Thursday, November 15, 2012

Being pregnant in Japan, part two

I want to include a picture of my belly here, but though my belly is getting big, it's not quite the charming *obviously pregnant* kind of big, just the 'jeez, someone needs to tell this girl to lay off the Cheetos!' kind. Combined with my now-large chest and my naturally big butt, I am now approximately the shape of a sausage.
("An attractive sausage," my husband assures me.) So please forgive me for not posting belly pictures quite yet.

Anyways, where was I. Oh yes!! 97!

I can take those odds, I thought, and had a weird dorky grin at work all day, and kept myself from peeking at the sonogram and/or maternity themed websites.
But uh, considering I was trying to keep this whole thing under wraps from my company, I didn't dare use the magical token afforded to me by the city office, namely a a little badge you can attatch to your bag that announces to the world at large to give you their seats on the subway. (Due to the high probability of being seen by coworkers on the same train route, there was no way I was attaching it to my bag.)

(Translation: move, plebeians.)

Lucky for me, I was able to keep my stealthy secret because of my luck; I hadn't gotten much in the way of morning sickness. No vomiting for *me*, thank you very much!

Well, during the first three months it's true that I never barfed, but it felt like I had a little nausea meter with me at all times, where full is good and empty means vomit. Most of the time it was at 'just slightly nauseous', but when I got hungry it would dip dangerously into 'definitely feeling sick'.

When having lunch, every day, each and every food item would carry a different nausea-inducing or reducing ranking. Think of it as an exciting game where the peices are reset every day:

i.e., you find out the hard way that today's rating system is as follows:

  • That fish you had yesterday that was totally fine? Now that fish is -2 nausea points, sucker.
  • Salad is +1, potatoes: +5 (yay)

Today: your best friend. Tomorrow, your worst enemy.

Thanks to that amusing game, I very nearly barfed at the private new-hire lunch where we are invited to converse with the COMPANY PRESIDENT.
Luckily there was a peice of cheese in my bento, thank the lord. Cheese cleared the slate and made me feel instantly cured, so I didn't even have to empty my stomach contents on the president's shoes.

THAT would have been a story.

From then on out I started taking the thing much more seriously. I got this big thick book on pregnancy from the local bookstore, which of course was in Japanese. But Japanese books are cute and have tons of explanatory illustrations and I could pretty much read most of it, except for the pregnancy-specific vocab. Which posed the unique dillema of Takeshi knowing the word in Japanese but not in English, so i would point to a word and ask him what it meant, with him having to describe everything.

(I wanted to include a picture of my book, but I can't find it at the moment. rats)

"Teiou-sekkai, um, that's when they get the baby out by cutting your stomach," he said, making snipping gestures.

Other than the occasional need for snipping gestures, I like this book. I like it for the main reason that it has pretty much the same advice as all those official medical sites by Western Authorities (this is not a outlet mall brand by the way), and the advice makes sense. And I like how it says 'you SHOULD have a cat. There is some rumor about toxoplasmosis these days, but if you take care of it normally the risk is negligable, in fact, cats have endearing qualities will help you cope with the stress of pregnancy."

Hear that Cally? You get to live another day! :D

But of course there are slight differences. Like in the US, people tell you to avoid raw fish altogether, whereas here they only tell you to avoid tuna, swordfish... and DOLHPINS AND WHALES (hello?! were we eating these??). Sashimi's freshness is taken so seriously here they show the *time* of packaging on the box and throw things out after a couple of HOURS, so this is probably why it's never come up as an issue here.

So what *do* I do to consolidate the different sources of sometimes confusing, often controversial information?

Easy. I look at the Japanese guide, then I look at the western guide, and painstakingly venn diagram them making little charts like I pretend I'm the crazy professor in A Beautiful Mind, and I
....throw away the advice out of the two versions that's the most pain in the ass.

Because seriously, if an entire *country* is having healthy babies without your "ruuuuuules", then I think I can ignore them, thank-you-very-much.

By the way, this is a great system that I think every pregnant lady should follow. If you have just one rule set, you're forced to follow everything on the list, no matter how crazy they sound. But if you have *two*, you can pick and choose between them for the easiest policies! Seriously, I am thinking of awarding myself with a pat on the back and a cookie for my quick thinking. (A cookie is allowed, because even though the US guide tells me to avoid sweets, the Japanese guidelines tell me no such thing. ;))

But fear not! I am not 100% a pregnancy rule slacker-offer. I am following *some* rules. The most lenient of both systems, but they exist nonetheless!

Like, no downhill skiing.

Right. Not that I would have done that anyway, BUT you may rest assured that since both WebMD *and* my Big Book of Illustrated Pregnancy Guidelines (in Japanese) specifically told me not to, it's off the list. SIGH.

Another sad thing is that I have not had *any* alcohol, even though I have read some lenient guidelines that said maybe a sip every now and then is "fiiine you big chicken", Takeshi slapped the glass out of my pretty little hand (figuratively! figuratively) and told me not to endanger his unborn child.

Sheesh! Have you BEEN to a Japanese izzakaya? Have you EXPERIENCED the sadness that is a nomihoudai when you're not allowed to drink?? My department just went to a 3-hour party at one of those all you can drink places, where the all-you-can-drink menu included a hundred-drink encyclopedia of various alcoholic delights.
The non-alcoholic menu? Coke, orange juice, and tea. That's it! For THREE HOURS!!
And no, there were no non-alcoholic versions of the hundred-drink party. I asked.

Batender, get me a pint of non-alcoholic juice in which to drown my sorrows.
On second thought, make it a double.

I am keeping a list as evidence, so I can point to it later. "Look at the sacrifices I made for you", I say as my offspring is looking over the list shaking his/her head in shame, (in this vision I am lounging one of those day sofa-beds gesturing at Junior with a cigarette in a long holder), "now mix me a martini, darling, and make it snappy!"

...what, this will totally work. I'm a genius!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Little (pregnant) Gaijin in the Big City!

Ohai ~ what? did I say something? do I have a piece of rice stuck on my cheek or eyelid or something?
Oh, that. The suspicious bulge in my midregion, belying the fact that I may or may not have something like a marsupial pouch up in there.

Weeeeelll I guess I should make the formal, official announcement that I have been putting off many a moon now...
your little gaijin is (finally, as my relatives would say), with child!!!
*fanfare please*
*feel free to continue with the fanfare*
I'll wait some more. I think I can still hear some cheering in the back row. yes yes, spoil me more!

Ok, well I might as well put the facts out in plain sight for all to see: I'm now 23 weeks into my pregnancy.
I would tell you how many months that is, but the American counting system starts from 0, and the Japanese system starts with 1, and combining this with the fact that a month is not exactly four weeks long, I'm at a bit of a loss.
I think 5ish. 6ish in Japanese counting. Which goes up to 10 months, which scared the hell out of me when I heard it.
"They expect me to carry this thing in my womb for an EXTRA MONTH?!"
...but no no, it's like to the 10*TH* month. anyways.

One day I was innocently minding my own business, noticing my period taking its sweet time to arrive (as per usual), when I also noticed something strange.
I had...

Ok, please bear with me. I am normally an A cup, if that. An 'A minus', so to say. My loving adoring sister saw the poster for an indies band or something, titled "SUPERFLAT", and she pointed it out, giggling "That's *you*!"
Thanks sis.
Lucky for me here in Japan cup sizes adjusted one down, so all the poor superflatties like me can feel better about our chests. 'hrm hrm, I'm a B! Not bad! I can pose for magazines soon!' I though when trying on bras here, before I knew this cruel trick.
But one day, I couldn't help noticing. Volume! shape! looking lovely there, fellas!
...and still no period.
...I, I guess it's time to pee on a stick.

So, I peed on the stick. And it still had some pee on it as I stared at it for about half an hour, the light slowly draining from the room as the sun set, the little blue line was still visible as I sat staring.
I finally got my wits together enough to put the lid on the damn thing and call Takeshi.
"Oh" he said in a tiny voice. "Con, congratulations!" I could hear a bunch of people talking around him, I think he was on a fishing boat with a loud motor.

"But this doesn't mean anything yet. It's too early to celebrate. Don't get your hopes up too much, okay?" I said to him, but I think mostly to myself.
"WhAT? I CANT HEAR YOU... " the boat engine roared and forced me to hang up and research about miscarriage rates.
Yep, aLARMINgly high. There's a good one out of five chance that it will be gone before you know it.
"But you can try again as soon and often as you want!" says the perky helpful WebMD site.
Yeah... sounds like an exciting game of chance. On the roulette table of your womb, red on an even gives chances for extreme emotional damage. Woo!

When the poor man came home that night I was drilling him on all the causes of miscarriage.
"The most important thing to know is, if one happens, it's NOT MY FAULT okay."
I'll try to explain. I've never been pregnant, much less had a miscarriage, but I know people who have, and it sounded awful. In my thinking, you were maybe shielded from the pain if maybe only if you decided not to think of that little blue line on the stick as a *baby*.
Nope, it's a 4/5 chance at possibly a baby.
I obviously am very good at covering my emotional ass.

Anyways, another pee on a stick later, I scheduled an appointment at the closest maternity clinic to our house on July 20, which was about 6 weeks into the pregnancy.

Did you know? The camera??? They should call it a PENIS CAM. because that's what it is, essentially. There is a curtain, where your legs go through, and some doctor you can't see, a very MALE doctor I might add, pokes you in your delicate lady parts!!

Doctor: "Um, I need you to relax. You're not relaxing."
Me: "hehehHEHEHAAAAHAAA!!" *I am laughing to mask my internal hysterical screams*

So I found out the hard way the first two appointments involve a fun little rendezvous with Mr. Penis Cam, which was apparently actually medically necessary and not just a cruel prank the doctor made up, because even on the first time I was able to see an ultrasound of sorts: he showed me a dark blur with a tiny lighter blur, that looked maybe like a jelly bean.
"Hm," he said, aiming the camera around, probably just for fun, "it's really too early to tell you if it's gonna make it."
Thanks doc.
"But take these folic acid supplements and go to the city office and register your pregnancy before your next appointment in a month and we'll go from there."

I was still in emotional buffer/cushioning/denial stage JUST IN CASE, and was really not thinking about it too much. Besides, as I had just started at the new job, I was *really really* not looking forward to telling my boss and boss's boss that I had possibly broken the company's record of Fastest Getting Knocked Up After Hiring.
After all it was just a bean, even if it was a bean with a 4/5 chance of becoming a baby.

Anyways, a month passed with nothing particular happening, and before I knew it it was time for the next checkup. I even, about an hour before my next appointment, went to the city office for the registration, and they gave me an overwhelmingly large packet with a bunch of stuff that I *still* haven't looked at all of. But the important things are the Boshi-techo (parent child handbook where you're supposed to write your checkup results, and keep FOREVER until the kid is in college or something, an more importantly, discount coupons for pre-natal checkups.
Why would I need those? Japan has national healthcare, it should all be covered, right?
You're so cute, thinking that a country with such a low birthrate would try make it easy on it's population and help cover having kids. no no no. Pregnancy and childbirth are not considered an illness and thus are not covered under the national heath insurance plan. AT ALL. wow. Apparently they refund a big chunk of the hospital birth costs about half a year after the birth, long after you've proven you've added a +1 to the population.

Also, there were tons of papers in difficult kanjis I can read about 50% of, so I sort of ignored them. But Takeshi checked them over and had the same glazed and glassy eyes and tossed them on the couch too, so I don't feel so bad.

...back to the narrative...
When I finally had my second checkup, and rendezvous with the camera, I really tried to relax, and still couldn't. But this time I was finally distracted by the sonogram screen...

My jelly just one month's time, it had turned into a human!!
I had just seen Prometheus, and was vaguely considering what I would do if it were, you know, some sort of alien-squid creature.

But no, luck and prevailed and it was definitely human.
It had HANDS!!! Little fingers! A head and midsection! maybe no feet, I couldn't tell, but close enough, right?
The doctor pointed to a little blipping dot in the middle of the screen.
"See that? it's its heart."
Me: "uhhh.. mm *SNRFFLE*"

I tried to say something but totally gave up, I was crying and then the tears made me cry even more until it was like a chain reaction of tears. I think that's when the whole thing sank in the first time.
In fact I'm getting a little teary eyed just thinking of it. ;)
... Ok, I thought, little guy, or girl, you're not a bean any more. You're a baby, aren't you. dammit. Now how am I supposed to stay emotionally detached. I'm not even in the 'anteikika' : Japanese word for stable period, which starts at 4 months and means you're pretty much in the clear for miscarriage.

But now when I talked to the doctor (after about 20 minutes of trying to make it look like I hadn't just BAWLED my freak'n EYES out,) he assured me it was doing well, and as it now had a heartbeat, had about a 97% percent chance of survival.

Well.. I guess I can take those odds...

(to be continued in the next riveting chapter! ;))