Sunday, June 22, 2014

Visitors, Reflux, and the Contents of a Baby by Percent

 The cousins hang out
Leah comes to visit

Dear Ellie,

Today was a busy day.  We went ahead and broke doctor's orders and had your cousin Divya and honorary big sis' Leah visit.  You and Divya look very similar in the face.  In some photos, when your eyes are open, it can be easy to get you two confused.  However, when compared directly side by side, you couldn't look more different.  And its not just because you are both 6 months apart developmentally.  Divya's head is 5th percentile and her body length is 75th percentile for her age.  Your head, on the other hand, is 50th percentile but your body is 3rd percentile for babies your age.  In other words, you are polar opposites when it comes to body length and head size.  When the two of you are together, you look like an Umpa Lumpa sitting next to a basketball player.  And let's not forget that your head appears as though it was attacked by a rogue razor blade. 

When Leah showed up, you impolitely passed out.  Poor girl still hasn't seen your eyes open.  Leah didn't bring her Ellie doll with her, but became well aware that it probably needed an upgrade since you've tripled your weight since the last time she saw you. 

Sadly, you weren't terribly sociable for either set of visitors.  As a matter of fact, you've had a rough time these last few days.  The reflux and gas are back with a vengeance.  During and after feeds, you gurgle and gasp as all the milk tries to make its way back up your throat.  Doing damage control after being the target of a major up-chuck is an interesting balancing act.  Do I prioritize cleaning myself, you, prevent drippage, or make sure your nose and mouth are clear?  My usual impulse is to just grab you and run to the bathtub where I can come up with a plan.  

As soon as you've digested and the reflux is settled, the gas arrives and doesn't stop tormenting you until the next feed.  Sometimes, the farts are so loud that the windows shake, your butt recoils, and you shriek in pain.  To make matters even better, the constipation hasn't subsided either, but not so bad that I had to give you a suppository more than once.  It was a rather messy affair but it taught me an interesting scientific fact that I hadn't known before: at any given time, babies are 90 percent poop by body weight.

Over the past few weeks, you've also taught me an important lesson about parenthood: as soon as you think you've got your kid figured out, they change things on you.  Originally, you would only sleep on top of another sitting (attempting, but failing to sleep) person.  Then a bit later, you'd only sleep in a manually powered Rock and Play or Swing.  Then after that, you'd only sleep in a Moby Sling.  But now?  You'll only sleep on top of another walking (wishing they could attempt to fail to sleep) person.  But that's only in sleepy mode.  In wakey mode, you'll fuss and squirm and throw a fit unless someone is sitting with you.  I'm sure a week from now you'll only sleep if someone is dangling you upside down by one foot.    

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

Dear Ellie,

Today is Father's Day.  My first Father's Day, to be exact.  It never really registered that I would be a father on Father's Day.  I mean, I knew I'd be a father and I knew there would be plenty of Father's Days in the future, but both of them together?  I've never been a big fan of holidays that were invented for the sake of stimulating the economy, but I did get some measure of satisfaction from it.

I spent the night before flipping through all 1,000 photos and videos that I took of you in the NICU, something I'd never actually done before.  It was a very strange feeling, having your entire stay in the NICU compressed into a single hour.  There are so many ways in which you are different, but also the same.  In the beginning, you were almost a pound and your eyes were fused shut.  But now?  Just over 9 pounds and when you are awake, your eyes flit about wildly and curiously at the world around you.

You seem to be hitting little developmental milestones at a steady clip, and with a comfortable lead over other babies of your equivalent adjusted age.  At 3 weeks adjusted, you are pushing yourself up on your hands to get a better look at your surroundings (you can thank the baby push ups for that!)  You are also so incredibly alert, turning your head to voices and looking people in the eyes as they talk to you.  You've even been socially smiling while awake, something that a newborn should begin doing between 6-8 weeks.  Now, I know I'm probably sounding pretty competitive.  I mean, bragging about how soon you're smiling?  Well... why not?  Some might think it competitive, but I call it fatherly pride.  But just be aware little one, if you don't continue to smile at a considerably above average rate, I'll be pinching your adorable little feet until you're all smiles all the time!  No baby of mine will get a "C" in the subjects of joy and jubilation.  Not if I have a say in it.

There is one thing you seem to be lagging behind in, though: vocalization.  At 3 weeks, you should begin to make cutesy "cooing" sounds and "oooing" sounds and "aaaaahing" sounds.  Sadly, you haven't progressed beyond the vocabulary of a Tasmanian Devil.  When people hear you make a sound in the doctor's office, they say, "Wow, she sounds angry!"  Nope, not angry.  Just... weird.  I find I'm making excuses for your unwillingness to apply yourself sufficiently to the cause of babbling.  "Well, maybe when she goes 'Brrrrrararaarlllllaaarrr' she actually is meaning to say 'goo goo'!" I think to myself, wishfully.  And then I begin to wonder whether you'll ever actually talk properly.  I wonder whether you'll be that goofy kid in school with the weird voice or lisp that everyone makes fun of, and then I convince myself that that's a good thing because years of unjust middle school torment will encourage you to be a shut-in-computer-nerd like Bill Gates.  And I'm fine with that.  The world needs more computer nerds.

On a different front, there have been some positive developments with your Ellie Belly.  The reflux that was making you wail during and after feeds was getting especially bad and none of the medication was working so we started adding rice cereal to your milk to weight it down.  It worked quite well when it came to the reflux, so much so that it actually made me a bit, uhm, overconfident when it came to feeding you.  "I bet there aren't many other 3 weekers capable of eating 8 ounces in a single feed!" I thought.  I continued to be overconfident right up until the moment you specified the amount to which you were being overfed by measuredly spewing that quantity out of your mouth...  Meh, a 6 ounce feed still ain't half bad.  It wasn't a big deal anyway because I'd handed you off to your Grandma Kottiath just moments before the vomiting began and I was a good 3 yards from the line of fire.

The only downside to the rice cereal is that it has now made you stupendously constipated.  On the upside, it has made diaper changes more exciting.  Rather than the usual, dull medium sized stools inhabiting each diaper, the process has become a little bit like playing hot potato.  You never know when the bomb is going to go off, and each time you toss it, it becomes more and more dangerous and more and more likely that it'll detonate.  And yes, your constipation has become yet another source of pride.  I've stood there quite often, after peering into your freshly soiled diaper, and thought proudly, "I bet there ain't many 3 weekers that can take a crap that big!"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Stormy Days

Dear Ellie,

Right now, the sun should still be hovering 15 degrees above the horizon, but eerily, night has come early.  A night with no stars, just a billowing grey blanket unfurled across the sky.  The wind whips the trees, their needles and leaves showing their bellies as though surrendering.  Where there should be summer heat, there is only cold seeping in through the windows.  Thunder rolls in, and then heavy rain drops.  They spatter against the roof like an artillery barrage.  The outside isn't a place we would want to be, but we aren't outside.  We're inside.  We're safe.

Everything I do indoors is better on stormy days, and I think I just realized why.  On normal days, "home" is just the place you spend the evening or afternoon.  But on a stormy day?  It's a cozy cocoon, protecting us from a perilous outside.

When you get older, the darkest of stormy days will be a time to revel in benign fears.  We'll reserve special games and special activities for just such times.  We'll haul all of the furniture together and build vast forts from chairs and blankets, then pretend that a hurricane is blasting through the living room.  We'll pull out scary board games, like The Arkham Horror, and battle our way through monsters and bitter sea storms to the Lighthouse at the End of the Causeway.  We'll sit by the window drinking hot cocoa and dare each other to sprint out to the edge of the driveway and back.  We won't actually do it, but it will be fun to imagine the discomfort of the wind and rain and cold, if only to make that cocoa taste better.

When its all over and the neighborhood is flooded, we'll sally forth from our castle and admire how the world has changed.  We'll don nets and catch fish that have invaded the yard, then keep them in aquaria as souvenirs.  Every time we see them swimming about, we'll wonder whether the next stormy day is very far away.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Relief, Frustration, and Baby-Pattern Baldness

Dear Ellie,

Your mother and I are frequently swinging between relief and frustration.  Relief, because you've gotten off very easy so far compared to most micro-preemies.  Frustration, because you are harder than a normal baby.  Yes, you could still be attached to machines, fail to gain weight, and be meeting 0 developmental milestones, but you aren't.  You are one of those rare success stories that doctors and nurses reference when dazed parents roll into the NICU for the first time.  We never forget this.  Unfortunately, that doesn't relieve us much from our worry when you behave in ways that are concerning.  Like when we feed you and the very act of eating causes you to shriek in pain, then drive you into inconsolable crying.  Or when you stay awake for hours and hours, groaning and whining and squirming from terrible gas or reflux or both.  Or, well, things like this:

Baby Pattern Baldness?  Really?  Great.  As of now, it looks like someone drove a lawnmower right across the back of your head.

As always, each little thing could "just be a preemie thing that goes away" or it could be a "preemie thing that won't go away."  Interestingly, when you are awake and alert, all of the problems seem to go away (except the baldness) and you show us the ways in which you are most exceptional.  It's at these moments when we are at our most hopeful, and when we are most proud.    

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ludwig von Whiskers Paws

Dear Ellie, 

I realized today that it's been quite some time since I've written you another story.  Since you've come home, there has been so much focus on your health and our own attempts to find new habits and new routines that we lost track of all the things we wanted to do as parents.  For me, one of those things was to write you stories.  During all those years we spent trying to have you, I waited for the day you'd be sitting on my lap as a baby, snuggled in my chest as I spun crazy yarns on my laptop.  I realized today that that dream had finally come true.  So here it is, your very first story from Dad's lap: Ludwig von Whiskers Paws.  It's the story of a little girl's stuffed animal come to life, but with a twist...


Sarah lived in a house on a field.  She was a lonely girl sometimes and didn’t have any friends, except for just one: a soft, plush stuffed lion named Ludwig von Whiskers Paws.  She played with Ludwig von Whiskers Paws every single day, and while her imagination often made him real in her head, she sorely wanted him to be alive the way that she was alive.  She was a very shy girl, so shy in fact that she believed she had a better chance of bringing Ludwig to life than making any real friends.  Still, this wouldn't be easy.  According to all of the stories she’d heard about children’s toys that had come to life, it would involve some variation of wishing on a star or extorting wishes from a genie or praying for a miracle.  Unfortunately, were it really that easy there should probably be living stuffed animals all over the place, yet she’d never heard of any.    

With this in mind, she knew she needed more than just garden variety magic to bring Ludwig to life.  She needed nuclear magic.  And it stood to reason that nuclear magic should take a lot of work and determination.  

She stayed up all night, every night and not only wished upon a star, but wished upon the morning star, the evening star, and every shooting star that passed through the sky.  She dug around in the kitchen drawers and pulled out every last birthday candle, lit all 150, then blew them out one by one, making a wish each time.  She emptied her piggy bank and threw thirty dollars and fifteen cents worth of loose change into a fountain.  She decimated entire fields of fluffy dandelions, making her wish each time she blew one to the wind.  She sorted through 168,213 clovers, found 107 four leaf clovers amid them, then wove them all through Ludwig von Whisker Paws’ long, orange mane. 

Some might have called Sarah obsessive, but I’d call her practical.  After all, while magic and miracles can happen, they are probably more likely to happen to those that work hardest at them.  And sure enough, her hard work paid off.        

Early one morning, Sarah saw Ludwig von Whisker Paws’ eye lids flutter open, the little beady orbs of his eyes swirling around in his big, plush head.  Sarah gasped, then ran to her parents’ room to declare that a miracle had happened and that her stuffed animal was alive.  It was a Saturday, however, so her mother and father were still in bed and too tired to investigate what was surely a flight of fantasy.

When Sarah returned, Ludwig was stumbling around her bed like a newborn lamb.  He opened his mouth.  A whine came out.  Sarah snatched him up and hugged him in her arms. 

Ludwig’s mind matured very quickly.  By Sunday morning, his whines became words and by the evening, he’d already learned to say “I love you.”  By Monday morning, they were having conversations.  It wasn’t long before Ludwig and Sarah, snuggled together by the window, began to contemplate the nature of his existence.

Ludwig von Whiskers Paws reported that he couldn’t remember much about the day he came to life or anything before that time.  It was all a blur in his memory.  What he could recall, though, was love.  This made sense to him.  It was little Sarah’s love that had breathed life INTO him, so it only made sense that his first memory would be of raw, unrefined love.  A love that cushioned him even while all other senses were blotted out.  A love like a mother’s womb.  After some careful thought, Sarah determined that it might not be a good idea to report Ludwig’s new status to her parents after all, so she decided to keep him a secret.       

For a time, neither Sarah nor Ludwig wondered much more about the nature of his existence.  They were too busy enjoying each other’s company.  They read books together and bounded around Sarah’s room playing games like “Escape the Lion” (ironically, Sarah played as the lion).  They went outside to romp around as well when Sarah’s parents were gone for short periods.  The two tumbled through the high grass in search of lizards and insects, all while seeds and twigs became tangled in Ludwig’s mane.  Sarah felt it was her responsibility to teach Ludwig to be a proper feline and hunt, but Ludwig appeared to have little natural aptitude for it.  Once, Ludwig snatched a small gecko into his mouth, but the creature found the stuffed lion’s soft, warm, mouth quite appealing and comfortable and made no attempt to escape. 

Ludwig politely followed Sarah on her adventures, but looked forward most of all to the time when they’d return indoors and return to Sarah’s books.    

At one point, Ludwig was reading Sarah’s biology homework with her and he began to wonder again about the mysteries surrounding his life.  All living things start from single, tiny little cells.  But Ludwig von Whiskers Paws?  He was made in a factory somewhere and when he came to life, he was fully formed.  Could he suddenly become a lifeless stuffed animal again, just as readily?  And how was his mind already filled with so much knowledge?  And why weren’t there more of his kind? 

Sadly, they didn’t have much time to answer these questions.  Sarah tried her hardest to keep her best friend secret, but it didn’t last forever.  One night, Sarah’s father saw Ludwig tutoring Sarah with her math homework through a crack in her bedroom door.

At first, her father thought that Ludwig was some kind of exotic toy, but as he listened to Ludwig explain long division--- as he watched the little lion’s paws work the pencil--- he knew that Ludwig was not merely a toy.    

Her father burst into the room, snatched Sarah away, and then called the police.  In retrospect, Ludwig never blamed Sarah’s father for his rude behavior, even before their relationship became more cordial.  After all, he couldn’t have known what Ludwig really was.  He couldn’t have known whether or not the autonomous stuffed lion was possessed by some sinister force or some poltergeist that would do his daughter wrong. 

When the police officers came to the front door, Sarah pleaded for Ludwig to pretend that he was just a toy, but Ludwig was still quite young and na├»ve.  He thought that perhaps everyone was as kind as Sarah, so he greeted the police at the front door and tried to level with them. 

“I’m just a little girl’s toy, come to life.  This is all a misunderstanding,” he calmly explained. 

At first, the police thought it was some kind of joke, but the more Ludwig spoke, the more they became concerned by the bizarre supernatural agent before them.  Noticing their tense disposition, Ludwig trotted up to an officer and tried to hug the man’s leg with his big, plush paws.  The officer, however, panicked and bludgeoned Ludwig’s soft head into the tile floor repeatedly with his night stick until the lion went unconscious.

“No!” Sarah shouted as they tossed his limp, fluffy form into a sack.  “You’ve turned him back into a regular stuffed animal, again!”

Her mother and father held her still as the officers took Ludwig away in their patrol car.

Sarah cried all night.  Her mother and father tried to console her.  They even began to wonder if they’d made a mistake.  The following day they received a phone call from a man named Dr. John Willis.  He asked to speak with Sarah.

“Hello Sarah, I’m from the U.C. Berkley Department of Applied Physics,” he said, which didn’t make much sense to Sarah since she was still a little girl.  What he said next, though, did make sense.  “We have your friend here at the police department.  And we would like to talk with you.”

Sarah rushed to the police station with her parents and when they arrived, Ludwig von Whisker Paws was sitting on a desk in one of the back offices, alive and well and surrounded by a scholarly lot of men and women with lab coats and strange instruments.  One of them was looking at a piece of Ludwig’s synthetic fur under a microscope.  Another was taking his blood pressure.  Another was examining an x-ray of Ludwig’s insides, which probably looked no different than that belonging to any other stuffed animal.  All of the scientists appeared bewildered.  But thrilled. 

When Sarah came in, Ludwig ran from the desk and lept into her arms. 

“Come on, Ludwig!” Sarah said.  “I’m here to get you out!”

“Wait,” Ludwig pleaded.  “We can’t go yet!”

“Why?” Sarah asked, shocked.

“Because he’s something very special,” interrupted one of the scientists, presumably Dr. Willis.  “He’s like no living thing we’ve ever seen before.  He can walk and talk and think, but he doesn’t need food.  He doesn’t have any batteries, either.  Ludwig here defies everything we thought we knew about life and about science.  We want to know more about him.”

“No!” Sarah said, finding strange courage and clutching Ludwig closer.  “Not if you are going to hurt him like those mean policemen!”

“We’re not going to hurt him Sarah,” Dr. Willis said.  “But we do need to take him back to the University so we can study him.”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest again, but Ludwig wiggled up along her chest until they were eye to eye.

“I’ve always wanted to know why I am here,” Ludwig explained.  “I’ve always wanted to know what I am.  If I go with them, we might discover those things.  And imagine what else they might learn.  They might discover how to make other little girls’ stuffed animals come to life.  Imagine all of the sad children out there that need best friends.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful if they could all be like you and I?  The only way to do that is to go to the University.  If some kind of magic or miracle brought me to life, maybe we can make that magic or miracle better with science.” 

“But we won’t be able to play Escape the Lion!” Sarah said.  “Or run in the yard or read books together!  I won't be able to hug you!”

“You can come with us, too,” Dr. Willis interrupted them.  “You and your mother and your father.   We’ll have a lot of grant money to do research once the news of Ludwig goes public.  We’re already writing proposals to the National Science Foundation.  He’ll be famous and you’ll be famous too since Ludwig says that you were the one that made him alive.  You are an important part of the discovery Sarah.  We’ll have a lot of questions to ask you, too.”

“It won’t be the same,” Sarah said, a tear squeezing from her eyes.  “I’m scared.  This was never a part of any of the story books where stuffed animals came to life.”

“It isn’t,” said Dr. Willis.  “But maybe those stories didn’t tell the whole story.  The real world is always more complicated.  But maybe after we’ve learned everything there is to learn, you can go back to playing Escape the Lion."

Sarah sighed.  In all the stories, things had been so much simpler.  In the stories, little girls were never made to share the miracle or magic that visited their lives.  Still, Sarah began to wonder whether it would be selfish to keep someone as special as Ludwig all to herself. 

Sarah gripped Ludwig’s paws and glanced shyly at Dr. Willis.  

“Okay,” she said simply.

In the years to come, Ludwig, Sarah, and her parents traveled around the world to the finest laboratories and talk show circuits.  Just like Dr. Willis said, Ludwig became a celebrity, grant money poured in and scientists from around the world jealously lined up to study the little stuffed lion that had come to life.  An entirely new field of science was invented, specifically to examine Ludwig: Metaphysical Stuffed Sciences.  Everyone wanted to be the first to discover what peculiar quirk of nature had brought Ludwig to life.  The new field of science that blossomed was not without its complications, however.  When a Swedish physicist tried to patent whatever undiscovered force had brought Ludwig to life, an international crisis ensued.  Sarah and Ludwig met with the President of the United States and in a press conference, the President declared that Ludwig came to life in the United States and was therefore an American citizen for which no patent could be held.  By doing so, the President successfully insured that American scientists, and the American economy, would be the first to benefit from any discoveries.

It took many years and many sophisticated experiments before anyone began to understand how Ludwig had come to life.  In that time, Sarah and Ludwig went to school together, and eventually off to college.  Ludwig von Whiskers Paws became Dr. Ludwig von Whiskers Paws, complete with spectacles and a tiny little lab coat that ran a little bit long over his paws.  He earned a P.h.D. in Metaphysical Stuffed Science to better understand the underlying mechanics of his own existence.  Sarah earned a P.h.D. as well but in Neuroscience so that she could better understand what it was about her brain that gave Ludwig life.     

One day, in collaboration with hundreds of scientists worldwide, Ludwig, Sarah and Dr. Willis led the scientific team to a breakthrough using a sophisticated instrument: The Large Hug Colider.  As it turns out, under very constrained conditions, tiny sub atomic particles called “Love Charms” were created in the Amygdala region of the brain of pre-pubescent girls between the ages of seven and twelve.  These particles could then react with specific synthetic materials that are used to make stuffed animals.  This, as it turns out, is what gave Ludwig life to begin with. 

Being a believer in freedom of information, Ludwig, Sarah and Dr. Willis published the discovery in scientific journals.  Soon, American companies were manufacturing and exporting “Stuffed Animal Animation Kits.”  Little girls all over the nation, and the world, were soon bringing to life stuffed animals of their own.  What’s more, Love Charm Particles became a viable, low level power source.  Little girls in rural sub-Saharan Africa and India, who had no electricity, were able power special flashlights or stoves with the power of their love.  However, this remarkable discovery was not without some problems.

In the same way that Ludwig’s own life was nothing like the stories Sarah had read, neither did the ramifications of their discovery unfold as they intended.  With stuffed animals coming to life all over the nation, there was a debate about whether they should truly be citizens and, more importantly, whether they should be allowed to vote.  Eventually, the Supreme Court of the United States settled the matter.  Ludwig had been declared a citizen by legitimate executive action years earlier, therefore all other living stuffed animals must be allowed citizenship and the right to vote, as well.  With this precedent firmly set, the national election that followed was chaos.  Smear campaigns littered the airways, accusing political incumbents of abusing their toys as children.  Both parties pandered to the new voting demographic too, offering special scholarships and entitlement programs to the “special little girls” of the new, stuffed voters.  Politicians jockeyed for photo ops with Sarah and Ludwig von Whiskers Paws.  Measures like these, meant to solicit the vote of the new stuffed animal electorate, came to be known by Democrats and Republicans alike as “stuffing the ballot box.”

There was an even darker side to Ludwig and Sarah’s discovery, too.  Entrepreneurial Chinese industrialists exploited young, impoverished village girls to animate stuffed animals for the purpose of slave labor in factories.  What’s more, rogue nations attempted to harness the power that Ludwig discovered for their own nefarious ends.  Iran was said to be enriching uranium with Love Charm Particles.  The purpose?  To create Weapons of Mass Affection.  North Korea, on the other hand, manufactured colossal stuffed monsters and seized every girl of “animation age” in the country.  They put the little girls to work in labor camps, animating armies of fearsome, stuffed soldiers.  Fortunately for world security, having been born of love, the stuffed soldiers and their little girls revolted, stormed the palace of Kim Jung-Un, and demanded hugs.

Wishing to right the wrongs committed in the name of their discovery, Ludwig and Sarah became activists and founded the NAASP: The National Association for the Advancement of Stuffed People.  They fought injustices to stuffed people wherever they may be.  However, in time, Ludwig and Sarah grew old and weary of the public limelight.  They longed for a simpler time.  After living long and fruitful lives, they stepped down and ceded their scholarly pursuits and activism to other up and coming little girls and their stuffed animals.  Then they went home to the house on the field.

There, they returned to the life they were living before it was rudely interrupted by the real world.  They crafted their story--- about a girl and a stuffed animal come to life--- the way that they always thought it should be.  They played Escape the Lion and ran through fields and snuggled up by the window to read Sarah’s books.  They were happy and remained best friends until the end of their days.     

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Belly Strikes Back

Dear Ellie,

Three days before the placental abruption that put your mother into preterm labor, we went to do a detailed ultrasound.  Since you were an IVF pregnancy, there were a lot of extra bells and whistles and we needed to get all of your metrics.  It's common for IVF babies to suffer higher rates of heart problems and defects of that nature.  However, by the end of the appointment, it was quite clear that you were perfect.  No heart issues, no deformities, highly active, and extremely uncooperative with the ultra sound tech.  You were at the 50th percentile in weight for fetuses your age, too.  That's the first time I think I was truly proud of you.  I remember admiring those ultrasound pictures.  A perfect, median fetus.  But then you entered your NICU months and your weight plunged.  You'd been clawing your way back up ever since.

Today, though, something very important happened.  You weighed in at 8 pounds 5 ounces, in the 50th percentile for babies your age.  You finally made it back.        

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ellie the Wart Hog

Dear Ellie,

I wouldn't be a good parent if I didn't document for you all of the strange sounds that you make.  Every time Uncle Zack comes over and hears you grunt, he thinks there's a cat fight going on in the nursery.