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).