Wednesday, 30 January 2013


"More photos of baby Peter on your blog!" the emails cry, as if no one has noticed the last four years that I've spent chronicling U.S. society with a searing and witty eye in sparse and precise yet poetic and elegant prose reminiscent of Hemingway and Joyce in their prime.  Fine, whatever.

It's been a big week for the little boy.  Peter now weighs in at a hefty 3lbs 14oz (1760gms) and is on 24ml of fortified breast milk per feed.  My education continues: breast milk contains roughly 20 calories per ounce, so they boost it to 24 cals to fatten premature babies up.  The majority goes through his feeding tube but he has been introduced to the breast and bottle, both of which he latches onto and then looks around waiting for further inspiration.  Anyone who knows of Hannah's post-dinner routine will be pleased to hear that Peter sneezes after feeding.  Joy.

Most excitingly, he's now in clothes!  His IV came our yesterday, so with two free arms he gets to start wearing some of the lovely premie things we've been sent.  Only one outfit is small enough to fit him so far but he has a whole wardrobe waiting once he reaches an obese 5lbs.  Most of his food seems to be going on growth but he did manage to break several rules of physics by eating 19 grams and pooing 20.  Yes, they weigh every nappy.  Doctors and nurses are obsessed with poo.

How am I doing?  Thanks for asking!  Well, having been replaced in the affections of my wife, and my mother, and everyone else in the world, I'm realising why so many parents choose to live vicariously through their children...


Hanging out with mummy.

Daddy hopes he's sticking this in the right place.

Blissed out on mother's milk. 

The NICU is reasonably quiet at the moment, which gave nurse Allison the chance to show off her craft skills.  She couldn't be bothered to cut out "2lbs 15.6oz" so rounded up.  Oh, and despite the stickers, went with the US-style date.  Ugh.

Giving the baby a proper welcome with Shauli.

At our breastfeeding class we were told that you often hit a bump when the baby gets to 10-14 days old; they have a growth spurt and start demanding feedings with alarming regularity.  Formula companies know this, the instructor said, and post you a free tin of formula to coincide.

Well, what do you know?  Exactly 14 days after the birth and look what arrived in our mailbox.  I'm no militant breast feeder - I've tried; Peter seems put off by the hairy nipples - but I do find this evil!  Unbridled consumerism that preys on the weak - it's what made this country great.

Pete in his first outfit ever, and now only sporting five tubes/wires!

And, finally, I managed to get a cute pic where he doesn't look like a bright red old man.  Almost a regular baby!

Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support, love, messages, and especially food.  I can't begin to describe how much of a difference it makes to us during this craziness - you are all wonderful.


And if you want to see a moving baby:

It's going to be fun sharing a room with two snorers for a few months.

Friday, 25 January 2013

You're as cold as ice

What does a man have to do to get his 4am Ben & Jerry's fix these days?  Fight through this, that's what.

Dulce de leche.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Now only six weeks premature

A week is a long time.  Especially, I imagine, when it comprises 100% of your life.  It was seven days ago that Peter was born ("when they cut me open and stole my baby," as Hannah is now healthily referring to it).  Since then, things have gone better than we could possibly have hoped.  The nurses in the NICU have taken to putting on terrible British accents - "Pee-TAH!" - and the baby has begun feeding, through a tube that was in his nose, then got moved to his mouth, then back to his nose as he burped too much ("like a man," said nurse Kelly).  It's a little slow but hopefully that digestion is kicking in.

Every day has also been a school day.  Lessons I have learned this week include:
  • We transport frozen breast milk down every few days in an ice box.  Running through a hospital with an ice box, gesticulating wildly, makes people move out of your way fast.

  • A PICC line is a "Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter".  It replaces an IV so that baby doesn't have to keep getting poked with needles.  It's a routine but tricky operation that can only be performed by certain nurses, and needed us to sign a special consent form.

  • When the NICU calls to tell you the operation went well, the doctor should NOT start the conversation: "Well, Peter put up his best fight, but - " at his point my hyperventilation/blacking out/weeing started " - we finally managed to get the PICC line into him successfully."  Yes, that actually happened.

  • We rented a car for the weekend, usually a painful process of the salesman saying "so where are you heading?" and attempting to foist extortionate snow/rockfall/deer-hitting insurance on you.  Answering "I've just had a premature baby and I need to visit him in the hospital," gets the keys handed over without a peep.  If I can master crying on demand I am going to get LOADS of free stuff.

  • If a baby is small enough, you can fit a whole one on a single x-ray!  This is known as a "babygram" (the nurse might have been joking about that).

  • Peter is definitely a Northern California baby.  It was explained to us how he would be administered a probiotic yogurt shot, to aid his digestion.  Today there was a farmers' market inside the hospital!  I keep waiting for the doctor to say "we like to introduce them to organic arugula salad as soon as we can."  I was disappointed to discover that a baby tanning bed was actually treatment for jaundice.

So, overall, things are good.  There are a lot of babies in the NICU who are much smaller and much younger than Peter - it makes me feel like we're encroaching.  Add to that our British instinct to constantly apologise for being so much trouble and I'm sure we come across as charming and eccentric.  I'm sure.

We left Pete tonight snoozing soundly in his warm bed, having increased in weight by 50 grams.  He was keeping enough food down for us to try "recreational breastfeeding", which sounds like a cure for most male maladies but turns out to be a gigantic nipple repeatedly shoved in your face while you try to sleep.  Peter got the hang at one point only to almost drown, and daddy got hit by uncontrolled milk squirts on more than one occasion.  Mummy was having a wonderful time and thought the whole thing hilarious.  Tonight, my son and I will be sharing the same nightmare...

Skin-to-skin with daddy.  Somewhat lacking when compared to mummy.

NorCal stoner look.

Inside of a baby!

Now larger than a moomin.

Allison, the nurse who carried Peter from the operating theatre to the NICU, was with us all week.  She even made us hand and foot prints.

"He'll never be any smaller," she commented.  Here's hoping!

And finally, after a long hard week, he sleeps.


I made some videos.  These are really for the grandparents, but I get paid 0.0003c every time someone watches them, so enjoy!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Wetting the baby's head

Benefits of having a premie baby #11: you get to go back on the booze several weeks earlier than you thought.

Pump and dump, honey, pump and dump.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Two home, one to go

The surgeon that cut up Hannah arrived in our room.  "I feel really bad about you leaving tomorrow," she said.  "So I spoke with the manager and you can stay as boarders for a few more days."  Translated, this meant: "I need your room, get off my ward, now."  Then she disappeared and discharged us via computer (it's like being dumped by text message).  We packed up and were put in a room on pediatrics, upstairs.

This morning we were moved from that room to yet another.  After five rooms in four days, Hannah's emotional fragility was replaced by her usual angry swearing and the description of certain hospital staff as "glorified housekeepers".  It was time to leave before somebody called security.

Our superstar friend Anat helped us move all our stuff back, and the prospect of a night in our own bed does something to balance the thought of Peter still down there.  Still, it's only thirteen minutes walk (I timed it), and he's receiving the kind of attention from nurses that he'll only dream about when he grows up.

Outside, normal life has gone on for the whole time!  Reintroduced, I remembered things that I used to do, like change my clothes, and went through each item I was wearing to try to work out when I put it on.  The answers were not good.  Also, having been through the wringer several times and in multiple directions, I've used up my ability to feel emotion.  On Monday I couldn't read a supportive email without bursting into tears, today I could club a seal without a second thought.  This is the kind of training they give to elite assassins.

We've been down to the NICU again this evening for more skin-to-skin time, cuddling and baby bonding.  With all the low lights, white noise, and calm nurses it really is an incredibly chilled place.  If they let people hang out there whenever they wanted, California might wean itself off it's popular herbal relaxant - it really is that good.  They're currently trying to wean Peter onto breast milk as his digestive system isn't all go yet and he needs to poo more but, knowing his mother's family, it's not going to be long.  In the meantime we're just chilling together as a slightly displaced family.

Obligatory baby feet shot.

Giving some fatherly advice.  First piece: that hat is fabulous!

Showing his colours to the ward.

Skin-to-skin time, and a rather possessive pose from the little one already.

First smile, at minus seven weeks!  Record!

Hannah receives nappy changing instruction.  She turns out to be a lot better at it than me.  What a shame...

Hmmm, reminiscent of what I see every morning when I wake up.

We're back!  The celebration will be rather larger when the final one comes in through the door.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

There's a new American in the world...

...and he's British!

Young Peter, like his father and namesake grandfather, does not enjoy exams.  In order to avoid the "stress test" that the white coats had planned for him he decided to decelerate his heart a few times.  They didn't like that, so out he had to come!

People panic in different ways, and my reaction was to believe that my theology degree made me more qualified than the most experienced doctors around me.  "Shouldn't you be giving Hannah oxygen?" I demanded of Labour and Delivery's senior surgeon.  Apparently not; the doc deftly deflected me the way she must have done with countless terrified husbands in the past. I did have the British decency to preface my outbursts with "I know nothing about medicine, but..."

Hannah went through it all like the incredible person she is. "I like the way you're rolling with the punches," aforementioned surgeon commented to her. Within a few minutes I was again in scrubs, sitting by Hannah's head in an operating theatre, both of us behind a sheet, mercifully shielded from where the business was taking place. I blabbered incoherently while Hannah chatted calmly to the medical staff around us. Various people asked things like: "Dad, do you want to see the baby coming out?" "No." "Does Dad want to cut the cord?" "No." And by these means I remained conscious throughout!

In under five minutes Peter was here! Screaming - which was a nice surprise - squirming, weeing over the paediatric nurses, and was whisked away with me in tow to the NICU and put into his incubator. As soon as Hannah was sewn up and suitably recovered they wheeled her in and she got a nice long cuddle.

Since then life has been a surreal series of visits from countless hospital staff, trips back and forth to the NICU, pumping breast milk, watching monitors...actually working here must be exhausting. Baby is doing fine, although his digestive system hasn't really kicked in yet. He's breathing on his own but needs a lot of warming and fattening. I got to change his nappy and I was shaking like a leaf; it was like trying to wrap a postage stamp around a roast chicken, while the chicken is fighting back.

Then the best bit of the day: someone arrived at our room and asked "how would you like to pay?"  The cost was doubled as Peter had to be admitted too.  Really?  I think technically he was admitted when still one of Hannah's internal organs, and you're the ones who chose to separate them.  I should have asked them to post the invoice on the outside of his incubator - kids need to learn financial responsibility as early as possible.

Thank you SO MUCH to everyone for your kind thoughts, prayers, messages,'s the only thing that has really made all this bearable. Pete is going to be incubated for quite some time and it's going to be very sad and strange to return home with him still here, but we have access 24/7 with our magic NICU wrist bands - they're sort of a VIP Backstage Pass to the maternity ward.  What was not going to become a kiddie blog may become a medical one (written by a theology student - get ready to learn!)

Vitals stats:
Peter James
15th Jan 2013 at 6.55pm
2lbs 15.6oz (1350g), 16 3/4" (42.5cm)

It was an exit for somebody!  Please be impressed at the lack of camera shake from me, sitting outside the operating theatre, being told to wait ten minutes while Hannah is prepped.

What the %#^& is going on?!  Don't you know I've only gestated for 32 weeks and 6 days!?

A look and a kiss for mummy.  Hannah's first observation was "he looks like your cousin!"  Not exactly what the new father wants to hear.

Happy family!

He gets that from his mother's side.

I know everyone is meant to think that their baby is the cutest ever, but I have to say that Peter looks like a red frog with the head of a very old man.  But mummy's milk is fast going to fatten this little fella up!  He's currently skewing this country's statistics heavily away from obesity.

This is what premature babies like - instead of the usual stroking, which overloads their nervous system, they want to feel constant boundary pressure, just like being in the womb.  Check out my new medical expertise!

That expertise does not currently extend to changing miniscule diapers.  Don't worry annoyed baby, next time I'll let the paediatric nurse do it.

Breathing, wriggling, hair.  All you need.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Medieval quackery

When we found out we were going to have a baby I promised myself that my blog wouldn't become a "baby blog".  True, all my most popular posts have been the ones with pics of cute kids, but I am an authentic individual who can define himself independently!  I asked my wife and she said that's fine.

Unfortunately baby-ness has been thrust upon me in a slightly unforeseen manner.  We came into the hospital yesterday to get Hannah's blood pressure checked and were told "we're probably going to induce birth in the next 36 hours".  Yep!  After much medication Hannah's pressure dropped (no one bothered to check my blood pressure) and things seemed stable, but then at 9pm six medical staff appeared from nowhere and said "we have to do a Caesarian NOW!!"

That was a bit of a shock, but the anaesthetist, who I want to find and kiss, needed some blood tests done.  While they were happening they disconnected Hannah from some meds and - amazingly, blessedly, miraculously - several other mothers around suddenly needed to deliver even more urgently than us.  By the time they got back to us, Hannah all prepped and me wearing natty green scrubs, things had calmed down.  Turned out the baby didn't like the meds and he's much happier now.

That was all a little dramatic.  Current thinking is that they're going to give the poor baby a "stress test" tonight with some fake contractions.  If he passes he can stay in another couple of days, if not it's out by C-section!  It's going to be a strange few hours.  Unfortunately he'll be in an incubator for the first month, but we can visit whenever we like and start breastfeeding whenever he's ready ("recreational breastfeeding" at first - I wish that could be offered more widely).  Being premature means he's at a higher risk of learning and behavioural issues, but then aren't we all?  More as it happens...

I've been dressed like this all day, trying to sneak into various operating theatres around the hospital.  "I'm not a gynecologist, but I'll take a look!"

The fine selection of entertainment in our room

Hannah, smiling - which is incredible given it's a few minutes after being told "we're about to cut you open".  Thankfully that didn't happen, and the oxygen mask is now gone.

That's the time and, underneath, how long we've been here.  It's so the US healthcare system knows how much to charge you on the way out...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Milky milky

Breasts.  Apparently they're for babies.  This is news to me, and seems to be news to most of the USA where boobs are more tightly regulated than guns.  It's true!  Only 28 states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.  I guess Janet Jackson was unlucky that Nipplegate occurred in Texas.

Today, as part of all this getting-ready-for-a-baby stuff (we have nappies and a couple of changes of clothes - is there anything else?) we attended a breastfeeding class.  Thankfully it was many times better than the last experience, with a friendly positive teacher and things to play with (no, not breasts).

We arrived to find a pile of dolls on the front table.  It was a little disconcerting, but more worrying was Hannah's confession that she felt warm, fuzzy and - dare I say it? - maternal emotions towards babies in the introductory video. "I will tell you up front that this video contains breasts," said the instructor, "just as a warning."  At a breastfeeding class.  Hmm.

It was all good fun as we practiced the 'cradle', 'cross-cradle' and 'football' baby holds (in Britain the last one would be known as a 'rugby' hold, tucked under the arm, although baby rugby isn't the most comforting image either).  A second video came from Bristol!  Go Somerset!  Thankfully no stone circles or ley lines were invoked.

We left feeling surprisingly happy and confident about the whole thing, and I look forward to our visit from the 'lactation consultant' in the hospital shortly after birth.  It seems that breast really is best.  For the baby too!


Easy - he hardly made a peep all class!

A baby will instinctively shuffle towards a breast when placed stomach-to-stomach with its carer.  I'm going to need a bit more practice.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Old Christmas trees never die...

...oh, wait, they do.

Next year: back to artificial.

Saturday, 5 January 2013


"Would you like to look after Arbel for the day?" Anat and Shauli asked.  "Of course!" I said.  "Great," they replied, "we've just come back from Israel, he's massively jet-lagged, and he's been up since 1am.  Don't let him sleep for more than two hours.  Bye!"

Arbel was asleep in the back of the car when he was handed over, and when I gently roused him at lunchtime he had many questions such as: why is David cruelly waking me up?  Where did my parents go?  How did I get to Palo Alto?  Why is the sun shining in the middle of the night?  I summoned all my childcare skills to placate him...and bought him a plate of chips at The Cheesecake Factory.

After that things improved immensely, although he didn't smile and lose the 1000-yard stare until mid-afternoon when I moved on to feeding him donuts (oh, yes, I was at the top of responsible form today!)  We visited some thrift stores, went to the park, and he chatted non-stop in Hebrew.  "Ken," I nodded, deploying my one Hebrew word.  "Yes," Arbel said back.  We understood each other.

After the fourth time he'd tried to put himself to bed I relented and got him into his pyjamas.  He was out in around three seconds, and I can only hope that our child will be as sunny under sleep-deprivation (but I know Hannah, so probably not).  Anat arrived home at 6.30pm looking even more tired than her son, but she can put her own pyjamas on.  I'm off for a long sleep in a nice quiet house, and to smugly enjoy that while it lasts...

Ready for a big surprise when he wakes up!

Breakfast of champions.

"Maybe this is all just a bad dream."

Thrift store shopping makes everybody happy!

Psycho Donuts, the perfect destination for any toddler.

Mmm, sugary fatty carbs.  Now we're all smiling!

We got some lovely presents from Israel!  Cute!  Just have to check none of these say "no return to pre-1967 borders".