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...