Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Wallaby from Rob

I happen to know a few good men named Robert and today I’ll take a few minutes for a lil’tribute to one of them: our friend Rob LeBlanc of Grimsby, Ontario.  Rob is practically-family: the-man-of-a-friend-of-a-sister-of-a-wife to me.  He also happens to be a skilled ice-fisherman (although Charles Darwin taught me that I am unlikely to ever meet an ‘unskilled’ ice-fisherman).  Rob has recently earned ‘muchos respectos’ in my eyes because he was sharp enough to quickly connect a few dots and toss up the nickname ‘Wallaby’ for Wallaby. 

Wallace is named ‘Wallace’ for no especially significant reason.  Kate and I took weeks and weeks fumbling through name ideas (as pre-parents do) until one day we stumbled on ‘Wallace’ and something just ‘stirred’, and there was no further fumbling.  As they say (or they should), he was always going to be Wallace, we just had to get there.

For the record, my son’s name has little to do with the York University men’s volleyball program or with the movie Braveheart (... another of Wally’s nicks’, and an awesome movie - although strangely enough I’ve never heard any of my British-born friends or family agree with that.)

The only tiny little actual intended significance of the name Wallace is an association with the history of a little-known science called ‘biogeography’ – which Kate enjoyed learning back in the day.  And you know how I feel about science.

And from day one I liked the sound of ‘Wally’.   It sounds 'kind' doesn’t it?  Like a nickname that a person could easily chose to ‘own’.  And for me it has no connection to the robot from the kids movie which I have not seen or with the ‘Where’s Wally?’ children’s book series that everyone here mentions but in North America was called ‘Where’s Waldo?’  Why would they re-name it?

But I digress... it so happens that I usually call my son ‘Wallaby’ these days, and that began with Rob.  I remember first reading it in an email and being stunned -  frozen for a minute -  Rob had uncovered in a single day something unnoticed but readily available to me for upwards of a month.  It was right there.  I loved it.... and yet I had somehow missed it completely. 
The experience reminds me of an old friend from my undergrad days who often seemed to find cash lying on the ground.  It was right there but everyone else missed it.  I like to think that it was because Chike enjoyed the process of a relaxed walk rather than a rushed-foot-commute like the rest of us.  Maybe Rob is also a ‘relaxed walker’.

In any case, ‘Wallaby’ fits our young’in like a glove.  Wallabies are ‘miniature’ (and cuter) versions of kangaroos.  They are of course native to Australia and, like kangaroos and Wally, are born ‘too early’ and need to chill in mom’s pouch and grow for a little while before taking on the real world.

Incidentally, the Aussie men’s rugby team is also: ‘The Wallabies’.  Here is their logo:

I think I’ve said before that every national team gets a different ‘animal’ here.  It is never ‘the national men’s rugby team’ as we have in Canada, but instead just ‘The Wallabies’.  And as far as rugby teams go, the Wallabies are pretty awesome.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I’m not surprised that very few of our friends and family have asked me this question.  It’s not for lack of curiosity - I’m sure - but rather consideration for our privacy.  In any case, medical details are far less important than outcome.  Little Wallace, although still in hospital, is healthy and well today.

But a standard pregnancy lasts 40 weeks and our boy was delivered by surgery at less than 32.  So… why?  There is no reason why I can't answer that question here today.  Kate and I feel lucky to have had the medical care that we did and I am writing this post today because it will give me a chance to recognize and acknowledge the heroes involved. 

Obviously children were born healthy long before modern medicine and every pregnancy is different but I just have this one example, and in it, the ultrasound-evidence-based decision to deliver Wally undoubtedly saved his life. 

I’ll try to give you the short version:  In Australia it is common to get two ultrasound scans at 12 and 18 weeks of pregnancy.  Kate’s scans were both good.  Little Wallace was not yet named but growing fast, looking wonderful, and due in mid-May.  No troubles.  No further scans were needed or scheduled.  Here, let me show you a prettty remarkable image: this is Wallace when Kate was just 12 weeks pregnant.  (A new gimmick made available by modern ultrasound machines.)


By a stroke of fortune that still wells me up when I think of it, during a regular checkup at 28 weeks, our obstetrician decided to show-off his brand new ‘office-sized’ ultrasound machine and have a quick-peek-scan of Wally for no reason at all... literally ‘just for fun’.   We now know that very few pregnant women get to have an ultrasound scan at 28 weeks in any country.  There is just no need.  But as the doc glanced at the image on his screen that morning his light-hearted persona changed before our eyes for the first time in the months that we had known him.  If you had been there, you would have been spooked like I was.  We were sent immediately to the ‘pros’ for high-resolution images at the Maternal Fetal Medicine centre at Mater Hospital – just a short walk away - where, after much discussion between three experts, it was decided that Wallace was comfortable and fine at the moment but had a rare ‘umbilical cord issue’ that no one there had actually ever seen with their own eyes before: a ‘large cord hematoma’.  And they were worried.  Truthfully, I think they were also a bit excited to have the chance to see something quire rare and 'dangerous' alongside an apparently healthy baby.  But more importantly to me... they were worried.

Kate and Wallace were put on a regular ultrasound scanning schedule.  We were told that Wallace would definitely exit by C-section because ‘ordinary’ delivery was far too hazardous for him, and he would be out at 36 weeks at the latest because leaving him in there any longer would be careless and foolish.  The doctors were weighing the benefits of prolonging pregnancy versus the risks of potential umbilical cord rupture which Wallace would not survive.  The little guy was, in a sense, floating next to a ticking time bomb.  I hate to think of it, even now.  The second major concern was about stress on Wally’s heart which ultimately leads to heart failure.  But this they could monitor and Wallace would need to be ‘watched very carefully’ for the rest of the pregnancy for signs of ‘trouble’.  So far, his heart appeared to be doing just fine.

There was no rhyme or reason to this ‘complication’, we were told, no way to foresee it or prevent it.  Statistically speaking, it would never happen again.  It was just terrible luck; like being struck by lightning.  The weeks that followed were difficult for us as we became regular visitors to the hospital for scans and pretty much always feared the worst.  Being in the profession that I’m in, of course I found the relevant medical literature.  Documented cases of such ‘hematomas’ were indeed rare.  And the reports were full of still-births and very serious complications.  Kate and I were terrified.  In all honesty, I sometimes wonder how a smart doctor can ever summon up the courage to breathe air or touch anything.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of unique things that can ‘go wrong’ with a human being.  The blue prints of you and I would make those of the international space station look like a children’s book.  But the vast majority of potential problems ‘never’ happen so we need not worry or even know about them.  Physicians on the other hand memorize lists of such problems, and keep memorizing as new ones are discovered and added.  They observe and think about these problems daily.  No thanks.

Now, I’ll skip to 31 weeks.  Wallace started to show early signs of becoming mildly anemic (they could see this by using an ultrasound speed gun to measure ‘blood velocity’ in one of his arteries and using plumbing equations to convert the ‘fast’ blood measure to a ‘thin’ blood measure).  Although it was the first sign of a bit of stress on Wally’s heart, mild anemia is not a big deal, but if it progressed to ‘severe’ anemia, it would be followed by heart failure.  His ‘blood velocity’ was carefully monitored for a few days for signs of increasing stress on his ‘ticker’ and then on the morning of his birthday the decision was made to ‘bail out’ – that was actually what they called it.  Kate got less than 4 hours notice, I rushed to the hospital from work, and Wallace was born. 

And he was born healthy :)  So healthy in fact that I felt the doctors might have been a bit surprised – although I think they tried hard not to show it.  Wally's umbilical cord was the subject of super-nerdy interest and excitement by the pros.  They took pictures of it and even sent it for an ‘autopsy’.  I liked seeing these high-paid experts get excited about something so strange.  I have some appreciation for the enjoyment of research and discovery.  Wally's case will be published in some obstetrics journal and perhaps it will someday help doctors and terrified parents elsewhere.

Before his birthday, Wallace had been fighting to 'swim', for some time, against an increasing current.  And hard-to-imagine as it may now be, despite his best efforts, our boy was  dangerously close to a steep and certain fall until someone quite literally ‘reached in’ with a big gloved hand and saved him.  That 'someone' was actually a small team of smart men, all of whom had spent countless years learning how to save children.  And that 'someone' can also mean every one of the thousands upon thousands of people responsible for the amazing advancement in medical knowledge and technology that we are now witnessing right before our eyes.

I'll leave it to you to imagine how Kate and I feel about the doctors that rescued this little guy:

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I don't intend to spend my parenting years bragging about my son's mad skillzzzz... but if there is one thing that Wallace does very well, it is sleep. He could teach a class in it.

And where was dad during this lazy nap yesterday? I was the happy bed.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Graph Day

Kate, Wallace and I (mostly just Wallace) are living a bit of an adventure right now. If you visit this blog, then you are probably 'in it' with Wallace to some degree although you likely don't know much about 'it' beyond what you can tell from the pics and my brief words. In the next few posts, I will try to explain a bit more.

Let's start like this: If there is one thing a scientific-nerd like me should be able to do it’s make a graph. When the time comes (maybe a year or two from now) I will definitely teach Wallace how to make cool graphs too. Here’s is a graph documenting Wally’s weight in the past months:

The thick yellow line represents a standard growth rate of an average baby in the womb. You and I and most of everyone else had to climb that yellow line in pretty much the same way before we did much else. It was three months of ‘nothing’ followed by a slow start, steady increase and steep finish. Much like climbing Everest I hear - which probably takes 9 months too.

The thin blue line is Wallace. You may be surprised to hear that between 10 and 20 percent of all babies are born pre-term or before 37 weeks gestation. (You can also call it ‘pre-mature’ but apparently that offends some people who believe pre-maturity should refer to ‘organ development’ and ‘pre-term-ness’ to womb-time. Wallace and I couldn’t care less :)

It turns out that babies double their weight in just two months between 7 and 9 months of 'womb time'. They put on a lot of fat right at the end before taking on the 'real world'. Therefore, Wallace, being born two months early, came out roughly half the weight of the average fully grown baby, and missing a lot of fat.

Wallace has taught me many interesting facts. For example: all babies lose a good chunk of their birth weight (~15%) in the first week after birth and have to gain it back in the second week. This happens because so much of their initial weight is ‘womb fluid’ or ‘juice’ or something like that. It's not 'real' weight so it just 'goes away' somehow.

Wally’s mass has been carefully monitored since birth and formally recorded every two or three days. After the expected week long drop our little guy started thundering back at a rate that parallels what he would have done in the womb. That's a best case scenario and Kate and I are thrilled because it means he will be home weeks before his original due date. Here’s a closer look at the most recent part of the graph:

If you want to know how I felt when Wally turned the corner and started to put on weight in a hurry after day 6... click here.

And here's a keeper from a few days ago:


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My name is Wallace

My name is Wallace... but I get called all sorts of names: Wally or Wallaby or Wall or Ace or Young’in or Pumpkin... I don’t mind.

I have grandparents on the other side of the world who behave like they’ve never seen a baby picture before. I’m afraid they will squeeze me too hard when they finally meet me in person. One of them calls me ‘Waluszek’. It is Polish, and it means nothing... but dad tells me that it’s a combination of the words ‘suitcase’ and ‘little finger’. I don’t mind... I guess grandparents are just strange.

This is my mom. She is beautiful, and warm, and she smells delicious.

And this is my father.

He has just one eye in the middle of his silver face. He seems to love me lots but I can’t explain how mom couldn’t find a better looking dad for me.

I live in a little plastic room which is hot, and it sits in a bigger room which is cold. But that room sits in a country which is hot again. The nurses say I live in an ‘incubator’... but I think they live in the incubator.

All of my little wires are attached to lights and bells and whistles. If I hold my breath for a second – the whole room starts flashing and bells start ringing like a casino. Dad is afraid that I might start to like it.

Dad tells me that he posts up electronic pictures of me for everyone in the whole world to see. He’s very lucky that I’m too young to understand what the word ‘privacy’ means. And why would the whole world want to see me anyway? What’s the big deal? Didn’t everyone look just like me once? Dad says that I have many uncles and aunts all over the world who love me and want to see pictures of me very much. I think he's nuts.

But, yesterday I decided to show him something cool anyway... here’s how it went down: first I pretended that I could hear music in my imaginary head phones to get dad’s attention.

And then I started to dance and dance and dance until I could not dance any more.

Of course, dad couldn’t stop taking pictures... the whole world will probably see them now.

Thankfully, mom was there to rub my head at the end of the show.

She said that she loved the dance, but that I should save my energy for growing. (She tells me smart things like that all the time.) And then she gave me a big hat and an even bigger hug.... she smells delicious.

They say I’m pretty small but I’m glad that I’m not too small to have funny thoughts. Here’s a funny thought: All the important-sounding textbooks say that I don’t know how to smile yet. Silly text books... they make me giggle :)

Moji Rodzice

Wallace has brought novelty to my life and to my thoughts. Every day now I catch myself thinking about parenting, imagining the future - making little plans and strategies - like I’m preparing for a big game. And when I think back to my own childhood I realize that Kate and I will see just a fraction of the parenting challenges that my folks overcame.

Perhaps you are in the mood for a story:

Zbyszek and Marysia (Ziggy and Maria) were married in Poland in the 70’s. He was a professional volleyball player topped-up with an engineer’s education and she was a post-graduate-school psychologist. They made three boys (Jakub, Grzegorz, and Mateusz) in 78, 82 and 84. Ziggy retired from sport and began working as an engineer or something technical like that. They had themselves a little apartment and they seemed to be getting by okay. But in truth, things were not well with their world and life did not look promising for their children.

When a country is ‘broken’ politically and economically - as Poland was - many aspects of daily life are ‘unfair’. Opportunities simply do not exist. And necessity makes good people act selfish and cruel. There are countless examples. When I was Wally’s age, in a nursery just days after I was born, my parents had to bribe a nurse ‘not to ignore me’. They actually had to slip her money to keep her from neglecting infants under her care. I can't imagine anyone ‘being that nurse’ or living in the system that created her. That was communism; that story, and a million stories like it.

So Ziggy and Maria left - mainly for the benefit of me and my brothers. They scooped us up and they moved us to Canada. But the reality of immigration is far from a story book that ends happily with the word ‘Canada’. After the ‘move’ comes the sacrifice, the swallowing of pride. Well-spoken educated people find themselves suddenly mute. Engineers are demoted to dishwashers and doctors to janitors.

For us the move itself was tricky. The details are insignificant but the practical outcome was that Ziggy had to leave Maria and children alone in an apartment in Swidnik, Poland for more than a year before they could join him in Kitchener, Canada. By then Ziggy had already climbed from dishwasher to janitor and onward. The years that followed I will just gloss over: my parents were focused on learning English and career advancement, or more accurately re-advancement, as they tried to ‘catch up’ economically after late entry into the Canadian race. Maria was simultaneously a full-time worker, full-time student, and full-time mother for many years. She did it, somehow, without collapsing from exhaustion. They both managed to achieve astonishing career success. My brothers and I, in our childhood bliss, were completely oblivious to any difficulties. And not once, not for a moment, did I ever feel ‘foreign’ or ‘out of place’ in any negative sense. I felt Polish and I felt Canadian – proud and comfortably both. And for that pride, and comfort, I owe my parents a hefty debt. I don't know how, but somehow, they protected me from fear and anxiety. I was shielded from the stresses and troubles that they faced. I am sure that it will be infinitely easier for me to do the same for Wallace.

I know that this blog has some new readership since my son’s birth. Some distant friends and family now visit and read. Many members of my extended family struggled with immigration just like my parents did. I don’t have a chance to see them often now and some probably wonder who I am today and whether I am still the same person they once knew.

Although I've been away from ‘home’ for more than a decade now – and I have changed in many ways with education and experience - I remember my past like it was yesterday. I was a fortunate kid. Not only did I have generous parents but also a number of loving uncles and aunts. We crossed the Atlantic en masse and settled into Canadian life together. In every family parents struggled while children played. I suppose that I am fortunate to know some remarkable old Polaks :) I wish I could see more of them.

Looking at Wallace now – I appreciate my folks. That has to be standard emotion for someone in my shoes. But Ziggy and Maria, and all others like them who danced the ‘immigration dance’ for their children deserve some true props. Sadly, when our parents and older relatives look at us today they can sometimes feel an uncomfortable sense of unfamiliarity and distance. Time and foreign influence has created a gap between us and them - but it's not a big gap, really. I suppose that on a blog like this, I may sound very unfamiliar to some. I can only hope that I have banked enough trust to assure them that although I may now be absent, and in some ways changed, I am not so different from the happy kid they knew.

I remember my family well, and often. And most importantly, I remember, and will always admire what my parents accomplished. Unlike them, Kate and I will not have to rip up our education credentials and start from scratch, while learning a new language and culture, and trying to feed, clothe, and inspire three fast-growing kiddies. Instead, we can just relax and be parents.

So thank you Zbyszek and Marysia... thank you very much - from me and from Wallace.

Monday, April 5, 2010

2 weeks +

Day 16 - chillin' with moms - at 1524 grams and counting...
I know... I know... she's quite pretty :)

And here is Wallaby behind the 'incubator' glass... posing:
Wallace is doing great - maybe I'll try to write something more entertaining tomorrow :) Cheers.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Good Easter

How's this for an Easter morning surprise:
The overnight nurses painted our son's feet blue and made us a keeper :)

Kate and I had a wonderful Easter in the hospital with Wallace. He is two weeks old and still mostly in his incubator (which they call an 'isolet' here) but he is starting to grow fast. Kate has been spending many hours with him every day this week. Here they are at their happiest.
And here's my little boy in dad's hands on display for the world :)