Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Short Stay in Hell, etc.

I read or listened to all of these books while nursing. The Kindle (and iPod Shuffle) make it easier than ever before to balance a book and a baby.

Because I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its KidsBecause I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobook - READ BY THE AUTHOR!!!!

A book like this (meant to be picked up and read in short segments, rather than devoured all in one sitting - also, you can open this up to any page and start reading, no problem) can really only be three stars, max. So I'm giving it the max. I loved that the audiobook was read by Ken Jennings himself. Only he could give it the proper snarky nuances. Plus, he read it really fast. Sometimes I am put off audiobooks because the narrator reads so. slowly. This was a great audiobook performance. And a great read. I learned lots of interesting things and I will even be reconsidering my hardline stance on not letting my kids lick the beaters after making cookies or whatever.

A Short Stay in HellA Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the first pages of this book has the sentence, "[Once I spent a year] trying to build a telescope made from clarified sheep intestines from the kiosk, so that I might look deep into the library." That will probably either make you want to shut the book immediately, because WOAH...or, you will not be able to keep yourself from reading on.

I hope you read on. This is quite the story. It reminds me of a bad dream, but not in a bad way, if that makes sense. A bad dream in the same way The Master and Margarita is a bad dream, then. And like The Master and Margarita, this book will stay with you for a long time. You will be enchanted and disturbed by it, all at once.

I'm not sure I'm totally on board with how things ended up in the book, but this story is truly a thing of terrifying beauty. To end it differently would have been selling it short.

Catch Me If You CanCatch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars for the sheer enjoyment of reading this book. What a fun ride! His patronizing (borderline benevolent misogynistic) attitude toward women got a little old, but they were different times (the 1960s)...I guess. This book was so darn entertaining I almost feel like starting it over again from the beginning.

Shadowfell (Shadowfell, #1)Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know this sounds odd, but if the Sevenwaters books are Juliet Marillier, then Shadowfell is Juliet Marillier Lite. Everything is simplified and toned down, but the basic elements are there. This was a great book to read while nursing, but ultimately it wasn't fantastic. I had trouble figuring out why she needed to get to Shadowfell. It reminded me of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7) - there was a lot of camping, and traveling companions not getting along/not trusting each other, and a final confrontation scene.

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Audiobook. DNF. I got through the first 90 minutes or so of the audiobook. Then I had a baby. This is not really the time of my life to be reading a scary book about vampires. I liked what I read, though, so I will probably pick this up again in a few months.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two FatesThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really interesting idea for a book - two men share the same name and similar backgrounds, but one ended up a Rhodes Scholar and the other is serving a life sentence - and really heartfelt execution. Plus, how could I not like this book, seeing as I keep track of my own Other Bridget?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Things Sterling has smiled at

Sterling is one month old today. Here is a list of things - animate and inanimate - upon which he has bestowed smiles.

Jeremy - lots and lots
Magdalena - "seven," according to her count
The crease between my arm and side - while nursing
The picture of red poppies we have hanging on our living room wall
The shadows that come through the curtains in the morning

Notice anything missing from this list? Me. And Miriam. I'm a little bitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tiger toes

When Sterling was a few days old, I was sitting outside with him waiting for the girls to come home on the school bus. I happened to be looking at his toes and I noticed the weirdest thing on his right foot: his second and third toes seemed to be partially connected. Then I looked at his left foot, and those second and third toes seemed to be partially connected, too!

As soon as I could, I googled it. And it is a thing: syndactyly, twin toes, duck toes, or tiger toes. Awesome.

Wikipedia says this condition sometimes runs in families. So we took a closer look at all of our toes, and it turns out that Magdalena has slight tiger toes, too!

Also: ME. I just learned something new about myself at age 32. This is even weirder than my crooked nostrils (ask me about it sometime. Or I'll just tell you: one of my nostrils is horizontal and the other is more vertical. But you only really notice it if you're, you know, looking at my nostrils, which means you have to be below me, looking up at, again, my nostrils. This has happened, though - a kid at church once blurted out in the middle of a lesson I was teaching, "woah, your nostrils are crooked!").

For a few moments after our discovery of Sterling's tiger toes, we mourned the lost opportunity for him to ever wear those five-finger shoes. Otherwise, though, his tiger toes are pretty neat! So are Magdalena's. And mine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25th, outsourced

Because maps and names are cool: time-lapse maps of the most popular name, by state, for the last six decades: boys and girls. [HT Suzanne]

Because maps and books are cool: the most famous books set in every state. Poor North Carolina. [HT Kaylee]

Because maps and, uh, moods are cool: The United States of Attitude. I belong in...North Carolina?? [HT Liz]

Warped childhood, restoration hardware style. Reminds me of Catalog Living, but for kids. [HT Kat]

I don't know if this made the news elsewhere, but here it was all over the place: Rihanna was - depending on who is reporting the story - "asked to leave," or "kicked out" of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because - again, depending on who is reporting - she was taking racy photos (by Islamic standards for a woman in a mosque) or because she did not have permission to take the (racy?) photos. That sentence was too long. Just read this article. I guess what I'm saying is, I think it was borderline disrespectful for her to be taking attention-getting photos in such a venue, so it's not inconceivable that she was asked to leave. However, I got in trouble at that mosque for taking photos of my unveiled self outside the mosque, like in the parking lot, so the rules are pretty strict.

Maybe Sterling can have this Halloween costume next year! [HT Ashi]

Have you ever wanted to see Tom Hiddleston doing his impression of Owen Wilson as Loki? Here you go. You're welcome for making your day. [HT Miss Nemesis]

I'm not really into baseball, but even I can understand the cleverness of this symphony orchestra-based smackdown between St. Louis and Boston. [HT Jen]

It may or may not have been in an actual linguistics class, but somewhere along the way in my linguistics education, I learned that "dude" is one of the most versatile words in the English language. Think about it - depending on the intonation you apply to it, it can mean almost anything.

Alfonso the Slobberer, and other unfortunate ruler nicknames. [HT Jen]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to get a US passport for an American baby born in Sharjah, UAE

Here's how to obtain a US passport for an American baby born in Sharjah, UAE. Some of this may apply to other emirates, but I can't guarantee it.

First, have your baby. When you leave the hospital, they will give you a Report of Birth. This is not a birth certificate. But you must have the Report of Birth in order to obtain the birth certificate. Don't be worried if you haven't chosen a name before you leave the hospital - they will just leave the name field blank. Just be sure to fill it in before you submit it.

Because next, submit the Report of Birth at your local center of bureaucracy. In our case, this was the Sharjah Department of Preventive Medicine. Hand over the Report of Birth, Emirates IDs for both parents, passports for both parents, and an attested marriage certificate, plus 50 dhs. Maybe the marriage certificate has to have been attested by the UAE Foreign Ministry in addition to the US government. But maybe not. They didn't ask to have ours attested.

The people at the Sharjah Dept of Preventive Medicine will say they'll call you in two days when the birth certificate is ready...but they won't. So just go back after a few days and they'll finish it up while you wait.

Then, you take the birth certificate to the Sharjah Ministry of Foreign Affairs so it can be attested. It costs 160 dhs to have it done while you wait.

That is the end of the process for the birth certificate, but you can't stop there because even babies need visas to live in the UAE legally.

So make an appointment with the US Consulate in Dubai in order to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. You can apply for a passport at the same time, so fill out both applications and make sure you gather all the necessary documents. The necessary documents depend on whether both parents are US citizens or only one. The instructions on the linked page (above) are pretty clear, so just do what they say and you should be fine.The burden of proof for Jeremy and me was pretty light since we are both citizens, but be prepared to show evidence of having lived in the US.

When it's time for your appointment at the consulate, bring all your documents, both of yourselves, and the baby to appear in person. At the little number-taking kiosk, do NOT press the "infants" button, because they will never call that number. We know because we pressed the "infants" button to get our queue ticket (wouldn't you, if you were there to obtain a passport for your infant?) and then sat down and watched every single person who came to the consulate after us have their turn come up. Finally, Jeremy asked an employee why it wasn't our turn yet, and he said, "oh, don't press the 'infants' button." He then pressed the "US Citizen" button and we didn't have to wait too much longer.

Might I just ask: why do they even HAVE the "infants" button??

When it's your turn, hand over the documents they ask for to meet the requirements of both the CRBA and the passport. Pay the fee (about 750dhs) at the cashier and then wait for them to call you up to sign the papers. Then you're done! Until it's time to pick up the passport in a week or two.

The passport isn't the end of the process, either. Once you have it, you need to apply for a UAE visa for the baby. My friend Yvonne says there is a 60-day time limit to do this without a penalty fee, so it's in your best interest to hurry along this whole process as much as possible.

Once you have the visa, apply for an Emirates ID.

Then, I think you're really least until all this stuff starts expiring!

Oh, of course, to apply for a passport, you need two passport photos. We tried and tried to get a good one of Sterling over the past three weeks. It's harder than you might think to get a passport picture of a newborn (even if you think it's pretty hard). Here are some of the fails:

But here is the success!

I'm looking forward to every single border crossing from now until this passport expires. The official at the consulate told us as we were leaving that he loved this photo. I concur. It may be the finest passport picture ever taken. I can't stop laughing at it.

And that's how you get a US passport for an American baby born in Sharjah, UAE.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Sterling is my thesis ghostwriter. Or writing companion. Or something. This is what working on my thesis looks like these days.
I slept in those "clothes." I slept in that hair. That is yesterday's mascara under my eyes because all my personal hygiene routines have been carried out under duress since Sterling was born. BUT. I can type with both hands when Sterling is in the wrap, and that's what matters.

In other thesis news, I think I figured out how I want to display some of my data. I had my research participants indicate their agreement/disagreement on a Likert scale regarding some statements that are intended to get at the specifics of some cultural differences. For some of these statements, I want to show how the (Western, native speakers of English) instructors indicated different opinions than the (Muslim, Arab) students. I could have done a side-by-side double bar (or column) chart, but it just didn't show off the differences (or similarities) very well.

I did some googling and came up with a diverging stacked bar chart. Here are two samples I generated from my data to run by my supervisor. Because I need to know that he's on board with them before I invest the time to generate two dozen more.

Don't you think the above charts show the data off better than, say, this?

Once my supervisor gives the go-ahead (please oh please), then I'll fine tune the chart to just how I want it. There are a few...a lot...of quirks in Excel. Like how the legend switched the order of Disagree and Strongly Disagree. Not to mention the fact that it seems like there should just be a Diverging Stacked Bar Chart option in Excel to begin with. The internets are full of people begging to learn how to do these, and to make one you almost have to force Excel to create one against its will.

Hooray for beautiful charts that display data efficiently!

Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18th, outsourced

Behind-the-scenes photos of the Harry Potter movies.

Fact-checking Snapple's "Real Facts."

This map shows where Americans come from, by county, according to 2000 census data.

North Korea and photoshop. [HT Liz]

I remember hearing about this boy who was stuck in the UAE way back when they were planning the cargo ship route. I'm glad he made it home after all.

Flags made out of their representative national foods. Yum. [HT Liz]

Eid al-Adha 2013.

Poo-pourri is a real product???

On a related note: don't eat these gummy bears (read the reviews). [HT Andrew]

The Russia left behind.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Downton Abbey Season 4

I have to get this off my chest: I am watching Downton Abbey Season 4. Right along with the Brits. It is so much fun to be watching it now instead of waiting allllll the way until January/February. It bothered me that I was always inadvertently hearing spoilers in the interim between the UK and US broadcast schedules, so this is a real treat. Four episodes have aired so far.

How am I watching it? Well, we have a VPN that allows us to connect to the internet as if we were in the US. We use it for legitimate purposes, like, such as. But it also has an option to connect to London, and when we do that, a funny little thing happens: the itv website thinks we're entitled to watch Downton Abbey on their online player, just like PBS allows you to do in the US. The town the VPN connects to is even called Crawley, for crying out loud (totally by chance). It was meant to be.

Are you planning on watching Downton Abbey Season 4? Jeremy's not sure he's going to sign on this year.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kirk Gibson and quicksand

or Two Things from Childhood

1. My brother Blair reminded me in an email this morning that today is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's famous home run. You can watch it here. I have no first-hand memory of this but apparently my other brother (Daniel) considers it one of the highlights of his life. I don't even like baseball but I did enjoy watching that video. For the excitement of how it plays out, yes, but also because HELLO LATE 1980s. The hair, the clothes, the exuberant fist-pump thing he does as he's circling the bases - yes, even the way we fist-pump has changed. Enjoy the look back at baseball and 1988. I know I did.

2. I was listening to Radio Lab's short about quicksand and it got me thinking - quicksand was totally a big part of my childhood. Was it a big part of yours? I remember having conversations with my siblings about what to do if you got caught in quicksand, and pretending there was quicksand somewhere in the backyard, or trying to make quicksand, etc. These days, the kids don't even hardly know what quicksand IS. The podcast gives some interesting explanations for why this might be. I might need to make a point of educating my kids about the dangers of quicksand and making sure it takes its proper place in their imaginary play schemas. I suggest you do the same.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Giving birth in the UAE vs. the USA

Over the last few days, I've been thinking about sifting my recent birth experience into the differences between here and the US. It's not an exact science since birth experiences can be (and are, in my case) wildly different even when they take place in the same country. But here's my best shot at what was really different between here and there.

Food. There was very little food available to me during labor. The only thing I could get was a "sandwich" (kiri cheese and flatbread) from the hospital kitchen, and a bottle of water. Both of which took over an hour to arrive. That's why Jeremy went out and bought our own food.

The situation was slightly more dire after midnight in the recovery room. The awesome food service I talked about in this post wouldn't start until the next morning, and in the meantime I was famished. Again, all that was available to me from the hospital was flatbread, so Jeremy went on another food run for me. We asked if we could get Subway or someone to deliver to the hospital, but they said security wouldn't let the delivery guy in the door. That policy should be changed, at least during nighttime hours. Because when you've just given birth to a baby, flatbread is not enough. Nope.

Bedside Manner. In the US, I feel like they explain a procedure, then they do the procedure, then they talk to you about the procedure they just did. Not so here. They just did the procedure. I don't want to freak anyone out, but for a few days after the birth, I kept having a weird reflex that someone was trying to check me and I was totally surprised by it and then I would realize that although that happened a few times, it was not happening anymore. The L&D nurses' attitudes were a little brusque as well.

Modesty. The hospital gown they put me in was just dripping with fabric. It covered me from neck to wrist to toe, with lots of billowing pink gingham in between. Shortly after birth, when the male pediatrician came in to check Sterling, they closed the curtains around the bed so I couldn't be seen. Similarly, in the recovery room, anytime a male member of staff was going to come in, the female nurses came in first to make sure I was decent and to give me a heads up. I'm not saying that in the US these precautions aren't taken, but this was a level of protection of my decency that I haven't experienced before during the childbirth process.

Jeremy's Comfort. Poor Jeremy basically spent 10 hours sitting in a hard plastic chair. The L&D room did not have any couch or soft chair for him to sit in. At one point when I was in the bathroom, he asked if he could lie down on the hospital bed, just for a minute. Poor guy. It actually affected me during labor, knowing how uncomfortable he was.

I mentioned in another post how we would have had to pay almost $100 for him to stay in the recovery room with me. I thought that was a little weird, but whatever. Maybe I was the weird one for considering having my husband there with me - when we left recovery, we did so at the same time as a Saudi woman, who had a female entourage with her and an honest-to-goodness hotel luggage carrier cart for all her belongings/gifts/platters of food/etc. Then there was me and Jeremy and my purse and the baby. So maybe we're the ones doing it wrong.

On call? The doctor who delivered Sterling was the doctor on duty at the hospital when I went in. I was disappointed that it wouldn't be my regular doctor, but I figured there was nothing I could do about it. So imagine my surprise when I saw my regular doctor the next day and she chastised me for not calling her mobile when I arrived at the hospital. I didn't even know that was an option! I guess it is.

Culture clash. The doctor who delivered Sterling came here about five months ago from Damascus. It was clear in many little ways (and when it came time to push, in a big way) that she was used to doing things the way they do them in Syria. In some ways, I feel like I got a Syrian birth and a UAE birth all in one, thanks to my very Syrian doctor and the way she managed things.

I'm sure I'm forgetting some details. It's hard to separate what is different because it's here vs. there, and what's different because it's now vs. five years ago, or because it's this doctor vs. that doctor, or whatever. This was my best effort.

Now, the differences in obtaining birth certificates/passports between here and there - that is quite the story. I'll tell it to you when it's finished.

Friday, October 11, 2013

October 11th, outsourced

By the way, I am getting really bad at remembering who posted which links. I apologize in advance if I neglect you in a HT!

People laughing without a reason on the subway.

Adding monsters to thrift store paintings. I love this idea beyond all reason!

The Economist on roundabouts.

Here's another perspective on the recent Indian-American winner of Miss America and racism. This particular strand of racism is based in India.

Cute Halloween costumes on toddlers. The Up kids - so cute! [HT Jeremy]

Why are American refrigerators so big?

Related to the above: I found this discussion of why the eggs you buy outside of America are allowed to have blood, poo, and feathers stuck to them (like the eggs we buy here) absolutely fascinating.

You, too, will not be able to stop watching this 7-tuba pileup. [HT Jen]

I've been waiting for these all year: the newest batch of haunted house surprise photos. [HT Jeremy]

In Dubai, a woman was recently cleared of giving a fellow motorist the finger. Yes, it went to court.

I actually haven't seen most of these movies, but I still found Famous Movie Scenes in the Ottoman Style to be beautiful and insanely clever. [HT Andrew]

For one brief, wonderful afternoon, Coke Zero was (accidentally) available at the BYU.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The kindness of neighbors

I haven't had anything even approaching decent night's sleep in two weeks now, and given the chance (odd as it would be), I would probably pay upwards of $1000 to secure a night of unbroken rest. Sterling has figured out how to cry, loudly, and we've entered that crying-all-the-time phase of newborndom. Meanwhile, my nipples are so sore that I cry every time he latches on (we are working on fixing this but there is no instant cure).

Jeremy sometimes gets after me about having a hard time accepting help from others. It's true. I do have a hard time. I'm feeling down today and I'd like to catalog all the help I have accepted in the last two weeks, for lo, it has been considerable.

When we moved to Sharjah, the extent of baby gear that we owned consisted of one (1) battered and well traveled portacrib that Magdalena slept in for the first few months we lived here. Thanks to friends and neighbors, we are now fully outfitted with all the baby gear we need, and more. These are not tattered hand-me-downs, either - they are really good quality and well cared for items which, in most cases, are nicer than anything we ever purchased for the girls way back when. On one particular night a few months ago, my across-the-street neighbor basically cleaned out her baby gear storage and we had a procession of me, her, and the kids carrying things from her house to ours. We are so blessed.

In the almost two weeks since Sterling was born, we have had food brought to our house almost every single day. We have never been so well taken care of after the birth of a baby. And since our neighbors are from all over the place, we've had quite the range of ethnic cuisine to sample. I'm especially looking forward to the lamb dinner that my Egyptian classmate is bringing us tonight. In the meantime, there are Greek lasagna leftovers for lunch.

(Now that I think about it, we actually had two people bring us dinner before the baby was born, during what ended up being my last week of pregnancy. This is a brilliant idea for service and I think it should be perpetuated.)

I was, and continue to be, so blessed by the generosity of friends and neighbors here. There is something to be said for living in a place where almost nobody has family nearby, because we really fill in for each other. Nobody has a sister across town to borrow hand-me-downs from, or a MIL to come over at the drop of a hat to cook dinner on a rough day. So friends and neighbors do those things instead.

Or even semi-strangers - yesterday I was at our local Carrefour, which is located right across the street from the hospital where Sterling was born. In the checkout line, I looked back and saw three nurses from the recovery unit. They came and admired the baby and then, without even asking, they helped me outside with my groceries on their way back to the hospital. They don't hardly know me from the other dozens of women who have babies, stay a day or two in their unit, and then move on. But they took the time to say hi and help me out with a small need that they could see right then, in that moment.

Also at Carrefour, I saw another neighbor who happens to be a lactation counselor. We had a quick chat about my soreness problems. Before the day was out, she had dropped off a few items of helpful breastfeeding literature and videos for me to peruse.

So even though I am more than 12,000 kilometers away from my actual family, fear not: we are in good hands here in Sharjah. And I'm working on accepting the kindness of neighbors.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


At the hospital where Sterling was born, the recovery room is a separate place from the labor & delivery room. So when Sterling was just an hour or so old, they wheeled us downstairs and around the corner to the recovery unit. And it was a really nice place.

Here's the view from the window. On the Saturday we were there it was pretty quiet, but on Sunday (the first day of the workweek) it was bustling with students and faculty. That's because this hospital backs up to the university campus with which it is affiliated. It was nice to watch the world go by from our little room.

While I was in labor, Jeremy bought out Carrefour's stock of 100 Plus drinks (they have yet to re-stock, by the way - I was just there today). We still had a few left for me to enjoy in the recovery room...

...alongside some truly fantastic food. I know that I was extra hungry, but still, the food was really good. It was semi-Indian cuisine, with lots of curries and plain yogurt and biryani rice. Delicious.

One thing that really set the recovery unit apart was the nurses. They were top-notch. Yes, they still came in at odd hours to slap a blood pressure cuff on me when I had just barely fallen asleep, but they were good at their jobs and so courteous and kind. I was on my own both nights I slept there (Jeremy was home with the girls, and also our insurance company would have charged him almost $100 to stay the night in the room with me on the pull-out couch - go figure!), and on Saturday night, Sterling wouldn't settle and I was falling asleep while holding him. So I called in the nurse at 2am and basically told her I was incapable of caring for my own baby. She very kindly did all the things I didn't have the strength to do myself - she changed him and burped him and re-wrapped him and dressed him warmer and walked him around the room a little until finally he fell asleep. I was so grateful to her.

There were a few hiccups with the room, like how the hot water in the shower didn't work. And how on the second day, the toilet stopped flushing properly. Also, on Sunday morning, this happened:

Yes, that is a window washer. Since I was basically clothed in a diaper and a glorified blanket, I made sure to just tuck myself securely under the covers while that guy was there.

Recovering from childbirth is not the easiest thing, and I was happy to get home, but my time in the recovery unit was as pleasant as I could have wished for.

Monday, October 07, 2013

First public outing

Sterling and I made our first public outing on Thursday, five days post-partum. It wasn't entirely by choice - graduation gown fittings were only being held last week so I waited until the last day and then went. Nothing like going out in public and being measured five days after giving birth! (Fortunately, it was really only a vertical measurement so nothing much should change by graduation in a few months.)

As we walked on campus, I found myself oddly grateful to Kate Middleton. When she introduced her baby to the world the day after his birth (God bless her forever - don't know how she did it!), she also showed the world what a very recent post-partum body looks like. Which is to say, it still looks pregnant. I still have quite a bit of a tummy, and I caught a few odd glances from students who might have been thinking that I was somehow four months pregnant, yet holding a newborn.

But I like to think that other people saw me and then remembered Princess Kate and her tummy and thought, "oh yes, that is perfectly normal." Let's hope so.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

More about the name

Sterling is not impressed with my attempts to take a passport picture.

Here's the deal with the name we gave this baby boy of ours. As you know, we were having a hard time coming up with something that fit all of our crazy requirements, to say nothing of said name matching our existing family names, etc. I was not exaggerating when I called this a curse - Jeremy and I literally could not agree. When we finally got around to talking about it, it was an exercise in frustration and almost-hurt feelings, even with our non-judgmental Google Doc.

I feel like the breakthrough came when I used my friend Liz's strategy of having us each assign a number ranking to the names on our list. Then we could take a look at the lowest combined totals to see where we really stood when it came to actually giving a certain name to an actual baby. That moved the discussion away from the vagaries of "like"/"don't really like" to "this is a name that I would absolutely give this baby, and this is not."

Once we put in our rankings, our preferences became more clear to each other, and we were able to move forward on a first name. Sterling is a name with a beautiful meaning (pure), and it has the special bonus feature of having an Arabic equivalent that we can use for a short name or even as the primary name, if we feel like it: Safi (SAH-fee). As for where we got Sterling to begin with - a good friend of ours who studied with Jeremy in Damascus is named Sterling. It's not that we named our baby after him so much as that he put the name on our radar in the first place, and he is an awesome person, so we both have really positive associations with the name. Besides him, I've only ever known one other Sterling and he was nice, too. So there you go. Sterling.

Now, the middle name. Any specific wrangling that went on in that arena is our own private business, but yes, we ended up with Sultan, which seems to have surprised a lot of people. It moves ever so slightly away from our using a strictly geographical tribute as a middle name, but it still works. Check it out: Sultan is a regular ol' given name in Arabic, and most Sultans are Emirati, or Omani, or Saudi. So it is a name with strong connections to the Gulf, and the UAE in particular. Furthermore, it is the name of the Sheikh of Sharjah, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed al Qassimi, so it is a nice tribute to Sharjah, specifically. It is also the name of the ruler of Oman.

Of course, in English, Sultan is a word with a meaning, not a name, but the fact that it is recognizable and pronounceable is an asset.

Most importantly, Miriam got her wish that this baby would have a name starting with S, so the kids together can be "M&MS." Hooray!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Sterling's birth story (epic version)

The view from the delivery room window.
I’m not sure where this birth story actually begins. Does it begin with the breakdown I had on Tuesday (24 Sept) night about how this baby was never going to be born (ask Jeremy about it – he’s probably still traumatized)? Or does it begin with the labor-induction acupuncture treatment I had on Thursday afternoon to “celebrate” my due date? Or perhaps it begins with the contractions I had all Thursday night and into Friday morning, only to have them peter out around 4am?

I suppose this birth story begins in earnest at about 2.45pm on Friday when I was taking a nap in the guest room loft bed and my water broke. I called out for Jeremy a few times but he didn’t answer. Little Magdalena ran in instead and when I told her to get me a towel because my water broke, she ran into the living room exclaiming, “Miriam, Miriam, mama’s water broke!” Then she was so busy chatting that she took her sweet time bringing me the towel and I had to remind her that I realllly needed that towel or I was going to leak water everywhere (it’s really an amazing amount of fluid). Meanwhile, both girls ran up to tell Jeremy, who had just barely laid his head down for a nap of his own.

Under normal circumstances, I would have wanted to labor at home for as long as possible before going in to the hospital. However, I tested GBS positive for this pregnancy, which meant that I needed to have a dose of intravenous antibiotics finished well before delivery. This was even more essential since my water had already broken.

So after doing some tidying up and sending the girls to the neighbor’s house, Jeremy and I left for the hospital. It’s a 7-minute drive from our house to the hospital, and probably only about 1km away as the crow flies. Still, there are eight roundabouts between here and there, some prefaced by those rumble strip things. My first non-mild contraction hit as Jeremy was driving over one of those. I was immediately grateful that we did not have a long drive ahead of us.

It was a very quiet Friday afternoon at the hospital – so much so that we had to check in through the ER because the regular reception area was closed. In addition, my doctor wasn’t on call – a different doctor (a Syrian woman, from Damascus) would be the one to deliver.

They took me up to the Labor & Delivery floor – which was completely empty of patients except for me – and I got changed into the most modest hospital gown you ever did see. Soooo much fabric. The nurses were all Indian (they were even joking that literally ALL the L&D nurses are from India) and they chattered in Hindi as they set me up with a non-stress test. Everything was fine. It was annoying having the bands on me during contractions, but I was a pretty willing patient at that point since I knew it was something they just needed to get done (my attitude would change later).

Then the doctor came in to check me. I have such mixed feelings about being checked. It’s nice to know, unless it’s not, you know? At that point (4pm on Friday) she said I was a 3 or 4, and 75% effaced. Nice! With that information in hand, I got to work at moving this labor along as steadily as possible. I was a little worried at how tired I already was – sleepy tired from not getting rest the night before, as well as 40-weeks-pregnant tired.

I was just getting into my groove when the nurses came in to administer a skin test for the intravenous antibiotics they needed to administer due to my GBS+ status. I am allergic to penicillin, which has caused me more problems in my medical life, especially in random foreign countries, than I care to think about. It really seemed to throw them for a loop that they couldn’t just give me the old standby, even though I knew my doctor had alerted them to this detail about me at least a month ago (I knew because I had a copy of the report myself). So the nurse pushed a syringe full of an alternative antibiotic into my forearm and wow did that hurt! I don’t know if it would have hurt me all on its own, but combined with contractions and the icky medical feeling I get from being injected with things, it really soured my attitude. That was at 4.45p. After I showed no reaction, they put in a cannula – also painful, since I don’t seem to have veins like normal people - and administered the antibiotics. That was finished at 6p. The doctor recommended I take some IV fluid, but I said no thanks and she didn’t push it.

I got into my groove again to deal with the contractions. But something I learned during this labor is that every labor is different, even if you want them to be the same, as I wanted this one to be as like Magdalena’s as possible. Looking back, though, I should have realized that it couldn’t be that way. The hospital here is nothing like the one in Middlebury, and the birth culture here is different, too. But I secluded myself in the bathroom, put on my headphones, turned off the lights, and sat on a birthing ball to get through contractions. I wish I could have been in a tub, but this hospital only has showers. Again, looking back, I wish I had thought more seriously about finding a facility with a tub. I did some looking around but the only viable candidate was in Al Ain and that would have come with its own set of inconveniences (the 90-minute drive being one). However, not being able to do the ONE thing I wanted to do during hours and hours of labor – get in a nice pool of warm water - also ended up being an “inconvenience.”

I knew while I was in that dark bathroom on my own that labor was either not progressing or I was taking it really, really well. I was afraid it was the first. At 7.30p, the nurses asked me to come out and sit for another fetal monitoring session. I was not happy about that. But they said I “must,” so eventually I sat there and let them do their thing while I suffered through more contractions in an uncomfortable position. They initially said I had to sit there for 45 minutes (!!!!!!!) but it ended up being only about 10 because I may have gotten a little angry at them.

As long as I was lying down and being still, the doctor checked me and I was only at a 4 or 5. That’s when it’s not so nice to be checked. I was so discouraged and so tired. I think it was around that time that I sent out a text to my mom in the US to tell her that things were going slowly, just so they wouldn’t be hankering for any news too soon.

I decided to try to speed up labor not by secluding myself, but by waking myself up and trying to get some energy and adrenaline going. I walked around the halls of L&D, which I had all to myself. With Magdalena’s labor, quiet and dark and peaceful accelerated things. With this labor, it only seemed to slow things down – when I entered that sleepy laborland between contractions, I was so tired I was actually falling asleep. Walking around in the bright lights seemed to help a little, even though I was really struggling with fatigue – both what I was experiencing at that moment, as well as the thought of the prospect of many hours of labor apparently still in front of me.

That “apparently” in the previous sentence might make you think that this is one of those birth stories where there is a sudden “and then x happened and she checked me and I was complete!” Not so. I wish it could have been. But I was just going slow, and I was just going to have to deal with it. I tried to keep my strength up by eating and drinking. Jeremy ran to the grocery store across the street and brought back some fresh orange/carrot juice, almonds, and what ended up being this labor’s drink sponsor, 100 Plus. That stuff is goooood.

At about 9.30p, I decided to try getting in the shower. It felt good, and maybe it helped labor progress, but the water was never really hot enough, and I just had to stand there, and I couldn’t find a way to rig my iPod Shuffle to keep it dry, and I had this awkward cannula in my hand that was supposed to stay dry. After thirty minutes, I got out.

My legs were so tired from standing and walking around and contractions that they were shaking. I thought maybe I was approaching transition, but no – I got checked – again – and I was still only at 6 or 7. This was at 10.45p. They asked me to sit for another session of fetal monitoring and I may have gotten mad again, telling them I wasn’t going to lie down. But I “must,” so I did, for another 10 minutes, which was not as long as they would have liked.

At 11p, I relinquished the iPod. In giving up my source of greatest comfort, I was either admitting to myself that I was hitting transition, or allowing myself to. I was finally reaching the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. It was such an awful feeling. I knew I couldn’t do it. And I knew that I would have to anyway. The contractions were long and hard and seemingly neverending. One of the nurses came in during this time to ask if I wanted her to get the doctor. I motioned to her to wait until I was done with that contraction…and it never really finished. It just kept going. So she went and got the doctor (smart nurse).

During that awful period of transition, nothing could touch me or my pain. There was no happy place to go to. I just immersed myself in the pain. Poor Jeremy was leaving me alone as I had asked him to (except to deliver food and drink), but at this point I was begging him, figuratively, to take away some of the pain.

At 11.36p, Jeremy casually mentioned that if I waited about 25 more minutes, the baby would be born the next day (meaning after midnight). I was not impressed.

Just before midnight, the doctor checked me again and I was at 8 or 9 (the “or”s throughout this birth story are the doctor’s, by the way, not mine. I guess she didn’t like being too precise). She and the nurses suited up in preparation for delivery and started to orchestrate some kind of transformer-like change on the bed from a fairly regular hospital bed into a different apparatus. I was almost out of my head with the pain, but I did not like what I saw. From what I could tell, she wanted me to get into the lithotomy position to push. To which my thought was, in sentiment if not exact wording, “oh honey NO.” Some stirrup-like leg supports had appeared out of nowhere and she was asking me to get on my back.

So we had a bit of a disagreement. I wanted to deliver side-lying, like I had with both of my previous deliveries. The doctor wanted me on my back with my legs up high. I was not having it. And I let her know. I pushed for a while on my side as she asked me repeatedly, very nicely, to shift to my back. I told her that I had birthed both of my girls that way and I was sure she could deliver this one that way. Poor woman. Poor me.

Jeremy talked me off the ledge a little and helped me see what the doctor was actually asking me to do. She wanted me on my back, yes, but with the bed tilted up so it was more of a modified squat. That was fine enough with me so I moved.

This is also not one of those birth stories where I say “two pushes and he was out!” I pushed for quite a while – except I just checked Jeremy’s notes and it was only about 20 minutes. It felt like a lot longer. You know, I have always wanted to be one of those women who just breathes her babies out, all serene-like and calm-faced. I am not one of those women. Oh well. Pushing was intense and I distinctly remember listening carefully to the encouragement of the nurses and doctor to detect any note of false “he’s almost here!” comments. I hate those comments. If someone was going to tell me he was almost here, I thought, he had better be dang well almost here. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone lied to me, including Jeremy, bless his heart. At one point, the doctor told me to push through one more contraction and that would probably be it. I think it actually was.

When he was born, they put him right on to me without cleaning him off or anything. I held him for a minute and got vernix all over me. Then they took him over to the corner to check him out. I have no idea when they cut the cord and neither does Jeremy. A male pediatrician magically materialized out of nowhere to check out the baby, but the nurses had pulled the privacy curtain around me so I never saw him and he never saw me. I just heard his voice and saw his signature on some documents later.

This could be the end of this birth story, except: stitches. Without adequate anesthetic. Yeah. I held my stuff together way better during labor than I did while getting stitched up.

At last at last, we were all tidied up, baby and me. The staff left us alone for about an hour. Jeremy and I took some pictures and talked about what we were going to name the baby now that we had seen him (and now that we couldn’t put it off any longer). In the meantime, since we hadn’t given the staff a name for the baby at birth, he was called “Baby of Bridget” on all the documents, which I think is kind of awesome.

I’ll save UAE vs. USA birth analysis particulars for another post. Location/culture aside, however, on paper this birth appears to be very similar to Magdalena’s. And maybe it was – drug-free, starting with water breaking followed shortly by the onset of contractions, and lasting about 9 hours (Magdalena) and 10 hours (Sterling, unless you count the 7 hours of contractions from the night before, and maybe I do?).

But in emotion and feel, it could hardly have been more different. After Magdalena was born, I remember this transformative feeling of “I did it!” After Sterling was born, all I could think was, “it’s over.” It was a much more visceral experience, rather than beautiful. I felt managed, rather than in charge. And it’s taken some getting over, and will probably take some more.

The Sasha 3.0 soundtrack winner was probably the music from The Virgin Queen, because it has some funky, upbeat tracks that picked me up when I needed it. But the refrain from Titanium got stuck in my head for a lot of the end of labor: “fire away, fire away,” over and over again.

I'm thankful things went as well as they did. I'm thankful Sterling is here and we're both safe and sound. I hope the tone of this birth story doesn't obscure those facts. I've written about it the way I feel about it. It might take on a rosier tone in the future. But if not, that's ok.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Vaccines, Abraham Lincoln, other books

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and FearThe Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to make of this book. Like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I think that the people who are likely to pick this book up and enjoy it are those who already agree with its message. If you are truly, legitimately, open-mindedly on the fence about a possible link between vaccines and autism, then perhaps this book could sway you one way or the other (spoiler: it will sway you to the "absolutely no link whatsoever" side). Otherwise, though, this book is either preaching to the choir or falling on deaf ears.

That said, I found this to be a very thoughtful book that lays out various vaccine controversies over the years in a very clear way. I especially enjoyed the earlier chapters about the initial development of vaccines and what a miracle they really were. I feel so blessed to be able to let my kids play outside during the summer and not worry that they will come home having picked up polio or whatever.

As you can tell, I am a believer in vaccines, especially since we live in a country where herd immunity is by no means a given. After I finished this book, I immediately went and looked up the girls' immunization records to make sure they're up to date on everything.

In my opinion, this is a great book that is well worth reading, but your mileage may vary.

Hemlock (Hemlock, #1)Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

First of all, just know that the cover for this book is completely inappropriate. At no time does the heroine of this book sit down in a forest while wearing a formal dress and weep. Not even metaphorically. A better cover - one that represented the actual plot and feel of the book - would have been something like this:

but with a werewolf in the background instead of a cat (?).

I have actually never watched a show on the CW (unless 7th Heaven was...was it?), but to me, this book read like an entire season of a show on the CW. Everyone is gorgeous and dramatic and having hushed, incomplete conversations about their relationship status, and in the meantime, werewolves are terrorizing the town. Yes, this is a werewolf book, but the twist is that everybody KNOWS there are werewolves.

Definitely worth a read if you don't have the time or inclination to invest in an entire season of some throwaway CW show, but you need your angst fix.

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns, #3)The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe it was because I read book #3 removed from the momentum of books #1 and #2, but The Bitter Kingdom didn't really do it for me. Go figure.

Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky, #2)Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just fine. It's been a while since I read the first.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Between three and four stars.

Part of me wants to give this book a big ol' pass to four stars because it is, after all, a re-imagining of Abraham Lincoln's life as a vampire hunter. AWESOME!

The other part of me recognizes that there are some flaws in this book that keep it from being amazing - one (or two, or THREE) too many dream sequences; a framing story that is left unresolved; etc. I would also have appreciated notes at the end of the book to tell me which events were real and which were fabricated for the book. As it is, I just KNOW I'm going to have a conversation with smart people someday where I say something like, "oh yes, that was during the period of Lincoln's life when he struck up a friendship with Edgar Allen Poe," and an awkward silence will ensue.

Definitely worth a read - pretty thrilling with an interesting historical setting. Just don't expect too much greatness from an Abraham Lincoln vampire book.


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