cuke home ------------ What's New (goes to blog)

Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
home page for TY&OK ------------------ Index with links to chapters

previous --------- next

[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 81


August 19, 1990   -   BIRTHDAY BOY


We have named our boy Clayton Randolph, to be called Clay.

He was born 8/19 at 14:13 in Maruyama.

He weighed 9.26 pounds.

His basic interests are nursing, sleeping, excreting and           crying.



P.S. The neighbors can't tell Clay's name from his big brother Kelly's till I say that the new one is Kurei and the older one is Keri.  Elin and I had talked about naming this baby Kerry instead so they really wouldn't be able to tell the difference.


(from a note I put on TWICS, the Tokyo based computer network)


Clay, like Kelly, was born by natural childbirth with the inspired guiding hands of the skilled midwife Fukiko, and with me dutifully doing whatever my spouse told me throughout the labor - I barely had time to pee.  I will never forget the incredible effort made by the mothers of both of my children in childbirth.  I am convinced that men around the world are not involved in birthing because it would be hard for them to continue believing in their own superiority if they had to experience their wives exerting an effort that was so heroic.

Elin was a week late and was dying to have the baby.  We didn't want to induce labor artificially so she did all the things she'd heard would induce labor naturally.  She took a three hour walk in the morning and in the afternoon went to Daianji and helped Jessica move a stack of firewood to the kiln.  In the evening we tried erotic stimulation.  An hour after we fell asleep, her water broke.  The first contractions were irregular and mild.  Unable to sleep in the excitement, she lay on her side and read.  I dozed between frequent requests for back massage - relief from the discomfort of the initial contractions.  Some hours later we took a peaceful walk through our sleeping neighborhood, following another standard procedure to help the process along.

Before returning home we stopped at an all night store on the main drag and loaded up on wholesome snacks and juices to take with us to the birthing center - apple juice, rice crackers, yogurt, dried squid.

"Let's get out of here," said Elin breathing heavily.  It was coming on harder.


As his polished, scented car idled in the street, the white-gloved taxi driver untypically complained about waiting - we kept remembering things and running back to the house to get them.  He was especially dense.  I told him a couple of times that Elin was in labor, to be patient and not to bother her.  When he again asked her to hurry up, I forcefully directed him to be quiet.  That worked for a while.  The clinic was thirty minutes away - even on the six a.m. streets.  Elin was groaning loudly and holding me for thirty seconds about every four minutes at that point.  Now the driver was nervously asking us standard polite questions as if there were nothing unusual happening.  "Where are you from?  Do you like Japan?  What are you doing here?"  Having been rude to him once I answered automatically while keeping all my attention on Elin.  Finally he got into a monologue about how Japan is superior to the United States, touching on the laziness of American workers, our unsafe streets, the natural beauty of Japan, and how there is only one way to say everything in English whereas in Japanese there are many ways.  "You have only one word for 'you' and we have many,"  he pointed out as Elin sighed and caught her breath from the prior contraction.  I vowed never again to generalize about Japan.  He continued unchallenged in that vein until we reached our destination.  I was glad there was no tipping in Japan as it would have been a dilemma for me when the thirty-five dollar fare was paid.

At the clinic we got our own room with two beds.  It would be eight hours till we moved to the birth room.  Fukiko kept in touch and cheered Elin on.  While Bach played on the tape deck we brought, I massaged Elin and helped her through contractions as she instructed - by holding her or applying pressure at a particular spot.

"Lower!  Harder!"  We shut the music off and concentrated our efforts.  As the contractions got more and more intense, a wonderfully empathetic female attendant joined us.  She held Elin, rubbed her, and moaned with her.

I'd heard that some Japanese doctors scolded women in labor for "vocalizing."  Not at Kurodain.  Fukiko coached Elin to strongly express fun on the exhalations.  The word is breathy, pronounced a little like "who" with an initial wisp of an "f" and a closing unvocalized nasal "n."  It was the perfect sound to carry Elin through the contractions though I couldn't quite forget that it's a homonym for their word for animal poop.

At noon we were each brought a tray with a full lunch.  We knew that would happen.  In a birthing book Elin had read that Japan is the only place in the world where women in labor are encouraged to eat large meals - weird.  Elin did take a few bites and drank the miso soup - I ate the rest.


After the birth we spent two and a half more days in that room - marveling at Clay, who slept most of the time, taking it easy and reading Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse.  We kept Clay with us the whole time - except after the first five hours we felt secure enough to let Fukiko take him for five minutes to weigh and measure.  There was a modern Japanese couple next to us who also had a private room and kept their baby with them.  All the other babies - about a dozen of them - slept on their backs together in the nursery while their mothers doubled and tripled up in other rooms.  In a room across from ours there were breast-feeding classes that they would all attend with their infants.  There were other types of instruction as well in the motherly arts.  Since Elin had read enough books on the subject to write a doctoral thesis, we skipped all that.  She'd also talked endlessly with friends and midwives.

While walking around to stretch her legs, Elin saw the lovely line of light brown babies in the nursery and was shocked at how small they were.  She asked the nurse if they were preemies only to learn that they were normal-sized for Japanese babies, about six and a half pounds, and all older than Clay by at least two days.  He was big but he still seemed tiny to us.

After the birth, when the nurse said, "Are you happy it's a boy?"  Elin, having pushed the envelope of exhaustion and elation to the limit, had answered, "After that, I'd be happy with a goat."


When Clay was crowning (top of the head coming out), his head looked about the size of a tennis ball.  Everything was so far out at the time that I could hardly think, but I was wondering about how his head could be so small.  In my confusion I pictured him as six inches tall.  The midwife was giving positive indications in Japanese and English, so I knew everything was fine - but I didn't understand.

What I had forgotten was that the head is soft and malleable at the time and squeezes into a bullet shape so when the tip thrust out, I didn't know what it was.

"Push hard!" said the midwife.

Elin roared like a wild animal fighting for its life and the little hairy tennis ball started to come out.  Then it started getting bigger and emerged as an enormous rubbery hairy purple form.  I watched it with a blank mind, a shocking breathless moment, and had no idea what I was looking at - until it grimaced and I realized it was a face!  There's nothing quite like seeing an agonized face like some creature from a swamp movie sticking out of your wife's vagina.

"Okay! One more big push!" the midwife said loudly in one language or another and as Elin again wildly bellowed and pushed with the force of the 1985 Chicago defensive line, a wet bloody form sloshed onto the bed followed by a thick purple bloody twisted cord.  Having gone through this almost eighteen years before hadn't prepared me a bit.  I looked down at a terribly wrinkled little quivering mass, saw that it had male genitalia as the sound waves had predicted, and said to Elin whose hands were fiercely clutching mine, "He's born."

And then everyone waited: the midwife, her assistants, the doctor who was standing back observing, Elin and me.  These seconds, waiting for the first breath, must be the longest on earth.  Clay was quick.  He sucked in a breath that reminded me of the Chinese brother who swallowed the ocean, and then he cried and he did so with more power than I would have thought possible for a little glob like that.  The midwife picked him up and started to wipe him off.  "Give him to her now,"  I said firmly.  We'd been over that.  She did so and Elin held her baby, trailing the thick, wet, twisted umbilical cord still connected to the placenta, and watched the nameless, tiny, slimy, quivering thing in his first intense minute of air-breathing time.  The struggle was over.  She had transformed from woman warrior to loving, adoring mother and she was soft, gentle and glowing - pure beautiful radiance.  Our eyes met.

There is a wide awake period that babies have in the first two hours when, if things go naturally, they will look quite intently at their mothers and even their fathers or a bedpost for that matter if that is what is before them.  I remember it with Kelly and now I saw it with Clay.  The whole thing is unrehearsed and raw.  A birth can be in some respects not unlike that scene from Alien where that little monster pops out of the guy's chest.  He certainly didn't go through any more difficulty than most women do in natural childbirth.  And when that wee powerful wet fellow looked around, he was doing so in an authentic for-the-first-time way.

Clay's eyes were to me in this period after birth something both helpless and frightening, as in that trembling instant of transformation from one world to another, from the womb to the room, he looked at us with a powerful innocence.  One swollen eye opened wide and one peeked out of a slit.  I gulped.


 [Clay's actual birthday is April 19, 1991 - that date just didn't work with the others in this book]