Buying Baby Stuff

What better way to start shopping for our baby than to buy new bedroom furniture for ourselves? It makes the expense of the baby’s things trivial by comparison and postpones the day when you can buy stuff for the baby by throwing a wrench in your finances.

Looking at a Babies R Us list of stuff a baby needs, it seems like a million things. And a lot of them will be useful for only a few months before the baby outgrows them.

The biggest ticket item we have bought is a crib. Since all of our furniture has cherry finish, the crib has to be the same. However, we have got quite a few shades of cherry in our apartment now. Among other requirements, the crib had to have an easy, one-hand rail-release mechanism. The crib we finally bought was expensive but we like it.

A so-called Travel system is, in fact, a stroller plus an infant car seat. Most of the models were quite heavy and big, useful only if you have an SUV or a minivan, I guess. We bought the lightest travel system we could find.

When I put the infant car seat in our car, it barely fit. I had to move the front seat all the way forward to get enough space for the rear-facing infant seat in the back seat. That means that the infant seat can’t be behind the driver’s seat since I drive with the driver’s seat pushed all the way back. Also, when Amber will be driving, I’ll have to sit with the baby in the back seat.

I thought it was only our Corolla that was almost too small for an infant. But looking at the leg room data for midsize cars, they don’t seem much better either. And here I was, thinking of buying a car even smaller than the Corolla for myself.

My definite favorite among the stuff we have bought is the baby carrier. We didn’t particularly like the slings, so we bought the Baby Bjorn Active Carrier. I liked the back support in this particular model which was much better than the others. I think I am going to carry my daughter around all the time in this carrier.

Since we are still living in a one-bedroom apartment, this buying spree has resulted in every corner being filled.

POSTSCRIPT: Our Baby Registry

Doctor or Midwife?

We had been seeing a doctor but the question came up some time ago whether we would like to see a midwife, associated with the doctor’s office, instead and have the baby delivered by the midwife. So, we scheduled our next appointment with the midwife. Talking to the midwife and some friends, it seems that people often go for a midwife for the following reasons:

  1. A midwife can give more time to you during your regular appointments.
  2. A midwife will be with you from the time you arrive at the hospital till after delivery.
  3. People who want a natural birth are also one reason.

We discussed these issues with our doctor as well as the midwife and observed that:

  1. Both the doctor and the midwife give you about equal attention as a patient.
  2. Since our doctor practises with a group of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, there is always someone at the hospital delivering babies. We were assured that the doctor will be there the whole time and not just arrive at the last minute.
  3. We don’t really care about natural birth. Any medical technology that helps in pain relief or makes delivery easier would be most welcome.

There was also a sub-issue of the place of delivery. Both our doctor and the midwife deliver at the St Peters University Hospital. But the midwife also delivers at the Somerset Medical Center. The problem with going with a midwife at Somerset Medical Center was that in case a doctor was needed during labor/delivery, the local doctor there would be called instead of our doctor. Therefore, we decided to have our baby at St Peters.

Because of the enumerated list above as well as the fact that we were just more comfortable going with the doctor (especially if something goes wrong), we stuck with our gynecologist.

What’s in a Name III

This is the last post in my series of thinking aloud about our baby’s name.

We were thinking about our daughter’s last name when I found an article about the issue of women taking their husbands’ last names. A debate then started in the blogworld about this issue. For example, see Crescat Sententia.

Matthew Yglesias favors women keeping their own name after marriage.

The basic dilemma is that, for many women, their lives will go better if they just take their husbands name. It’s more convenient in a whole lot of ways. But if everybody (or even just most people) could be pursuaded to keep their own names, then the “convenience” factor would cease to point toward the name switch. Plus, things would be fairer. The question is how do we get from here, where it’s often rational to change your name, to the fairer world where it’s usually rational not to change it?

Diotima rubbed me the wrong way with this comment.

I think it’s incredibly important for a family to have the same name. A family isn’t just a collection of autonomous individuals, but shares a common identity. So, my thinking lately, is that I’ll pull a Hillary when I get married and keep my last name as a middle name: Sara Butler X.

I guess I don’t have a family then, just a collection of individuals. I guess her response is limited to her culture only since different cultures have very varying practices on this matter. For example, here is a Kenyan tribe tradition.

In my father’s tribe, it’s not customary to take the last name of one’s father. Each kid gets his/her own last name. The name is determined by the conditions under which the child is born, i.e. morning, noon, night, raining, etc. The last name also varies in the spelling with regard to gender: girls’ last names begin with A, boys’ with O. With Kenya having been a British colony, some Kenyans use their fathers’ last names in keeping with the European tradition. Some don’t. However, even those who use the European system of naming still have a “middle” name; more accurately, two last names.

Or consider the rigid Japanese laws.

Hiroko Mizushima has been married several times to the same man. But theirs is no soap-opera saga: Dr. Mizushima once divorced her husband to get a passport so the name would match her other documents. She remarried him to have their baby, and then filed for divorce again to continue publishing under the byline with which she’s built her career as a child psychiatrist.

“We’ve been married for nine years and never had any real intentions to get divorced,” Mizushima says. “But I write in international journals and have patients who know my name, so how can I change it?”

The couple is legally married again, but Mizushima insists on going by her original family name, which is technically illegal.

Mizushima is supposed to make laws, not break them. As a freshman politician who was elected to the lower house of parliament this summer, she is leading a drive to change the timeworn laws that require members of a family to have one last name.

As Brian Ulrich points out, the naming conventions arose out of specific cultural/historical factors.

The American way of assigning surnames stemmed from a combination of urbanization in the late middle ages (how to tell John the Baker from John the Miller) and Norman record-keeping with respect to property rights and needing a word to call different descent groups. It was set up on a strictly utilitarian basis.

Other cultures developed different naming patterns. In Arabia, the key question was descent and figuring out who was related to whom and to what degree. [… I]n this system there is no provision for women taking a husband’s name, though Yasser Arafat’s wife is Suha Arafat, probably a sign of Western influence on the elites. Names are about ancestry and origin, not a means of defining a bounded entity for the purpose of property rights.

Does anyone have any suggestions about books which cover the cultural history of naming conventions and the factors which shaped them?

But I digress. This post is not about women taking their husbands’ name after marriage. It’s about what to name our child. On that topic, One-sided Wonder thinks it is important for children to have the same last name as their father.

I’m in favor of keeping your own name, and I don’t think it’s very important for a mother to have the same name as her children. The maternal bond is such that it doesn’t need that sort of reinforcement. (And I say that as someone who has had a different name from her mother most of her life.) But I do think it’s very important for a child to have the same name as her father.

When a woman elects to keep her maiden name, some people have suggested hyphenating the last names of the parents for the children. But that gets out of hand pretty quickly. Crescat Sententia has another suggestion.

I find hyphenation a response that only is good for a generation or so, not to mention that it doesn’t work so well with salty names. I had a friend in high school whose mother’s last name was Saltanovitz and father’s last name was Przybylski. They did the most equitable thing I can think of: each parent used his or her own name, one child became Saltanovitz, and the other became Przybylski. As far as I know, the family doesn’t feel disunified because of embracing both names.

In Pakistan, we do not have any set standards for last names. Some people use their family name (acquired because of tribal, clan or occupational reasons) as their last name. “Khan” is probably the most common one. Another common family name is “Syed” but that is usually used at the start of the name rather than the end. Most people’s names do not contain a family name. This is changing over time. For example, Pakistan’s President-General is named Pervez Musharraf. “Musharraf” is actually his father’s name. But he has started using it as a family name by naming his son “Bilal Musharraf.”

In my case, my last name “Ajmal” is my Dad’s given name. To confuse matters further, it is his middle name.

We also do not have a fixed tradition of a woman taking her husband’s name at marriage. However, British influence does mean that some people do so. The lack of a family name can cause problems with this issue though. Some women thus take as last name their husband’s last name, which might be her father-in-law’s given name. Others tag on their husband’s first name, especially in social situations, but sometimes also legally.

When Amber and I got married, in a fit of romance and sentimentality, we decided that Amber should take my name as her last name. Since I didn’t really have a surname, she switched from “Ambrin Asum” to “Ambrin Zakaria.”

This didn’t present us with any problems in Pakistan. But it did require us to listen to a long lecture by the immigration officer at JFK when we first came to the US. He said something about how familial relationships can be found without sharing a last name. I just hope his last name wasn’t Smith, of which there are about 3 million in the US.

Other problems we have encountered include all the “Good Samaritans” who helpfully “correct” our names whenever they see them together so that Amber and I share the same last name. Thus, I become Ajmal Zakaria, which causes further problems and we have to get my name fixed.

There was also a health insurance company who did not have a last name field for dependents of the subscriber. Since Amber was the primary subscriber, I became Zakaria Zakaria in their database.

Therefore, in addition to a first name, we need to choose a last name for our kid. Our first thought was to change our last names so that all three of us share the same last name. But that would result in a lot of hassle for Amber and me. So, we are going to stick to our names and just choose a last name for the baby. There are three options:

  1. Ajmal: My last name and my Dad’s given name.
  2. Zakaria: My first name and Amber’s last name.
  3. Some other name.

Option 3 would confuse the heck out of people, so that’s out.

Deciding between options 1 and 2 depends on utilitarian issues like convenience as well as how well her first name goes with the chosen last name.

Any suggestions?

Pregnancy Pics

I guess it’s time for some pictures since it’s the 27th week.

Amber in Week 27 Amber in Kameez Shalwar Amber and me

The pregnancy is finally showing, though it can be somewhat hidden in Amber’s Pakistani kameez shalwar.

Week 21: Level 2 Diagnostic Ultrasound

The child finally looks human

I was scheduled for a level 2 diagnostic ultrasound during the 21st week. Myself and Zack were very excited as we were told that at 21st week the baby looks like a complete human vs “human like” in the early weeks.

The ultrasound was scheduled at around 7:30am. We reached our lab and the procedure started. Our baby was lying on her tummy and was very active. The ultrasound technicion took at least 50 different views. The sonogram included brain, kidneys, heart, legs, arms, face, hands, feet and what not. It continued for 2 hours. All that time our little one did not sit idle for a sec. She was not very co-operative. At one point the technician said to us “what a crazy kid she is, she is not letting me have the details I need to do”. But by hook or crook, all of the diagnosis was done. We were blessed to know that everything is normal.

The most amazing part was that at one point in time, she almost raised her head and seemed like she looked at us (that’s how it appeared on the screen) and while doing it, she used her pretty little hands and wiped her face. According to the lady performing the procedure, very few kids do use their hands to clean their face. Seems like we will have a neat, tidy kid after all. Like mother like daughter.

Progress of the fetus

During the 21st week,

Your baby can still move all over in the amniotic fluid. Towards the end of this trimester the baby will begin to settle, usually in a head down position (Although some babies do not turn head down until late in the last trimester.). About 3-4% of babies will remain in a breech position. Your baby weighs just under a pound (13 ounces or 369 grams).

What’s in a Name II

In my previous post thinking about a name for our baby, I mentioned a website for Muslim names.

Now, what exactly is a Muslim name? Let’s take a look at a few websites listing Muslim names. Most of the names on these sites are Arabic names with some Persian and a few Turkish names as well.

This seems like the general naming pattern in Pakistan where Arabic and Persian names are quite common.

However, why should we restrict Muslim status to Arabic, Persian or Turkish names? One website seems to be even more restrictive, prohibiting even Persian and Turkish names as “foreign.” Why are Persian or Arabic names Muslim while Indonesian (which is the largest Muslim country) ones are not considered Islamic by some Muslims? What about Berber names? Or African ones?

Why should we consider Arabic names Islamic? After all, Arabs of all religions share those names. Arabic names have spread over wherever Arabs ruled as well as in other Muslim lands, but one can still not tell a Muslim or Christian Arab apart by their given name in general. An example of the cultural and ethnic origins of names is that Pejman Yousefzadeh’s grandfather was named Abdollah. Pejman’s family is from Iran and he’s Jewish, but his paternal grandfather’s name is Arabic and means “Allah’s slave.”

I think names follow culture, language and ethnicity. A few names are based on religious figures and hence could be said to belong to a religion, but most are not.

Consider Biblical names. Quite a few Biblical names are common among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yochanan, Ioannes, Johannes, John, Jean and Yahya are different versions of the same name in different languages. Why should we consider Yahya, the Arabic version, as the only Muslim one of this list?

Let’s look at the practice of the Prophet Muhammad in this matter. There is no record of him renaming people who accepted Islam to distinguish them from pagans, Christians or Jews. The only examples I know of where Muhammad changed someone’s name was either because the name was derogatory or was of the form “slave of X.” Here is what Muslim Baby Names says on the topic:

The name must be meaningful. “You will be called by your name on the day of judgment” this is another reason why it is important to chose a name with good meaning. The prophet was very particular about it and he always changed names that were derogatory. An example is that he changed Aasiyah (disobedient) into Jameelah (beautiful).

A child must not be given the name of Allah unless it is compounded with Allah. According to a Hadith the worst of men on the day of judgement will be one who is called Shahinshah. only Allah Ta’ala is king of kings or Shahinshah; Kingdom belongs to him alone

Further parents must make sure that the names they select signify servitude to Allah alone and to no one else. They must not append bondage even to the name Nabi. Names that reflect love or romance must not be used either. The Prophet has suggested names of the Prophets or Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. He has said,

“Keep the names of the noble Prophets, Allah loves most the names Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. The most truthful names are Harith and Humam, while the most disliked are Harb and Murrah (war and bitter).”

I am always surprised at Muslim converts who change their names at the time of their conversion. I see no need for it.

Next: The struggle for last names.

What’s in a Name I

One of the interesting pastimes during pregnancy is choosing a name for the baby. Since we can’t be sure about the gender of the baby, we have to consider both boy and girl names.

The question then comes down to what sort of names to choose. Most people choose names either from their own culture or the culture they are surrounded by. For immigrants, the question can sometimes be quite important. I have heard arguments on both sides. On the one hand, a name in one’s native language is one of the basic links of one’s child to a culture they won’t exactly be part of. On the other hand, giving a strange (to the community one has settled in) name to one’s child can point the child out as an outsider.

We don’t care much about these issues, but there is a related problem that’s important. It is pronunciation. We want to pick a name that’s simple, beautiful as well as pronouncable by both Pakistanis and Americans.

The emphasis on pronunciation comes from the way my name has been distorted all my life. My name is “Zakaria” (زکریا). It’s a Hebrew name from the Old Testament. It is also found in the Quran as the Prophet Zakaria who was the father of John the Baptist (یحیی) [Yes, I know there are some differences between the Bible and Quran about my namesake]. Because it is a Biblical name, there are lots of different spellings and pronunciations. That, by itself, is not so problematic.

My pronunciation problems started in Pakistan over a confusion about the meaning of my name and some features of Urdu. My name means Yahweh (God) remembers. Now, remembrance of God is popularly known in Urdu and Arabic as zikr/dhikr (ذکر). Notice the difference in the first character in zikr (ذ) and in Zakaria (ز). They are two different letters, both pronounced as “z” in Urdu and Persian, but having somewhat different sounds in Arabic [In fact, there are four letters in Urdu that have the “z” sound]. This caused spelling errors of my name in Urdu, so much so that my Urdu teacher in middle school would try to “correct” my name on any work I turned in. I finally did win that battle with him.

The pronunciation errors were, however, not a result of this issue. They owed their explanation to another peculiarity of Urdu (and Persian and Arabic): lack of vowels. We have long vowels in Urdu but the short vowels are never written down. There are diacritical marks for short vowels, but they are almost never used. Let’s take a look at my name. Letter by letter, it would be transliterated from Urdu to English as “Zkrya.” Add in the people’s assumption that my name is related to “zikr” and you get “Zikree-a.” That used to piss me off.

Our pronunciation problems obviously weren’t over when we came to the US. Here, people do all sorts of stuff to my name. Those who call me “Zachary” or “Zachariah” are ok by me. The most common mistake, that I don’t like, though is to elongate the second “a” to say “zakaaria.”

I have been used to people mispronouncing my first name since birth. So I have gotten over it. However, I never thought someone would drastically mispronounce my last name. It really is pretty simple: “Ajmal.” The worst mistake you can make is elongating one or both of the short a’s. But I have heard worse. People have tried to think of the “J” in my last name as either a Spanish or German one. That sounds so awful, I usually don’t recognize it.

Enough about my problems. There are issues with Pakistani names due to lack of similar sounds in English. For example, Talha (طلحہ) has a soft “t” that doesn’t exist in English. There are other letters and sounds as well. I remember how amused I was to first hear the word khakis from a native English speaker. Its origin is Hindi/Urdu خاکی and we don’t pronounce “kh” as “k” at all.

Names in Pakistan can either be local (i.e., Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, etc.) or borrowed from Persian, Arabic or Turkish. There is a large number of such borrowed names.

When a name from a different script is transliterated into English, there are always multiple versions. For example, Muhammad/Mohammed, Usama/Osama, etc. Talking to Kianoush, it also seems that my Urdu-speaking instinct for transliteration is different from his Persian-speaking one. For example, where I would think an “i” as the appropriate vowel, he likes to use “e.” The Turks also use much more different spellings for the same words. This not only means different spellings for the same word, but also different pronunciations based on those different transliterations.

Therefore, we are limiting our search to names from either the US or Pakistan which would work in both places. Even if the name is strange to one country’s ears, they shouldn’t have to struggle to pronounce it.

Here are some online resources for names.

  • 1990 US Census name distributions: A list of first and last names in the US arranged by their popularity.
  • Behind the name: Lists of names from different cultures/languages and their meanings.
  • Popular baby names from the Social Security Administration.
  • Name Statistics: Check the popularity of specific first and last names in the US.
  • Baby Names lists more than 6,000 names. I noticed Persian and Arabic names in addition to European ones.
  • Parenthood has Norse, Phoenician, and Aramaic in addition to the regular ones.
  • Babycenter allows you to search names by first letter, last letter and number of syllables.
  • Popular baby names seems to have a good collection of names as well.
  • Or you could invent a name.
  • Muslim names: This requires a long discussion which will have to wait for part II.

Feel free to suggest any names you like in the comments.

Next: What’s a Muslim name?