Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baby Names and Secret Sex....(of the baby)

We've decided to keep the gender of the baby a secret....not from ourselves, but from everyone else!  (At our last checkup, the doctor wasn't even 100% sure about the sex, so we technically don't know yet either)  Hopefully we'll be able to nail it down at the next checkup at 24 weeks.  I've just started telling a little white lie to acquaintances that we're not finding out the gender, because it feels so weird to say, "Yes, I know the gender, but I'm not going to tell you!"   Initially, I wanted it to be a surprise for us too, but it's so hard to pick out a name, that we wanted to know the gender to cut out half of the name disagreements. We've started narrowing the choices's a sampling.

Coralyn/Coraline (I'm for line, Jon's for lyn)






Picking names is hard!  

I had no idea picking a name would be this hard, I always wondered why there were so many baby name books and website.  It's not just about making a list of names that sound pretty.  We've got to contend with the fact that 

1-Jon has an ex with the same name I like....goodbye name!   (I don't want to think about him ever having dated anyone before me....much less naming our baby after an ex!)

2-I had a childhood enemy with the same name that Jon likes...another name down.  

3-Jon likes the name Rose, but I hate girl names that endow the named with gender specific traits, like Lily (delicate and beautiful) or Charity (charity). 

4- We're both atheists, so we don't want to name our child something from religion or the Bible, so names like  Christian, Mathew, Michael, Mary, Ruth, Jesus, and so forth are off the list.   

5-We don't want too common of names, which pulls Sophia from the list, although I love the sound of it and the meaning (wisdom).  

6- This baby will spend some formative years living in Japan.  Japanese people have a hard time saying the "L" and "R" sounds.  Well, many of the names we like have those sounds, and some of them have both!  (Clark and Coraline/Coralyn)  We decided that in the end, we had to just ignore that aspect of choosing names, because we just couldn't bear knocking any more possible names off the list!   Although, if we pick Coraline/Coralyn, it'd be pretty funny because I would call her Cora for short, and that's how Japanese people say Cola.  It's even spelled the same in the Japanese alphabet. 

So the plan now, is to keep our minds open, and keep thinking of possible names.  We;ll go to the hospital with a short list of possible names and once we have the baby we'll have 5 to 7 days in the hospital to try them out and see which one fits before we have to sign the birth certificate and head home. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weeks 15-22: Telling Work about T-Rex, Free Pregnancy Advice, and Baby's First Kick!

We went in and told work about the pregnancy at week 19.  Because I had started working at my school, it’s illegal to fire me for being pregnant; although I was still nervous they might be angry.  However, everything went very well.  Everyone was very happy for us and congratulated us, although there were some funny looks when we mentioned the due date, October 25th.  My work asked me not to tell my schools yet because they will call the Board of Education first and let them know what’s going on and explain that they will organize a substitute for my three months of maternity leave.  So I haven’t told anyone at my school yet, though I have stopped dressing in ways that will hide my growing belly.  My first two days of work, I wore all black, vertical stripes, bright necklaces, anything to draw attention to my face, and keep attention from my belly.  I don’t think I needed to worry so much.  I haven’t hidden my fat tummy for days and no one has looked at me funny or asked me about it.  I guess if I look at it objectively, I can see how it just looks like I had a big lunch...sort of. 
I recently told a Japanese friend about my pregnancy and when I noticed her surprise, I asked her, “But, didn’t you notice my growing stomach?”  Her response was, “Well, no!  If I thought a fat tummy meant someone was pregnant, then I would just have to assume all foreigners are pregnant!”  She was joking (mostly), but I thought it was really funny and I’m pretty sure that’s what is going on at my school.  So far I’ve only gained about 2 pounds, but I don’t know how that happened because I feel like I have quite a bump.  I can’t button my normal pants anymore, so I either leave them unzipped with a belly band over them or wear the maternity pants my mom sent me from the states.  Maternity shopping in Japan is ridiculous.  As a general rule, I hate shopping.  Add to the mix that clothes are three times what they would cost in the states, that I don’t speak the language very well, the XL sizes are usually too small (I'm a M in the states) and it makes for a miserable shopping experience.  The maternity clothes I've found at the various malls are usually these filmy, boxy, tops and then short shorts.  My mother-law said she’ll send me some clothes and my mom, dad, and sister-in-law have already sent a box of all types of summer maternity clothes that I've been loving.

How are Japanese people reacting to my pregnancy?  Well, as I just wrote, it’s not yet obvious whether I’m pregnant or chubby, so I can’t say how strangers or neighbors will react just yet.  As far as people who do know, it’s a little frustrating.  I’m a very independent person.  I don’t like being told what to do.  My husband and I both joke sometimes that we both have oppositional defiance disorder.  Being told that we absolutely must do something a certain way is the best way to get us to do it differently.  On top of that, Jon and I have both been very careful about this pregnancy.  We planned to get pregnant, so I haven’t drunk any alcohol from the very start; I take my vitamins and eat healthy fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains.  I stopped rock climbing at 10 weeks, and we never miss a doctor appointment.  We researched all the fish that are high in mercury and I even stopped drinking coffee.   So, when someone tries to boss me around and tell me how to act as a pregnant lady, I get really peeved. 

The first time this happened was when I was playing around with some little three year old boys that I teach English to.  I picked one of them up and immediately got attacked by six parents shouting that I shouldn’t pick up anything heavy...ever.  For nine months I’m supposed to just let my muscles atrophy, I guess.  This has happened many times since then, moving tables that hardly weigh more than 8 pounds, carrying groceries from the store, etc. etc. etc.  I’m sick to death of assuring people that I can still ride my bike safely.  I don’t need people telling me I need to hold the hand rail when I go up and down stairs.  If there happens to be someone smoking within a 15 foot radius, I don’t need anyone going over there and telling them they need to put it out because I’m pregnant and I don’t need to leave and go home lest I breathe a whiff of diluted smoke.  And I especially don’t need the comments asking why I'm coming back to work after my maternity leave is up. Don't I want to be a good mother and stay home with the baby?

It’s hard in a different way for Jon too.  Jon loves helping me.  He would carry all the heavy things all the time if I let him.  However, I’ve always insisted on carrying my fair share, whether we’re camping and hiking across the Great Wall of China, or carrying food home from the grocery store.  Especially now that I’m pregnant, I want to stay strong.  I know that exercise is good for me and the baby and I know that labor takes a lot of muscle power, so I am trying to stay as active as I can.  However, people tend to look askance at Jon when they see me with a heavy backpack, and I imagine it will only get worse once I obviously have a baby inside me.  So, Jon gets hit on two sides.  He wants to help me, but I won’t let him, and then he gets looks and comments from strangers insinuating that he isn’t a very good husband, when in fact he's the best husband.

Our friends and acquaintances have started to realize how Jon and I do things and I’ve let them all know that I plan to ride my bike to the hospital when it’s time to have T-Rex, so they have relaxed a little bit about it—or at least stopped making comments about it.  (I don’t actually plan to ride my bike to the hospital in the midst of contractions.  We live close enough that we’ll either walk or take a taxi.)  However, I imagine that as it gets more obvious that I’m pregnant, we’ll start getting more comments from strangers or nosy neighbors.  I don’t know how pervasive these sorts of things would be in the states, as I’ve never been pregnant there.  

The other day Jon got to feel T-Rex kicking through my belly muscles and it was a really special experience. I'm glad that he is now able to feel the baby move, although now he has the same worries I have been having every day, "Wait, it's been almost five hours since we felt him/her he/she ok?"  The very next day I was looking at my stomach and T-Rex gave a mighty kick, making my belly bulge out about an inch.  It was not special or sweet and I didn’t rub my tummy or smile about our future soccer player.  Instead, I sat down quickly because I almost fainted.  My first thought was not of the precious bundle of life inside me, it was of the X-Files episode we had recently watched where the alien rips its way out of the man’s torso. And then goes on a killing spree.  Having a growing baby inside you with weird. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pregnancy in Japan, weeks 12-15

April 15, 2012
Now that I’m getting to the tail end of the first trimester, some of my pregnancy symptoms are supposed to be waning.  “Supposed to” being the operative word.  Before moving on, you should know that my husband and I are both staunchly atheist.  We both believe in logic, science, and thinking things through rather than lucky charms.   We don’t worry about Friday the 13th, we don’t follow our astrological signs, we don’t believe in karma or the Earth spirit, or ghosts, and we don’t worry about jinxing things.  Except….maybe I do believe in jinxing things, even though I try not to. 
I’ve been having real issues with my runny nose lately.  I thought maybe it was adult onset hay fever—brought on by the beautiful cherry blossoms—or an extended cold.  I didn’t have a sore throat (except after sleeping with my mouth open all night) or achy body, or any of the other signs of a cold, and I kept thinking it would clear up soon.  Well, I made the mistake of bragging to someone how easy my pregnancy was.  I had light morning sickness for about three weeks, and never actually vomited, just felt queasy till I ate something.  I had tender nipples for two months, and I was pretty tired for two months….end of list.  They were very manageable symptoms.  Almost immediately after bragging about my easy pregnancy, my runny nose got worse.  I was filling an entire garbage can at work with my used tissues (still am, in fact).  I had to be careful in case it looked like someone wanted to come and talk with me because in the 30 seconds it took us to resolve the issue, my nose would drip  down to my chin.  Ewww.  Some quick google searching told me what I have, “rhinitis of pregnancy.”   It will only get worse as the pregnancy progresses, and it won’t go away till two weeks after baby comes out.  I asked the doctor about it at my last visit and got the response of, “sho ga nai.”  (It can’t be helped.)

April 30
I’ve been reading a lot of baby books lately and lots of giving birth in Japan blogs and thinking about this whole giving birth in Japan thing. 

What I’m realizing more and more is that everything will probably be fine and I don’t need to worry about things.  I was so worried about the differences between Japan and America and trying to learn everything there is to know about the way things are done in America so I can do it the exact same way here.  I was reading differences between America and Japan in everything from routine episiotomy to weight gain to hospital stay to diet.   Although I tried to look at everything in a neutral viewpoint, of course I tended to side with American viewpoints most of the time.  It’s all I know from parents, friends, books, etc.   I started to stress out that I wouldn’t be able to control everything and that the nurses might insist on giving baby some sugar water in a bottle when I want to exclusively breastfeed and I’ve read that the babies don’t latch on as well if you introduce bottles before the breast!  And I insist on having Jon sleep in my room with me during the hospital stay!  I want my birth plan followed to a T!  I want, I need, I insist… and on and on and on. 
Well, I took a deep breath and decided on my pregnancy and newborn baby mantra—everything is going to be just fine.  Chill out.    If the doctor wants to do a C-section…well, that’s why she/she is the doctor.  If the Japanese pregnancy books says to gain only 15 to 26 pounds, while my “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book says gain 25 to 35 pounds, well, I’ll aim for 25 then and not worry if I come in a little lighter or heavier.   (At 14 weeks, I’ve lost 4 pounds simply from trying to eat healthier foods and giving up alcohol.)

We went and visited a friend who just had her baby girl in the hospital.  This friend knew we were expecting and I had gone to her with lots of pregnancy questions.  When I asked her about epidurals, she was pretty skeptical, worrying about danger to the baby.  She planned to give birth without one at a “Lady’s Clinic.”  A Lady’s Clinic is the small hospital devoted entirely to childbirth, like the first hospital we had gone to, so her experience would be different than mine will be in an actual hospital, and much more expensive.  Most women in Japan, give birth in Lady's Clinics. Her clinic was like a ritzy bed and breakfast with gilded furniture in her room and delicious homemade meals served in a parlor with all the new mothers eating together while the nurses take care of the newborns.  She stayed about a week and we visited five days after she had her baby.   My friend looked really good, not too tired or stressed out and her baby was adorable and mostly quiet.  We talked about the birth a little bit and that’s where it got scary.  She had had 30 hours of labor and said that it was terrible and painful and exhausting.  By the end she was begging for a c-section but the nurses and doctors just told her to try hard and eventually the baby came out.   It sounded a little like she might have taken that epidural if she could go back in time. 
 It was really reassuring to hold the baby because I’ve been having lots of bad dreams about dropping T-Rex or bumping his/her head.  Sitting and holding the baby without anything going wrong was nice.   One uncomfortable thing was that people kept talking about how beautiful Jon and my baby will be.  We have white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, what could go wrong?  This is a pretty common thing in Japan, your white skin and light hair and light eyes make you beautiful, no matter what you look like.   It makes me pretty uncomfortable, and I’ve blogged about it before.  Anyhow, her baby was just beautiful and perfect with soft black hair and cute little fingers and toes and a tiny little button nose.  As soon as we walked in, I noticed dad finishing up with changing a diaper!  This was the same guy who said changing diapers was the wife’s duty, so I was relieved to see that he had obviously been joking about that. 

Weeks 8-12 Forms and Registration of Birth in Japan

March 30th
We called our families in the states to announce the big news.  I initially wanted to wait till 12 weeks to tell anyone anything, but Jon was so excited (ok, me too), that we couldn’t wait.  My mom asked us if we had thought of any names yet.   Jokingly, I said “we’re thinking of “Door” if it’s a girl, and if it’s a boy….” Then Jon said, “If it’s a boy, we’ll name him T-Rex!”  So, we decided to use the name, T-Rex, till baby comes out.  At that point, we’ll have about a week in the hospital to decide on a name.  I’d like to have a few names picked out, but not finalize anything till we’ve had a chance to look at baby and try out calling him/her a few names. 
We went to the hospital and had our second checkup.  We got the official form to register our birth at the Ward Office.  We’ll get an official “Mother and Child Handbook” when we register the birth and we’ll get free coupons for the rest of our visits.  When we showed up, we had to go through the pain of filling out the forms all in Japanese.  We didn’t even fill out the whole thing.  After about 30 minutes the nurse came over and started asking us questions and checking the boxes herself. This was a lot of help because 99% of people (including us) learning Japanese can speak and understand a lot more Japanese than can read and write it.  The very first question they asked us was, “Do you want a baby?”  I thought this was an interesting question, but not a very surprising one once I thought about it.  About 40% of Japanese women have had at least one abortion, and they aren’t looked down upon like they are in the states.   No abortion clinic bombings at least.  We had a very preliminary exam, with only an ultrasound of the fetus (in both 2D and 3D), because they wanted to save the expensive tests for the next visit, when I would have a free coupon.  In all, the visit cost about 3,000 Yen, or $45.  And, like I mentioned before, the rest of the visits will be free with our coupons.

April 4th
We went to the Ward office today and registered the pregnancy.  We walked out with a bunch of free trash bags and about 15 books.  In Japan, the way you pay for trash pickup is to pay for trash bags, then you have to put your trash in these specific bags.  The lady registering our birth explained, “You’ll have a lot more garbage when you have a baby, so here you are!” 

  Three of the books we got are the most important books we’ve ever gotten.  The first one is the Mother and Child Handbook, where we and our doctor will record all the events of the pregnancy and birth. 
They stressed the importance of not losing this book, as it covers the child’s doctor records up through three years old.  You can see here the 3rd year check up form.

We also got two separate books which have the free coupons in them so that all our pre-natal checkups will be free and T-Rex’s first three years of checkups and vaccinations will be free too. 

The rest of the books we got were info about child-birth classes, pamphlets to keep on hand (or memorize) for what to do when you child is choking or gets hurt, and other baby related info.   I can’t read more than a few hundred Kanji so I mostly looked at the pictures.  I’d like to brush up on baby Heimlich, but I’ll do that in English.

Going to see the ultrasound of the T-Rex’s little head and butt made me really realize what we’d done in making a baby together.  I was so excited and emotional afterwards, and still feel that way when I look at the pictures. 

However, going to the ward office to get all these papers and fill out all these forms really drilled in my head how much work a baby will be, especially one in Japan.  Needing a passport, foreigner ID card, getting a Japanese Birth certificate, filling out all these “record of live birth” forms are just the beginning.  (We’ll need to do all that fairly quickly because we’re planning to visit the States when T-Rex is only two months old.)  It won’t just be playing and cooing at an adorable baby, it will be paying for baby’s supplies, washing and cleaning baby, staying up all night with baby, paying for baby’s day care, and endless, endless Japanese forms for baby.  It’s exhausting just thinking about it.  It makes me want to move to Hawaii, where I speak the language, the weather is beautiful, and I’m a citizen.  Maybe in a few years…….   

Two Foreigners Having a Foreigner Baby in Japan

March 15th 2012

These next few entries will focus on what it’s like being pregnant and giving birth in Japan. My husband and I met, fell in love, and got married in America, but moved immediately after the wedding to be English teachers in Japan. It’s a good place to have a baby, with one of the highest records of mother and infant health in the world.  The health insurance system is set up to provide affordable (almost free) prenatal, labor, and infant care.  There are numerous hospitals and since it is a national health care system, you can choose from any number of hospitals for your care and delivery, although some are cheaper than others.  The government pays for maternity leave at 60% of your normal wage for three months, one month before the birth and two months after the birth.

So, it sounds like a cakewalk, right?  I imagine it probably is for a Japanese person.  However, let me set the stage for who my husband and I are.    We’re Americans in our late 20s who want to give birth in the Western Style, as much as possible.  This causes problems.

 First--The Language
 Though my husband is very good at conversational Japanese, he hasn’t had a lot of time to study up on the specific vocabulary that we’ll need at the hospital.  (C-Sections and fetal heart rates don’t come up so often in casual conversation) I have only been studying for over a year, and so my abilities stop at making the appointment and writing my address in kanji on the registration form.  So, we’d like to find an English speaking doctor.  If we can’t, the city can provide interpreters that will help us at the appointments, but I don’t really want a stranger in the room with Jon and I as we find out the baby’s birth or as I take my clothes off for a physical, or as I’m in labor.  Although, I guess, the doctor and the nurses will all be just as much of strangers, so maybe that won’t be a big deal.  I can’t imagine many interpreters would want to volunteer to be a part of that though….

 Jon and I are a team, through and through.  That means we want to be together at all times.  Some Japanese hospitals don’t allow men (i.e. husbands) in the labor rooms because there may be a bunch of women all naked from the waist down in the same room.  Some aren’t supportive of men coming along to appointments.  This is changing, but (from asking Japanese people) I hear that only 50 percent of fathers are present at the birth.  Don’t even get me started on the reaction I got when I asked my pregnant friend’s husband if he’d ever changed a diaper before.  Well, I started, I’ll finish.  He looked at me like I had asked him if he had ever eaten dirt.  Then he responded.  “No, and I never will.  It’s her duty.”  And this was a nice guy!  He seemed to always fuss over his wife and was always rubbing her belly, but he had no plans to ever, not in two years, change a diaper.

 Third-Pain Medication
 I want an epidural.  They are safe and easy. I see no reason to put myself through hours of intense and exhausting pain when there is no need to.  The Japanese idea is that the pain of childbirth is a woman’s burden to bear and she isn’t a real mother without that pain. I think that’s stupid, and I want an epidural. About ten percent of women get epidurals in Japan (hearsay from friends), so we need to make sure the hospital has that.

 Fourth- Work Situation
 We work for a dispatch company that requires us to re-sign contracts every year.  This means that after a year, they can fire us by not renewing our contracts for no reason at all and we have no recourse. This is a problem because I will be about 16 weeks along when we sign the contracts, although I will have been working for the company consistently for over a year.  After the contract is signed, they can’t fire me for being pregnant, but I’m 100% sure they wouldn’t renew my contract if they found out.  That would leave Jon and I in dire financial straights, me unable to find a different job in the middle of the school year, and super unhappy and bored for the months where I wouldn’t have a job. (I’m writing this in the present tense, but will wait to publish it until later, so there is nothing on the internet that my company can find.)  I went to the city office and spent quite a while talking to all the different insurance and pregnancy registration offices with an interpreter finding out that there is no law saying when I have to tell my employer I’m pregnant, that they can’t fire me after I’ve signed the contract.  When I register the birth, that is kept secret and won’t be leaked to my company, etc.   Whew. Now, just to keep it off of Facebook.

 If I can take a little tangent here…  I imagine some people are thinking, “Don’t you think it’s wrong to force the company to re-hire you just so you can take three months off work to have a baby?
 Shouldn’t you support yourself for that? It’s your choice to have a baby.”  My answer is this, first of all, ***** you.  Secondly, I will have worked for this company consistently for over 18 months by the time I want to take the 3 months maternity leave.  It’s not like I just barely got the job.  Also, the government pays my maternity leave, not the company. Next, if you want smart, motivated, professional women to have babies (thus making MORE smart, motivated, professional people—something I think is good for the world), then we all need to chip in to help them.  Questions like the one above are one of the reasons Japan has such a low birthrate. Women have to choose between babies or their job and they are starting to choose their job. 

 OK, back on track.  So, the above four things are not impossible to find, but finding them all in one hospital might be tricky.  The first hospital we went to had an English speaking doctor and was very nice.
 We had our first ultrasound with him.  However, it was a very small clinic, with only the one doctor.  These small, one doctor women’s clinics are pretty common in Japan, and many normal sized hospitals don’t have a maternity ward. Because he was the only doctor, he couldn’t offer epidurals. In the case of a complication, I’d have to be transferred to a larger hospital. Also, his average price was about US$1,000 over what the government subsidized for birth.  Most hospitals are right around the same price or a little lower. So, we decided to find a different hospital.  Our doctor cautioned us that we wouldn’t be able to find a hospital that would give me any pain killers for the labor because it just wasn’t done….
…A mere week later, with some help from a wonderful friend, we have found our hospital.  We chose it because it's very close to our house, the price is very close to what the government provides for labor, and it offers epidurals, although we have to pay the extra US$300.  Anyhow, it's got almost everything we want.....but what doesn't it have?  Yep, an English speaking doctor.  We'll head in to our first appointment there on March 28th.