Thursday, June 2, 2011

So at this point, you're probably wondering why in the world we were continuing to plan to have our child in this place of uncertainty.  I honestly don't know what else to say except that the other options were not options at all because I didn't have enough leave built up to take off work for such a length of time.  And...we loved the Japanese culture, though looking back, we had no idea of the medical aspect of that culture.  The here say on base amongst the other American women who had birthed there was pretty much 50-50.  Some spoke of it as a wonderful place to have your baby, that they would take care of you for days after the baby was born and that the food was amazing.  They assured us that there was nothing to be concerned about and that the language barrier was not an issue.  Others, however, couldn't find enough seething words to discourage us from that place.  Stories of how their epidurals didn't work and their babies were compromised were eventually what I summed up to mean that those particular women were the type that could not embrace a new and different culture.  After all, we were not IN America, so why expect it to BE like America?  But now I understand the 50-50 split of advice.  Those women who had an easy time were mostly those who were having their second, third, or fourth child.  The women that begged me to reconsider were usually the ones scared to death during their first delivery by the raw and nearly torturing experience of birthing for the first time in a completely foreign environment, one that I heard a priest visiting Iwakuni once describe as a place he "would never take his dog".

But from the moment we got off the airplane in Tokyo, Jay and I had fallen in love with this culture.  We had made our decision to birth locally in that small, two story brick building and  we were sticking to it.  I started avoiding the nay-sayers.  And reading all I could on delivering a baby...until I was too nauseated to even think of the process.  I decided that God made my body to have this child and that one way or another, He would see me through it.

When I was about 15 weeks along, I flew back to the states for a conference for work.  The flight is nearly 24 hrs. of travel if flying to the East Coast and, the time difference is 13 hours.  I had a pretty rough time trying to adjust to everything and stay focused on my task at hand.  I was in the states for 5 days before turning around and heading back to Iwakuni.  Once I got back, I started having some pretty sharp pains in my lower abdomen.  I was at home one day for lunch and ended up lying on the couch, pleading with God that these pains go away.  I had to return to work because it was the day pay roll was due and I had to make sure my employees were paid!  I painstakingly drove myself back to work and set about approving their time in the system.  But after that task I decided to go to Shoji's Clinic, immediately.  I had one friend drive me, another come along to translate, and Jay was to meet us there.  Talk about a three-ring circus.  Kubota Sensei was there that day (coincidentally, the doctor who "speaks good English" also commutes in from Kyoto and is only there for two weeks before leaving again for two weeks) and he checked me over.

To this point, I haven't mentioned the Japanese procedure of checking a pregnant woman.  As you walk into the room, straight ahead is a desk and chair where the doctor is always sitting.  To the right of that desk is a long, skinny table about knee height off the floor, and with no padding whatsoever.  It is literally a piece of plywood covered with pink vinyl and nothing else.  After gesturing for me to shed my shoes, the nurse then open-handedly waves me toward the scale, where I had better not have gained "too" much weight (the average Japanese woman gains about 15-20 lbs during pregnancy and I was held to the same standard).  Then I am waved to lie down on that rock hard table and pull my garments, with the help of one of the five Japanese nurses present, down to my hips to allow the doctor full access to my belly.  As he palpates my belly, feeling for anything unusual, he asks if there has been any "discomfort".   I want to say, pregnant has zero discomforts.  But I just say no.  Then he gets out the 3-D ultrasound machine, which is WAY COOL.  Seeing our little forming baby in a sepia colored, real time, fully animated video was some of the best time of our lives!  I looked so forward to those appointments, just to see his little foot, or melon head!  And that excitement is what got me through the next part of the exam...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Iwakuni Byoin (Hospital)

The birthing story continues...

Our first appointment with Kubota Sensei was on January 22, 2009.  I was 12 weeks along and we were anxious to meet the Doctor that we had heard was "the one that speaks the best English".  We had a choice between Kubota and Shoji Sensei, whom we were certain was about 80 years old and had the beginnings of Parkinson's.  How was he still working??  That's the beauty of the Japanese though, they work hard their entire lives.  Every day they wake up with purpose and intentions.  I just love that culture.  But ultimately we chose the doc that we thought we would be able to communicate with the best.

We drove in our little 1989 Mitsubishi RVR (paid $1200 for it! That's my kind of price!) out the back gate of the base and along a road winding next to the river, which any American would argue was meant for only one car.  The Japanese operate vehicles with purpose too, fast and furious.  Our car was not extremely small, so the trip to Shoji's Clinic made me freak out every time...unless I was driving. :)

After taking the small winding road we turned right, onto a teensy little bridge that I was certain would ensue our immediate death.  It's 25 seconds of holding your breath until you drive it enough times to convince your brain that yes indeed, the car will actually fit and meet another car without scraping the paint off it's side!  At the end of the bridge, we stayed straight for about 100 yards and entered a small residential area of mid-rise buildings.  Again the turn radius, I was certain, would be too large to maneuver through these streets.  The view out the window made me feel like we had flashed back to the 1920's.  And I wondered if anything, at all, had been updated since then.

Then we reached the part in the directions that called for us to "turn left at the red awning".  Well, we just sat there in the middle of the road and I was sure Jay would get out and take actual measurements of our car before proceeding through the narrow brick archway built into the first floor of the clinic.  We made it through after about 5 minutes of debating and with 1 mm of clearance on either side, and followed the tiny driveway as it curved to the right (nearly 90 degrees) and offered 4 parking spaces, all of which were taken.  So we opted for the tiny parking lot just across the street.  We had made it, and all I could think was "when I'm in labor, that ride is going to SUCK!".  What would Jay do, drop me off at the door and let me waddle my way in?  How do we say "wheelchair please!!"  Yes, reality was setting in.

We walked from our car back to the little archway drive which offers the main entrance to the clinic.  I want to say that after the initial door, which was manual, the second door was automatic.  So there was one upgrade since the 20's.  Walking in, I noticed a very distinct smell, which I can still conjure up, that made me think of nursing homes and pain.  The pain part may be my reaction to that smell based on the birth events that I am recalling and maybe doesn't reflect my initial thoughts.  But I am fairly certain that there was almost an instinctive impulse to turn around and RUN the other way, without looking back.  I fought that urge as I surveyed the clientele, which I surmised was the explanation of the smell.  There were two types of people in the waiting area - which offered low set pink benches with no backs on the left and I want to say black seating with backs to the right - elderly and pregnant.  No in-betweens.  I had never seen such a distinction in a waiting room.  Again, the 1920's feeling.

I pranced up to the nurse's desk, (I say pranced because while everything else was telling me to get the heck out, my brain, if you recall, was still overly inflated with the I'm pregnant! realization and honestly all logic goes out the window.  I was going to see my baby on a 3-D monitor in like 10 minutes, so I shoved all of my initial fear deep down and decided to press on.  After all, a ton of American women had delivered at this clinic!) and said to the adorable Japanese nurse with her surgical mask covering her face, "Woods?".  She replied with a crinkle in the corners of her eyes which, having worked in surgery at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine where I wore a surgical mask every day, relayed to me immediately that she was smiling.  She replied, "U-ds- San?" and Jay and I both nodded our heads furiously indicating our excitement, which I would venture to say encompassed the fact that we were pregnant and about to see our baby AND the fact that the nurse who obviously spoke zero English was able to understand our last name.  That right there may have been the first step in a walk of false security for me through this whole ordeal.

Let me be clear really quick before I continue.  When asked if I could do it over again would I deliver at that clinic, my answer was initially silence, and then a month later was hell no!, and then a month or two later was absolutely.  You will see why, but please understand that as I describe this clinic it is from my own point of view and is in no way meant to deface the work that those doctors (all two of them) and nurses (about 1 million...haha) do for their patients.  That staff, both doctors, saved my life and delivered my child safely.  I am very grateful for the end result.  But my time in that clinic also encompasses the scariest and most traumatic events of my life.

The sweet nurse pulled a file that was a different color from the majority, probably indicating American from the base, and asked us to "chotto matte, kudasai"....wait a moment.  We took a seat in the black chairs and joined in with the rest of the elderly and mother's-to-be in watching a sumo wrestling match on the tv, which was mounted where the wall met the ceiling.  But my sumo entertainment was cut short by another cute little nurse asking me to follow her.

Do we both go?  Just me?  I tried to ask, Jay got up too, and she gestured that only I should follow her into the unknown depths of the scary clinic.  I didn't want to do the ultrasound alone!  Wait, can't we explain that we both want to go in??  And then I remembered, all of the other pregnant women in the waiting room were without a significant other.  Oh no!  All of this raced through my head as I hesitantly followed her to a tiny door with a girl figure.  The bathroom.  OH!  Ok, got it.  Want me to pee in a cup?  I can handle that.  Geez, all that anxiety just to go pee in a cup.  That anxiety would be the underlying theme of the next 7 months of my life.

The nurse slid the bathroom door to the side and I was hit by a bitterly cold draft as I entered a bathroom with three stalls.  In Japan, you don't heat the rooms you aren't spending time in, and this was January.  I quickly evaluated what the situation would be in August when I was due.  Oh God, do they air condition this joint??  I mean, I can roll with the punches and go without A.C. if necessary, but I'm not sure how you feel with no A.C. at 9 months preggo and trying to birth a BABY!  Could get ugly.

The nurse pointed to a stack of paper cups and to a black pen and proceeded with a game of charades which I mastered as: write my name on cup, pee in cup, place cup in little window.  Hai!  Got it.  I returned from my escapade to find Jay still enthralled in the sumo match.  Glad he is comfortable and not having the slightest problem figuring anything out.  No, I'm not sarcastic.

We had been brought to this clinic about 5 weeks before by a Japanese translator from the Base Naval Clinic (though, we didn't drive that time!).  It was a tour offered to those who are considering birthing at the Shoji Clinic (Iwakuni Byoin).  It consisted of walking in the front door, looking at the waiting room, and then heading up the stairs to the left where all the birthing business is handled.  We were shown the laboring room- a small room with two iron beds.  A curtain in between.  A small futon couch for husband or loved one to sit.  Hard matresses.  Wait, did I mention there were two beds?  That's in case two women are laboring at the same time.  Dear God don't let that be the case for me...I might kill someone.

We were also shown the birthing room.  Yes, you read correctly.  You labor in one room, potentially with someone else, in a hard iron bed that is knee height off the floor.  And then when you've reached 10 cm dilation, you get up and waddle across the hall to the birthing room.  A small 10x10 cubicle of pale green tile that goes 3/4 of the way up the wall.  A pink mechanical chair that the laboring woman is to climb onto, which goes from completely flat to legs in full stirrup position in a matter of 15 seconds (a lifetime for a laboring woman).  When sitting in the chair, back to the door, old cabinetry with surgical instruments that I'm sure were used in the last bootleg horror film I saw, along with the putrid green tile, is the view.  And if you follow the tile toward the ceiling, a small window, that no prisoner inside could reach to escape, is strangely located.  If you turn your head to the right, the doorway reveals the surgery room just on the other side.  I have never seen a surgical table so narrow.  Maybe a foot wide.  My question of how in the world a woman makes it from one room to another while she's about to birth a child was answered by the translator as, "most Japanese women do not get epidural. But for American...they will do epidural."  That's pretty much all the explanation we got.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CLEAR as a bell

Well isn't this fitting.  I just dragged myself out of bed at 0430, sure that I was supposed to get up and spend some time with the Lord this morning...something I have done scarcely lately.  But sleepy eyed and coffee in hand, I was unsure what I was supposed to be doing!  I prayed, journaled a little, and got my bible out, though I was unsure of what I should be reading.  I prayed specifically for God to give me clarity.  And isn't it hilarious that after the clarity was given, 10 minutes later, I am just now realizing that what He gave me was clarity.  Let me explain...

I will resume my telling of the "Gabriel Story" right after this, but I need you to understand what has just transpired in my little world.  As I explained in the beginning, I was "spiritually called" to start this blog.  For those of you who don't habla or don't believe, I felt a strong urgency and overwhelming desire to blog.  And this, I know for sure, was from God.

I was referred to a Christian adoption website, (Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman's site) by my In-Laws.  When I went to the site, I found an adoption conference being held in Nashville, TN.  So I copied the address and pasted it in a facebook message to my sister Amanda, since I thought she might live nearby.  Meanwhile, I started having this burning desire to write a blog and, of course, thought it was ridiculous that GOD would be "calling" me to blog!!  Really?  I must be mistaken, sounds a little out there.

A couple days after I facebooked Amanda, she called me, on a Sunday, to tell me that she lives a FEW MILES AWAY from the church that would be holding the adoption conference.  She is also one of the most tech-savvy people that I know, so I seized the opportunity to reveal to her my calling to start a blog.  And she told me about blogspot.  Hence what you are reading.  Though, let me be clear when I say that I started this blog STILL not knowing why in the world I was supposed to start it.

A week later, I went to my friend Jessie's house for a farewell for one of our Marine Corps wife friends that would be moving soon.  It was a small group of us, all women, and the conversation wound up on the topic of birthing babies.

Now, let me interject by saying that I have a strict policy about not discussing my birthing story with any woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant anytime soon!  Sounds like a disclaimer! ;)  But I truly don't want to taint or scare anyone with the gory details of what was the most traumatic experience of my life to date.  Take this as a "proceed with caution" if you fit into the aforementioned category!

Surrounded by these women comparing epidurals and laboring pains, I suddenly, and nearly immediately, began getting a migraine.  I mean, I have never had one come on so fast and so strong.  I had to get out of there and NOW!  So I scooped up my Gabe and all of his belongings and drove the .7 mile home squinting through stabs and jolts of intensity behind my eyes.  I made it home and took Gabe into his room and locked us both inside (he's a toddler and locks are the only thing that will keep him in!).  He proceeded to play all around me, with what I am most certain were the loudest toys he owns, as I lay dying on his floor.  But as suddenly as it came on, it backed off after my husband came home and relieved me of duty (and taking my migraine meds, of course).  I rested through the night and was good as new the next morning, left only to think: what in the world was that?

I surmised, though denied, that the topic of conversation and my stress related to the topic is what caused my reaction.  Logical, but I was having a hard time believing it b/c to this point I was convinced that I had processed every bit of my experience in a healthy way.  Not sure why I felt I had since there was scarce journaling, no counseling, no grieving, and only little bits of therapeutic talk between me and my husband.  After all, he has the visual pain of seeing me barely alive on that surgical table.  He has scars too.

I decided later that day that I should seek professional therapy and process through what was obviously some post-traumatic stress of sorts.  I just didn't know where to start to find a professional that I would be comfortable with baring my heart and soul to.  To meet me, you would think that I am extroverted.  I'm outgoing and cheerful and motivated most of the time.  But my make-up is straight introvert.  I gain energy from being alone, being in a crowd drains me completely.  And telling people what is hurting inside of me is a very difficult, embarrassing and almost impossible thing for me to do, even with the people I love most and am closest to in this world.

When I got online to blog a couple days later, I started writing about my birth story.  Not sure why but it made sense.  And it wasn't until I posted that entry that I realized God's intentions of using a public forum to not only provide therapy to me, but also to glorify Himself.  You see, while my story is tragic and scary and hurtful, it is a testament to the God I serve.  It was His plan all along and I can't wait to tell you the rest of the story!

So this morning, 10 minutes after I journaled a prayer asking God for clarity, He revealed that at 0430 each morning I should be praying and then blogging, which will have a two-fold benefit: time of communion with Him, and time for myself to heal through my scars.  But the most important outcome being that all of His wonder and mighty works, done in just my little life, will be recorded for you to read!  (Of course, my thick head didn't realize that He had given me the clarity I'd just asked for...until I started typing this post...typical).

That's what I love about God, ask....and you shall receive, with His intention.

(and what do ya know, it's 0753 and the baby has slept long enough for me to finish this entry!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Starting somewhere in the middle...

It was late fall of 2008 when I had just accepted a new job and was feeling (and acting) completely out of sorts.  I actually felt sick to my stomach with what I was sure was fear and adrenaline and raw emotion.  My husband and I were living on mainland Japan on a small Marine Corps Base.  We'd been married three years now and God had proven to know what was best for us by dropping us 6,000 miles away from anything we've ever known and asking us to trust HIM and lean on eachother.  It was the best thing that could've happened to our little family of two.  Both being pretty hot-headed and stubborn, but wildly passionate for just about everything, we were like fuel and explosion waiting to happen.  Sometimes the explosion was awesome and reaped some amazing progress in our relationship.  And sometimes it was completely the opposite, leaving me certain that I had made a mistake in thinking that this man was for me and I for him.  But that's where some bible studies I'd done in the past would play into the chemical reaction and the sparks would indeed burst into a million little peices, only to reveal a newer, happier "us".  I had learned that God did not create the holy sanction of marriage to make us "happy", but rather to make us "holy".  Yes, holy.  To make us realize where we are falling short in our part of producing the fruits of the spirit.  Where we are not "loving" as we are called to love, patiently, kindly, not envious, not bostful, etc.  So, in the farm country of Japan, we found eachother.  And, unknowingly, we were about to embark on the most amazing adventure of all, what God had had in mind the whole time.

Sunday morning I awoke feeling, yet again, queezy.  I had told Jay the night before that I was considering quitting this new job (that I'd prayed for).  I just din't think I could handle it and the stress was making me physically ill, which I didn't remember experiencing from any stress I'd faced in the past!  Even during college!  Yes, I needed to make a decision because my body was rejecting what my mind thought I could handle.

For the past year, we had also been trying to get pregnant.  Being a Mommy was the one job I was absolutely certain I could handle and I would adore.  It was what I felt God had put me on this earth to do!  I had grown up with nephews and a neice, the oldest born when I was seven.  I could SO handle this.  Needless to say, we had taken about 13 or so pregnancy tests which had all come back negative.  A doubtful "-" everytime that screamed at me, "you have not been chosen to bear a child. Try again".  Depressing doesn't begin to explain my emotions. 

So this Sunday morning I decided to employ the last preggo test in my box, for reasons I still can't remember.  I knew it would be negative and I wasn't sure why, in addition to the other stress I was obviously enduring, I was opening this door of certain emotional doom. 

Little jolts of energy pulsed and synapsed as I looked a the "+" staring back at me.  I grabbed the box and held the instructions up to the test I'd just taken to quadruplely check what I was pretty sure meant I was pregnant.  Let me interject here that before this moment, I scoffed at the need for actual instructions on a pregnancy test.  I mean, really?  Plus and minus...come on people.  But now, in my moment of sheer BLISS, and stupidity because bliss was actually swelling in my brain and choking off all other function, I needed the directions.

We were pregnant!  Oh my gosh I couldn't believe it!!!  I got ready for church in 30 minutes flat which, if you know me is beyond a record!!  I set up the video camera and sat Jay down on the couch to tell him.  I didn't want to miss one angle of his reaction.  He was elated!  When we told our family and friends (about 30 phone calls) we recorded that too!  Such typical first timers.  I knew it and didn't care!  Praise God!  We had been blessed with a life!  This was my calling! 

I had bought a journal about 2 months before to specifically record our prayers for parenthood.  Now, I went to that journal and began to record my praise for such an answered prayer.  The journal later morphed into a pregnancy log, to record first kicks, growth, and how Mommy was evidently killing Daddy with her overload of hormones.  Awesome!  Parenthood at it's finest!

Stationed where we were in Iwakuni, Japan, a pregnant "dependant" of an active duty service member had three options to deliver her baby: A. deliver out in town at a small "clinic" about 15 miles away, B. take an 8 hour train ride 4 weeks before delivery and hang out on the naval base awaiting dreaded contractions alone because your spouse has to stay and work and potentially not make it to you in time once labor does commence, or C. fly back to the states to deliver and again face the unknown of your spouse not making it in time.  We elected option A.  Since we were both working and I wasn't going to get maternity leave, I couldn't afford to waste my leave on the other two options.  So, we were going to have a baby in the heart of Japan's southern farm country...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is it God??

Ever start to offer something to someone, your time or money or talents, and are suddenly overcome by fear!?!  Fear of giving up your own time or your own hard-earned money.  You can rest assured that the original tugging at your heartstrings is God nudging you to GIVE.

It is scary to supress those fleshly emotions and submit to God.  But afterall, He is all-powerful and all-knowing, you know?  We can never fathom the blessings that await us after we've followed his nudging suggestion. 

I encourage you to give your all today.  Let go of your life and your money and talents, which by the way are not yours in the first place, and let God lead you.  Just for today.  And see how it goes.

Most of the time, when I'm WAY outside my comfort zone, God uses me most.  I have to peel back the layers of my human desire for Him to use me.  And that has proven to be the hardest part of being called into ministry.  I know, haven't told you about that part yet, but it is coming!  Stay tuned...