Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Breastfeeding in Japan

I have been reading lots of parenting blogs and forums lately. I happened to stumble on one where a few non-Japanese people were wondering about breastfeeding in public in Japan. They wanted to know if it was legal, if people commonly did it, and if they could conveniently travel around or live in Japan with a young, breastfed baby.

I was very surprised to read replies along the lines of:

2007/3/24 08:45
Why would you breastfeed publicly anywhere? Its not that is bad, because, you know, you have to love him and take care of him, but its not... right. If you wouldn't expose yourself without out a baby, you shouldn't expose your self with one, it's not an excuse. Breastfeeding should be practiced only at home, in privacy. But that's what I think, its just my opinion, you don't have to take my word for it.

how to breastfeed in public
2007/3/24 09:54
Breastfeeding can be done in public, and is accepted by many people in Japan. The baby can't possibly wait until (s)he gets home!
But as a courtesy to people :) you can ask around for private rooms to breastfeed your child. For example, department stores and airports almost always have breastfeeding rooms. Shinkansen trains also have breastfeeding rooms nowadays, but if not, the conductor can surrender his room while you breastfeed.

2007/3/24 12:33
i think you'll get discusted looks ANYWHERE no offense, but it's just not something you should do in public anywhere.

2007/3/24 12:34
if your baby can't wait to eat baby bottling your breat-milk would be best.

it is okay
2007/3/24 13:34
Unlike some of the posters here, most people are mature and sensible and will prefer that you see to the needs of your baby. Babies need to be fed often and you do not need to hide at home simply because you are breastfeeding. If someone is offended, think of it as their problem, and pity them for not understanding what the real purpose of the breast is. Usually the same people who are inclined to complain about breastfeeding in public are the very same individuals who are likely to object to a baby's crying.

2007/3/24 13:36
you're right. i don't like babys crying in public, i dont like babys that much. i think a mother should know it's rude not to keep her child calm.
oh i am evil *rolls eyes*

2007/3/24 13:56
In my experience, it is extremely rare to see mothers breastfeeding in public in Japan, and when you do, it is often foreign women.
As many places do seem to have baby-feeding rooms these days, I suggest you do what the Japanese do and use these where possible.

I asked my Japanese friend about laws specifically regarding breastfeeding in Japan, and she said that she couldn't find any concrete info about laws.  She said that the previous generation was much less squeamish about public breastfeeding.  She mentioned seeing a photo of her aunt feeding her cousin without covering up and no one was bothered by it, so much so that she didn't even (obviously) cover up for the photo.  

My baby is now seven months old and she still breastfeeds. We decided to breastfeed her because I have the ability to do so and the facts show that it is unequivocally the healthiest choice for the baby. Besides that, it is convenient (when I'm out with the baby, there are no hassles about washing bottles, carrying formula, finding warm water), eco-friendly, and free. Now that I am working full-time, it has become a much bigger hassle, and it would be a lot easier to switch to formula. I have to lug my breast-pump to work and back with me every day on the crowded bus and every time I get a spare moment I have to go lock myself in a room and hook myself up to a pumping machine like a cow. I usually have to pump two times to get enough for one feeding, because the pump is not as effective as a baby at getting the milk out. In fact, if I didn't know that it was the best choice for our baby, I definitely would have given up pumping milk in the second week of work. I really hate pumping. For someone to suggest so cavalierly that if I want to go out with my baby on a Saturday afternoon, I should wake up at 3:00 am to hook myself up to the pump (I can't just pump breast milk during the baby eats everything I make.) is a pretty clear sign that they have never pumped. The other people who suggest (so blasé, like they're the experts) that breastfeeding should be done at home have obviously never been new parents.

My husband and I used to love going out on the weekends, going to parties, movies, playing soccer in the park, and camping with groups of friends on the beach. Guess what? We STILL love doing those things. Having a baby is an intensely isolating experience. You're tired more often than you ever were before. You're worried and stressed out more than you ever thought possible. Going out becomes a logistical nightmare of organizing the baby's nap time with the bus schedule and weather report, packing the baby's diaper bag, grabbing an umbrella (just in case), a blanket, a baby carrier, and some people have strollers and car seats too. It's hard enough getting out of the house, and I should have to add the stress of pumping milk and putting it in a cooler and bringing that with too? Perhaps to avoid offending these people's delicate sensibilities, I should simply stay home all the time? Perhaps baby and I should never travel farther away from home than 20 minutes so we can make it back home and eat?

The idea that someone would be offended by public breastfeeding is pretty ridiculous anyways. The baby's mouth and head covers the nipple, and you can see less of my breast than many ladies who are wearing even a slightly low-cut top.

As for Japan, this is my experience. My baby was born in October, but it was December before I ever had to feed her in public. I didn't want to leave the house very often with her before that, and when I did, it was only short trips to the grocery store and back. (re: isolating experience) In December, my husband and I had to travel to a nearby town. I decided I was going to feed the baby on the train. It was a much bigger hassle than I thought it would be. The blanket wouldn't stay over my shoulder, the baby kept wiggling and I couldn't see if she was comfortable or eating right with the blanket in the way. However, we figured it out and I have since fed her everywhere. There are often nursing rooms in public buildings and department stores, so that is convenient, and I sometimes use those. When there isn't one of those, I usually use a blanket to cover myself up. The baby bag gets so full with diapers, wipes, toys, bibs, spare change of clothes, burp towels, and etc, that sometimes I forget to pack a blanket. I wear nursing tank tops, so when I pull my shirt up, and my tank top down, everything is still covered and you really can't see anything. There's been plenty of times that people have come up and wanted to see the baby or talk to me and didn't even realize that she was eating until I told them. As it gets hotter out, I'm using the blanket less and less. The baby doesn't really like it and spends her time trying to pull it off rather than eat. It gets pretty hot under there pretty quickly.

I've gone out often with my Japanese friends who also have infants and some of them only use the nursing rooms, while others have no problem feeding their baby anytime and anywhere. I have noticed women feeding their babies in restaurants and parks, too. The nursing rooms often have a large room with a couch for relaxing, and then smaller curtained off rooms for nursing. I've sometimes gone in and all the curtained rooms are full, so I feed the baby on the couch, but I've noticed women who come in and will wait until a curtained off room is free until nursing too.

As I have been writing this blog entry, I've been thinking a lot about the breastfeeding rooms. On the one hand, they are very convenient, and when I'm out alone with the baby, it's nice to be able to dump all my bags and things in the corner and relax on a comfortable couch to feed Cora. On the other hand, I'm rarely out by myself, I'm usually out with my husband or other friends. When I have a free afternoon to go out, I don't want to spend 40 minutes away from my husband or friends walking to the seventh floor of the nearby department store to feed Cora. If I'm alone on the train, I don't want to lug my suitcase through four rickety train cars to get to the breastfeeding room. What I want to do is stay exactly where I am and feed my baby. More and more often, that's what I do.  I haven't noticed anyone giving me looks and no one has said anything negative to me, but I can be pretty oblivious about that sort of that with a grain of salt. 

 Anyhow, that made me think, "What if the existence of these breastfeeding rooms are even more isolating than the absence of them?"  Do women feel pressured to go sit alone in them when they might otherwise stay in the cafe chatting with friends? Do people judge moms for breastfeeding in a restaurant and think, “There's a breastfeeding room just a few blocks away. Why doesn't she leave her husband alone by himself and leave her hot meal and go to the designated room to feed her baby?” I'm lucky that I have an extremely supportive husband who always helps me out when I'm feeding the baby (Or anytime). If it weren't for him assuring me that no one could see my boob, and that no one cared anyway, I might still be schlepping my things three blocks out of the way and missing out on lunchtime to feed Cora in a breastfeeding room rather than discreetly in the restaurant.  In the end, I think the breastfeeding rooms are nice, but as more time passes, I use them less and less.

Oh wait, actually, I mean, in the end, Japan is one of the more baby-friendly countries I've ever lived in and would be a great place to visit, especially if you have a breastfeeding infant.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things I'll Miss About Being an ALT / Things I won't miss about Being an ALT

4 Things I’ll miss about being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan

1-My Japanese is really terrible and I'm pretty shy, so I'm often too shy to strike up conversations with the other teachers at my schools.  However, they have been super friendly and when I make a tentative effort, they ignore my terrible Japanese, try to figure out what I'm saying and get to know me.  When I meet people outside of work, they often want to talk about differences between Japan and America.  Anyone who's lived in Japan any amount of time has answered "What surprised you about Japan?" or "Why are you in Japan?" about a million times.  Per year.  However, when I talk with the other teachers at my schools, we can talk about the school lunch, hobbies, our kids, and just have normal conversations about things we have in common rather than things that make us different. 

2-Sports Day – This is a fun day where the students run relay races, go through obstacle courses and learn sports/dance routines to perform.  They practice all week and it takes place on a Sunday so everyone's families can come watch and cheer. 

3-It's a great paying wage for the level of work required and stress level. My husband and I lived off of one paycheck and sent the other one home to pay off our student loans and we never wanted for anything.  (Well, I wanted a pet giraffe--still waiting on that.)   There's no work to take home, no extra work days, no overtime. In fact, most days, you have an hour or two free to read a book or study Japanese.  Sometimes, like end-of-semester testing or the week long lead-up to Sports day, you can have whole days with no classes and nothing to do.   I always kept myself busy reading books, studying Japanese, or writing my novel. 

4-The students can be a lot of fun.  They say funny things, they're goofy, they're excited when you come to class, most of them like English and they're interested in learning about the world.  That's the greatest thing about being an ALT. 

6  I Won’t miss about being an ALT!

1-Most of the teachers we work with have never been abroad and have no idea how to work with foreigners.  Even after 10 years of having ALTs in the classroom, they don’t know how to work together to plan lessons, they can’t speak English with you, and they don't know how to use you to enrich the students' English education experience.

2-Most of the teachers will occasionally teach incorrect English vocabulary and often (usually) teach incorrect pronunciation.  I’ve spent 20 minutes drawing diagrams on the board of how to correctly shape your mouth, demonstrating, having students repeat and finally getting the whole class to correctly pronounce English sounds, only to have the teacher say dismissively, “English is hard, so we just say it this way.”  Then they write the word, math on the board as masu and just have the students say it with Japanese pronunciation.

3-Peeing in winter....There isn’t any central heating/cooling in the schools.  The various rooms have heaters in them that you can turn on only during class times.  This means that all the rooms are freezing in winter for the first 10 minutes of class.  (They turn off the heaters in between classes and then open the windows.) It also means that in winter the bathrooms are freezing cold. There’s nothing worse than peeing in a freezing cold room on a freezing cold toilet with your bulky winter coat on.

4-Students don’t seem to understand that English is a language.  It’s no more mysterious or hilarious than that.   They shout “HELLO!” at you ten times in a row in the hallway.  They laugh when you ask their friend, “How are you?” They hear things like “Shut up!” or “Oh my God!” on their TV shows and shout them in class at the teacher. They laugh hilariously when you ask them to speak English like it's a big joke. 

5-School lunch- Often, your rice is cold and your milk is warm from sitting out for 30 minutes before you eat it.   There are all sorts of foods that I think are gross.   Raw cabbage with tiny inch-long dried fish.  Soup with slimy seaweed. Liver with gross sauce on it. Fish with their stomachs full of eggs.  Sometimes it can be good!  Curry and rice.  Tofu soup with veggies.  Grilled fillet of fish. Yogurt with fruit…..but when it’s bad, it’s bad and all you can do is be hungry till 4:30. Most Japanese teachers will just eat all their lunch weather they like it or not.  I didn't grow up for nothing though.  If I don’t like it, I don’t eat it.  I give everything the good old college try, but if it’s gross, I don’t eat it. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re pregnant.  People loved trying to boss me around and get me to eat all the food on my plate like I was 7 years old. “Liver is good for the baby!  You should eat it!”  I don’t care how good it is for the baby, I’m not eating it!  (They don’t take prenatal vitamins like we do in the states, so it is a bit more important for them to eat a balanced meal.  I tried to eat as healthy as I could, but it was nice knowing that my vitamins could take up the slack if I didn't get enough folic acid one day.)

6-I was spread very thin over two schools.  I was the only Assistant English Teacher for all three grades of two middle schools, meaning I had a total of 875 students.  I didn't get to know any of my students, they didn't get to know me, and I wasn't able to tailor lessons to their exact needs or see any of their progress.  The novelty of having a "foreigner" teacher was never able to wear away, so I was never there to be their English teacher, I was there to be a "foreigner."

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Written November 15th 2012

This past year has shown so much change. I’m typing this as I sit next to our new little baby. She’s wrapped up in a blanket and sleeping with her hands behind her head, just like her daddy likes to do. It’s cuter when the baby does it because she doesn’t elbow me in the head in the middle of the night. So, anyhow—changes—Jon and I had our first baby, Coralyn Corrine in October. That’s enough change for any family, but we’re getting ready for even more changes soon. Jon and I have lived in Japan for over two years now, and the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to teach at a University. Well, now that dream is about to come true! After working at a day care for 2-year-olds, four different middle schools, teaching online courses, night business classes, and countless private lessons, I’ve finally gotten the job I really want. I’m going to teach English at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. Here’s the University’s website.
The journey to get this job was a long one that started over a year ago. I’ve known about this University for a while and I wanted to apply to work there last year. However, I missed the application deadline like a dummy, so I didn’t even get the chance to apply. At first, I was pretty bummed about making such a ridiculous mistake, but then Jon and I decided to have a baby, so I couldn’t be sad about anything. (Because I was so excited about the baby.)
This year I applied to the job in August—as soon as the job application details were posted—painstakingly filling out the application in both Japanese and English, copying the pdf files to a cd, printing out a photo of myself (standard resume requirement in Japan) and mailing the big application package nervously. I got an e-mail about a month later that said they would like to have me come down to the University for an interview….on November 3rd. Our baby was due Oct. 25th. That was cutting it pretty close. What if she went late? What if I needed a c-section and wasn’t healed enough to travel to an interview? What if I was too tired to make myself presentable and leave the house when our baby was only a week old? I decided to try to do it. I planned my mock lesson in the days leading up to Cora’s birth and made some business cards on the computer.
The day came, and Cora was born on Oct.23rd with no complications except a few stitches. I spent a few days in the hospital and went home. I spent the next two weeks practicing my mock lesson and rehearsing some common job interview questions. I readied my most professional outfit (I need to buy more of those, by the way, I only have two.) and put some makeup over the bags under my eyes and left the house at 9:00, leaving our baby for the first time in my life. It was a bit strange taking the public transportation, no one was standing up so my pregnant self could sit down! I couldn’t automatically take the priority seats. I had to actually stand and no one was staring at me! It was my first time out in public without a huge pregnant belly.
The trip to the University cost about 7,000 Yen round-trip, (about $90 USD) and took about 5 hours. The commute was a little longer than it would be normally because it was a Saturday and there were fewer trains running, but it was still a long trip. I had initially toyed with the idea of commuting to this job if I got it. I thought the commute would be 3 hours round-trip, and cheaper….but after getting motion sick on the train, and realistically budgeting for time and commuting costs, I realized that it would be really impractical to try to commute.
I arrived at the University very early, I had wanted enough time to miss my bus and still make it, get lost and still make it, wander around the campus and find the right location and still make it on time….well, I didn’t miss my bus, didn’t get lost, and found the interview location with two hours to spare! I wandered around the campus. It was beautiful, located at the top of a mountain, surrounded by trees with an amazing ocean view. I was pretty nervous though, and couldn’t really relax. Also, the book selection on my kindle was sparse because all the good books have a three week waiting list from the library. Finally, my breasts were killing me. It was the first time being away from my baby, and I had fed her at 8:00 am. She eats every three hours, and I wouldn’t get home till 5:00….so I had already missed one feeding and would miss a second one before getting home. My breasts were as hard as rocks. I felt like they would pop if I bumped into something.
So, after killing time and having a snack, I got to the interview, filled out some paperwork and met the interview board. There were six people interviewing me. I did my mock lesson, which was slated to take 20 minutes. They stopped me after 12 minutes. That really threw me off and made me doubt myself. (Was it so terrible, they couldn’t sit through another minute?) Then they asked me a bunch of questions. I felt like I answered their questions really well, I remembered a lot about pedagogy, methods of evaluation, authentic communication, English as a global language, etc, etc, etc. But, I kept second guessing myself about what I should have done differently in that mock lesson and why they cut me off so soon.
Anyhow, the interview ended and I rushed home….nearly getting stung by a Japanese giant hornet on the bus ride to the local train that I would take to catch the high speed train and then one more bus ride to our house. (This particular species of hornet is the size of my thumb and kills more people than any other animal in Japan.) But I digress. I got home and fed Cora as soon as I walked in the door.
A few days later, I got an e-mail asking if I would be willing to conduct a follow-up interview over the phone. I said sure and planned for 3:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. As the time approached, I started to get more nervous. What would they ask me about? How was Cora going to behave during the phone interview? Our house is tiny with flimsy Japanese doors. What if she decided to scream during the interview? She had been fussy and fidgety for an hour, and changing her diaper, burping, holding, rocking, singing, pacifier, nothing seemed to calm her down or help her sleep. I hadn’t told APU about my newborn baby. Japan is a country still dominated by the “mom stays home with the baby” mentality and I didn’t trust them to hire me knowing my baby would be 5 months old when the job started. I had a flash of genius. I would feed her during the interview time! Then she would be silent for sure!
3:00 o’clock rolled around and Cora started eating happily and, more importantly, quietly. I got the phone call and propped the phone up to my ear with my shoulder as the interviewer and I exchanged some pleasantries about the weather and then Cora let out the loudest toot. Then she did it again, even louder, and then she filled her diaper. Then she spit up all over herself. Then she peed….and as she had just completely filled her diaper with the other thing, I felt liquid spreading over my hands and arms. I was frozen in shock. I couldn’t touch anything because my hands were covered in pee and poop. How was I going to explain these noises? They had been completely audible over the phone. Should I just burst out with, “That wasn’t me?” The interviewer also remained silent.
Then Cora broke the silence and started crying. The person interviewing me said, “It sounds like you’ve got your hands full there!” Little did he know exactly what was in my hands. I answered, “Yes, that’s my baby, she’s three weeks old.” He quickly congratulated me and said he just wanted to offer me the job and was calling to make sure I was still interested in the position! Yay! I got off the phone as soon as I could and dropped the phone on the couch without touching it. I then immediately put Cora’s clothes in the sink to soak and Cora in the bath to get clean. Here are her thoughts on the situation.
"Sorry I was naughty during your important interview mommy." 
I’m excited to work at a University. I like working with University age students, I like working in a University environment, and I like planning and teaching English classes. I think Beppu is a beautiful city, with beaches, hot springs, over 100,000 people, and it’s surrounded by some beautiful camping and hiking areas. However, I love living in Kitakyushu. We have made some amazing friends here, and I will be so sad to say goodbye to them. I know we’ll stay in touch, and we’re only moving two hours away, but we won’t be able to get together on a Tuesday to watch a movie, or meet at Momotarou for some chicken and a beer for an hour.  I'll miss you, friends!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cloth Diapers

My husband and I decided to use cloth diapers with our baby.  I don't know exactly what made me decide that it was a good idea, but I read about them somewhere and decided I wanted to do it.  I read up on them and talked with Jon and we decided to do them for two reasons, neither more important than the other, price and environment.  When I think about the number of disposable diapers sitting in landfills, that's pretty sad and I didn't want to contribute to it. (besides the effort that goes into making each diaper and shipping them to the store…it all adds up to a lot of materials and transportation.)  Also, diapers are expensive!  So, here's the breakdown on how it's been going. 

We used disposable diapers for most of Cora's first two months. We got lots of diapers as presents and we visited family and friends over Christmas so we didn't want to be borrowing people's washing machines to wash our dirty diapers in. (Also, that way we didn't need to buy any "newborn" size cloth diapers.) Cora is now over 3 months old, so I have about 6 weeks of experience using both types of diapers.

First, the diapers.  We bought the type of diapers that have a waterproof outside and a cotton or hemp insert.  So, most of the time the insert is wet, but the waterproof outside is re-usable. We bought a few different brands to see which ones we liked the best. Most of the diapers we bought were the one size fits all type.  Each diaper has a dozen snaps so that you can make them smaller or larger depending on your baby's size. We spent about $250 on all our diaper supplies.   Ok, beside the price and environmental savings---look at how cute that baby is in her little diapers!  Look at that!!!!! 

I really like being able to put a super soft white fluffy diaper against her skin rather than a disposable diaper.  (I hadn’t anticipated caring about that particular aspect of diapering.)

Here's how an average day goes.  She usually dirties 6-8 diapers per day, one of them poopy.  We have a bin with a liner under the changing table that we throw the dirty inserts and/or diapers in. (So far, there is no smell.) We also use cloth wipes, so those go in the bin too. We usually wash them every other day, so it makes a pretty small load of laundry, only about 15 diapers and the wipes per load.  I rinse off the two poopy diapers before putting everything in the washer. Then I hang the diapers to dry outside. 

Now that she's exclusively breastfed, her poos are pretty liquidy and they rinse away easily.   I've heard that changes once they start eating solid foods.  Once that happens, we'll start using liners in the diaper and when your baby poos you can just flush the poo and the liner down the toilet.  We'll try to use the bathroom at the same time so we're not adding more energy and water costs.

It really hasn't been too much of a hassle.  Cora's nanny is happy to use the cloth diapers and just sends home the dirty inserts every day.  (I’ve heard some daycares won’t use cloth diapers, so that will need to be a factor.) It takes about ten or twelve minutes every other day to rinse the poopy ones, wash them, hang them, and put them away. It's not gross and the liners are all still as white and clean as the day we bought them.  The diapers seem to work great so far.  We’ve had a few “blow outs” and most of them were with the disposable diapers, the cloth ones work just as well at keeping the mess contained.  She hasn’t had a diaper rash yet, but she’s only 3 1/2 months old, so that’s not saying a lot. 

When we go out, we have a small waterproof bag that we keep the used inserts in. We bought a pack of disposable inserts months ago, and haven’t used them all up yet, but I don’t think we’ll buy them again. It’s just as easy to use the cloth inserts and bring them home as it is to use the disposable inserts and find a place we can throw them in the garbage.  (I don’t want to leave dirty diapers at a friend’s house, for example.)

So, the time isn't too much of an issue, how about cost? 
(Although we live in Japan, I've calculated in $ rather than \.)

I went to this awesome website that lets you input your energy costs, brand of diapers you use, estimated age of potty training your baby (I estimated 26 months, but who knows?) and all sorts of other information.

It’s a great idea to go here and type in your own costs if you’re interested in cloth diapers.  You can personalize everything to match your lifestyle and see if cloth diapers would be worth it.  For example, I know that I wouldn’t want to buy the cheapest disposable diapers.  So I factored in a moderately priced disposable diaper.  I was also able to choose exactly the brand of cloth diaper we use, our electricity and water costs for laundering, and so forth.

Total Cost for Cloth Diapers in 26 months:
Total Cost for Disposable Diapers in 26 months:

I think the price savings is considerable, especially considering that we’ll re-use the biggest expense (the diapers, inserts, diaper bin, etc.) again with the next baby and save about $250. 

The terribly ironic thing is that the thing I most want to do with the extra money is take a trip to Thailand and spend a week at an elephant reserve.  Well, the jet fuel we’d use up flying there probably negates any environmental savings from the cloth diapers!

Anyhow, let me know if you have any questions about cloth diapers or tell me how your cloth diapering experience worked!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Laboring in Japan—Baby –wise

This is the final installment of what it’s like being a pregnant foreigner in Japan.   The story begins here.  

Jon and I waited for labor to start from about week 38 onward.  We both knew it could come at any time, especially since our baby was getting so big. There were tell-tale signs that things were progressing, including two trips to the hospital with us thinking that things were starting, but baby was comfortable in there and didn’t actually want to come out.  In the last week, I was getting Braxton hicks contractions every night, and during our 39 week checkup, we set an induction date for Tues, Oct. 23rd.   This was two days before the due date.

The weekend before that, our city, Kokura had a big food festival.  Jon and I wandered about, taking photos, enjoying the warm sunny weather, seeing a robot serve ice cream, and eating.  I wanted to get lots of “last” photos of Jon and me as a family of only two before the big day.  

Monday night we went out to eat giant cheeseburgers and walked home in the rain.  One last night out, eating greasy food and taking a long walk in the cool weather before we’d have to worry about keeping a little baby warm and in bed at night.

Tuesday morning we slept in a bit and went to the hospital at 10:30.  I had an initial exam with two doctors, our personal doctor, Imai, who we had been meeting with the whole time, and one older doctor that we saw a few times in periphery and didn’t know very well.   Dr. Imai explained that the plan was for us to register, settle in our room, and she would give me three pills that would start to soften my cervix and get my body ready for labor.  We’d relax and I’d spend the night in the hospital, but labor wouldn’t actually begin until the next day when I would get an IV of pitocin to start contractions.   At this point, the older doctor joked that I’d probably just go into labor this afternoon without any help.  We asked, “really?”  Dr. Imai answered, “maybe….” doubtfully.  However, this is the same lady that told us for weeks the gender of our baby, prefaced with a “maybe.”  When Jon asked what percent she was sure of the gender, she said, “maybe 100%.”  So, maybe her “maybes” don’t mean maybe.

Jon and I had packed lots of things to do, a pack of cards, books, Japanese textbooks, and balloons to decorate the room.   I expected to be in the hospital about a week, between the extra day before labor and five days after, so Jon made the room look festive.  The nurses loved it.  I was the only lady in the maternity ward, so I had a private room, although the room farthest from the nurses station.   I don’t know if I was alone because Japan’s birth rate really is that low, or Oct. isn’t a popular time to have a baby, or because most women have their babies in specialized birthing clinics or all three, but even with so few patients, there were always about seven nurses working.

I took my three pills, beginning at about noon, and soon afterwards they hooked me up to a fetal monitor. 

They kept asking me if I felt anything and I kept saying, “No, I don’t feel anything.”  Well, apparently I was having contractions and they were getting slightly stronger and closer together.  After a while, if I concentrated, I could feel some slight pressure that I had previously thought was just the baby moving.  This labor thing was going to be easy!  The contractions got stronger and closer together and they hooked me up to the monitor about once every 90 minutes.   At first it was fine, Jon and I played some card games and started a game of scrabble, but after a while I really started dreading the monitor.  It was uncomfortable to lay flat on my back for so long, especially as the contractions had really started hurting.   As soon as they would take the moniter off, I’d get up and walk around, and though it didn’t lessen the contractions, it was much more comfortable.  Our doctor went home at around four or five and said she would come back if my labor continued.

Jon kept asking me what my pain level was out of a 10.  I had a hard time answering him because I didn’t know what a 10 was, so I kept low-balling my numbers…..”I don’t know a 3?”  45 minutes later, as I gasped and stopped talking for a particularly long contraction, I said, “4?  Maybe?”  Jon got a little frustrated with me and told me, “Now’s not the time to be tough!  You have to be honest and tell me if it hurts so we can tell the nurses!”  Little did we know my level of toughness…

 A little while later, I had an exam and I was dilated to 3 cm, so I walked from my room to the laboring room.   At this point (around 5:00) I started really feeling a lot of pain.   I had initially insisted on having an epidural, but these past few months had been reading more about them and had toyed around with the idea of going natural. 

I mean, I am a pretty tough person.  I’ve always been active and I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises and falls from horses, kicks from horses, bites from horses….a lot of horse induced pain, actually.  And what is pain, I mean, really?  It’s just in your head.  It can’t really be that bad.  My body would produce chemicals to help me deal with it.  Besides, I half-assed learning some breathing and relaxation techniques and this past month I’d been massaging and stretching out….

----------------------------------------------------spoiler alert---------------------------------------------
Labor is gross and here is where the descriptions get pretty graphic.  Please stop reading if you’re not interested in the particulars.

…my perineum, so I was pretty prepared to push this baby out like a champ.  Well, as it turns out I’M the baby and a chump to boot.   I don’t know what idiot impulse made me think I was so tough and impervious to pain.  I’ve never broken a major bone, I’ve barely had any stitches, I cried when I stubbed my toe just a few months ago, and I used to take medicine for MENSTRUAL pain, for God ’s sake.  I’m the epitome of a soft, sheltered, modern woman.

From 5 till 7, I kneeled or laid on the bed in the labor room.  At some point during those hours, my water broke, but I don’t have any recollection of that because I was pretty busy throwing up, crying, and asking Jon when the doctor was going to get there and give me the epidural.  During that time, I was out of my mind, and I only remember snippets here and there.   Jon rubbed my back and told me how great I was doing and that the doctors were on their way to the hospital and I’d get my epidural soon. 

At some point I moved (was moved? I don’t remember) to the actual delivery bed and the doctor tried to get me to roll up in a ball on my side so he could put the epidural in my spine.  Laying still on my side, rolled in a ball, dilated to 5 cm, I learned what a 10 feels like.   Now I know.

Jon distracted me by talking about our little T-Rex and how we were going to be a family soon.  He tried to get me talking to distract me, but I was distracted by the doctor explaining that he was going to inject a little local anesthesia before placing the epidural in my spine.  Are you kidding me?  Did he honestly think that I cared one shit about a huge needle going directly into my spine at this point?  Did he think I could even feel anything besides the contractions?  I cared more about the ten extra seconds it was taking him to fuss around with the local anesthesia, than any pain from getting that needle in.  

After the epidural was in and a few minutes passed, the pain started to subside and I immediately fell asleep.  It takes a lot out of you to be in pain and (so Jon tells me) scream and throw up for two hours.  I woke up a while later to hear Jon out in the hallway on the phone with our parents telling them that everything was going fine and that I was resting and he’d call again when the baby came.   Jon came back in and read to me from a baby book for a while and we took some photos until around 10 when it was time to push. 

Dr. Imai arrived at this point and I was dilated to 10 cm.  I thought it was pretty funny that the nurses were all wearing scrubs, masks, and hats, but both doctors had strolled in wearing their street clothes and simply put on gloves.  At this point, Jon was holding my hand by my side, there were about six nurses surrounding my bed and both doctors looking inside me. The epidural had worn off and I was feeling a lot of pain again and they told me to start pushing the baby out.  They said it might be a little harder than normal because the baby had twisted and wasn’t facing the optimal direction, but that everything would still be fine and start pushing!

I don’t think I did a very good job pushing the baby out.  I didn’t know which muscles to use to push right, I got discouraged because I didn’t think I was being effective, I didn’t push in the right intervals, and I didn’t push strong enough.   I tried, but it was really hard, the doctors kept telling me to push for longer intervals and then rest for longer intervals to be more effective, but I kept pushing for a short time and getting exhausted and resting, then trying to push again right away.  I tried to tune everyone out except Jon and only listen to what he was telling me to do, especially because the nurses were getting really annoying.  One kept shouting, “Last push!  Last push!” right in my ear, but she started shouting it after about 20 minutes and it would be 45 minutes before my actual last push, so that got old fast.

At one point I looked down and I was just struck by what an absurd spectacle this whole thing was.  The 6 nurses surrounding the bed, the two doctors in casual clothes, in fact, I could see an open pack of cigarettes in the older doctor’s front pocket right then. Imai was telling me, “As soon as possible, longer!”  Jon was translating it to mean, “Push as long as you can!!”  What was going on? I started getting confused again and I don’t remember very much more until I saw the doctor pulling out a long tube with a suction cup on one end of it.  I knew immediately what that was.  Jon noticed that I saw it and told me not to worry about anything except pushing, one last long push to get the baby out.  I focused on Jon’s face and pushed and didn’t stop until someone attacked me and knocked the wind out of me.

As I tried to get some breath back in me, I saw that Dr. Imai had jumped on a stool and was doing sharp, deep, compressions on my stomach.  They were so strong to completely make me lose my breath each time.  She was helping push the baby out from the top, two nurses were pulling on each side of my vagina to open it up wider, the other doctor was pulling on the baby’s head with the vacuum, and I was pushing as hard as I could and finally T-Rex came out, after about an hour of pushing.   I was scared at first because she didn’t cry for about a minute, but everything was fine and they plopped her on my chest after she let out a healthy scream.

I couldn’t believe it.  I just kept saying to Jon, “Jon!  Our baby.  Our baby, our baby.  Oh, she’s our baby, baby.”  I was so shocked by her.   I can see now how tiny she is, but at the time I just kept thinking how sturdy and big she was.  Had she really been inside of me just a minute ago?  Had I really pushed her outside of me? 

The doctors took her away and cleaned her up and did a few tests and Jon told me how good I did.  I had torn pretty badly, so they started stitching me up while Jon stayed with the baby.   Finally, I was sewn up and Jon and I could have some time with our baby.  At this point some nurse started explaining to Jon the schedule for the week, of baby’s shots, my checkups, classes on giving the baby a bath, etc.  If I could go back in time, this is the one thing I would change (besides pushing baby out more effectively).  I mean, our baby was an hour old and she thought the most important thing for us to do was talk about the schedule for three days later?  We should have shooed her away.

I had lost a lot of blood, and was still bleeding a lot, so I stayed in the labor room that night to be closer to the nurse’s station.  Jon stayed with me for a few more hours as we called our parents and finally it was time for him to go home around 3:00 or 4:00.  The next morning I was able to walk down to my room and it was pretty rough.  I was barely able to make it to my bed before fainting.   The night before the nurses had mentioned that it might not be healthy for me to feed our baby the next day because of the amount of blood I lost, so I was nervous that that would still be the case.  However, after breakfast and an hour more of rest, I was ready to walk down to the nursery and was able to feed our baby girl. 

Jon arrived at the hospital soon after and we spent the whole day together as a family of three.    

Monday, October 08, 2012

Baby Showers!

I can’t believe how lucky we are.  I thought that since Jon and I lived in Japan, we would miss out on the baby shower tradition.  I mean, Japanese people don’t do baby showers, and our families live about 6,000 miles away.  However, we were lucky enough that we got TWO baby showers! 

                                         Japan Baby Shower 

Last week, my friends threw me a surprise baby shower.  It was a complete success, both surprise-wise and in being a wonderful party-wise. 

On the day in question, Jon had been acting a little funny.  First of all, we were going to a friend's pasta party, and Jon wanted to go 2 hours early. Why? I don't know. Then, he got a text from our friend, Ikumi. That's fine, I was just surprised she didn't text me. Then, he wanted to fiddle with the camera for some reason and told me to walk ahead. Oh well.....

Hey. Why are my friends in there? Are they having a party? This isn't where the pasta party is supposed to be.....and why is everyone staring at me?  

Balloons? Streamers? Diaper Cake?      I'm not very quick on the uptake.  What?  A party?!!!

There was a baby carriage shaped cake with figs inside.

Here we are with our giant diaper cake.  The shower was over two weeks ago, and I still haven't taken apart the cake yet.  I'll have to soon, so we can actually use the diapers, but it's too beautiful.  It's been sitting in our living room looking pretty.  

For this game, everyone has to try to draw a baby on their plate. I led the drawing by telling them which baby part to draw in which order.  I made it very difficult.....

She's saying, "Your baby drawing isn't very good...." 

After the shower, Jon and I walked home together.  I was able to keep all the decorations, so I wore the balloons home like some sort of foreigner weirdo.   As though I don't get enough stares being a super-pregnant white lady in Japan......

Skype Baby Shower

Jon's family decided to throw us a Skype baby shower.  It was amazing!  They sent us all the presents ahead of time, and even sent us the decorations so that we could decorate our house to match the decorations at their house.   Here is our apartment, all set up for the shower.   (Recognize the diaper cake?) 

Here we are as the shower begins.  It was 10 am for us, but 8 pm for our family in WI.  We're having fruit, brownies, deviled eggs, and juice for snacks.  An unusual, but very satisfying breakfast. 

Jon is trying to guess the circumference of my belly.  I think he has way over-estimated here.  

The length he ended up choosing was much shorter....but still not very close!

We got this great baby bjorn as one of our presents, so Jon tried it on right away with what we hope will be baby's favorite stuffed animal.  The little elephant was the first thing we ever bought for baby, months and months ago.  I can't wait for Jon to carry this baby around.  My back is killing me!

Overall, I can't believe how lucky I am to have friends and family that will go to such efforts to help us celebrate and prepare for our little baby!  

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Pregnancy Issues Weeks 33-37

I’m currently at 37 weeks, and I feel huge.  I can’t sleep very well at night, I can’t eat very well, I can’t move around, and something (elbow, foot, head) is always digging into my ribs, stomach, or back.  There’s literally no room left in there for 3 more weeks of growth!  It’s getting harder to walk, too.  Whenever I stand up after I've been sitting for a while, my hips feel loose and I have to take a few wobbly steps before I can walk normally.  I’m starting to understand why some people drink castor oil and eat pineapple by the bucket load to try to get the labor process started early.  Not me though, I'm content to let baby stay in there as long as he/she wants though, because the longer she/he stays in there, the more paid maternity leave I get.  (No matter when the baby arrives, I'll go back to work January 15th.  However, if she/he stays till the due date of Oct. 25th, I won't have to take any unpaid leave.  However many days early he/she comes is how many unpaid vacation days I'll have to take.) 

I started maternity leave last week, and I think it’s a good thing.  I initially didn't want to take off a complete month before the due date, but that’s how things are done here.  In fact, leaving work 6 weeks before the due date is the law, and I needed to get a note from my doctor just so I could work an extra two weeks.  I didn't want to sit at home and be bored all day and I only get 70% of my wage on maternity leave, so I figured, why not work a couple extra weeks?  Well, although I feel fine physically, I think it’s best that I left.  My brain is super checked out.  I had to really push myself to keep caring about teaching English when all I wanted to do was read baby blogs or make lists of things we still needed to prepare for the baby. Also, I've been having pretty bad insomnia, sometimes I can’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours a night for a few days in a row.  That was really hard while I was working, so I’m thankful that I can stay home now and I'm thankful that I live in a country where the government will pay for 3 months of maternity leave.

I’ve got lists and lists of things to do to keep me busy while I stay home.  At the top of the list is study Japanese.  I’ve got lots of baby related vocabulary that I need to learn so I’m not completely lost at the hospital.  My nurse and doctor can speak English, but I’ll be in the hospital for 5 days and none of the rest of the workers in the maternity ward speak English. I also need to study general Japanese because Jon and I signed up to take a Japanese test in December.  They only offer this test twice a year, so the timing isn’t ideal (hopefully we won’t be too sleepy from having a 6 week old when we go in to take our tests), but I think we’ll both do ok.  Other than study, I want to scrub all the corners of the house, finish getting everything ready for baby, and enjoy this last month of relaxing before baby arrives.

At our last checkup, I was happy to see that T-Rex’s growth is slowing down a bit.  If he/she had kept growing at the same rate, he/she would have been a 10 pound baby!  However, it looks like T-Rex will be around 8 pounds, which is very doable.  Also, when I had a pelvic exam today, the doctor and nurse were pretty shocked at just how far along I am.  Apparently, I’m already dilated 3 cm. Also, it seems that I have a nice wide open pelvis for having the baby.  He/she should be able to walk right out.  I guess that's my European body shape coming to the rescue.  Sometimes I see Japanese moms walking around and they have such teeny tiny hips, I can't believe a baby fit through them!

Anyhow, this past month, I've already gone into the hospital twice thinking that the baby was coming.  Both times I knew I wasn't in full-fledged labor, but I thought it might be starting and because it was too early for baby to come out, I went in the hospital to check it out and be safe.  If baby WAS trying to make an early appearance, they might be able to stop the labor if they catch it early. Both times, it turned out that I was fine, baby was fine, and nothing needed to be done.  However, I’m really grateful that we live in a country with such affordable health care.  Both of those extra visits weren't covered by my maternity insurance, so they warned me I’d have to pay out-of-pocket for the visits.  I had to pay about 25$ the first time and $2 the second time.  If Jon and I lived in the states, we’d have to think much more carefully about going in to the hospital and “better safe than sorry,” is a lot easier choice to make when you know it will only cost you a few bucks to set your mind at ease that the baby is healthy.

While at the last check-up, they gave us a list of things to bring to the hospital, and it was quite a list.   I had imagined packing a backpack, but I think I’ll need a full size suitcase!  I guess that’s what happens when you stay for five days instead of one or two as is standard in the states.  One of the things on the list that we won’t need to worry about is a little keepsake box for the umbilical cord.  In Japan, they keep the dried up cord stump as a memento for the baby.  I think they’d faint if I told them we plan to throw it away when it falls off because it’s gross.   

But, man, there are so many things about this whole labor thing that are just icky.  It reminds me of the 30 Rock episode when Tracy Jordan has a new baby and asks, “Why’s that baby all covered in goop?” and the doctor answers, “Because everything about this is disgusting!”  I’m excited to have our precious baby, and I'm amazed at the miracle of life, and I’m excited to be a mom and see Jon be a dad, and I’m a little surprised at how quickly we acclimated to talking about pretty icky things as we walk down the street--but still.....having babies can be kinda gross.