The peanut and everything after

So, the evening that A ate the peanut butter cracker everything started to unravel. By unravel I mean there was vomit. A LOT of vomit. At one point during the night A was throwing up every 10 minutes. He would wake up, scream, throw up, fall asleep on me, wake up scream, barf, repeat from midnight to 7am, at which point I handed him off to Omer and went to sleep for a while. The rational side of my mind knew that none of this was peanut related – it was just a virus, and a poorly timed one at that – but the irrational side of my brain was wondering if I’d somehow poisoned the little guy by giving him peanuts. It was a long night – and a long week, since A obligingly kept vomiting randomly for a week afterwards.

Since then – and that was mid-January – A has had a series of viruses, bacterial infections, asthma diagnoses…you name it! He’s been to the doctor five times in the last two months, and I don’t really consider myself and alarmist parent! (I am surprised at the asthma diagnosis – I wasn’t there for that visit, but apparently the doctor told Omer that A had virus-induced asthma. Of course, when I took him back the next week for the next virus, the doctor we saw for *that* visit diagnosed a bacterial infection in A’s lung and prescribed antibiotics, which cleared everything up.) (A was supposed to get 6mL of Augmentin twice a day. Being a smart kid – and augmentin being a gross tasting antibiotic – A quickly learned that if he blew a raspberry just after I squirted the medicine in his mouth he could not only get rid of the medicine but he could coat the entire area around him in sticky, gooey fun! Trying to dose him twice a day for a week was…interesting.)

All this is to say that it’s now the end of March, and after a couple weeks free of fever and vomiting we’re back on the cold wagon again, though this time it seems to be a mild version. I’m really hoping that all this illness means A will be healthy as a horse for the rest of the year!

Parenting for peanuts

(I just found this post in my drafts folder. It’s a couple months old. I’m posting it anyway. So there.)

I’m an immunologist. One of my first projects during my PhD involved investigating the induction of allergies in mice. The project didn’t get too far, but the background reading stuck with me. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the principles of the Hygiene Hypothesis, which basically says that the dirtier you are as a kid the healthier you are as an adult. More dirt means fewer allergies, less asthma, and a healthier immune system. Kids who are raised on farms or who have many older siblings have immune systems that successfully ignore common allergens, whereas children raised in dust free homes have immune systems that behave much as I imagine their mothers did, overreacting to each little speck of dust or pollen or pet dander.

A corollary of this is that early and frequent exposure to common allergens such as nuts, eggs or shellfish will help the immune system learn to distinguish between harmful and benign antigens. Currently most pediatricians urge parents to hold off on exposing children to a whole slew of foods until the age of one. Some pediatricians say no egg whites before your child turns two. I think this is generally a bunch of nonsense, and my pediatrician was shocked and appalled (judging from the eye rolls) at the foods from the banned list that we’d already given to A at his nine month appointment.

There are limits on how far I’ll go to make sure the boys have healthy immune systems. I admit that even I was grossed out when G, at the age of 9 months, took a big sip of water out of a puddle favored by birds at our local playground. But I gave him peanut butter and eggs at six months, and he was fine. Eggs were his favorite breakfast food for about a year, though for some part of that he would only eat the eggs if I perched them on our moving roomba. The baby, though, is a different animal entirely. He’s a voracious eater, but the first time we tried eggs he developed red splotches on his face wherever the egg touched him. We fed him eggs once a week, and his budding allergies disappeared. In immunologist-speak, A’s immune system had become tolerized. His immune system had seen the egg, initially thought it was a threat, and then, after seeing it several times, decided to ignore it.

The slight egg allergy had me worried, though, and I was reluctant to give A peanut butter. For some reason, peanut butter allergies equate to anaphylactic shock in my mind, whereas egg allergies somehow seem less life threatening. A is a precocious little guy, though, and never one to let drawers or plastic wrapping deter him. Today he found a package of G’s peanut butter sandwich crackers, gnawed through the packaging, and ate one before we noticed what he was doing.


G discovered jokes a few months ago. It’s been delightful to see his repertoire evolve over time, from his very first joke (“I have a joke for you. THERE WAS A DIRTY POOP! Everybody laugh!”) to knock knock jokes to riddles (which he still doesn’t get, but he’ll parrot back the first one I told him: What’s black and white and red all over? A zebra with a sunburn! Everybody laugh!).

Knock knock jokes are his favorite, though. I started with the classic interrupting cow joke. I trust you know it. The G version goes like this:

G: Knock knock!
Me: Who’s there?
G: Interrupting cow!!
Me: Interrupting cow who? G: MOOOOOOOOO!

What are some other good jokes I can teach him?

We’ve moved!

In the last three months we:

– Sold our condo.
– Got rid of a metric ton of junk.
– Packed all our belongings.
– Moved to San Francisco.
– Unpacked all our belongings.

We arrived in SF on June 23rd. Our belongings arrived on the 25th, a Friday, around 10:30pm. It was Pride weekend and our apartment is in the Castro, so nobody was sober enough to complain about having a huge 18-wheeler parked on the street for three hours. G started his new preschool, a montessori school, the Monday after we landed. After three frantic weeks of unpacking/buying stuff/shuffling stuff/realizing we STILL have too much stuff I started work as a lab manager at UC Berkeley. A is happily (or screamily, depending on the state of his intestines) spending the days with Kim, as is G now that school is out.

So far we like it. It’s a big adjustment from Cambridge, where grandparents were never more than a few minutes away, and when we were feeling overwhelmed we could just jettison the kids and take a break. Our weekends are ours again – no more shuttling between grandparents and barely spending time at home. Instead we explore the coast and check out farmers’ markets, or just play in the backyard with our landlady’s children. At 14, 12 and 8 they are old enough to play nicely with Gideon, and young enough to be willing to include him in their games. They are expert makers of obstacle courses and players of back yard pickup baseball.

Despite having a one hour commute in each direction, I love my work – it’s all my favorite bits of experimental biology, with some writing and management thrown in, and no pressure to publish or organize my results beyond what I need to keep the lab running smoothly. I never have to give lab meeting again, and I’m okay with that! My schedule is flexible enough that I can get home by 5pm every day, giving me plenty of time to run around the back yard with G and cover A in kisses (he’s such a squishy baby!).

The left coast is growing on me….

(A’s best castro camo)


On my way out of the gym this morning, the construction guys asked how old Basher was.

Me: “Seven weeks!”
Guy #1: “Is he working out yet?”
Me: “Nah…I’ll give him a few more weeks.”
Guy #2: “Never mind working out – start him with baseball. The Sox could use some help!”
Me: “With our genes, I’m guessing he’ll be the next Bill Gates, not the next…uhm…does Manny Ramirez still play for the Sox?”
Guys: silence and cold, cold stares.

28 hours later

Apparently my labors always last 28 hours and I have babies on Tuesdays. Who knew? Contractions started Monday morning around 8:30, spaced out, speeded up, and were generally inconsistent but painful enough to keep me from sleeping Monday night. By 4:30am contractions were consistently five minutes apart, so I gave my parents a call at 6:30 and mom arrived to entertain G by 7:15. Omer and I headed to the birth center, where Connie, the on duty nurse, told me that I was a mere 3cm dilated. She said that if this were a first baby she’d send me home, but given my last labor I could stay. So we stayed.

I spent the next two hours laboring in and out of the tub, made it all the way downstairs to the first floor in the hopes of taking a walk (contractions were 2 minutes apart, so I didn’t make it as far as the door), and feeling sorry for my doula, Jan, who had nothing to do. G had arrived at the birth center with my parents shortly after 8, but left around 10 due to boredom (“WHERE is baby brother? Where’s the blood?” he asked every time he came in to check on me) and the lure of Grammie’s house. By 10:30 or 11 my contractions were getting far more painful, and I called Jan in to apply counterpressure to my back and hips while Omer scratched my back to take my mind off of the pain. Things sped up from there – I could no longer make polite conversation between contractions, and merely directed Jan and Omer to where I needed them.

My water broke during one of the contractions and was thankfully free of meconium – my last hurdle to staying in the birth center for the birth. I started crying, partially because I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital, and partially because I knew the end was in sight. Two or three contractions later I could tell I was in transition. Transition was the most painful part of my last labor, with contractions almost on top of one another. This time I seemed to get through it in a few contractions. I went back to the tub to push.

At this point the midwife on call, Joyce, joined Connie, Jan and Omer in the very small bathroom to coach me through pushing. Connie took the lead, checked me, and found that I was only 8cm dilated with A’s head pushing on my cervix. For what seemed like the next dozen contractions I was told to NOT push and instead blow out with small breaths. This was nearly impossible, given how strong the urge to push was, and I remember yelling at people to blow with me because I just couldn’t do it by myself. I was finally given the okay to push, and it seemed to take ANOTHER dozen contractions before A was ready to be born. I give full credit to Connie and her amazing coaching – she told me when to push, when to blow, and let me feel A’s head while it was still far up in the birth canal – for the fact that I didn’t tear or require stitches. On the whole the pushing phase was much more painful with A’s labor – I think mainly because Connie made me do it on my back in the tub, instead of on my hands and knees as I’d done with G. I remember flipping onto my back and feeling Jan and Joyce pin my legs up and telling them “This is wrong!” but Connie told me I couldn’t birth on my hands and knees due to the shallow depth of the tub.

Once A was out we encountered the same problem we had with G – a very short cord. We could barely get A up on my chest, and held him awkwardly out of the water until his cord was done pulsing. At that point Omer cut the cord and took A out of the bathroom, and the midwives helped me out of the tub to birth the placenta. As with my previous labor, contractions stopped as soon as the baby was out, so the midwives eventually made me give three (very weak) pushes to get the placenta out.

The midwives then made sure A was able to latch on, and left us alone for about an hour while A nursed. They then took his vitals, weighed him (7lbs, 9.3oz!), and returned him to us so we could all have lunch and a nap. After naps I got to take a shower, and then our pediatrician came to check him out. I love our pediatrician, Dr. Meikrantz. He’s a family doctor (so he also sees Omer as well as G) and he’s got a great demeanor with kids. I was very impressed that he was willing to come all the way to the birth center to check A out!

After Dr. Meikrantz left we filled out our paperwork (most ironic form? The one to which I was supposed to attach A’s non-existent hospital bracelet, and certify that he was really my infant. The only time he was out of my sight was when Omer took him out of the bathroom, so I guess I’ll just have to trust that Omer didn’t make a switch on me), got a list of future appointments, and left! We were discharged 10 hours after we arrived, and less than six hours after the birth.

Big bruvver G met us back at our house, and I’m happy to say that he seems fascinated with A. So far he’s been great about washing hands before touching the baby, not putting any hard objects near him, and carrying stuff for diaper changes. We’ll see what happens when the novelty wears off, but right now I’m so proud of G!

All in all, I prefer the experience I had at the birth center to the home birth – mainly because of the coaching I got during labor and the excellent post-partum care at the birth center (it didn’t hurt that we were able to abscond with extra receiving blankets, pads, peri bottles and other assorted goodies!). I was impressed with how efficient yet caring the birth center staff were, and the speed with which they made follow up appointments for both me and A.


G: You knitting anything now, mama?
Me: No, did you want me to knit you something?
G: How about a hat!
Me: What color?
G: Red! Let’s do it!

Off to pull some red yarn from my stash. Or maybe rainbow, to match his scarf.

Any day now….

After much deliberation, Omer and I have decided use* Birth Center associated with Cambridge Hospital for BT2’s birth. Omer was pushing hard for another home birth, but due to a combination of lack of space and lack of insurance coverage I picked the birth center. So far, we’ve had nothing but good experiences with the midwives at Cambridge Hospital. They’re very nice, generally on time, and allowed me to space out my appts to every six weeks during the early part of the pregnancy. And they always admire my current knitting project.

Today marks the day that BT2 becomes eligible for the birth center – he is officially 37 weeks, and (although I suspect he’ll stay in his warm and comfy digs for another three weeks) I am really ready for him to be born!

* I told my midwife that I am using her for her birthing tub. She thought I was joking….


I haven’t been very good about taking pictures during this pregnancy, but I have had the opportunity to belly dance. Twice.

22 weeks at a benefit for the Massachusetts Humane Society:
Lilya with Fan Veils

34 weeks at Arisia:
Lilya at Arisia

I’m not happy with my performance at Arisia (smile, dammit!), but I think it’s a great record of how I looked and moved at that point in the pregnancy.

Who knew?

My mother asked me to find an anatomically correct boy doll for G to play with when his new brother arrives. I dutifully went to Henry Bear’s Park at closing time, whispered my request to the poor guy working there, and was shown where the only anatomically correct boy doll was shelved. “But you should know,” said the guy, “that he’s uncircumcised. A parent asked once so we called the company to check.”

The quest for a circumcised version of the doll was a fruitless one. Apparently nobody makes anatomically correct circumcised boy dolls that drink and pee and use the potty. Isn’t there a Jewish niche market for this?

I eventually gave up my search and bought the uncircumcised version, and Omer has suggested that we use a dremel to alter the doll’s boy bits when the baby has his bris. I just don’t want G to get any ideas about using a dremel on his brother….