6 Months Later

It’s been 6 months. Half a year! How could so much time have passed already?
When he was first born it was hard to tell exactly what kind of baby Noah would be at 6 months old. Surprisingly the one word people use to describe him the most is ‘easy going’, which really floors me. With all the crying I did in my first trimester, I was sure he was going to be a miserably depressed little baby. As it turns out, his two favorite pastimes are daydreaming (he’s already staring longingly out the windows) and smiling. Even when he’s sleeping I can catch him with a little grin on his face. Incredibly, he’s also a morning person, which makes being up with him at 5:30am on a weekend only slightly less enjoyable than sleeping in.

My neighbor’s baby is a couple months younger than Noah. I had a chance to hold him the other day, which really put into perspective how a short age gap can make a significant difference in a baby’s size and development. The neighbor’s baby weighed next to nothing compared to my son. His neck wasn’t very strong and still needed some support, and generally he seemed more interested in sleeping than playing peek-a-boo. It made me think back over the last 6 months about all the obvious changes Noah has gone through already.

While less obvious, I’ve changed too. I’m not as nervous about things that used to stress me out. For example, I never wanted to leave the house with the baby during the first month. I was always afraid that I would never have enough diapers or I would forget some crucial baby tool or medication, so inevitably I always over-packed the diaper bag. The result was a big and cumbersome sack of goods, which further discouraged me from leaving the apartment. It just seemed like such a hassle to gingerly transport my newborn anywhere along with that honkin’ big sack of goods. At 6 months old, Noah is more physically resilient to our parental manhandling, and his feeding and sleeping schedule makes day trips more predictable. Now I realize that if I am going anywhere in town for less than a few hours, there is only 2 things Noah is going to need; a couple of diapers and a full bottle of milk. If any unforeseen emergency pops up where he needs something more, it can likely be bought at a pharmacy or I can just head home.

I’m also feeling more secure in my skin these days, both physically and mentally. It didn’t matter how many articles I’d read about the post-partum body, or what friends told me about the challenges of shedding their last 10lbs of pregnancy pudge, I honestly believed I would just bounce back. I was convinced that because I had done my kegels, pre-natal yoga and routine walks around the neighborhood, that I would be wearing my comfy jeans in no time. This was not exactly the case. The first couple of months were positive. My weight slowly and consistently dropped, and my belly, while gelatinous, also seemed to be shrinking. I was very optimistic. Somewhere between month 1 and 3 I hit a plateau. It was in my 4th month that I realized none of my pre-pregnancy fit.. My boobs were huge, my hips seemed wider, and I had at least 15lb of extra weight insulating my core. I absolutely hated my body. I probably hated it even more than the average North American post-partum mom because of all the skinny Japanese women I had to face around every corner. I couldn’t even splurge on new clothes to boost my self-esteem. At 5’8 and 130lbs, very few things fit me right in Japan; shirtsleeves never cover my wrists all the way; trousers always end up looking like capris on me, and Japanese women’s shoe sizes stop a full size smaller than my mine. It is just plain depressing to go from a medium in Canada to an XL in Japan.

It took a few friends to persistently encourage me that physical recovery takes time and effort, and even then, sometimes your body just won’t be the same as before. At first I didn’t want to accept this idea. It seemed so unfair. Was I destined for a life of mom-jeans and sweat pants? Slowly I came to my senses. Just because I might not ever be 120lbs again didn’t mean I couldn’t look and feel great at 135lbs, which is actually the recommended weight for my height. Since my 5th month I’ve started training for a 10km run which has really helped me feel a lot better about myself, not to mention very empowered.

Finally, I would say that my view of the Japanese medical system has also changed quite a bit. Personally, I had a wonderful pregnancy and birth experience, largely due to my great doctor and midwives and the spa like treatment I received at the birthing clinic. I walked away from the whole thing utterly impressed. However, to say that my experience is a good representation of what it’s like to give birth in Japan would probably be incorrect. I’ve spoken to various other foreign friends and acquaintances in Japan, and even read some accounts on random blogs that were quite different from my own. I realize now how much different every birthing center can be, depending on the philosophy of the head physician and staff. I thought it would only be fair to share some other experiences to give people out there a bit of a broader understanding of what to expect.

Same Story, Different Version

Who: A gaijin dad, from Hiko’s Blog
Where: Tokyo
Issue: First time parents learn about the difficulties of finding a good hospital and doctor in a busy metropolis. Questions arise about certain hospital practices.

Who: Ashley, from Surving in Japan Without Much Japanese
Where: Small city in Shizuoka
Issue: A detailed review of Ashley’s birthing experience, and the challenges she faced in process. Really great information and insight.

Who: A friend who is currently pregnant
Where: A small island, popular with tourists, of the coast of Kagoshima prefecture.
Issue: The island currently has no birthing clinic. Mothers must make the 4 hour boat journey to the mainland to give birth to their babies.

The main hospital has started doing pre-natal appoints only (no birth) and there is talk about a new gynecologist coming to the island so things may go back to normal soon. It’s been on the news a couple times too about the community complaining. We get a 1万 stipend for our transportation cost up to four times for any hospital trips outside of the island and 3,000円 if we stay in a hotel. That doesn’t cover everything but it helps. My friend, who was 38 weeks pregnant, decided to get off the island a little bit early and she ended up giving birth just a few days after arriving in Kagoshima city. If she had stayed a little longer on the island, she would have needed to be helicoptered out or had an emergency boat transfer to a hospital. I also heard that for emergency situations where there’s absolutely no time to get to a birthing hospital, the hospital here will have to take you in, but I’m sure their staff would be unprepared and facilities (inadequate).

One thing I gathered from these different accounts is that location matters when giving birth in Japan. Some large cities don’t seem to have enough maternity clinics to keep up with the demand, and very small cities may not have any services at all. While our town isn’t all that big, it has the incredible benefit of being home to one of the largest Japanese industrial companies, which in turn injects a lot of money, skilled workers and services into the community. This could be one reason we had such a variety of clinics to choose from, or why one of them happened to carry the epidural (1 of only 2 hospitals to carry it in a 100km radius!). It could also be why there are such great family services and day cares available here. Whatever it is, I think we lucked out.