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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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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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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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7 things you need to know about having a baby in Japan

Whether you are already pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant there are a few things that you need to know if you are planning to have a baby in Japan.

1. You need to start taking pregnancy supplements and you need to cut back on the green tea

Ideally you should start taking pregnancy supplements 3 months before you conceive, but if that doesn’t happen just start taking them as soon as possible. Pregnancy supplements are important because they help you get the nutrients you need – in particular folate, otherwise known as folic acid. However, if you are a green tea drinker you need to be careful because green tea can block the absorption of this vital nutrient.

2. Be proactive – or get ready for some suprises

If you are commited to breastfeeding, if you know that you want an epidural, or if you have always dreamed of a home birth or a water birth you will need to actively make that happen. If you don’t find out what is possible at your hospital, or with your doctor, etc. then you need to accept that things might happen that you are not happy with. So many people assume that they will be able to have their partner in the room, that they will be fully supported in their desire to breastfeed, and that they will be able to get the pain relief they want as soon as they ask for it. They are then shocked when their partner is not allowed in the delivery room on the day, their baby is fed formula even though they think they would like to perservere with breastfeeding, or the doctor informs them that the clinic is not equipped to offer epidurals when they are hours into labour and hours from meeting their baby in person.

3. Get informed

If you don’t know what you want then you need to get informed. Not sure if you like the idea of a home birth? Like the idea of breastfeeding but also think you might like the freedom that formula feeding provides? Look into it! Read up, ask around – get informed. Make sure that you make decisions and don’t let your decisions be made for you and end up regretting the experience you end up having.

4. Stay away from sushi, and raw egg, and cheese… and much more!

There are lots of things you need to stay away from when you are pregnant and you might not hear about some of them living in Japan, because of language barriers, and because of differences in conventional wisdom. For example Japanese people have expressed their suprise when I asked them if they miss eating sushi now that they are pregnant. It turns out they don’t stop eating sushi when they are pregnant. But when you think about it not eating raw fish (or raw meat) makes sense!

5. Don’t forget to get your free money!

Because pregnancy is not a sickness (not that that means much to pregnant women everywhere who are dealing with nausea, constipation, anaemia, etc.) it is not covered by national health insurance in Japan. However help is at hand from a slightly different angle. If you go to your local ward or city office and register your pregnancy they will give you a copy of the mother and child handbook. This should contain coupons or vouchers to cover or help cover many of the tests and doctor’s visits you would otherwise need to pay for. The details seem to vary somewhat by area but it should constitute significant savings. You are also eligible to receive a lump sum payment following the birth of your baby that should roughly cover the cost of giving birth – depending on how you chose to give birth of course. This is another payment distributed via your local ward or city office.

6. Be prepared for a certain amount of culture shock – and try and enjoy it (or at least not let it get to you). I have to admit that I rather vainly thought I was beyond culture shock – after almost eight years in this weird and wonderful country. But already, and it is very early days yet, I have had a couple of things take me aback a bit. The first was when I tried to check about what cheeses were safe to eat. I had figured out that most of the milk was fine but I was confused about the cheese because soft cheeses (even blue cheeses) that I knew were taboo seemed to have the same labelling as hard, obviously processed cheeses. How was I supposed to figure out which ones were safe and which ones could contain listeria? When I asked my doctor she cheerfully informed me that in Japan they didn’t worry about that kind of thing. When I pressed on with examples – blue cheese!! – she smiled and repeated her answer. Okay – I’d worry about that one on my own.

7. Japanese people LOVE babies

My sister has just come to visit with my three month old niece and it is amazing how much attention such a little person can attract! Everywhere we go we are surrounded by echoes of KAWAII!! Noone minds when she spews, farts or expels other bodily fluids – and from what I’ve seen breastfeeding in public is not a problem either.

So enjoy the big adventure but expect some suprises along the way!

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November Update – We’re pregnant!

Obviously this post should have been posted a long time ago (back in November even!) but as life got in the way it got pushed back. I have decided to post it now anyway because it captures how I felt at the time.

Woohoo!  After all my worrying and preparing it wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected and before long I started to have suspicions that Ruby/Liam was on her/his way! Of  course it may all have been psychological but I imagined that my sense of smell was working overtime (that cat litter – phew!!), I felt a bit queasy from time to time, things I love (like chocolate and mocha frappucinos) suddenly didn’t taste too good, etc. But we had friends staying and I knew that if I was pregnant we needed to deal with finding that out when it was just the two of us. While our friends were here I counted the increasing number of days I was late and wondered if it could be true – whether it really could have happened that quickly!

So, a day after our friends left, which also happened to be our second wedding anniversary and the day after our eleven-year first date anniversary, I got up early and took the test – and it came up positive! When I told Yuji his first reaction was to rub the sleep out of his eyes, look at me like a dope and say, “Already?” I am tempted to tease him but that was basically my reaction too. I expected this to take a lot longer. After all Yuji is almost 40 (!!) and neither of us are health freaks or gym nuts. We tried to digest the news as we got ready for work and in the end we decided to ditch the train and drive – so that we could deal with the whole thing privately for a bit longer I guess. On the way we talked about how, even though this was what we wanted, we hadn’t expected it to happen quite this fast. Then Yuji freaked me out by saying, “Wow – you know it’s lucky we were so careful all these years, otherwise we could have had a 10 year old kid by now!” Scary stuff!

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We’re Trying…

Well we are finally at the stage where we can actually start trying to conceive! It’s about a year since I went off the pill, 8 months since I started taking prenatal vitamins, and 3 months since I had my mumps vaccination. The mumps vaccination is what really slowed us down but now that 3 months have passed since I got jabbed there is nothing stopping us. It is exciting but also very scary, and there are all sorts of tricky things to deal with that I hadn’t given much thought to.

The trickiest thing for me so far is not drinking. It’s not that I crave alcohol (I promise!). The problem is that I am known as someone who enjoys a drink and now that I have stopped drinking I am finding it awkward to have to explain why I don’t have a beer or glass of  champagne in my hand on social occasions. Since I am not actually pregnant yet and just in the trying stage I know that I could still drink, but there a few reasons why I have chosen not to. The first and most simChampagne and Cheeseple is that if I am trying to get pregnant I will likely be pregnant for a while before I find out – in which case I may have been drinking while pregnant. I realise that a couple of drinks at such an early stage are not going to hurt my baby but I still find it makes more sense for me to draw the line earlier than that – back before there is a possibility I could be pregnant. The second reason is that if I keep drinking until I know I am pregnant and then suddenly stop drinking everyone will know that I am pregnant straight away. As you can probably gather by the fact that I am writing this blog I am not the secretive type, but even so… I do not want to be in the position where everyone knows I am pregnant straight away. My worst nightmare is then having to tell everyone of the 600 or so people at work that I have miscarried if something goes wrong.

I do not, however,want to give the impression that I am one of those superhuman women who, whether pregnant or not, wears only clothes made from organic bamboo fibres,  does pelvic floor exercises from noon to night, and never eats chocolate (!!) because I most definitely am not one of those women. In fact, I must confess that what was supposed to be my very first alcohol free social occasion turned out to be a disaster as far as abstinence went! After having had a weekend where I said farewell to many of the things pregnancy would not allow me to enjoy: soft cheeses, champagne, and straight perms; I resolved to drink no more and to be careful about what I ate. Monday went well, as did Tuesday, but on Wednesday night all my good intentions went out the window at a work dinner. It was a small work dinner organised to celebrate the end of a particularly tough project at work and the organisers had invited us out to a beautiful little French restaurant in Hiroo. My resolve started to waver as soon as I walked in the door and saw the tables set with champagne glasses and multiple wine glasses at each setting. By the time the waitress had filled my glass with champagne any intention I had of not drinking was long gone. In the end I am glad I drank that night. It turned out to be quite a finale – and I was happy with my decision even before they opened a bottle of exquisite 1978 red wine (seriously though – when am I going to get the chance to drink 1978 wine again?!).

Still, I did worry that my failure to withstand temptation would be repeated at the next event, and fretted that my resolve would fail me again when it mattered, when we had actually started trying and there was a chance I could be pregnant. So, on Friday night I headed out to a summer party at the Australian Embassy with a group of mates, determined to be strong – and it was fine! I had a sprite, and then a coke, and then a bottle of tea, and I was done. It was a very cheap night but apart from that it was much the same as it would have been with alcohol. I still had fun, I still talked too much, I still nearly didn’t make the last train…! Since then I’ve been strong in the face of sushi, soft-boiled egg, and cold meats. I even made a recipe out of my Yummy Mummy cookbook on the weekend – and thoroughly enjoyed it!

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