Made in Japan 4

To be continued...

Crunch Time
In the last month, life has become quite busy. Lots of little errands to run in preparation for the baby, people to see, and precious weekends to savor. It’s hard to believe that in less than a month my body will do exactly what it was built to do after 9 months of hosting a forming person. However, my mind continues to be in denial about the whole thing. Last year, I thought I was an impregnable fortress when I stopped taking my birth control pill. Obviously I didn’t have much of a force-field and that idea was shattered quickly. After that, I figured I would somehow never gain a single pound or look like I was hiding a basketball under my shirt, but my students remind me daily with their “My, you’re SO big” comments and finger pointing from random children in the supermarket that obviously indicates my body has gone through a few changes. Currently, I’ve been imagining a magical, painless, laborless birth, one where the baby exits out of my belly button one Saturday morning while I’m peacefully sleeping and where life continues on as normal. I know, I know. The hormones must be making me delusional.

I shed a few of my fantasies last week when I visited a Japanese friend in the hospital. She had just delivered a beautiful baby girl. She was on her fifth day of her hospital stay, and she looked fantastic, with very little baby gut showing. It was a little surreal being there, in a delivery clinic, almost full term, sitting across from a woman who just finished going through what I was up next in line to do. If felt like just by sitting there talking to her was somehow going to give my baby the green light to come on out. Thankfully I left the building the same way I came in.

In true Japanese fashion, my friend had only gained about 13 pounds over the course of her pregnancy, and still somehow managed to have a perfectly sized 6 pound baby. I’ve gained about 20lbs, and by western standards I could bare to put on a couple more. Her labor, at just under 5 hours, was pretty short considering this was her first baby. All of these factors made me immediately think of her experience as easy-breezy, but when I asked her about it, she laughed in such a way that I don’t often hear my Japanese friends laugh. It was the sort of laugh I would expect from my sister, one that translates into “Ha! Are you for real!? You must be kidding me!?” It was a very telling moment. She assured me that it was quite painful. Great. Just great. Japanese people are masters at evading their true feelings and being modest about their experiences. So if they say something really hurts, then chances are the pain was practically unbearable.

I changed the subject quickly and I asked her if her stay at the hospital had been boring or uneventful. She let out another telling laugh. No, she’d been quite busy with daily lessons learning practical baby-care techniques, taking visitors, and trying to get a few last nights of real sleep. Just that morning they had taken out her stitches and I noted that she shifted her weight gingerly sitting on the bed across from me.

If there is one thing about having a baby in Japan that I am thankful for, it’s the mandatory 1-week hospital stay, especially since my parents won’t be arriving for a couple weeks after the scheduled due date. Colleagues at work balk at the idea that a woman in North America is sent home 48 hours after going through such a huge physical process. “Who teaches them how to give the baby a bath or how to breastfeed? What about time for the mother to heal and rest? How do they monitor their health?” The only answer I have for them is that they do everything much quicker and there is no room at the hospitals for them to stay that long, but lately I have been wondering the same things. I question if the week-long stay has anything to do with Japan’s amazing infant mortality rate (2 infant deaths per 1000, compared with 7 per 1000 in the USA). Regardless of the reasons, I am happy that the stay is part of the Japanese birthing package.

The last few doctors appointments I’ve had included one-on-one visits with the hospital’s head midwife. She’s given me a tour of the facilities, showed me the various rooms, and practiced my breathing with me a bit. I had a chance to peek in the glassed off baby room, astonished at how small a 1 day old baby actually is, but how powerfully shrill their cries can be. I was also given a list of things to put together that I would need for my stay, which includes about 6 pairs of Velcro-underwear, assuring the nurses easier access when they need to check and clean my privy areas. Fantastic. Other than all that, appointments have only changed slightly, the main differences being that now I see the doctor every 2 weeks instead of once a month, and the doctor is performing pelvic exams again. Everything else is the same.

This weekend was wonderfully peaceful, sort of like the calm before the storm. I enjoyed a great dinner out with friends, relaxed at home with Matt, got some good housecleaning, gardening and sleeping in. I have a week of work left, and I can tell that all the teachers are relieved that my maternity break is almost here. Even the slightest sentiment from me that I wish I could work a little bit longer is met with wide eyed glares that read “Are you nuts?!” I try and explain to them that some women back in Canada work right up until their water breaks. They have made it clear to me that when that happens, they would rather that I was far away from the school. I am glad that the latter half of my pregnancy has gone smoothly. The last thing I wanted was to be too sick or tired to teach my classes properly. Sometimes I worry about the challenges of returning to my job and what it will be like as a working mom in a country where most women stay home for years to raise their kids. Time will only tell. It’s a huge and daunting mountain to scale. Actually, it’s something Matt taught me about climbing that reassures me the most these days. Doesn’t matter how tall they are, you reach the top in the same way…one step at a time.
May 22, 2011

Just Due It
After a beautiful sunny week, the rain is back. Being rainy season, it’s to be expected though, so I don’t have much right to complain. On the up side, at least I don’t have to go through my third trimester in the sweltering heat of July or August. I’ve heard that is no fun whatsoever. Also, today is my official due date. However, it’s highly unlikely that I will be delivering in the next 24 hours. Expecting your baby to show up on the designated due day is kind of like hoping the rain won’t fall during rainy season. I’ve been told for first time mom’s that it’s pretty common to be at least a week late. I’ve been taking that to heart all this past month, and I’m glad I have been. The last thing I want is to be disappointed over something I can’t really control. I figure when my body is ready, the little man will make his appearance. For now, the best I can do is enjoy the quiet time around the apartment.

Actually, yesterday we thought my water broke and the hospital suggested we come in to check. It turns out it was a false alarm and that I actually just peed myself uncontrollably. Yes. Embarrassing, but true. Well, when all your organs are squished into corners of your body that they don’t really belong in, lots of strange things happen as a result. I’m hoping that I won’t be peeing myself anymore after this and that it was just a one-off situation. At least if my water does break, I should be able to tell the difference (i think!).

I had my week-39 appointment this past Monday, and the doctor finally set my inducement date in the event that I don’t go into labor on my own. It’s sort of refreshing to know that there is cut off period to all of this. As of my last appointment I have gained roughly 23 lbs and the baby is estimated to be at about 7lbs. Both measurements are a little on the large side in Japan, but considering how tall Matt and I are compared to everyone here, I think our doctor feels this is about normal for us foreign giants. Also included in the last doctor’s appointment was a pelvic exam that involved what I believe was a ‘cervical stretching’. It was probably the most uncomfortable procedure performed so far in the pregnancy and a little bit painful. After it was done, I walked around feeling like my inside biology had been completely rearranged. Thankfully that feeling only lasted the day.

The apartment seems to be as prepped as I can make it. Roger thinks that any piece of baby equipment we’ve set up has been done for her benefit. I keep finding her sleeping in the crib, which is really cute right now, but is absolutely a huge ‘Hell No!’ after the baby arrives. I’m hoping the little guy has a nice shrill scream that reminds Roger of the vacuum cleaner. She’s terrified of the vacuum and tiptoes around it when it is off, like it’s a sleeping dragon that at any moment will wake up and devour her.

All my bags are packed, and I’ve reviewed all the paperwork that we will inevitably have to do the first few weeks after the delivery (for more details on this check out William McDonalds article in my Guest’s Posts section). I’ve made some soups and curry’s and frozen them for our first week home postpartum, and oversupplied the apartment with paper towels, toilet paper and laundry detergent. There must be something I am forgetting, but I’ve done the best I can for now. From here on end it’s all just a waiting game.
June 16, 2011

Induction Production
So, after much walking, house cleaning, eating of pineapple and various other natural induction tricks, it’s become obvious that this baby is just way too comfortable inside of me. As of today, I am 41 ½ weeks pregnant, and my induction is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Surprisingly I’m not all that upset about it, although I would of course rather that he come out on his own. Still, making certain suggestions to Japanese doctors, with both cultural and language differences to consider, doesn’t happen as naturally as back home. Anyhow, I don’t feel that strongly about it. If I did, I would say something, but in truth I feel confident about the whole arrangement. My doctor and midwives have been great so far and I trust their intuition.

My very last appointment was a week ago, just a little past my 40 week mark. The midwives took me upstairs to the delivery room and had me lie down on one of the two beds in there to do my Non-Stress Test. They monitored the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions for about 40 minutes. During the test we revised some pregnancy vocabulary that would probably come in handy during the labor. The word for ‘intravenous’ is tenteki, and ‘pain killer’ is masui. Funnily enough, no one thought the word ‘push’ was all that important to translate…so I assume it will be very obvious when they tell me to do that.

While it was really great listening to my baby’s heart beat for the 40 minute test, I think the highlight of the whole thing was when I started asking the midwives questions about the birthing chair. I knew the large yellow bed beside me transforms into the birthing station, but I wasn’t sure how. They both jumped to their feet and eagerly offered to do a live demonstration. Before I knew it, one midwife had strapped the other into the chair, and it was lifting off the ground into position. I really had to do my best to keep a straight and serious face when the lady in the chair, with splayed legs, was showing me how to bare down, complete with rapid breathing and pulling on the handle bars as she pretended to push. As helpful and interesting as it was, it was also pretty hilarious. Maybe it won’t seem so funny tomorrow when I’m sitting in the same place, with much less clothing on, and many more people poking and prodding me.

The baby’s heartbeat was normal throughout the test but I apparently had zero contractions going on, which didn’t make going into natural labor look very promising. The doctor encouraged me to keep walking this week, as he too prefers a natural birth. Walking in the afternoon has been near impossible without wanting to pass out from the scorching hot sun. Evenings though, when the sun finally hides itself behind the not so distant hills, has been a real pleasure to stroll in. I’ve definitely felt some changes in my body over the last couple of days. The baby feels lower, and I feel slower. It’s harder to bend down to pick things up and there are points in the day that if I am lying down, I don’t want to get up for anything…not even to pee, or to get a glass of water.

Knowing how likely it is that tomorrow will be the official day has given me a chance to buy some snacks and drinks, double check my hospital bag and do some last minute tidying up around the house. We have family arriving later this week. I’ll still be in the hospital when they get here, but at least it will give them a chance to get over their jet lag without a crying baby in the next room, and I’ll be able to spend some alone time with the little guy. I know it’s on the verge of happening, but at this point, none of it seems very real.

June 26, 2011

In The Meantime
I think I have covered the most important points thus far, but if you have any questions or feel that I have left anything important out, please drop me a line. If you are looking for more information right away, you can always check out these blogs:

http://www.globalcompassion.com/japan-birth.htm
http://sistaintokyo.blogs.com/sista_in_tokyo/baby-story/

OR

you can read a very complete and concise write up on the full process of being an ALT and having a baby in Japan in my Guest Post’s section. This is the very first article I read on being pregnant in Japan. It was kindly sent to me by William MacDonald and it is worth the read. He mentioned to me in a recent email that some of the numbers might be outdated, but otherwise, it is pretty accurate. If you are thinking of putting your baby in daycare (hoikuen) this is a good place to start.

June 16, 2011

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