7/25/2013

07-25-13 - Baby Baby

Some rambling.

We've been going through a pretty hard time. Baby has had colic for the past few weeks (colic = mysterious crying, probably due to GI pain). It's pretty reliable in the evening, usually about 2 hours, but on really bad days it can be 5 hours. It's brutal and exhausting. The only thing that soothes the crying is constant walking around, patting, cooing, various distraction techniques. It just takes massive amounts of energy. Wifey and I both get super exhausted doing it and then we start snapping at each other.

Some of the silly books say "start to establish a going-to-bed ritual". Okay, got it. Cry inconsolably. Parents start thinking "fucking baby I'm going to kill you". After 2-3 hours of crying, go to bed. Yay, we've got a ritual! On the plus side, after the big cry session, she is exhausted and sleeps pretty solidly through the night.

But it's getting better I think. She's recently learned how to get burps out mostly on her own and without a huge fuss about it, and I think that's relieving a lot of it. We're also getting better at learning the soothing techniques. We've had a few days with hardly any of the crazy colic crying at all, and those are like "wow, this isn't that bad". (addendum : in the weeks since I wrote this and haven't posted it, it's continued to get better and she seems to be down to basically just fussy baby crying, not so much the evil colic stuff).

Just in the past few days she's started reaching for things and grasping. She still has zero coordination, so the reaching is like random flailing of tentacles, and if one of them happens to hit the target then it locks on. She does pretty amazing smiling laughing now, which is adorable (the cutests ones are when she gets so happy that she just can't handle it and explodes with this flailing of arms and has to turn her head away like a shy Japanese schoolgirl). We have nice little "talking" sessions of err-ga's and such. I rhetorically wonder if she has any concept that the sounds I make at her (or the sounds she makes back) have any meaning (or any possibility of meaning) at all, or are they just random sounds?

My mom visited and helped out for a while, which was amazing. It was so nice just to be able to eat dinner together (wifey and I), or work in the garden, or just generally have some time when Wifey and I could both be baby free. To all of you baby owners who had parents nearby to help out with yours : suck it. (or, you know, thank them).

I'm so looking forward to when my kid(s) are like 5-10 years old and can actually do stuff with me. I took baby on a walk by the lake the other day, and saw families with their little kids swimming in the lake, and damn that is the part that I want. It's what I've always wanted; I want to swim and ride bikes and play in the park. I've been doing it alone as a creepy old single man in the park ("hi, cute kid you've got there") for the past 10 years and I'm ready to do it with my own kids (not the creepy part, just the playing in the park part).

I think the 5-10 years old phase might be the most unconditionally happy time in life. I mean yeah things are better in many ways when you're college age and finally free and having sex and all that, but in those early years (assuming you have a good family) you're just totally free of worry, life is so care free, it's before the horrible teenage years where you start feeling the societal pressures and stresses of having to do well and so on. You can just live in the moment; like hey I'm at the park, I'm gonna run around the field and there are zero thoughts of what I have to accomplish, the fucking health insurance up-coding I have to fight, my excessive job todo list, etc.

Hmm, Charles's life map :


baby : who fucking cares you can't remember it
adolescent : playing, making bows and arrows, sweet parents, yay fun times!
teen : oo I'm so mopey, life sucks, listen to emo music and pout
college : I'm free! do drugs, have sex, go clubbing, party time oh yeah!
post-college : ugh wtf do I do with my life, I'm so stressed out, work sucks, new baby sucks
child is adolescent : playing, making bows and arrows, sweet parents, yay fun times!
child is teen : fucking ungrateful annoying mopey bastard kid, I'm so stressed out, work sucks
child goes away to college : we're free! do prescription drugs, drink wine all day, oh yeah!

or something.

We've now tried almost every single baby carrier that's made, and none of them are working for us. Thankfully we inherited most of them. We have a Peanut Shell, a Moby wrap, a Babyhawk Mei Tai, a traditional Mei Tai, and an Ergo. Baby pretty much hates all of them. It is possible to get her in the Moby in positions she likes, but it takes about five hours so by the time you get it all tied up she has a dirty diaper and wants to eat again so you have to take her out. We've got a few difficulties with them. One is that she hates not being able to see the world, and the vast majority of them stick her face directly in your chest which she won't tolerate. The other is that none of them work very well with small baby's feet/legs. She's too young to really wrap her legs around our torsos, but the alternative is to just fold up her legs inside and they get all crushed (I suspect all the carriers will work better once she gets to the wrap-legs-around stage). It's been a frustrating ordeal, trying over and over to get her to tolerate a carrier only to have to bail out after five minutes because she starts screaming.

(addendum : we finally caved and got a Baby Bjorn to use front-facing, even though you're "not supposed to" because it's perhaps bad for her hips (*). Yep, it works. It's the only carrier she'll tolerate for more than a few minutes when she's awake).

(* = the "not supposed to" being the standard line from the internet clique of chattering moms who spew a lot of nonsense that's not based on any facts and then repeat it over and over as if it came from some solid source. The anti-rational-thought-basis of the modern internet mob is pretty sickening to me.)

One of the things that's been really difficult for me personally is adjusting my night schedule. I used to use dinner as my transition point from hard-working-mode to relaxed-day-is-done-mode. I loved to have a very slow dinner, lying down and nibbling for a while like a Roman, having a glass of wine, taking some deep breaths. It's great for the digestion to just really relax and eat slowly. Then there would be no more work for the rest of the day. No longer can I do that; dinner is a frantic rush to cram some food in my mouth while we take turns holding baby, and the work day is not done until we get her down to sleep at night, so I can't really start relaxing until then. It all means that my "on" time is so much longer, it takes more endurance to stick it out, and then after we get her down I have stay up for a few more hours to get that relaxation to get to sleep. Oh well; life changes.

Just recently I started working near full time again, and it's such a change. For one thing it's actually easier. Work is a relief compared to baby care. (though the hardest thing of all is trying to squeeze in bits of work and still do masses of baby care and try to keep a good attitude about it). On the negative side, I could feel my closeness with baby slip away almost immediately.

In the first few weeks when I was baby-caring full time, I felt almost as close to baby as mom was. Obviously she had the breastfeeding advantage, but I could soothe baby just as well, and interpret her signals, and I didn't feel like there was any huge gap. As soon as I started working full time and I was away from baby for long stretches I started seeing a difference. Suddenly baby wanted mom more than me; mom could read signals I couldn't read; baby would sometimes get fussy and I couldn't console her, but a hand-off to mom instantly calmed her down.

7/16/2013

07-16-13 - Vaccines

Every parent these days has to face the question of vaccines, and whether they will blindly follow the standard CDC schedule or choose any modifications.

Obviously most of the anti-vaccine movement is total nutjobs, based on no science. They're an odd mix of the crazy christians and the crazy liberal/organic types who are part of a general insane granolay anti-science movement. The scaremongering has become so widespread, that even the sane parent has to ask themselves "is there anything to this?".

Unfortunately, the pro-vaccine side is not really without faults. They also are dishonest and misrepresent the facts, and make lots of arguments that aren't helping their side.

A few links on the pro-vaccine (anti-Dr. Bob) side :

The Problem With Dr Bob's Alternative Vaccine Schedule
CDC - Vaccines - Immunization Schedules for Children in Easy-to-read Formats
Cashing In On Fear The Danger of Dr. Sears � Science-Based Medicine

Let me make a few points :

1. Some vaccines may be in the best interest of society, but not of the child. A parent making a purely selfish decision for the best interest of their child would logically choose not to get that vaccine.

The pro-vaccine people really don't want you to know this, so they lie about it or try to hide it.

Let's consider the MMR shot. The pro-vaccine people will say something like : the rate of severe complications (mainly encephalopathy and other high-fever side effects) from the MMR vaccine is something like 1-3 per million (*). However if you actually do get measles the rate of severe side effects (eg. death) is around 1-3 per thousand.

(* = there is some debate about whether the rate is actually higher than placebo, but let's ignore that question for the purpose of this point)

That's a slam dunk for vaccines, right? One per thousand vs one per million! So they claim, but no it is not. The problem is that you are getting a vaccine 100% of the time, but assuming that everyone else continues to get the MMR shot so that the diseases remain vanishingly rare (**), the chance of you getting measles is only something like 1 in a million. So in fact the chance that you will die from measles in your lifetime is only 1 in a billion, much lower than the complication rate of the vaccine. (of course the complication is worse and you have to weigh that somehow)

(** = I know perfectly well there have been recent outbreaks due to the non-vaccinating nutters, but it's still vanishingly rare at this point)

Now, obviously if you choose to fuck over society for such a marginal +EV for your child, you're an asshole. But that is the American Way. It could practically be on our national seal - "Take what you want and fuck the greater good".

I think this is the most interesting point of the whole post; theoretically let us imagine there is a vaccine that is actually on average harmful for each individual, but as a whole provides a massive benefit to society. Should you get it? Would people actually get it? I believe that the demonstrated behavior of the modern vaccine-abstainer movement is that no, people would in fact not get it. So then, should it be required by law?

BTW I suspect that there probably is not a currently existing vaccine (of a major disease; I'm not talking about chickenpox, hpv, or flu, which are in a separate category) where it is in fact +EV for the child to abstain, but I think it's close in a few cases and it's an interesting theoretical question. (the main question for it being "close" is that I suspect the supposed MMR side effects, and the settlements under the table injury law, are mostly not actually MMR side effects (*!*)).

(*!* = The primary question is about the cases of encephalopathy that have been compensated under the NCVIA based solely on them occuring shortly after the injection. In these cases, the government pays a settlement automatically without admitting fault or requiring any proof that the encephalopathy was caused by the vaccine. Some on the anti-vaccine side incorrectly interpret these settlements as courts finding that the vaccines did harm, but that is not the case. It's unclear whether the rate of encephalopathy following MMR is in fact statistically significant compared to the rate following a placebo shot; there're lots of paper on this in case you want to waste a day).

2. The pro-vaccine people claim that combo shots are perfectly safe and there's no reason to separate them. However, we know that quite a few of the combo shots that have been sold by the major pharmaceutical companies in the last 40 years have in fact been *not* safe. And during that time they were saying "oh yeah sure ProQuad (or whatever) is totally safe, trust us". So we're supposed to believe that despite the safety net failing repeatedly in the past, it's worked now and the current set of shots is fine.

My opinion on medication in general is to not trust anything that's new. If it's new, not only has it not been tested much in the field (and for many reasons you should not trust the manufacturer's own tests), but more than that there's a profit motive. The generic combinations that have been in use for a long time are no longer cash cows, so they try to bring out some new combination that puts even more together, and when there is a profit opportunity there is often pharmaceutical companies making people sick. I'd much rather get a 20 year old drug than a new one that's supposed to be better (though it's hard to find doctors that go along with this).

And the whole pro-combo-shot argument seems illogical to me on the face of it. What they generally argue is that the number of antigens in the vaccines is low, in fact very low compared to the number of antigens that babes get environmentally all the time (***). They also contend that baby's immune systems are perfectly capable of handling the load. Sure sure. But in fact vaccines do sometimes trigger high level immune responses, a very small fraction of the time. Each separate type of antigen is capable of doing that, and if you get unlucky and the body responds badly to several at the same time, that's more likely to be a higher and longer lasting fever.

(*** = and of course that's a specious argument; the daily environmental antigen exposure is obviously not the same thing as an injection of very specific antigens related to a major disease. They're not the same kind of antigens, your body doesn't have the same reaction, they aren't introduced the same way, it's just a retarded argument. The way the pro-vaccine group constantly tried to make its argument "stronger" by adding more points that aren't quite right doesn't help).

They put up this absurd straw man argument, claiming the objection to combos is that the infant immune system will be "overwhelmed", and in fact it will not be, QED combos are fine. Umm, what?

3. The "Aluminum is safe" arguments are weak. There is no good data on whether the Aluminum in the new vaccines is safe or not long term. It simply hasn't been used long enough to know if there is a low level long term toxicity.

In order to contend that it is safe, they compare it to the ingestable aluminum recommended limits and slow exposure limits and things like that which are not the same thing. Of course there's never any long term testing of any new medicine, so any new drug you take could have bad long term effects. And even for drugs that are on the market a long time, it can be very hard to attribute long term complications to them (eg. the mercury carriers that were used before aluminum probably were in fact perfectly safe, but it's hard to tell for sure).

It sort of reminds me of when dental fillings all switched from mercury amalgam over to epoxy resins. There was zero evidence that the mercury fillings were actually harmful, but because it has the scary word "mercury" in the name people thought they must be toxic. So instead we all of a sudden get some new chemical reaction happening inside our mouths, that due to being new of course had no long term health results. So essentially you're putting your whole population to a new risk for no good reason (eg. dental resins release various VOCs during initial curing, which may or may not have health consequences).

4. The CDC schedule is in fact not made with the health of your infant in mind.

This is one of the big dishonesties in the pro-vaccine camp that bothers me. Lots of the pro-vaccine people say "follow the CDC, they're the experts, the schedule is made in the best way". Well, yes, sort of, but they made the schedule with several different factors in mind. One is the best interest of your child. One is herd immunity. Another one is protecting babies from parents that are dishonest or cheaters; eg. things like the early Hep B vaccine is important even for parents who claim they are clean because many parents are either secret drug users or having secret extramarital sex. If you know you are not doing those things, it's probably fine to skip it.

Another major factor in the CDC schedule is compliance. They want you to get all the vaccines early and in few appointments, because they know that is the only chance to get most people to see their doctors. If it took lots of appointments, and continued into later childhood, there would be huge compliance failures. A large part of the CDC schedule is behavioral engineering. In fact the best schedule for your child's health is probably slower and more sparse than the CDC schedule (assuming you would actually stick to the slower schedule).

Shots like Polio are given early not because the infant needs them at that age, but just to make sure that person gets them *ever*, because the early shots are the least likely to be missed. It's probably better to get those shots later (though only microscopically since the harm of getting them early is minimal (in fact so minimal that I suspect the extra doctors visits of a spaced out schedule like Dr. Bob's are probably more harmful than just going ahead and getting all the shots early even though you don't need them early)).

Unfortunately the pro-vaccine people don't want to admit this fact and provide a well researched science based slower schedule that is designed with the best interest of the child in mind, so parents are left with things like the non-scientific ad hoc Dr. Bob schedule.

5. Lots of pro-vaccine people in the end resort to "they're the experts, they know more than you, trust them". LOL yeah right, because pharmaceutical companies have never tried to sell us poison, and our government has always given us good science-based health policies.

If you are in fact right, you should be able to argue the facts without resorting to "because we know best". Also the argument that "it's the only schedule that's been tested" is a cheap way out, since you don't allow any other schedule to be tested.


BTW in case it's not clear, my personal belief is that of course you should vaccinate (don't be ridiculous; vaccines are one of the very best things that medical science has ever done (in close competition with antibiotics and antiseptics)), and lacking any better information you should probably just use the CDC schedule. Any -EV in it for your child is very very small, and the risk of trying to make up your own schedule that would be better for your child is greater than any potential benefit.

Of course good decision making also considers the meta-decision of "should I spend my time thinking about this" and I believe in this case the answer is "no".

7/02/2013

07-02-13 - Baby Baby Baby

Bleck it's so hard to get any work done. I've been going into the office a bit recently to try to get some concentration, but it's not helping a lot. Part of the problem is I'm not used to the office so it feels weird and uncomfortable being here. A lot of the problem is I just hate commuting so very much; by the time I get here I'm enraged and exhausted and need a lot of time to calm down.

(one thing that I've finally realized recently is that if you spend a lot of energy trying to do every little trivial thing in your life well (like driving, or loading the dishwasher, or enqueueing your laundry), it takes away energy that you could spend on something more important, like your social life or your work. I can kind of see the merit of being a total non-mindful fuckup when you're doing the trivial stuff of daily life, like the way people will walk straight into me when walking down the sidewalk, or let their leashed dog go on the opposite side of me, or leave their grocery cart right in the middle of the aisle; I always thought "jesus christ what a fucking asshole shit-for-brains", but maybe they are just saving their mental energy for more important things. More realistically I now see that the average McDonalds employee who is obviously not putting any effort into doing their job well is actually doing the right thing; why should they? of course they should just be as lazy as possible and save their energy for the fun glue-huffing party that night).

Baby has started to get a little easier. She's sleeping a bit better, and the severe colic we were occasionally getting is perhaps decreasing. I now suspect that the worst colic was due to foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, so we're trying some steps to address that and perhaps it's working. It's pretty hard and indirect to diagnose these kind of issues, so we just sort of stab in the dark and see if things get better (and of course when things do get better that is no proof that you were right (classic "entrepreneur's fallacy" (*))). We're also just learning how to deal with it better; when she gets into the once a day fussy time, we just have to walk her back and forth for hours, keep patting her back or bouncing her, show her things to keep her amused, and just wait it out until she settles down again.

(* "entrepreneur's fallacy" is my own coinage (I dunno if there's a more standard name for this). Basically it's the belief that because you were successful, everything you did was right and part of that success. It is the unfounded cause-effect association of every decision you made with the observed result of your success.) (I suppose this is just the "post hoc" fallacy, but I enjoy the pejorative implied in my nomenclature)

It's still exhausting and we're running on very little sleep. I'm a little bothered by the frequent advice we get to "ask for help". Ask who exactly? And WTF are they going to do? Are they going to sleep with baby and feed her so wifey can get a decent night's sleep for once? Are they going to clean the house? Of course not. It's like the advisers think the problem is that we're foolish martyrs who are choosing to take on more than we should. Uh no, we'd love to have help. There is no fucking help. Not for anything in this life. I've had the same advice in different arenas - at work, in social life - "make sure you ask for help if you need it". Bullshit. In my experience when you go to your boss or producer in a job and say "I really have too much work, you need to offload me or get another person on this" what you get is not help, but rather a condescending lesson on time management or priotizing, like "well let's look through your task list and see what time estimates you've got and perhaps we can reduce some of those". (but of course in the work place it is very important to ask for help even though you won't get it, and in fact very important to make sure it's in writing (really every communication with your boss/producer needs to be in writing so you have a record), so that when you start missing tasks they can't say "you should've asked for help"). I've often asked friends for help with work or life issues or whatever (partly just because I think it's nice in this world to get and give help, and I like to have that relationship with people when I can), and the majority of the time if it is at all inconvenient or just not totally trivial for them to help, or not in their own personal best interest, the result is no help (with exceptions that I am grateful for).

She's now doing some simple two syllable "uh-goos" and "err-kch". One of my favorite times with her is right after she eats (so she's in a really good mood and relaxed, not eager to leave), I'll sit with her in my lap and we'll stare into each other's eyes and talk to each other. I make sounds and she smiles at me and occasionally makes them back. She loves textiles; anything with a complex pattern she'll stare at for minutes totally enthralled.

I'm dreading the upcoming 4th of July. There are already random fireworks being set off in our neighborhood and baby hates them. If she's sleeping, they wake her right up. The night of the 4th is going to suck bad. It's been a major heat wave recently so keeping all the windows closed is not really an option.

Last weekend when we had this big hot spike we went down to the lake for some relief. We sat on a blanket with baby and it was pretty sweet. It was interesting to me to think about how it would have been different doing the same thing before baby, since hanging out by the lake in the heat was one of my favorite activities. With baby we were basically walking her back and forth the whole time to keep her content, occasionally feeding her. Without baby I would have been sunning, swimming, reading, perhaps boozing. It was okay, I didn't miss it much (part of the "everything sucks anyway so it's not too bad to lose it" principle). Single times in the sun at the lake were a joy, but also sort of unsatisfying, haunted by that feeling of "is this all there is?" or "shouldn't I be living it up more somehow?". The thing that I really missed during the hot spike was being out at night. One of my favorite things from the old days was on those heat wave nights, getting out on the bike and feeling the night air, or going to an outdoor cafe to feel the buzzing urban heat wave night energy. Actually some of my first dates with N were heat wave nights, and they were magical. Oh well, sayonara.

(oh and tangential by-the-lake rant : fucking boats and motorcycles with excessively loud motors make the lake a fucking din of growling engines all weekend. Some asshole owners do that intentionally, but the real problem is the law; we need noise limits on boat motors. WTF. They should have to be even quieter than cars, because the sound travels so clearly over the lake, and the fucking lake should be a beautiful peaceful place. If you want a fucking motorboat speedway, go to Chelan or a similar lake that's more rednecky. I'm okay with there being a handful of lakes where the drunks can run each other over, but the majority should be free of that awfulness).

We're trying to hire a "mother's helper" or housekeeper who also helps with baby a bit. They're so fucking cheap, why the hell not? If we can get some relief (and I can get some more work done) for $150/week of course it's worth it. Well, it's not so easy. So far the hiring process has been a frustrating waste of time. Kids are always complaining about how there're no jobs these days; well let me tell you why you can't get a job, it's because you're either a total irresponsible fuck-up or a spazzy freak show. You only need to have just the most minimal level of basic professionalism, like if we set an appointment time for a phone interview, fucking answer your phone when I call. If you come to our house, be on time, clean, and considerate. If you send me an email application, check your email often so that you can follow up on my reply within 24 hours. COME ON!

(in general everyone these days seems to be such a moron that it's a bit risky to let anyone in your house; they do things like flush paper towels down the toilet, put onion peels down the garbage disposal, etc. you've got to keep an eye on them constantly or they're going to do annoying or expensive damage to your house).

We should all know by now that humanity is just fucking vile and horrible and dumb and selfish and mean. But we've started taking baby on walks recently and my opinion of the human race has gone down another notch. People are fucking asshole retards behind the wheel of a car, that are generally irresponsible, inconsiderate, dicky, selfish, dangerous, and just generally stupid, but I always thought that most of those people would still be reasonable around babies. Nope. Just about every time we take her on a walk in the stroller, some asshole tries to speed by us as close as possible. There are several intersections near our house where the cars basically don't stop at the stop signs (perhaps they slow down and roll through if they're one of the more considerate ones). I assumed that hey if I'm crossing at the stop sign and I'm halfway through the intersection with a stroller, they're going to actually stop now, right? right? Nope. If I've got my car parked with the door open and I'm taking baby from stroller to car seat, people passing are going to slow down a bit or pull out a bit wider, right? Nope, full speed right past. Unbelievable, so depressing. It's so deeply sad to me every time I leave my home and see how awful the world is, it makes me never want to leave home.

old rants