just don’t make me think about it), fetal birth monitor (meant to track the health and progress of a baby in labor), c-section (an “easy” surgical method to deliver the baby), etc. etc. etc.

All of these things, Bradley argues, are unnecessary for birth and cannot be proven to be entirely safe for the baby. In some cases, they can make things unsafe for the mother as well. This is of course assuming things don’t go as planned which is pretty common in just about all things. There are cases where each of these items can make sense or be necessary for the mother and baby (except for the epidural, which is really just about pain relief and not safety), but Janelle and I are determined to make a go of it au naturel.

To hear it explained, over and over and over again in Bradley class and Bradley reading materials, going a doctor-driven, medicated and surgically motivated birth replete with an episiotomy to make delivery faster, petocin to speed labor up, a fetal birth monitor to track progress and then a c-section if, gosh darn it, you’re taking too long versus going a totally mother-driven natural birth is not just a matter of making a choice. It’s a matter of a throwdown in the birthing room.

The expectant couple is cautioned and trained repeatedly to wait as long as possible before going to the hospital. This is both to try and ensure the mother can remain relaxed in a comfortable environment as much as possible, but also to ensure that you’re not put on the hospital’s clock once you are admitted. Hospitals are a busy place and Bradley method canon teaches that many to most decisions made about how to handle a mother’s birth are a factor of trying to get births over and done with at the hospital’s pace and not the mother’s. I’ve seen several videos and read many stories about mothers who are talked into drugs and birth techniques that they went in adamant that they did not desire. The underlying message behind all of these stories is that the doctors will try and screw you, and that you need to be educated and ready to handle them.

Never have I read a story about doctors who suggest something, and then decide to honor the wishes of the parents. Or seen a video where a doctor and a patient disagree, and then the doctor acquiesces (or even just consents grudgingly). It’s making me a little tense.

Janelle is a Kaiser patient, and Kaiser has rolled out a policy to make all their hospitals “baby friendly”, meaning they will allow mothers to be with their babies just after birth for bonding time and various other policies that enforce the notion that the hospital needs to help conform to the will of the parents in a birth scenario. This makes me a little less tense.

I’m sure that the birth will go well and the doctor’s will honor the birth plan we’ve laid out. They may try to push things that we don’t want, but I’m hoping they’ll be sensible and won’t lie to me about the medical necessity of any particular procedure. Just the same, the Bradley Method, so focused on peaceful relaxation, is continuing a bit of a campaign of terror to convince me to adhere to its tenets.

I know there are some parents that read this here blog. How was your hospital experience? Break it down for me in the comments, if you please.