Made In Japan 5
Reflections on a Birth
There are many unbelievable things about having a baby. The miracle of life is truly awesome and I have never done so much deep and philosophical thinking as much as I have in the past few weeks. Currently though, the most unbelievable thing of all is that sitting across the room from me, sleeping in a vibrating chair, is a small 3 week old baby, and incredulously, this baby belongs to me. That he belongs to me means that he will be in my immediate possession for upwards of 18+ years, possibly with return stints to the nest sometime in his late 20’s, and that aside from the immediate tasks of keeping him dry and fed, I have the huge responsibility of making sure he gets a decent education, proper medical attention when needed, and lots of hugs, kisses, tickles and I Love You’s for as long as we both shall live. Yes, when I wake up tomorrow he is still going to be here, and no, this is not a figment of my imagination.
The past few weeks have been a huge jumble of emotions and feelings, fears and hopes. It’s still hard to focus on anything solid these days, let alone put any of my thoughts into coherent sentences, so pardon the tardiness of my entries as of late. To begin, I am somewhat disappointed to learn that all the cliché’s about endless amounts of laundry, mountains of dirty diapers and lack of sanity or sleep are unfortunately true. Here I thought I was going to be able to jump right back into living life just as it was, when the truth is my life is never going to be the same again. Admittedly, I mourned over this reality for a bit, and probably would still be lamenting over it now if it wasn’t for the amazing amount of support I have received from family and friends, from both near and far. The amount of care packages mailed, gifts given and food dropped off day after day to our home is almost embarrassing. In addition to all those generosities, if it wasn’t for my parent’s crossing over the Pacific to be here after I came home from the hospital, I probably wouldn’t even be able to sit down to write this entry, let alone be eating anything that remotely resembles a well-balanced meal. Whoever said that it takes a village to raise a child definitely was not mincing their words. I don’t even want to think about what a disaster I am going to be in 5 weeks time when they are gone and I have to return to work. To avoid freaking myself out about what’s to come, it’s probably best to use this time to reflect a bit over the final stage of my pregnancy. So here it is, the long awaited summary of my birth day.
Inducement – Take 1
My last entry left off the day before my supposed induction date. I was 41 weeks and 5 days pregnant when, with bags packed and minds readied, Matt and I headed to the hospital. We met our Japanese friend, Kazuyo, who generously agreed to be our main translator throughout my pregnancy and on the day of my delivery. Truthfully, she went above and beyond her call of duty. She made herself available to me for most of my doctor’s appointments, my labor days and then visited me almost every day in the hospital to help translate the daily mom-workshops. I still have no idea how I could ever repay her selfless generosity. Meeting Kazuyo at the appointed time in the parking lot felt more like we were getting together for a cup of coffee or for a lunch date instead of a live birth. We all commented on the strangeness of it, but agreed that it was actually quite nice to have the forewarning and do some last minute prep work.
I checked into my small private room that cost 2000 yen per night. It was actually smaller than some of the free private rooms, which I switched into a couple days later, but it had a mini fridge and personal washroom, so it was nice to have it during my first healing days when I didn’t really want to walk around too much. After check in, I was given a pink polka-dot hospital gown and shown to the labor room right away. There, they hooked me up intravenously to the bag of drugs that was supposed to start my labor.
Supposed to start is the operative phrase here. After about 4 hours of being pumped full of pitocin, I felt great. Unfortunately, this is not the desired effect of this particular drug. Most pregnant women I have encountered shudder at the mere mention of its name, as induced births have a bad reputation of making labor more painful than naturally occurring ones. In my case, there was absolutely no pain, and I only mildly felt the contractions. At the time, I happily took this as a sign that I was going to have a pain free labor until my doctor came in, took one look at my chart and said ‘Not today’. He told me that I had almost reached the maximum dosage of labor inducing medicine and that by now I should definitely be feeling something. Also, the babies heart rate was becoming irregular, so to be on the safe side, he wanted to stop the induction and try again tomorrow. I felt a little disappointed. Up until then I hadn’t even thought that the induction might not catch. Matt and Kazuyo headed home and I spent the evening in my hospital room watching NHK news and a Japanese cooking show that was making all sort of dishes using only eggplant. Not exactly how I thought I would be spending my first evening after the induction.
The next morning I was not allowed to eat breakfast because I had opted for the possibility of using an epidural. I’m not sure if this is standard in North America, or if it’s just that my doctor preferred that I didn’t vomit or crap all over the place between my contractions. Whatever the reason, it was initially the hardest part of my day, because I’m the kind of person that needs something to eat to feel normal.
Once again I got in my huge polka dot outfit and headed for the labor room, where I was hooked up to the heart rate monitors and induction IV. Kazuyo and Matt were back again and we were all in good spirits. I think I felt a little more sure about everything seeing as this was round two. The day before seemed like a dress rehearsal for today’s big show. The baby’s heart rate remained normal as the nurses came in every 5 or 10 minutes to up my pitocin dose. About 3 hours passed and just like the day before, I felt almost nothing. I began to worry that my body was just too drug resilient and that I would be forced to have a c-section. I asked the doctor what would happen if it didn’t work again today. He replied “It’s never not worked”, which I took to mean that there was absolutely no plan B in the event that it failed. Just as I was about to have a small panic attack, the pain started to kick in, and pretty fast. Up until that point I had turned down the epidural because I wanted to see how far I could get without it. When they told me I was only 3.5 cm, I very quickly calculated what the remaining 6.5 cm would mean in terms of time and pain, and asked for the epidural ASAP. I’m glad I did. It made the rest of the day so much more enjoyable. I was able to talk and joke with the nurses, I felt relaxed, and the contractions moved along smoothly.
When the doctor finally came in to check our charts, he looked satisfied. He said it was likely I would have my baby before sundown, and he was very right. Noah was born after only 8 hours of labor and 20 minutes of pushing, just before the sun disappeared under the horizon. While they didn’t put him on my skin, they did place him on me right after he was born. After he was all cleaned up, they brought him back to the delivery room where I was able to breastfeed him for the first time. They took him to the nurse’s station for the night, stitched me up and wheeled me back to my room. The drugs started to wear off, but not the amazing feeling that I was now officially a mother.
Our friend Mick likens Noah’s birth to the famous bible story of the man with the same name. The day he was finally born, on the second induction attempt, was the day that the rainy season in Miyazaki was officially declared over. So Noah waited until the rain was finished to finally come out of his ark…or so Mick say’s.
The 7 days I spent hospitalized in Japan was probably the closest I’ve ever come to staying in a spa or an all-inclusive resort. The only thing that was missing was a nice cold beer or some jello-shots. I had my own room, 3 wonderful meals a day and a snack too, and the nurses were amazing. They were always patient and willing to sit and help me work through any of the little challenges that came up. Every day I received a breast massage to help encourage my milk supply, and towards the end of my stay I was treated to a lavender leg massage too. The hospital was constantly giving us things. We received a baby book, his first ever photo, a recording of his first cry out of the womb, footprints and a lock of Noah’s hair in a little box. Apparently in Japan this box is also where you put the belly stump after it falls off, which I did, and which my sister thinks I’m crazy and disgusting for doing.
In addition to all this, every morning I would have some sort of mother-training. Things as simple as changing the baby’s diaper, to making a formula bottle, or as nerve wracking as giving him his first bath, were covered. Each session was so helpful and appreciated. The whole Japanese hospital experience was amazing, and I have no idea how I will ever be able to remain uncritical of North America’s system if ever I have to deliver a baby there.
If there was one thing I could change looking back is how I would have paced my visitors. The first 24 hours was spent exclusively resting, which I really appreciated. I received almost zero visitors, which was great because it gave me a chance to just spend time with my husband and son and review important items that needed translating with Kazuyo. The second day I received 10 visitors. It was a bit much. Top that off with a morning info-session from the formula provider for the hospital, given by a sales rep who didn’t quite understand that I had just given birth and was more interested in spending time with my new baby than discussing bottles and sterilizers, and by the end of that day I was totally wiped out both physically and emotionally. Granted, it was no one’s fault but mine really, because I had openly invited my friends to drop in to see us after the first day or so. I had no idea beforehand how exhausting it would be to just talk to people. After that second day I sent a polite email to as many people as I could, kindly asking them not to come visit because I just wanted my rest and time alone with my family. Thankfully, my friends and colleagues are an understanding bunch and from then on I only received a few friends off and on. These fewer visits were much more manageable and more of a pleasure to have.
At the end of the 7 days, I was really sad to go. I had been pampered beyond belief, more than I ever would be at home, and I knew the reality of returning to the outside world, a world whose air I’d not breathed for a week, and a world that Noah had never been exposed to, was going to be difficult. All the nurses loved him to bits. I would say they treated him and every other baby there the same in terms of care. The only time I felt he was treated differently was when we left the hospital the nurses wanted pictures. Every camera in the hospital came out of the purses, and the mature 40 year-old nurses and midwives I had come to respect over my stay were reduced to giddy teenage girls as they took photos with Noah. You would have thought that he was a rock star or something the way they were jumping up and down and flashing away. One nurse even called down to the main office to notify the others that Noah-photo’s were in process if anyone wanted to get in on it. It was a fun, upbeat and memorable way to leave such a wonderful place.