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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 63


December 18, 1989   -   INCIPIENT FRUIT OF LABOR


I started off the MMC one morning by announcing that Elin was pregnant.  This elicited a shower of high pitched oohs and ahs from the women.  Mr. Shimizu reached over grinning broadly and shook my hand.  Kubo clapped her hands and Tanahashi said "Omedeto!"  Etsuko asked if we were planning to go back to the States to have the baby.  I said, "No way - we can find what we want easier in Japan."

"What do you want that you can't get in the States?" she asked.

"Midwives," I told her.

"Ehhhh," came the rising tone of interest from the ladies.

"Are there no midwives in the States?" asked Shimizu.

"There are, but not like here.  The situation is improving in the States but Japan has not lost its wisdom in this area like we have."  Whereas midwives in most places in the States are hard to find, hounded, or illegal, they're common and respected in Japan.  It turned out that of those present, only Kubo's baby had been delivered by a doctor.

They were curious that we liked the old fashioned way and wanted to hear all about it.  I was eager to oblige.  I said that the clinic we chose is owned by a doctor named Kuroda who lived five years in LA.  He's a busy cordial fellow who we trust and he employs a few midwives who exude competence.  I guess we trust him mostly because one of them will deliver the baby.  After we choose it we learned that the Tanaka's down the street recently had their baby there.  They said that Kuroda Sensei only deals with Cesareans and other irregularities, and they were very happy with his clinic.  Kurodain (the name of the clinic) looks like it will be just the right place to bring little Hortense or Hank into the world of air-breathing beings.

"Not only traditional," said Morikawa cleaning her lenses.  "Kurodain is new."

She was right.  It's got the benefits of a hospital, like blood and oxygen, without the drawbacks like disease, gloom and an impersonal approach.

Tanahashi confirmed that natural childbirth is the rule in Japan.  She said that taking sedation for giving birth is not well thought of.  "It is a sign of weakness," she said.

Kurodain also has a low five-percent Cesarean rate and is cautious about episiotomies.  No one wanted to talk about those topics.  They just went "ahhh" and looked down.

Elin and I had not only met with Kuroda Sensei but with his main midwife Fukiko-san as well.  She was tall, confident, pleasant and had strong arms.  She spoke with much greater authority than the doctor.  In the course of our discussion she told us that it was important to make love as much as possible during pregnancy.  We promised to do our best.

At Kurodain the mother doesn't have to be separated from the baby at all.  Kuroda Sensei and Fukiko-san were comfortable with the idea of me being an active partner in the labor and birth.  She said that participation by husbands is on the increase in Japan though it's still practically unheard of.      The members of the MMC were particularly interested in the fact that I would help Elin through her labor and birth.

"My husband didn't even miss work when I gave birth," said Morikawa, the older lady of the group.  "I didn't care.  My sister was with me."

"My husband was with me but he waited outside during our daughters' births," said Tanahashi.  "I think he's too shy to have been there."

"No, I would not have wanted to see it," said Shimizu, father of three daughters.

"We know a couple of artists who live over toward the river who delivered their own baby at home," I said.  That was met by gasps.  Shimizu said he thought it was illegal.

"We wouldn't do that," I said, "but Elin needs me to be there.  It's part of the way our subculture does things."

"You and Elin have no family here and you are very close," said Kubo.  "You share the housework.  Japanese husband and wife are not so close.  They only do things together they have  to.  But we have other family members.  My husband was out of town for both my children's births."

Kubo asked if Elin was sick and I said that so far she's having a pleasant pregnancy.

"Will she work?" asked Etsuko.

"She's planning to work until about a month before the birth.  And then she's not going to teach away from home except for one class downtown."

"Maybe she shouldn't work," said Etsuko.  "Are American women so strong?"

"I stayed in bed for the whole ten months," said Kubo.

"Ten months?" I asked.

"And for a month after."

"You had a ten month pregnancy?"

"That's normal isn't it?"

Everyone nodded.

We went back and forth on that for a while till we discovered that it was just a matter of counting differently.  They start with one and we start with zero.

"But aren't you worried about your wife?" asked Morikawa.  "She should rest and be careful."

"Thank you, I will," piped in Elin from the kitchen.

Strangely, of the conditions that we were looking for in a place to have a baby, the hardest one to fulfill was permission to leave the clinic after two or three days.  Almost everyplace said that we had to stay for a week.  One or two weeks is the custom here.  There's nothing wrong with that from our point of view but it's expensive and unnecessary.

Morikawa seemed surprised and said, "But the mother has to stay in the hospital for at least a week."  The others nodded.

"And why is that?" I asked.

She stopped as if looking for an answer and then said, "Because she'll need clean towels."

I didn't understand her until I realized that she meant that the mother shouldn't be doing the washing and other chores the first week.  Oh, I forgot.  The husband has no role at home.  The wives have so much responsibility in the house that they need to be somewhere else to rest.  That's the way it was with my mother's generation in the States.

I tried them on another challenging detail.  Kuroda also agreed the baby doesn't have to be washed for a few days so as not to remove the natural skin cream it's born with, the vernix.  That's what we did with Kelly.  The blood dries and falls off in no time and the vernix can just be rubbed in.  I thought that would freak out the normally squeaky clean Japanese but both Kuroda Sensei and the mothers of the MMC made sounds of interest.

"Kuroda Sensei sounds like a good doctor," said Morikawa.    Kubo said she thought she had the "best" OB (a word she wouldn't have used because in Japanese it stands for "Old Boy" and means a business chum) in town, though he induced labor in her so that he'd be sure not to miss his Sunday golf.  "But I was afraid of midwife.  Doctor is expert."