Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baby & Pregnancy Books

For Moms/Dads and Soon-To-Be-Moms/Dads,

I hope we can share our lists of favorite pregnancy/baby books. I've read only a few so far, but the one I very much enjoyed was What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, by Lise Eliot. I read it during my first pregnancy in April 2008, so I am planning to re-read it to remind myself of all the fascinating information the book contains. As the title indicates, the book focuses on the baby's brain development and discusses several studies that reveal how babies think at certain stages of their development. One of the interesting parts I remember is that in some of these studies, babies expressed their preferences by adjusting the speed at which they sucked on their pacifiers. By this method, the researchers learned that babies prefer to listen to songs they heard when they were in the womb and in particular, songs sung by their mothers, and to eat foods their mothers ate while pregnant. Absolutely fascinating.

So, I'll keep a running list of books I go through (with asterisks by books I recommend), and I hope you'll leave comments with books you found particularly helpful.

Mayo Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, by Mayo Clinic* - Standard and reliable book to guide you through pregnancy week-by-week, labor, and possible complications during pregnancy.
The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy, by Vicki Iovine* - Hilarious and sassy straight-talk on how to cope with pregnancy, including weight gain, sex during pregnancy, delivery, etc. She doesn't hold back on anything, and it's reassuring to hear it all from someone who's been through four pregnancies. (Note: Don't look to her book for medical advice. Check with your doctor on whatever she says.)
A Child is Born, Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger -- Amazing photographs of the gestational process. Just a warning that some of the photographs may be TMI, but you'll see photos you would not have believed possible.

Post-Partum Issues
The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, by Vicki Iovine* -- A much needed sanity check after delivering. When I was pregnant, I thought reading a whole book on caring for myself seemed overly self-indulgent. When I picked up this book after delivery, I realized how much I needed this book. I felt like I was overtaken by hormones, and this book helped me to learn to give myself a break and put my behavior into proper perspective. Highly recommended for all moms!
Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott - Lamott's memoir of her mothering a colicky baby. Sometimes, it helps to read about another mom's journey to find the right perspective for yours.

Newborn Care
Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (8th ed.), by Benjamin Spoke and Robert Needlman - Reliable how-to-guide on caring for a newborn and children. The book tries to cover too much and is not as detailed as I would have preferred, but it was a good starter book on what I'm facing for the next few years.
The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer
, by Harvey Karp - Karp argues that the baby's first 3 months after birth is really the fourth trimester and suggests ways to replicate the womb to comfort your baby. For this, he lays out five steps (or 5 s's): swaddling, side/stomach position, shhh sounds, swinging and sucking. The whole book could have probably been written as a 10 page pamphlet, but my friends swear by Karp's method. Some friends have said that the DVD is very helpful to watch to nail down the techniques.
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg*** - This book has THE BEST succinct advice on how to deal with your newborn when trying to put him/her to sleep. It also has sections on feeding, bathing, and playing. We used Hogg's advice to sleep train our baby, and by 3.5 months, he was sleeping 12 hours a night. I kid you not!
The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley - I did not read this book myself, but my husband did. We incorporated many of her helpful tips on what to do (i.e., establish a regular bed time early on) and not to do (i.e., rocking the baby to sleep or allowing him to fall asleep while feeding) while sleep training.
On Becoming Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam - This book is apparently helpful for getting your baby on a schedule. I just perused this book to get a sense of a possible schedule for our baby, but we did not feel the need to have a strict schedule for little T so did not rely on this book too heavily.
The Nursing Mother's Companion, by Kathleen Huggins** - For anyone nursing, this book is invaluable. I first read the sections on what to expect when first starting to nurse, and believe me, you need someone to tell you what to expect because you have no idea. Your body goes through so many changes preparing to feed the little one, and one morning, you'll wake up to find your breasts raging out of control. After learning about the initial changes, I used it as a reference, and you may find yourself reaching for it every time you experience a plugged duct or heavens forbid, something worse. Very important book to have.
The Complete and Authoritative Guide Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, by American Academy of Pediatrics* - Our pediatrician gave us this book, and we used it as a bible during the first few months. It gives you a detailed description of what to expect each month of your baby's development.

Super Baby Food, by Ruth Yaron** - This book has suggestions on what foods to first feed your baby, how to prepare them (she has an appendix on how to prepare each type of food, like vegetable, fruit, or cereal), what kinds of storage containers are helpful, what to look for in a high chair, etc. Fabulous book for wading through the initial stage of feeding solids.

Potty Training

Diaper Free, by Ingrid Bauer - A friend of mine gave me this book after she successfully potty trained her baby before age 1 by using the guidelines in this book. I am hoping to follow in her footsteps.

Baby Signing
Baby Signs Parent Kit, by The Baby Signs Institute** - This isn't just a book, but a class on how to teach your baby sign language. I took an intro class and received this very handy book, which contains a glossary as well as research on the benefits of signing. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn are the pioneers of baby signing and they run this institute. They have other books available on Amazon and other bookstores on how to teach your baby sign language.

Baby Development
What's Going on in There?, by Lise Eliot** - Fascinating studies of how the brain develops. Provides guidelines on how to take care of yourself during pregnancy and your child during his/her first few years to maximize the child's mental potential.
Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, by Robert Karen** - Great introduction to attachment theory. Provides a historical overview of various parenting approaches that had been fashionable in the past. It makes you realize how little we know and how parenting can be one big social experiment - sometimes, to the detriment of the children.
The Wonder Weeks, by Hetty Vanderjit and Frans Plooij* - Apparently some weeks in a baby's development are more critical than others. Who knew. This book focuses on weeks 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, and 55 of a baby's growth and explains why the baby may be fussier during those weeks and what you can do about it. The book does a good job of explaining how the world looks through the eyes of a baby, although it is repetitive at times. I would also have appreciated a little more science behind their claims, but still, it is helpful to be alerted to certain stages in the baby's development.

Baby Gears
Baby Bargains, by Denise Fields* - I've been using this book as the bible on baby gears, following her guidelines on what to look for in cribs, strollers, car seats, etc. With all the choices out there, I'm finding the process of buying baby gears very daunting. The book is very educational on safety requirements, something we knew very little about before picking up this book, and provides good recommendations on different brands. We've only ordered the crib so far, since it takes about four months for delivery.

General Parenting
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman** - Fabulous book about being more in tune with your child's emotional states. So much of what Gottman says makes common sense, but it takes reading this book to remind you how important emotions are in our lives -- and in our children's lives. I'm so glad I read this book.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Secret Identities

Here's an article I wrote for KoreAm about Secret Identities, an anthology of Asian-American superhero graphic novels. The coolest thing about writing this article was interviewing a bunch of Asian-Americans involved in the media and the arts, like Michael Kang who wrote and directed The Motel and West 32d, actor Parry Shen who starred in Better Luck Tomorrow, writer Jeff Yang who was the editor of A Magazine and now writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle, actress Lynn Chen from Saving Face, and many others. Another cool thing was getting a chance to talk to these Asian-Americans who are doing something to change the stereotypes out there. Kudos and a special thanks to the editors of Secret Identities!

Little Moccasins

Last Friday, we stopped by a shop in Hanalei called Ola's. We were drawn in by the shop's glass display, given Jeff's interest in glass blowing. When we were in Venice a couple of years ago, we spent three back-to-back days in Murano so that Jeff could check out all the glass shops and factories there. This time, we emerged not with glass blowing tools, but a pair of little brown moccasins that we spotted among the touristy chotchkies. They are completely useless and impractical, a fitting purchase for a first time mother. I plunked my credit card down gleefully, holding back the urge to blurt to the store clerk, "It's for our little boy."

For the next few days, I took the moccasins with me wherever I went. If I went from the bedroom to the living room, they went with me, where I laid them down a foot to my left on the couch. When I went to sip my papaya, orange, and guava juice -- or pog, as they call it in Hawaii -- on the balcony, I sat them on the stand next to my book. I sometimes rested them on my belly, to try to imagine the feet of the little guy and the rest of his body protruding from the soft folds of leather. When we packed our stuff to return to SF, I secured them in the front pocket of my backpack so that they wouldn't be crushed by other things.

These shoes are the first and only purchase we've made for the little guy so far. We didn't want to start preparing before the CVS, and once we received the CVS results, we thought it made sense to wait for the spina bifida test. We had our spina bifida ultrasound on May 15th, and everything seems to be progressing smoothly. It was amazing to watch the technician press her sensor in various angles to point out his heart chambers and his kidney, and to hear that that he has no club foot or cleft lips. We took her word for it since all we saw were grainy images of a big head and boney hands flowing back and forth as if he were giving us the royal wave. And him moving and twitching and shaking, as if he were doing the jitter bug. We went in the following Monday because they needed one more photograph, and he decided to do a face plant just as the technician tried to capture a decent image for us to take home.

Now that the tests are behind us, we are now letting ourselves look forward. We have a little over four months left to read all the books we want to read, to buy whatever the little guy needs, and to become the parents we are becoming. We are not ready yet, and I suspect we'll never be ready. But we hope to be less un-ready.

In this process, I marvel at the strangeness of it all. Strange, not in a bad way, but in a way that feels foreign, even though this is one of the most common experiences in human history. And in a way that is mind-boggling and incredible and unreal. To have another creature inside of me, moving this way and that, causing little flurries in that vicinity of my body usually reserved for mundane digestion. I went to my first pre-natal yoga class a couple of weeks ago, and the instructor kept repeating, "Remember! You are your baby's first home." Now, what prepares you in life to become a dwelling?

When I was registering for sixth grade, I remember my dad asking me if I wanted to sign up to play the clarinet in band. I had no idea what a clarinet was, but I said ok. When I started mastering how to blow into that thing without squeaking, I remember suddenly realizing that I was playing the real thing. That this clarinet was the same real clarinet that the bearded guys in professional orchestras played. Me, playing a real clarinet.

I'm a long way from sixth grade, but that's how I feel these days. That I'm about to be entrusted with this little guy. Me, a mother to a real live baby.

Holy shit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another Week

The last time we were in Kauai, we spent most of our week in Hanalei, which is along the North Shore. One of our favorite lunch spots was a burger joint called Hanalei Gourmet. One afternoon, after waiting on the outside porch for a table, I suggested that we just sit at the bar. As soon as we sat on the stools, I saw Pierce Brosnan sitting less than five feet away at the end of the bar, taking a big bite out of his burger. I nudged Jeff to look in that direction as I tried to say discreetly out of the corner of my mouth, "Pierce Brosnan's sitting over there." The whole time, Jeff kept saying, "Did you see that guy with six toes?" We kept talking over each other until I finally said, "What, you saw a guy with six toes?" and Jeff finally looked over in Pierce's direction while pretending not to look.

We're off to Kauai again tomorrow for a little vacation. I'll be back here in little more than a week. I can't promise any interesting tales from the trip, but we'll keep our eyes open for Pierce and the six-toed guy. If nothing else, we'll come back with a tan.

Until then, enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To Wear or Not to Wear

[Cross-posted on Kimchi Mamas.]

I was the only one in my family who didn't throw her shoes on the pile behind the front door. As soon as they entered, the other members of my family took their shoes off and chucked them where they landed. The left pair of my mom's florescent yellow plastic slipper often sat between my dad's brown strapped slippers that he had owned since Korea and his tennis shoes, whose back flaps had been permanently folded down. My sister's sandals from the past summer were piled up on top of the sandals from the years past. My mother's pumps gathered dust next to her various pairs of $8 black, thick-soled, orthopedic-like shoes that she picked up from a Chinese vendor under the bridge on Flushing's Main Street. My brother's assortment of sneakers -- all of which looked the same but served some mysteriously distinct functions -- provided additional heft to the pile.

Unlike them, I kept my shoes in my own closet. The ones out of season, like my winter boots, were in their original boxes stacked in the back row of my tiny closet. The ones in current use, like my sturdy pair of rubber-soled black leather shoes that I purchased in the Village, sat prominently in front row, along with my favorite summer sandals and running shoes.

My sister always wondered what it meant, that I kept my shoes separately, in my room, when the rest of the family kept theirs in the front foyer. "Maybe you're more Americanized," she said. I wondered what it meant. In a family that had Korean passports, I was the only one who got naturalized in the 90s, and for the longest time, I was the only "American" in the family. We joked that we would have to stand in two separate customs lines when we traveled to Korea. If the family got deported, I would have a right to stay. And when everyone else had Korean names, I adopted the name "Christine" when I was in 6th grade, because I was tired of my teachers calling me "Shin," until I decided in college that it was silly to be called by some random name.

As soon as I moved out of my parents' house, I started wearing my shoes all day long, in and out of the house. It mattered little to me. I never sat on the floor, and even if I did, was it any worse than sitting on the grass outdoors? I saw no need to distinguish between public and private spaces, the same way I saw no need to keep our family secrets secret. My mom's constant refrain, "Don't talk about this outside of the family" never made sense to me, especially when she confided about things that would have been better shared with a friend, not a daughter.

When Jeff moved in with me about two years ago, we didn't need to discuss whether to wear our shoes indoors. That's how he lived, and that's how I lived.

A couple of months ago, a friend stopped by our place for dinner. As we were talking about my pregnancy, she asked if we would keep wearing shoes in the house once we have our kid.

"They lick everything off the floor, you know," she said.

Suddenly, I noticed bits of dirt scattered over our hardwood floor, the dried out crimps of torn leaves, tufts of Sherlock's fur. I pictured our precious little baby crawling bare hands and legs where our shoes and Sherlock's paws had trodden. And licking the floor where Sherlock had licked it the same morning, as he did daily. And I thought of the times when Sherlock had stepped in his own pee during one of our many walks.

That night, I turned to Jeff. "We have to stop wearing shoes in the house! The baby's going to lick everything off of the floor."

He looked at me as if I suggested burning the place down.

"We're fine," he said. "We wore shoes in the house when I was growing up, and look how I turned out."

I brought it up every day for the next three weeks, and Jeff always responded, "Oh, the baby will be just fine..."

One morning, as I was leaving the house, I noticed water running out of a sewer line in front of our house. I ran back in to grab Jeff and asked him to call someone to fix it before I rushed off to my meeting.

When I pulled up in front of the house later that afternoon, I noticed that the water was no longer running. But there were bits of dried-out tissue paper spread all over the sidewalk about five feet down from where I had parked. When I walked into the house, Jeff told me about the horrors he had seen bursting out of the sewer line that morning.

"The plumber pushed back as much as he could, and the rest he just washed down the street."

For the next two weeks, we crossed the street and walked on the other sidewalk. We avoided parking down slope from our house. We were grateful every time it rained. And we took our shoes off when we entered the house. We also agreed to stop wearing shoes in the house for good when the baby shows up.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Community Building

This past weekend was our bat mitzvah weekend. A dinner on Friday night, the ceremony on Saturday morning at 9 followed by a mini-reception, a party at the country club that night, and a brunch the morning after. The bat mitzvah girl is the second daughter of one of Jeff's college friends. Because several of his college friends were flying in from the East Coast and Southern California, Jeff rsvp'ed yes to each one of the events.

Of course, come the day before the series of events and we are wondering why we had signed up for all of them. At the last minute, we even wondered if we could skip the bat mitzvah ceremony. We had attended the ceremony two years ago for their oldest daughter, and all I remember is the singing and the Torah reading -- that seemed to go on endlessly.

So I don't know if it was due to my hormones or what, but I found myself deeply moved by the ceremony this time. During the first few minutes of the ceremony, Taylor's grandparents stood on the podium with her. Looking her in the eyes, they each took turns to tell her how special she is, how much she means to them, and how much they love her. There was so much love in their faces, and they embraced her with such affection and warmth. After the grandparents, her parents did pretty much the same thing, doting all their attention on this 13 year-old. Followed by her siblings, her aunts and uncles, her friends, her parents' friends, and other relatives. All in front of a community of people there to celebrate this young woman's life.

It made me think we should all have a bat/bar mitzvah. No matter what age.

And it also made me think we should all live surrounded by a community of people who love and dote on us. It didn't seem to matter too much in my late 20s when I decided in a matter to days to move out to San Francisco where I knew no one. I figured I would make new friends. And if needed, I could fly home to see my parents in New York a few times a year. I thought of the freedom of starting anew, where no one knew my past and I could be my best self, as I envisioned it, without some reminder of the person I had been or was supposed to be. And I didn't have to be subject to my parents' constant nagging to get married when I hardly found it to be a matter of my sole effort.

For the past ten years or so, I've lived that life and have more or less savored it. There were a handful of days when I considered moving back to New York, but they were a small exception. Over time, I built up a network of great friends and found a sense of belonging -- to the extent you can in our culture when you haven't nurtured roots in a religious or ethnic grouping.

While Jeff and I have spent some time thinking about the kind of school we'd like to send our child or the type of neighborhood in which to raise him, I haven't spent much time thinking about building a community. I assumed it would be a natural by-product of the friends we have and continue to make along the way. But watching 13-year-old Taylor surrounded by her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, I envied her world. And wondered what I could do to entice my parents to move to the Bay Area.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Need for a Safety Device

[Please be warned that some readers found the article I linked below very difficult to read.]

Here is one of the most heart-wrenching articles I've read in a long time. Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote about the prosecution of parents who inadvertently left their babies in the backseat of the car. There was a story about it in our local paper a couple of years ago when a father from Benicia, who had changed his routine that morning, completely forgot about the sleeping baby in the backseat as he went into work. In that case, the DA chose not to prosecute, thank goodness, saying that the father was obviously distraught and that it was a devastating mistake. My heart goes out to these parents. Even as you pray that something like that won't happen to you, I can see how it can. Not all actions are a matter of will. Sometimes, it's a matter of how the brain functions. Instead of spending so much effort prosecuting these tormented parents, maybe the energy can be spent on implementing a safety device in the baby seats to protect both the babies and the parents.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dressing Myself

We're attending a bat mitzvah this weekend. It's a bat mitzvah, but apart from the religious significance, more like a wedding without the groom - a ceremony flanked by a dinner the night before, a party at the country club on the evening of the ceremony, and a brunch the morning after. I have nothing to wear to any of these events.

Until this past weekend when a couple of my girlfriends brought me bags of their old maternity clothes, I had two maternity pants and a couple of loose tops. Between those and my baggy pants, I've managed to get by, especially since I'm not going into an office these days. For more formal occasions, I had a dress and a jacket that I had from my chubbier days, which I thought worked well until my mom saw me last week and commented that I looked rather dated in them. Suddenly, I realized she was right.

I've gained about nine pounds so far with this pregnancy. Given that I'm in week 18, I think that's pretty reasonable. But that's not counting the 20 pounds that I gained with my prior pregnancies and failed to shed after my miscarriages despite my regular visits to the gym.

None of these pounds has come gracefully. I look at women who expand only around their waists while skipping down the street in their skinny legs and high heels, and I wonder why I wasn't born to be one of those creatures. Instead, I'm large everywhere. My face has expanded, my arms, fingers, thighs, butt. I look at photos of myself when Jeff and I got married a year and a half ago, and I miss that body.

Viewing myself in a full length mirror at the department store is not a happy experience. I went to Macy's a few weeks ago to try to find something decent to wear, and I was mortified to find nothing fitting the way they used to -- or even anywhere close. When I found myself reaching for an extra large, I felt compelled to hide the size tag.

I never enjoyed looking at myself in the mirror. Throughout most of my teens and 20s, I remember looking at myself and wondering why any boy would want to date me. I didn't feel comfortable in my skin until my late 20s. I think a part of it has to do with having developed very quickly at a young age. In grade school, I was often the tallest kid in my class, although I leveled out at 5' 6". When I was in first and second grades in Korea, my teachers paired us up after lining us in height order. I was often the odd girl out, trailing at the end. My mom remembers me running home crying that I didn't have a partner.

I tell myself that it's only for another five months -- and that I have many more inches to expand until this little guy shows up. That I shouldn't even think about this until late October. And I'd be willing to gain a hundred pounds if it ensured his safe arrival. But I have to learn to stop treating my pregnancy as a weight gain -- and hiding my belly as if it were excess fat. If anyone has any magic tricks for dealing with that, I'd love to hear some ideas.

This morning, Jeff suggested that I sign up for a pre-natal yoga class. I suddenly realized the brilliance of that idea. Not only will I be getting some much needed exercise, I am bound to surround myself with women with body shapes like mine. Maybe I will see the physical glory of this experience more clearly in their bodies than I see in mine.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


When we go out, we usually leave Sherlock in the backyard.

The backyard is a mess and completely overtaken by weeds. We tried to hire some help last year, but the guy was a disaster. He usually showed up 30-40 minutes late, stoned, and pretended to do some work by hacking away some healthy plants while never dealing with the weeds. When I told him that it wasn't working out, he said, "Yeah, I find you difficult to work with too."

We interviewed another company, but the lady who stopped by said she couldn't deal with dog poop and would fine us if she stepped in any poop. Unfortunately, shit production happens to be Sherlock's specialty, and the odds of us cleaning up all of the poop before she showed up each time seemed unlikely.

Since then, the backyard has had to fend for itself.

But in the midst of the chaos, there are some lovely plants that have managed to withstand the weeds. I have roses in bright yellow, deep pink, white, and red -- all the size of large navel oranges -- growing in the front right corner. I also have some lovely calla lilies and fuchsia to the left. And an abutilon megaptamicum that I picked up at a flower show a couple of years ago.

The most visible is a row of poppies growing in the front tier of the yard. The side of our house facing the backyard is all windows, and whenever we have guests, the first thing they notice is the yard. The poppies rest eye-level when we sit on our couch, and their bright colors in various shades in the forefront of the yard command the most attention.

The couple of weeks ago, we had a few friends over for a friend's baby shower. As we were cleaning the yard a few days before they showed up, I thought, well, at least the poppies will be in bloom by the time they show up. Most of the poppies had buds on the verge of blooming, and I figured by the time people showed up, their beautiful colors will be adorning our yard. I pruned all the leftover stems from the prior bloom and watered them thoroughly.

The morning of the event, Jeff and I went out back to clean the dog poop. All of a sudden, I noticed that all of the poppy stems were budless. They were standing straight up, as if the flowers should have been on their end, but they were naked. All 20 or so buds appeared to have been bitten off. I wondered if some bird ate them, although that had never happened before. I mentioned it to Jeff, and he asked if there were bits of the bud that were left over. Nope, they were bitten off clean.

He paused, then looked at Sherlock, then back at the flowers.

"Sherlock, did you eat them?"

Sherlock, eyes popping wide, tilted his head to the side and wagged his tail.

Sherlock has had his heydays of attacking the yard, but that was before I met him. As a pup, he had a list of offenses on his rap sheet, including tearing apart the drip system, flooding the backyard, and swallowing a malibu light bulb that came out intact on the other end. But now, at the mature age of 6, we figured he had outgrown such dalliances. When we leave him outside these days, he seems to spend most of his time either sleeping in his little house or sunbathing on the steps.

About a week ago, I saw a slew of new poppy buds growing.

Yesterday morning, as I was eating my cereal, I looked out and suddenly realized that all the buds had been bitten off again. I called to Jeff to come look. There were about 30 stems, sticking straight up, holding nothing.

We wondered why these buds were attacked when all the other plants were left intact. Then we wondered about the day before when Sherlock had been unusually sluggish.

Could it be that we have an addict in the family?