Friday, March 7, 2008

The Double-Edged Google

An enlarged uterus can be a symptom of a molar pregnancy, in which (and I'm paraphrasing pretty grossly here) a nonviable embryo implants and grows much like a tumor. How do I know this? At our first doctor's appointment, the midwife informed my wife Kate that, although Kate was sure that she was at 6 weeks, the size of her uterus was more inline with the 8th to the 10th week of pregnancy. The midwife didn't sound particularly concerned about this, but she ordered a first trimester ultrasound to check thing out more definitively.

Scientist that she is, Kate hit the Google to find out all the different reasons why her uterus might be enlarged. Molar pregnancy was the scariest: hence, it became the one she latched on to. Not even my best Ahnold impersonation ("It's not a tumor!") could set her mind at ease. For the four days between the doctor's appointment and the ultrasound, it was a virtual certainty that we were having a molar pregnancy.

Fortunately, the ultrasound turned out to be normal: obviously, a tremendous relief. But it sort of drove home to me the potential double-edged sword that Google represents. I think it's great for patients to be able to access information that will help them be more active, informed participants in their care. On the other hand, Kate's not a doctor and neither am I. The fact that molar pregnancies exist does not mean that it's a useful thing for us to be expending our emotional energy on (that energy is stretched pretty thin as it is right now). The midwife hadn't mentioned it.

My concern is that we're gonna go from worrying about one obscure pregnancy complication to the next. Google "pregnancy complications" and you'll come up with almost 2 million hits, and I can't keep up with 10,000 concerns a day!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fatigue and honey

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the single factor that defines the sum of human achievement is not intelligence, it's not talent, nor is it vision or determination.  It's not even money, as I think I would have bet just a short while ago.

It is tiredness. 

I get home from work wanting nothing more than to sit on the couch and do whatever is the most passive thing I can engage in with whatever's in reach from my inert pose.  I want something that can only be called an "activity" in the very loosest sense of the word.

I have lofty goals and dreams.  Often, I make concrete plans about how to make those dreams happen.  They often sound like this: "Man, just an hour a day.  If I can get my ass in gear for just an hour a day, I'll have that novel / budget / blog post / cooking class finished before I know it."  Then I get to work in the morning, hook up my soul siphon for ten hours, and get home so ridiculously drained that two hours of "Biggest Loser: Couples" somehow sounds like a good idea.

And here's what worries me ... the baby's not even here yet!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Be Prepared

So far, I'd have to say the best book I've come across is Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden. This is a real no-nonsense book, full of practical suggestions and light on the touchy-feely. Sexist as this may sound, this is a man's man's book.

The Amazon review tell it like it is, with (at time of writing) 65 5-star reviews. It's smart, funny, to-the-point, and loaded with information that ranges from practical tips on diaper changes to the lighthearted baby party-tricks (who knew you could make a newborn splay his arms and legs by simulating falling? ... other than people who are already "prepared", that is).

I think it's a book that will appeal to alot of guys for the simple reason that it doesn't talk down to them. Men so often think in terms of problems and solutions, and this book lets them: there's stuff you don't know, but you're going to need to know it soon, so here it is. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Generation X Dads on The Current

The Current, a current affairs show that airs weekdays on CBC, did an interesting feature on Generation X dads. The first part described a flip-side story to my post yesterday on the pressure Kate's getting about her maternity leave. In Canada, parents are entitled to a year of paid (by the government) parental leave. This can be portioned out as they want: the mom home for the first six months, the dad for the second six months, one parent can use all the leave, both could be home for the first six months. Apparently, however, employers aren't being particularly supportive of fathers who want to partake of this leave, and they interviewed a guy who is in court right now because, after six months of paternity leave, he was fired for "performance issues" the day he got back. So the pressures certainly apply to both sides of the parental equation.

Afterwards, they had a round table discussion between two men and a woman, Andrea O'Reilly of York University. I thought it was fascinating (and you can listen here). Alot of positive things were said, for instance about how data shows that both men and women are spending more time with their children these days. I think I was most interested in O'Reilly's views, which sounded largely negative.

She said some stuff that I agreed with wholeheartedly. Specifically, I thought she made a great point about how all parenting is not equal: driving a kid to a hockey game and planning the kid's schedule for the week do not require the same mental energy or level of involvement in the child's life. I completely agree with that.

But I thought it was interesting that she carefully avoided using the word "parenting" to describe the activity of raising a child, referring to it instead as "mothering". She actually said something like "If men start mothering their children, ...." I found this fascinating, because it seemed like she was setting up a gold standard of child care that amounts to a contradiction in terms. Bottom line? Men will never meet that standard no matter how involved they are in their children's lives. Now, it may be that she's just defining "mothering" to mean "the highest standard of child care", but isn't that sexist? I can't imagine that there wouldn't be an objection if someone suggested that women do more "fathering".

I guess my point is that she seemed to be completely neglecting the possibility that men and women could have different, but equally high, standards of care for their children. I'm talking in the ideal here. I'm not so naive as to think that the current landscape is completely equal. I can't help but think that a dedicated single father can be an excellent parent on his own terms even if he can never meet O'Reilly's standard of "mothering" his children.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Photography BabyHack: Use Continuous Shooting Mode to Guarantee Open Eyes

I just remembered something I heard a couple of years ago on Science Friday, one of the best shows (and podcasts!) on the radio for my money. It talked about one of the 2006 winners of the Ig Nobel Awards, which "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology."

Among the 2006 winners was a team from Australia's CSIRO who calculated how many photos you need to take of a group of people in order to be sure to get one where nobody's got their eyes closed. Their rule-of-thumb conclusion: "for groups of less than 20: divide the number of people by three if there's good light and two if the light's bad."

The good news is that modern digital cameras (1) can take multiple shots for no extra cost, and (2) can usually take several shots very fast. So if you're shooting your kids in a group, just take a few extras. If your camera offers continuous shooting mode, all you'll have to do is keep the button pressed for extra exposures.

Link o' the day

I'm really enjoying the parenting lifehacks over at ParentHacks. Fun and informative.

Maternity in the old boys' network

So angry! Kate is also an academic; indeed, also a reluctant one at that. In that sense, we're an ideal match.

In the department where she is a faculty member, there has never been a pregnant woman. It's the ultimate old boys' (and childless career women, a perfectly valid choice that I don't mean to criticize) network. As a result, they have never had to define a maternity leave policy. Her colleagues seem to be guilt-tripping her about taking maternity leave. She feels very pressured to accept teaching obligations, take a minimal amount of leave, and generally make herself available to students and staff during the time when she expects to be away (coincidentally, the due date falls in the middle of the university semester).

I find this so frustrating. The point of reference that I use as a comparison is, what if we were talking about a 6-month absence of one of the tenured greyhairs who was up for a sabbatical? If I had a farm, I'd bet it that there would not be a word about such an absence, the required redistribution of teaching duties among the other faculty, or the expectation on the absent faculty member to make him- or herself available to grad students.

It's an absolutely absurd double standard, and I feel terrible for Kate, because she really feels like her colleagues don't want her to succeed if she isn't 100% career-focused.

I called my employer's ombudsperson to ask how our university handled these cases. We'll see if anything constructive comes of that.