The Drive From Hell (or Why I’m not Afraid of Anything Anymore)

Just before we left the vet clinicThis is going back a few months now but it was a huge turning point for me so I still want to write about it.

Our crazy household is made up of Me, Yuji, Ruby, two dogs (Angus and Bronte), and two cats (Lucy and Eddie). All of our babies have their own very unique personalities but Angus, our “first born”, is our biggest problem child! Originally a rescue from Goondiwindi he has turned into a platinum-plated dog! He has had a knee reconstruction, TPLOs on BOTH of his back legs, and an operation to take the plates from those TPLOs out of his legs and reduce the risk of him developing osteo sarcoma.

Through all of this he has been a bundle of insane energy. He has destroyed blankets, toys, dishes, and anything we gave him to keep him warm,  as well as the backyard – which we used to call a garden. He is so full of life that it is ridiculous, but he has also unfortunately become quite agressive – not with people, but with other animals. We can only guess that it started when he was in pain with his legs, before the operations, as a defense mechanism. Anyway, it means that when we walk him (and I say we becasue I can’t walk Angus, Bronte, and Ruby by myself so it has to be a joint effort with Yuji) he has to have a double leash attached to both a haltie and a harness! And as soon as we see another dog in the distance we do a u-turn or duck down a side street – anything to avoid an encounter between Angus and another dog (apart from his mate Bronte of course). Yep – he’s about as high maintenance as they come! But we love him… so much!

Anyway, when we  first noticed that he had a bit of a limp in his front leg we didn’t worry too much. We just assumed he had hurt his leg a bit somewhere along the way as he leaped off the deck, trampolined against the railing to bark at passersby, or tackled Bronte. But when it didn’t get any better after a while we thought we had better take him to the vet just to be safe. Our vet is in Yokohama and we live in Saitama so it is a bt of a mission to get there. We did try some local vets but the ones we approached really didn’t seem that confident with crazy big dogs and then when it became obvious that we needed the TPLOs done we did some googling and found our vet in Yokohama – a clinic that can perform TPLOs and are comfortable handling big dogs. Since they have been so great we continue to use them for all our animals – the annual spring visit to the vet’s with all four of them is quite an adventure!

So… we headed off to Yokohama with Angus and he spent the whole drive hanging over the back seat (we have a four-wheel drive). I sat in the middle of the back seat to act as a buffer between him and Ruby, in her rear-facing car seat, and all was well. In fact Ruby was fascinated by having Angus in such close proximity and spent most of the trip trying to reach out and touch him! We were in for a shock once we arrived though. We really thought that the vet would tell us it was nothing and that we should just take him home and wait for his leg to get better but instead we were told that there was a pretty high chance that he had osteo sarcoma (read: cancer) in his front leg and they started talking about our options. Those options were pretty bleak and it was all a bit of a blur. I heard them mention radiation, and amputation, and something about the cancer spreading and eventually I started to understand that if it was cancer he wasn’t going to get better. The first thing though was to check that, by some miracle, it wasn’t an infection or something, so they wanted to keep him in the clinic and perform a biopsy.

The problem with this was how we would pick him up from the vet. It was Sunday afternoon. Yuji was leaving the next day to drive to Niigata for his uncle’s funeral and wouldn’t be back until late Tuesday night. He was taking time off work for the funeral so he couldn’t really take Wednesday off as well. And that left… me! Me to drive from Saitama to Yokohama and pick Angus up on Wednesday! – with Ruby! We thought it all out and we figured I could do it. I wasn’t too confident on the highways but I had done a bit of practice with Yuji. I wasn’t confident at all about parking, but by an amazing stroke of luck the clinic was actually closed for consultations that day so the parking lot would be empty! And as for Angus and his love of hanging over the back seat… well he would not be his usual crazy self. He would have just had a biopsy on his front leg bone, which would mean he would have a cast on, and one of those “Elizabeth collars” (the fancy version of a bucket over his head) so he couldn’t chew it. He would no doubt lie quietly on the floor and feel sorry for himself all the way home. I would just have to be careful to lift him gently out of the car when we got home.

But it didn’t go quite that smoothly…

First, the navigation system tried to take me through the centre of Tokyo on the way to the clinic. I ignored it and kept going the way I wanted to go – until I had no idea where to go anymore and had no choice but to obey that little voice. Next thing I knew I was driving over the Rainbow Bridge (!!) and didn’t have a clue how to get where I needed to go. I had absolutely no choice but to obey the voice. It was like a rollercoaster ride that I couldn’t get off. Except I couldn’t close my eyes. And I had a baby in the back seat. A baby who woke up and started crying from hunger because our crazy path meant that we were running late. So by the time I finally made it to the clinic I was a bit of a mess – exhausted from the stress of driving all over three prefectures, hoarse from singing to Ruby, and not looking forward to the trip home!

I picked up Angus and got help lifting him into the back of the car. He laid down on the floor and looked pitifully at me and I thought he was feeling way too sorry for himself to cause any trouble.

After all, he did start out on the floor.

For about the first five minutes.

Then, about a kilometre down the track, he somehow managed to jump up and hang his head, shoulders and two front legs over the back seat – right next to where Ruby was in her rear-facing car seat! She thought it was awesome. I nearly died of stress.

I tried gently encouraging him to get down. I tried yelling. I pulled over and coaxed him down. He jumped back up as soon as I got back on the road. I pulled Ruby’s car seat handle and sun shade up as far as they would go to make as much of a barrier as I could between them. I tried to concentrate on the road. The navigation system took me through the middle of Tokyo and I obeyed the voice. We got caught in traffic. Of course we did. It took more than two hours to get home and Angus was hanging over the back seat for at least ane and a half of those hours. I was a mess.

But we made it! And my baby did not get mauled by my dog! And I did not have a car accident! And now I am not afraid of anything anymore! I am certainly not afraid of driving (although I admit I am still a bit afraid of parking…)! So as long as there is a decent carpark (ready spacious and preferably almost empty!) at the destination I will drive just about anywhere these days!

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Tokyo Fit Mums

Today I went to Tokyo Fit Mums for the first time since before Christmas and I have to say that I feel so much better than I did yesterday (or even this morning before I went!) that I have resolved to make an extra effort to go every week if I possibly can. Of course hibernating at home with Ruby for almost the whole month of January was obviously not helping my mood, but there seems to be a difference between getting out and going to the shops (or even lunch) and going to fit mums. Maybe it’s the exercise, maybe it’s the fresh air, maybe it’s chatting to other mums – probably it’s a combination of all three. Whatever it is it works and I’m going to do my best to be there next Thursday!

For those of you who haven’t heard about Tokyo Fit Mums yet, it is a stroller fitness class that offers a really great workout. At ¥1,500 per lesson (if you buy ten lessons at once, otherwise it’s ¥1,800) and your first session free it is a rare Tokyo bargain.

I am a hopelessly uncoordinated and ridiculously unsporty person who has paid for multiple virtually unused gym memberships in her time but I honestly enjoy the TFM sessions and somehow the hour goes really fast. Everyone is really friendly and no one minds if you stuff up or have to take break to deal with a fussy baby so it is actually a very low stress outing!

There were more sessions when it was warmer but at the moment I think it is just Thursday mornings at the park behind Midtown in Roppongi. If you are in need of a reason to get out of the house, need exercise motivation, or just want to try something new I highly recommend it! Hope to see you there!

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Haircut

Just before I left for Australia for Christmas I FINALLY got my hair cut! My last haircut before that was in March (!!) so my hair was in desperate need of some attention and I feel so much better now.

I would strongly recommend any pregnant woman approaching the end of their pregnancy to go and get their hair cut NOW. Having a haircut is just so much easier when the baby is inside you than it is after they are out!

A good option I should have taken would have been to go while Mum or Dad or my sister were here and could have looked after Ruby but somehow it seemed too hard to arrange at the time. I could of course go one weekend when Yuji is around to look after Ruby too, but it seems such a shame to waste family time like that…

But then I found a solution: it turns out that there is a hair salon in Jiyugaoka where they have qualified people to look after your child, including babies, while you get your hair cut! I found out about it in a great new magazine called Mama Sampo, which has lots of great information for getting out and about with kids.

So, the day before I left for Australia for a holiday that would involve lots of picture taking, I set out for Jiyugaoka. I ran out of time in the morning and ended up having to drive there, which was not the original plan. It was stressful but I made it without being too late and even found a place to park right near the salon! – no small achievement for someone with my limited parking skills!

I handed Ruby over to the two carers in the kid’s corner, a separate, sunken room, with a gate separating it from the rest of the salon. It was a bit of a scary moment – the first time I ever handed Ruby over to be looked after by a stranger! But it was only for a short time and I was in an adjoining room so all in all it was a pretty good introduction to the babysitting experience – for both Ruby and I.

As soon as I take my glasses off, which I have to do when I’m having a haircut, everything becomes a blur so I couldn’t actually see what Ruby was up to in the kids’ room, but sometimes I was sure I could distinguish her cries from the cries of the other babies, which was pretty heartbreaking! The whole haircut took a bit under an hour, including shampoo, massage, and blowdry, and I was glad that it didn’t go on too long. I had mentioned that she didn’t need feeding until 11am and I have a feeling that they kept that in mind because I finished up almost exactly at 11am.

When I went over to grab her the poor little thing was strapped in a carrier to the back of one of the carers and her face was all red and blotchy from crying – something I have never seen before. It was all quite upsetting but she was fine and as soon as I took her she was happy and completely entranced my hair being loose, probably because I guess it has been in a ponytail since she was born! I declined their offer to feed her there and headed back to the car to breastfeed her in our own space. She was a bit tired, but all smiles as we headed off to have some lunch and check out some of the shops. We went to a bagel place near the train tracks that was very baby friendly, with heaps of room for strollers and heaps of other mums and kids!

Hair salon information:

Name: Hair Stream 2000

Website: http://www.hair2000stream.com/for_mama/index.htm

Prices: http://www.hair2000stream.com/menu/index.htm Note that they only accept credit cards if you spend over 15,000 yen.

Babysitting service: Available from 9:30 – 14:30 only on weekdays

Babysitting fee: Children 3 years and older = free; Children under 3 = ¥1,570 the first time and ¥1,050  from the second time onwards

Bookings required at least the day before.

I will probably go back. Not having to waste precious family time getting my hair cut and having an excuse to go and visit Jiyugaoka, one of my favourite places in Tokyo, is a good enough reason for me! Hopefully as Ruby gets bigger and braver she will have more fun in the kids’ corner too…

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Why Having a Baby in Japan is a Bad Idea

Obviously I love Ruby and love being a mum but there are many, many things about having a baby in Japan (or at least the metropolitan areas of Japan) that are just so difficult and/or unpleasant. Here is one of them:

When you are pregnant almost no one will give up their seat for you.

I counted how many times someone gave up their seat for me on the train while I was pregnant – I think it was fifteen times in the whole nine months (or should I say 10? – ah let’s just say 40 weeks!). This despite my desperate appeals of pregnancy. I stuck my belly out, sighed, prominently displayed by “There’s a baby in my belly” tag, rubbed my belly, read books on breastfeeding and raising a baby, and still almost no one stood up so that I could get off my poor swollen feet! I got a bit more lucky right at the end of my pregnancy but that was by default. I was getting around with my best mate, who is vision impaired, and some people (not that many though) offered to give up their seat for her. She promptly gave the offered seat to me, pointing out that she was perfectly capable of standing up since there was nothing wrong with her legs and she was not carrying a small human in her belly!

My husband had a revelation a few months in to my pregnancy that improved my odds of getting a seat considerably though. He suddenly realized midway through a trip home that was filled with much sighing, glaring, belly poking out, and tag jingling, that we were standing in the wrong part of the train! We were standing in front of the priority seats, where people are supposed to let old people, disabled people, and pregnant people have a seat. This might sound sensible, but it was actually the worst thing we could have done. To put it bluntly, the kind of person who sits in the priority seat despite being able-bodied, young, and not growing a person inside them is NOT the kind of person that will give up their seat! They are the kind of person that will spend the whole trip sleeping, playing games on their phone (even though phones are supposed to be switched off in the priority seats), and avoiding eye contact with the obviously pregnant woman sighing and shifting her weight from foot to foot two inches in front of them. I found that once I gave up on the priority seat area and went to stand in front of youngish people in the normal area I was much more likely to get a seat – and for what it’s worth women were much more likely to give up their seats than men…

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My Birth Story

Six months overdue, here is my birth story! Some people might find it a bit weird to share this but I remember searching out stories of people giving birth in Japan when I was pregnant. Birth is, after all, a big unknown. Very few of us have ever been there for a birth (except our own of course!) and when you are planning on giving birth in Japan it can be hard to relate to the information in English books, with their talk of birth plans and active births, when Japanese hospitals seem to work so differently. So here is my story:

I was due on the 29th of May and started my maternity leave on the 15th of April (the standard legal allowance plus a bit of paid leave because my mate was coming to visit). For a week or so my mate and I traipsed around Tokyo, Saitama, and beyond. I took it easier than I usually do when we have visitors, with lots of sit downs and stopping for cake, but it was still pretty full-on! She left on the 23rd and I took the weekend to prepare for the next lot of visitors – Dad and my half sister, Jeanie, arriving on the 25th! Dad has been here heaps of times before but this was not only Jeanie’s first trip to Japan but her first trip out of Australia so I wanted to make sure she saw some sights while she was here. I basically aimed to do one day out and about and one day at home throughout their stay – leaving Dad to lead the way while I stayed home and washed baby clothes, read baby books, and took it easy. In the end it worked out to more days out and about than home but that was okay. I walked Kamakura, Nikko, Harajuku, Shibuya, and did lots of shopping, while squeezing in hospital visits and my first (and in the end ONLY!) motherhood class (hahaoyagakkyu)! Jeanie assured me that I would have an easy birth after all that walking and it turned out she was right (although I feel the need to qualify that statement by saying that no birth I’ve ever heard of is truly easy!).

They left on the night of the 10th and I promised myself a day of taking it easy before I got stuck into my to-do list. So the next day I lazed around, catching up on some of my favourite tv shows and taking naps, and generally had a very relaxing day. I had a slight pain in my belly, like mild period pain, from about lunchtime but I thought that was probably just another pregnancy pang and didn’t worry too much about it. The pain got a bit more insistent as the day went on but it was definitely not coming at consistent intervals or anything contraction-like! By mid-evening I was starting to get the feeling that something significant could be happening and started flipping through the pregnancy books looking up what the signs of labour were. I must say that they weren’t overly helpful because the books somehow convinced me that I wasn’t in the early stages of labour. I went to bed early with a nagging feeling that perhaps I should have worked through my to-do list a bit earlier…

From there on I slept, woke up feeling pain and discomfort, went to the toilet, and then went back to bed I don’t know how many times, until I finally couldn’t sleep anymore at about 1am. By this stage I was starting to twig that this could be the real thing but I think I was still in denial. I started madly reading the pregnancy books again – this time looking not only at the signs of labour but also what they said about the actual process of giving birth! – I hadn’t gotten to those parts yet because I had thought I still had two and a half weeks to go!

I was in two minds as to whether or not to wake Yuji up, but when I suddenly needed to vomit I decided that it seemed like Ruby/Liam was definitely on the way and that I’d better get Yuji up! He was quite suprised and wanted to immediately call a cab (in a case of spectacularly bad timing our car had died the week before!), but I still needed to finish packing my hospital bag! When we did call a cab the taxi driver arrived and promptly announced that he wasn’t sure of the way to Koshigaya as he was new to the job! I couldn’t believe it! – but Yuji stepped in and calmly offered to give him directions, while I resolved to deal with my contractions as calmly and quietly as possible so as not to freak out the rookie cab driver!

We arrived at the hospital a little after 4am and they directed us to one of the contraction rooms (jintsubeya) where I was asked to change into a pink gown and chastised for not having brought any special knickers (ninjoku sho-tsu) with me. The knickers have a handy (?) velcro opening at the front for easy access and they had been on the list of things I was supposed to prepare, along with other things I didn’t buy, such as a maternity belt and a corset for after the birth. To tell you the truth, I went to the baby shop, looked at all these items, and felt such revulsion at: (i) owning such items; and (ii) paying money for such items, that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. Anyway, it turns out that the hospital was happy to sell me a pair of the lovely pants for 500 yen and I got by fine without the maternity belt or corset so it all worked out in the end!

I stayed in the contraction room until about 9am. Although I had been worried about being strapped down and confined to bed, thinking that I would want some version of the active birth you read about in (English) books and magazines, it turns out that I just wanted to lay still and have my back rubbed when the contractions came. They tried to give me breakfast but everything I ate came straight back up. This had the unexpected benefit of getting me out of having an enema (something which seems quite common here!). The midwife said it was a bit rough to give me diarrhoea when I was already vomitting so she asked the doctor if we could skip that bit and he allowed it! Personally I think it is more than a bit rough to give anyone diarrhoea under any circumstances!

Yuji was great throughout the whole thing – rubbing my back and bringing me water, etc. My only complaint was that he got a bit obsessed with timing the contractions! I remember insisting at one stage that I didn’t care how far apart the contractions were – I just wanted him to rub my back!!
While I was in the contraction room I let the midwife know that I was planning to have the baby in my room with me during my stay in hospital, that I wanted to get her as soon as possible, and that I was determined to breastfeed exclusively if at all possible, so I didn’t want them to give her anything in a bottle – including the vitamin K syrup and especially not formula. Although I thought this had already been sorted out in one of my earliest visits to the doctor they were suprised by this information and said that they were glad I had let them know when I did! At about 9am they decided it was time to move me into the delivery room (bunbenshitsu), which was great because it meant we were making progress!

From this point on things went fast, although at the time it felt like we were not progressing much at all. The ‘urge to push’ discussed so often in the books arrived with a vengence but it turns out that it is not quite so simple as just going with that ‘urge to push’! I can’t remember how many times I swore to myself that THIS push would be the push that would get the baby’s head out – but just wanting it desparately wasn’t enough… I had to take a deep breath at the right time, make it last so that I didn’t need to stop mid-push to take another breath, and press my lower back down onto the bed (table?) in defiance of the ‘urge to arch my back’ not read about in any of the books! I have this idea (which may be completely unfounded!) that people who accomplished at sports might be better at this than I was. With my lack of coordination I would invariably get the breathing right only to forget about not arching my back or vice versa! The midwife was great and tried to help me with the breathing, etc. She gave me one piece of advice I was suprised at – which was not to make a noise when I was pushing. The way she put it was that it was a waste of my energy and that I should put that energy towards pushing. I could imagine this really upsetting some people but it made sense to me at the time so I did as I was told. The doctor arrived only at the very end and did not seem to do too much at all. He did, however give me his own piece of suprising advice – not to close my eyes! He explained that it was important to stay present and not go into my own world. I’m not sure whether that was just his personal opinion but, again, it made sense to me at the time so I kept my eyes open. 

Two hours after being moved to the delivery room Ruby arrived. Unfortunately they didn’t let me hold her straight away – insisting that they needed to do tests. When I asked if she was okay one of the midwifes told me to wait as they were still assesing that – which was far from reassuring. They finally let me have a quick cuddle but insisted on having paper between us! Then they whisked her away and I didn’t see her again for almost three hours! I’ll save my account of the battles that began after the birth for another post as this post is already huge but here are the vital statistics: Ruby was born at 11:01 am on May 12, 2010 and weighed 2,930 grams. It was a natural birth, with no pain relief, although they did apparently break my waters to move things along (I have only a very fuzzy recollection of this).

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Friday’s Challenge

After Tokyo Fit Mums on Friday morning Ruby and I headed to Starbucks for a feed and some midtown people watching. While we were there Ruby set herself a challenge – and it didn’t take her too long to achieve her goal! It was so much fun to watch… I wish her daddy could have been there to see it.

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A Fresh Start

Determined to finally get Kokusai Baby going properly and to get into a rhythm of regular posting I have set aside a couple of hours to make a fresh start! First of all I changed my theme, which I guess is the blogging equivalent of changing your hairstyle. Next, I changed my gravatar so that it is now a photo of Ruby and I.  Now to get down to the nitty-gritty of posting… It is so easy to faff around with the little stuff that posting new articles gets pushed to the back of the line – but not today! My goal is to upload this post before Ruby wakes up. I just hope she doesn’t wake up early or I will be in trouble.

I’ll start with a quick summary of where we’re at.

Ruby was born at 11:01am on May 12, two and half weeks early and weighing in at 2930 grams. Since then life has been busy, busy, busy! People always try to warn you how it will be but I know I didn’t really believe them. I secretly imagined that my days would be filled with leisurely walks in the park, cuddles on the sofa, and storytime before bed. Well, at least we do have storytime! I couldn’t have possibly imagined that there would be quite this much washing, or pureeing, or just general juggling! I started back at work after the minimum amount of maternity leave, which has added to the stress – but I am working flexible and reduced hours from home and it helps to pay the bills and to remind me that I have other skills. Ruby is now 5 months old and has started solids, which I have found to be quite hard work so far!

Still, it has been a wonderful adventure. Some of the highlights have included visits from family, meeting other mums, gummy grins, photos, shopping, and – of course – the cuddles! Lowlights have been too many frozen dinners, some very groggy days, being stuck in traffic with a crying baby, washing, washing, and more washing!

I have a few reasons for wanting to do this blog properly. I would like a way of reflecting on my days and keeping a record – otherwise they can seem to blend into each other and when bedtime rolls around you sometimes feel that all you have to show for your efforts are a not very clean house, bags under your eyes, and a (hopefully!) sleeping baby. Another major motivator for me is to create the kind of resource I was looking for when I was pregnant. I wanted something that would give me lots of tips on how exactly I should go about doing this baby thing in Japan! What to buy and where, how to stay sane, where to go when the need to get out of the house is overwhelming, who to call on for help, and how to enjoy the whole adventure as much as possible!

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