Mateo Week 2

So much progress was made since last week, it is hard to believe it’s only been seven days! So here’s the skinny.

Nicole
Nicole is feeling pretty great. She still has a little pain here and there but for the most part, I have my wife back. It is so nice to see her existing without nausea. She continues to enjoy her favorite meals and my mom is here to indulge her every craving. The only other ailment she has is a new insatiable appetite for buying baby stuff. Thanks to Etsy, we’ll be broke in by the end of the year. haha! Of course pumping breast milk means she has to get up multiple times a night to do the deed and as you can see, I am doing my best to support her. ha!

Mateo
The boy continues to impress us and the NICU staff! He is now taking nearly all of his feedings by bottle, which means the gavage feeding tube will soon be history. His umbilical IV is gone. He has started gaining weight and is now 4 lbs 2 oz, up from 3 lbs 14 oz. He has been maintaining his own body temperature for a while now and last night we had the biggest milestone yet: moving him to an open crib! The way the NICU is set up, the front area is reserved for the babies who are literally on their way out the door. That’s where Mateo’s new studio apartment is. With all his health issues addressed, all Mateo needs to do now is eat and grow.

So when does the boy come home?
This is a question we haven’t had the guts to ask yet. Honestly, Nicole and I prefer to take it day by day and when good things happen, they happen. Focusing too much on some hopeful end date would likely take away from our enjoyment of the time we currently spend with the little guy. So during each visit, he receives our full attention and energy and we figure the nurses will let us know what we need to know. And on that note, the nurse practitioner told us that she will be off for five days in a row and that she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be around to see Mateo go home. Now she didn’t say specifically WHEN he was going home, but she seems to think he will be gone by the time she returns at the end of next week. So using my highly developed Jersey logic skills, it would seem that our little man could be coming home sometime next week. Anyone else think he looks a little like a Christmas elf? :)

Mateo Week 1

I decided I would give a weekly update on Mateo’s progress until we have the little guy home. So here’s how things went down during week 1.

Nicole

Since Nicole had a C-section, we were able to stay in the hospital for a full four days. The nursing staff was awesome and the room was more like a hotel than a hospital. Despite having a nice big TV, our laptops, comic books, iPhones, and iPads, we spent the vast majority of the time talking. This proved to be a much needed break from “reality” that gave us time to really process and comprehend our newfound roles in life. After all, we are no longer just Nicole and Marc. We are now Mom and Dad. For two confirmed DINKS, that’s a lot to digest!

The four-day hospital stay was a blur but there were some notable events and milestones. First, Nicole started pumping breast milk. At this sensitive stage in Mateo’s growth, mother’s milk is truly the best medicine as it is packed with nutrients and antibodies that are specifically designed for his particular needs. This is biology at its best and it reminds me of why I fell in love with science. In the first few days, all we were able to get were tiny amounts of colostrum. Although we knew this was normal and it would still be a few days before Nicole’s milk came in, it was tough for her not to become discouraged. Fortunately, I was able to entertain her by doing an old lab trick called the “human centrifuge”. When she only produced about .25 mL of colostrum, it was really difficult to collect anything at all. The colostrum tends to coat the sides of the pump chute and never really makes it to the reservoir. Daddy to the rescue! By holding the assembled collection vial in my hand and spinning my arm like a windmill, I was able to extract a few precious drops. I would then collect these drops with a small syringe and run the sweet baby nectar down to the nursery. Now we will never know just how much this extra effort will impact baby Mateo’s recovery, but it certainly made a new dad feel like he was contributing to the process. And the new mom was encouraged because she was providing the thing her instincts told her her baby needed the most. By day 3, her milk came in and we now have a significant frozen surplus!

We came home from the hospital on Tuesday and Nicole was pleasantly surprised by her mommy sanctuary. Little did she know I snuck away each day for about an hour while she napped, and with the help of my mom and cousin Traci we cleaned and organized the nursery. The baby shower took place less than a week before Mateo’s big entrance and obviously we weren’t quite ready for all this. As always, family is there when you need them most. So all Nicole had to do was come home, relax, and heal.

Mateo

How’s the boy doing? In a word, great! He made significant progress in just seven days.

Breathing
His breathing was pretty good to start, but he did have an occasional spike in respiration rate. As a result, he was given CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) via those little nostril prongs. Essentially, Mateo was taking every breath on his own, but the positive pressure kept his airsacs open. Every day, the pressure was decreased until exactly seven days later (Friday) when the prongs were removed. He is now breathing comfortably and steadily and we can see his entire face. w00t!

Jaundice
Although neither of us saw any yellowing of his skin, blood tests showed that he did have a touch of jaundice. So there were several days when he slept in his little tanning bed. This is pretty standard stuff even for full-term babies. In Mateo’s case, it was completely expected because he isn’t receiving full feedings yet. Excess bilirubin (a by-product of old red blood cells) usually passes through the gut and comes out in the poop. Since there is no poop yet, the bilirubin builds up causing the condition known as jaundice. Phototherapy is the answer as it breaks down the bilirubin into products the baby can get rid of. As the feedings increased, so did the poopy diapers and as a result, he is done with his phototherapy.

Eating
Since Mateo’s gastrointestinal system is so new, he isn’t quite ready to take on full milk feedings. So over the course of the week, the nurses slowly introduced milk with only 1 mL every three hours via a feeding tube in his mouth. As the volume of milk went up, his supplemental IV nutrition went down. By the end of the week, he was up to 23 mL feedings every three hours, and the IV was down to a trickle. We are expecting the umbilical IV to be removed early in Week 2 since there really isn’t much need for it anymore. His mouth feeding tube was removed on Friday and replaced with a less intrusive nose feeding tube. As he begins to take more feedings by mouth, either at breast or by bottle, there will be less and less of a need for the nose tube and eventually that will come out too.

Thankfully, he is getting 100% breast milk right now. Nicole is providing an ample supply. Once he gets to his full 30 mL feedings, they plan on fortifying the breast milk with a special formula to help him pack on the pounds.

Weight
Mateo entered the world at 3 lbs 14 oz. As is the case with all newborns, he lost some weight initially. We knew this so we really didn’t inquire about his weight until this Friday. He apparently worked his way up to a full 4 lbs, but then dropped back to his birth weight. But we are trending in the right direction now and with full feedings and fortification, we expect his weight to start climbing this week.

In summary, the NICU is nearly done fixing everything that needs to be fixed. From here on out his stay in the NICU will consist of eating, sleeping, pooping, and being loved. Nicole and I are making two visits each day and we usually hold him for at least an hour. He does latch on to Nicole’s breast but he’s a little young for the whole sucking, breathing, swallowing thing just yet. Most sources say this level of coordination doesn’t begin until week 34, which is this coming week. But at this point, if he latches and gets his feedings at the same time, we have everything in place if/when he decides to suckle.

I think I’ll close this post out with a little video of Mateo sneezing.

Hello Baby!

Nicole and I would like to introduce you all to Mateo Xavier Spagnuolo. Our bouncing baby boy arrived on 10/28/11 and weighed in at a whopping 3 lbs 14 oz. Yep, he was a bit ahead of schedule. 7 weeks in fact. We are still a little dumbstruck by all of this but Nicole is healing well and Mateo is a spunky little dude.

Many of you are probably already aware that Nicole’s pregnancy has been anything but typical. She started getting sick the day after she found out she was pregnant and the nausea continued well into the third trimester. This wasn’t the kind of “sick” you see in movies where the woman runs to the bathroom, pukes, and then goes back to work like nothing happened. This is the kind of sick that lands you in the hospital getting fluids through an IV. She began taking Zofran after we tried just about every natural remedy we could think of. The Zofran did help her keep food and liquids down, but it didn’t do much for the constant food aversions and general misery of a constantly nauseous state. Without revealing my beautiful bride’s vital stats, I can safely tell you that she lost 15 lbs before the end of the second trimester. It was only this past week that she finally reached her pre-pregnancy weight. The poor girl has endured what is easily the most trying 7 months of her life. Despite the grim picture I’ve painted, her spirits were high, all pre-natal visits went great, and she knew it would all be worth it in the end. We were blissfully unaware of what nature had in store for us.

Around 3am Friday morning, she started getting cramps at fairly regular intervals. Our first thought was Braxton Hicks (false labor) contractions. After all, she hadn’t experienced any noticeable contractions up to this point and she didn’t know exactly what they felt like. But because the contractions were regular, frequent, intense, and getting worse, we began to suspect something was up. After noticing some spotting, we called our Doula and she recommended we go to the hospital immediately. To make a long story short, Nicole’s placenta was detaching from her uterus thanks to a condition known as placental abruption. Her contractions were by no means normal and the pain was nothing short of excruciating. It was only well after the fact that we found out just how much danger both she and the baby were in. Fortunately, her body gave her enough advanced warning that we were able to get to the hospital before things to escalated to a level I don’t even want to think about. There is no doubt in my mind that we narrowly dodged a bullet. We arrived at the ER at about 5:15 am and at 7:31 am our baby boy was breathing his first breath of air, delivered by an emergency C-section. I guess we won’t be taking the “Pickles and Ice Cream Tour” we had scheduled this weekend.

Nicole and I were originally aiming for a natural childbirth. We’re not super “crunchy” or anything but we did want to let nature take its course as much as possible with intervention only when necessary. While doing our research on the birthing process, we watched several documentaries and read a few books that had a way of villainizing the American medical system. I don’t plan on getting into any commentary on that, but all I can say is thank goodness we had this system at our disposal when we need it. Our baby now has a sporting chance at a “normal” life, despite opening his eyes to a world he wasn’t supposed to see for a another seven weeks.

So now, in true Spagnuolo style, Nicole and I are sitting in our room at the hospital accompanied by our laptops, iPads, and iPhones. That’s just how we roll. With a baby in the NICU, you have a lot of time on your hands and its nice to have some distractions. But rest assured, we are allowing plenty of time for our little one. At this stage, it is mostly hands off. In the mean time, we ponder the future and share laughter, tears, elation, fear, apprehension, optimism, and joy.

Our baby isn’t out of the woods yet, but the prognosis is good. His breathing is just about normal now and he is incredibly feisty. He has a touch of mild jaundice and is undergoing a little phototherapy. He was apprehensive at first but once we explained to him that this was just like using a tanning bed, he seemed to become much more comfortable with the idea. Fist pump!!!

We truly appreciate all the well-wishes and kind words from our online and offline friends. Most of you have been a part of our lives in some way since 2006, so it feels very natural to share some intimate details on the next leg of our family’s journey. We are lucky to have so many friends. Please direct all thoughts, vibes, prayers, positive mojo, or whatever else you’re into directly toward our little Mateo. And in 18 years, lock up your daughters (or sons, just because we’re open-minded that way)!

Below are a few additional pictures of Nicole’s first moments meeting our son. Also our first family shot and the Wushi Finger Hold. Skadoosh!

*Update*
A few folks have inquired about the name choice. Here’s the skinny. I picked Mateo because I thought it sounded cool with our last name. I originally thought we would spell it with two t’s (Matteo), but Nicole preferred the single t. It took all of five minutes to pick the name. Nicole and I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in baby name origins and meanings and instead we go with what feels right. After all, Mateo means “Gift of God”. Sort of ironic coming from two non-religious people. But there is no doubt that the boy is our “gift”. As for Xavier, that comes from Nicole’s grandfather. But I told her I would always insist it was inspired by Professor Xavier of X-men fame.

Why I’m Glad We Waited

Nicole and I rarely discuss the details of her pregnancy with anyone but family. I’ll make an exception today. We decided about nine years ago that we would stop taking birth control measures. We thought we were “ready enough” and if nature decided to make a baby, then so be it. After a while, we started to think there just might be something wrong with our plumbing. Eventually we went to a fertility specialist, but the battery of tests was an immediate turnoff. As romantic as it sounds to masturbate into a plastic cup, I must admit that I REALLY wasn’t looking forward to that part of the process. Now a paper cup might have been a different story! Hubba hubba! haha. Nothing like turning our sex life into a glorified science experiment! So we never followed up with the prescribed testing, poking, and prodding required to take things to the next level. We just didn’t want a baby that bad.

Fast forward several years and it was time to, as my mom would say, shit or get off the pot. We decided that if nature wasn’t going to allow this little miracle to occur without intervention, we would have to at least take measures to make sure there would be no surprises. Having kids any later than 35 didn’t hold much appeal for us, so Nicole made the call to go back on birth control after her 35th birthday. Exactly one day before her birthday, we had a positive pee stick. Well, fancy that!

Now that we are seven months into the Battle of the Buldge, I am really giving some thought to the path Nicole and I took and how we arrived where we are today. I can’t help but ponder what life might have been like if we had a baby nine years ago when we first opened the door to the possibility. So much has happened in that time, I can’t help but feel elated that a combination of mother nature and our general apathy toward parenthood led to a nine-year delay in conception. In fact, I cringe when I think of all the times I have heard people give advice like, “Don’t wait for the perfect time to have kids, it doesn’t exist!”, “Have kids while you’re young so you’ll be young when they move out.”, or “Have kids as soon as you think the thought, and everything will just work out.” For some, things do indeed work out. You make ends meet and life goes on. But for many others, having kids early means a constant struggle and a massive strain on what is likely a fairly new marriage (or other committed relationship). Now I agree with the advice-givers in that there is never a PERFECT time for anything in life. But there sure as hell are better and worse times for things to happen. And for many, what should be one of the biggest decisions in their lives (having a child) is given far less weight than it should be. I wonder just how many couples put more thought and research into a car purchase than they put into the repercussions of having children. Probably more than we care to know.

I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but for Nicole and I, we are far better off having waited. Just for fun and a little self-examination, here’s what life was like nine years ago. We were living in our first home in Temecula, Ca. with a fairly high mortgage payment. We had several credit card debts totaling $50,000+. We both had school loans and car payments. I was working at an antibody company (miserable) and Nicole was working in a different division for her current employer. We were just getting by and we were both perched upon the bottom rung of life’s ladder. We had a strong relationship, but my work-related stress often led to me being a little less than pleasant to be around.

Now let’s look at all the things that happened since then. I quit my job to pursue my passion for woodworking. Nicole wound up taking on a new position in her company that paid significantly more, but required a shit load of extra travel. This new position is what allowed us to take the risks involved in starting my own business. We moved to Phoenix. About a year later, I came up with the idea for The Wood Whisperer. Thankfully, the stars aligned and the business flourished. Debts were paid off and I am happy to say life is………great. In fact, it is so great that we had to wonder if we wanted to roll the dice by bringing a child into the mix! Well, too late to change that, ha!

So the question I have to ask myself is, if my little bambino came along when we originally opened that door, would my life look ANYTHING like it does today? I can wholeheartedly answer, NO! I had a hard enough time turning my back on my science career and a steady paycheck as it was. Nicole pretty much had to force me to do it. If I had a child to take care of, there would have been no way I would have relinquished my steady income. I would have kept my shitty job and I would have been the best dad I could be under the circumstances, work stress and all. Nicole would have likely turned down the position she took on. After all, how many new moms takes on jobs that entail MORE travel?!?! We’re looking at major opportunity loss for both of us. How about our debt? I seriously doubt adding a child into the mix would have improved that situation much, unless the child had some immediate talent that we coud exploit (joke). But Nicole and I are a strong couple and I like to believe we are smart people. We would have found a way to make it all work. Life would have progressed and we would have traveled down our path having no clue what the other road would have looked like. No near-term financial stability, no Phoenix, no big screen TVs, no Wood Whisperer…..

So again, I have to say I am so incredibly thankful that our bundle of joy was delayed. We are bringing a child into a financially and emotionally stable environment. We had plenty of time to be “kids”. We have traveled to nerd conventions and we have wasted money on silly gadgets. We spent countless hours destroying imaginary monsters with our friends from around the globe. And we have taken the last 12 years to become a strong cohesive unit, able to handle just about anything life throws at us (including a little human being who is likely to turn our lives upside down). We still plan on indulging our inner children as we grow old, but things might just look a little…….. different. I’ll have my little guy on my back as we wrestle through the crowds at ComicCon. We’ll have to make some space between our gaming stations for baby’s first gaming PC. And I’ll even put a little chair next to my comfy comic book reading recliner. I truly believe life will be better for all three of us simply because we waited.

Of course if the kid has no interest in video games, comic books, or sci-fi, we’ll just have to trade him in for a new one.

Yup, he’s a small human!

I don’t know if all parents to be do this, but Nicole and I frequently sit down and think about what our child would look like if he was unlucky enough to get a really bad combination of our features. For instance, Nicole has a teeny tiny forehead (maybe I should say she has fairly low hairline). I think it looks great on her! But imagine her forehead combined with my eyebrows. Things quickly take a turn for Creepy Town.

I have a fairly oblong-shaped head. Nicole has large cheek bones. What if our kid gets both? Yikes!

But ultimately, we decided that there is nothing to worry about. If our boy is really ugly, he’ll just work that much harder on having a good personality and being a productive member of society. And he’ll be much easier to be around for the rest of our lives. Win win! Well, unless he gets all angsty-ugly…. because nobody likes that.

Obviously this is my tongue-in-cheek humor (you’ll get used to it). But the purpose of this post was to talk about how amazing the current 3D/4D ultrasound technology is these days. Last week, Nicole and I (and Nicole’s Mom) went over to Miracle View in Phoenix to have her belly scanned once again. Turns out there is a little human in there!

The scan was performed at 11 am. Thus far, the baby is most active at around 9 pm. So our chances of getting a great shot were pretty slim, especially since the boy clearly likes having his hands in front of his face. But with a little persuasion, the technician was able to get him to move around a bit. Its an amazing view into the baby’s world and it almost feels like we shouldn’t be able to do this. I told Nicole that the whole thing feels a little like peeking at your presents before Christmas.

The video below shows a short 3 minute version of the full 30 minute video. I chopped it up and added some music just to make it interesting and tolerable. I figure if I’m going to make people sit through this crap, it should at least be somewhat entertaining and short. I hope you enjoy!