The second crossing...

I decided to name this blog 'Crossing the Rubicon' because I knew that 2015 would be bringing big changes to my life. The first was my decision to leave academia and pursue a career in industry (still no regrets!). The second happened this past week, when I became a father.

Some folks who've known me for a long time were shocked to hear that my gf and I were having a baby. To be honest, it's not until relatively recently that I even realized that I wanted to start a family. I'd spent so long without any form of job or 'locational' security that I honestly hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it. But when I seriously began thinking about 'alternative' career choices, it opened up a whole new avenue of life-possibilities. This included generating the kind of stability that my partner and I wanted to pull the trigger on such a big move. 

Now we're here. I have no idea what kind of father I'll be. Cool, I assume, as I've already got a crap ton of Legos and video games for my son to play with when he gets older. I've also already begun reading things like Plato to him - the Dialogues mind you, we'll save The Republic for when he's more than a few days old. 

Now for a couple of observations about our experience with the whole maternity ward process:

Nursing staff seem to be obsessed with arbitrary thresholds. For example, babies lose weight during their first few days of life due to things like passing of retained stool and water loss. Most babies lose less than 10% of their birth weight before they shift to rapidly gaining weight. Our son lost just under 11% of his birth weight [2], which sent the nurses into panic mode. This led to them to admonish my gf for doing a bad job at nursing and not listening to their instructions, among other things. Conversely, the pediatrician wasn't worried about this number at all, rightfully pointing out that it's a threshold set by looking at the maximum weight lost by ~95% of babies. Less than a percent over the threshold isn't rare enough to panic.

In fact, one of the pregnancy books that I read, Emily Oster's Expecting Better, repeatedly emphasized this point: These are arbitrary thresholds, typically set at two standard deviations away from the mean of some measured distribution. Medical staff shouldn't be any more excited by what amounts to a P value of ~0.045 than a grad student should be about seeing it on the umpteenth test they've ran that afternoon. 

Secondly, we were somewhat disturbed by the lack of consistency between what we were told by different members of the nursing staff who could contradict one another multiple times in a single day. I'm not asking for super-human, encyclopedic knowledge of all things newborn in every nurse in the ward, but for sleep-deprived parents desperately trying not to kill the screaming, squirming thing that they're holding, it would be nice to feel like people weren't just making their answers up.

[1] Is this tautological?

[2] Some years ago, a grad student asked me what use the metric system would have in the lives of ordinary Americans. When my son was born, they weighed him in grams (3,570 g), converted it to pounds and ounces (7 lbs 14 oz), and wrote both on his chart. A few days later, a nurse came by and weighed him again - also first in grams (3,180 g) before converting to lbs/oz (6 lbs, 15.8 oz). She then looked at me and asked if it was more than a 10% weight loss. Instead of taking my word that he'd lost more than 357 g, she proceeded to open up some internal website and plug in the before-and-after lbs and oz values to get the dreaded news that the threshold had been crossed. Clearly the Imperial system's trouble with ratios, fractions, and percentages is not outside of the lives of 'ordinary' Americans.