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.