Made In Japan
This section is not intended to be a parents guide to being pregnant. I think there are enough books and online resources out there to help would be parents understand that process. This is just a review of my personal experience of being pregnant in Japan. I should note that we live on the island of Kyushu in an off-the-beaten-track midsized town. Someone in a bigger, more central city, like Tokyo or Osaka might have an entirely different take on the whole thing. For one thing English may be more widely available in more populated areas, and specific prenatal services that are uncommon here may be more popular. It’s important to keep our regional differences in mind and remember that every situation is different.
Two years ago, when Matt and I decided to move abroad, having a baby was definitely not a part of the plan. The plan, if there ever really was one, was to escape America’s then dismal financial situation and work in an interesting foreign culture. Being over 30 made it impossible to apply for a working holiday permit in places like Australia or New Zealand, and my precious Fine Arts degree could only get me as far as interview at Starbucks in Canada, so in regards to credentials, I was not really sought after by foreign employers.
In the end, coming to Japan made the most sense. The Japanese government had a reputable teaching program in place that offered a fair salary to native English speakers under the age of 40. Successful applicants were placed in schools throughout the country as Assistant Language Teachers, even though most applicants had never taught professionally a day in their lives. The only formal qualification needed was a university bachelor’s degree. Yes, even a Fine Arts BA would do!
So that was the plan, and for the most part it went quite smoothly. At the end of our first year here, we both had jobs we enjoyed and were living in a town we liked. Our apartment was nicer than any we’d lived in before and we were financially stable. With an entourage of good Japanese and foreign friends, there was always something going on. Matt took up surfing and I plugged away at learning the language. In general, we had little to worry about. We entered into our second year of living in Japan with ideas of staying even longer, and that was about the time that I found out I was pregnant.
Not to be déclassé, but I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the actual night of conception. It involved an all-night beach party, a fair amount of celebratory drinking and a tent. I’ll leave it at that. Matt claims to this day that I somehow tricked him into getting me pregnant. I have a funny feeling that he is not the only father-to-be out there that has let this notion cross his mind. Still, it’s simply not true. However, I can’t deny that I felt like I was ready to have kids, or at the very least, ready to stop taking my birth control pills. Conversely, I was happy to be free of the responsibility that goes along with being a parent. After all, hadn’t being childless given us the opportunity to travel and save money so easily? Wasn’t the world too overpopulated and messed up? To make a long story a little shorter, at some point I was able to convince myself, and even Matt, that I could successfully remain unfertilized off the pill using a more natural method. I had notions that because I was over 30, it would be more difficult for me to conceive children (I have my mother to thank for planting this idea into my head). Less than two months later I was peeing onto a stick in my bathroom, waiting for the pink lines to appear, already knowing inside what the results were going to be. I remember cursing the natural method, and drunken beach parties too.
I have to admit, my first feelings of knowing I was going to be a mother were not ones of elation. There were multiple levels of guilt. I felt guilty that I had altered the course of not just my life, but of Matt’s life, forever. Trivial thoughts about not being able to go camping or hiking anymore were all I could think of. I felt bad that some of my friends who were trying earnestly to have kids had so much difficulty being successful, and here we were, like a couple of teenagers, not trying or hoping for it at all, and getting what so many other people fruitlessly desired. Most of all, I felt guilty about feeling guilty. I knew inside that a baby was a good thing and we weren’t in the worst position to have one. We’d been married almost 4 years, had jobs and even a little money saved. For a short time, as horrible as it sounds, all I could feel was regret.
Thankfully, these sad feelings did not last long. They had to move over and make way for the feeling of panic that took over next. Were we going to be able to stay in Japan? Would I lose my job? If we went back to America, what sort of life would we have? If we stayed in Japan, how could we manage raising a child without a support system of family around? Forget that, how could we even communicate with a doctor when we didn’t speak the language, and more importantly, was I really ready to be a mother?! I probably would have remained stuck in panic mode if it wasn’t for a couple helpful friends and family who started feeding me with positive and reassuring advice. The emails we shared back and forth were more priceless than anything a baby-book could tell me, and I am so grateful that they came to my rescue. I finally felt like my world wasn’t ending, but at the very least that this was a wonderful thing and I was capable of the challenge.
(Continue in Made In Japan 2)