Welcome to Sophelia's Japan

A blog about adventures, academia, adoption and other things starting with the letter 'A'.
I'm a geek, a metal head, a shiba inu wrangler and a vegetarian, and I write about all of the above. You have been warned!

Smiley hikers

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Birth in Japan Stories ~ Sunday Surf

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The care I received during third stage was just as gentle and honoring as the labor and birth support.  We enjoyed two hours of skin-to-skin together without any mention of interruption.  The room was filled with women caring for us, celebrating us, supporting us, and recounting what we had just experienced together.  A room full of almost strangers who treated us like family from start to finish.  I was grateful.

My baby's umbilical cord was not clamped until it had completely ceased pulsing and the placenta was birthed gently by me when it was ready and not a moment before.  My doula cut her cord once the placenta was born and we continued to snuggle as I inspected the placenta which was soon after picked up by a fabulous placenta specialist to encapsulate it, all the while chatting to my husband and staring at our incredible, perfect daughter.  She was later weighed (7lbs 9 oz) and was measured the next day.  We were tucked in later to our cozy private room in a double bed to co-sleep and nurse the night away with angel-nurses quietly and gently checking in on us every few hours and silently disappearing again.  It was the most gentle care in the most gentle space one could image for birth to take place.  I'm so thankful for the kindness of the welcome they provided me.  This birth center was truly a safe haven for me and my daughter and I am forever grateful for its existence and my experience there.
you slid out into your father’s hands, and as i said, we both hovered over you, taking you in.  you were so distinctly you to my eyes.  not like your brother.  you had your own eyes, your own nose, your own hair.  just you.  your papa cut the cord and i took it all in. i could hardly believe the blonde haired, blue eyed babe in my hands was you, and you were mine.
Much of the day was spent walking.  I feared that laying down would stop labor, and after having spent hours laboring already, there was no way I was going to risk slowing it down.  Around noon, I was completely surprised by a nurse bringing me lunch.  That’s right, the Japanese believe in nourishing women who are trying to push babies out of their bodies!  And MAN does Japanese hospital food taste good.
When I had my first baby 4 years ago, I chose a general hospital and my experience there was not very good. It was all about pain. Fear of the pain overtook everything and I was confused, panicked, felt hopeless and got angry afterwards. I lost my energy struggling with the pain through the birth and I couldn’t push at the end. So that the nurse got on my belly & pushed the baby out and also vacuumed, I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. Luckily my baby girl was born safely, but I lost a lot of blood (1300ml) and I had postpartum depression for a while. I couldn’t have a feeling that “I” gave birth. I thought this experience was produced by that hospital system such as – nurses were too busy & didn’t have time to stay with me to support – they didn’t provide the natural birth, but also I myself didn’t study & understand well about the birth. So that this time I read a book to study about & chose a maternity center (Aqua Birth House in Setagaya) to do the natural birth. Aqua Birth House was such a wonderful place. Each & every checkup was enjoyable. They gave their time for us fully and took at least 30 min for each checkup. They listened sincerely to even small concerns or questions and gave beneficial advice.
Then we went up the elevator to the 5th floor and that’s when everything suddenly changed. The nurse couldn’t find the baby’s heart beat and was worried about the shape of my tummy. My husband asked me what is wrong and I said they can’t find the baby’s heart beat. My heart dropped. I was terrified. Suddenly everything changed, nurses and doctor ran in immediately, I was moved onto a stretcher and rushed into the operating room. Clothes stripped, spinal block in, curtain up, everything was a blur of running nurses and doctors. It all happened so quickly. I could even feel the doctor cutting my stomach. I felt everything and even some pain from the knife. I was panicking and asking the doctor about the baby, but she said she didn’t know yet. Just then my husband was by my side in his operating clothing and hairnet, and then I felt the doctor pull the baby out and we heard our baby cry. I can’t describe the relief. I started crying.

I had a very positive birth experience. I wanted to try for a natural birth, but was very flexible and open to different things.  The most important thing for us was we didn't want to feel as if things were just happening to me and I didn't have a say. My birth experience involved every decision and choice being made by G and I with no pressure from my doctor or midwives, they listened and took cues from me and I am so thankful.
Finally, they gave him back to me.  They encouraged me to have skin to skin contact with my new baby and to try nursing him.  He stayed with me for a long time.  It’s amazing how quickly the memory of the pain fades when you look into the eyes of your new baby. He was finally here, and he was perfect! 

Around 10pm I was in complete hysteria. The pain was so great that I just kept crying and begging to be taken to a hospital which performs epidural or at least get a C-section in my current hospital (which was denied). The hospital I chose is all about natural birth and don't usually give any painkillers, but the nurse's heart finally went soft on me and she suggested one drug. She told me it is a very strong one and supposed to work and allow me approx 3hours of sleep. She warned me the shot would be painful too, but at that moment I was ready for anything just to make the pain go numb for some time so that I can get some sleep. Well, and I still can't figure why, that "super strong and effective painkiller drug" had ZERO EFFECT ON ME. Like, really, zero! It actually became worse because I had to endure the pain from the shot, too. I was completely in tears from the huge frustration. I soooo hoped that drug would work and I can rest...

He informed us that in order for them to proceed, they were going to need to perform an X-Ray on my wife in order to admit her into the hospital.  The reason that we were given was so that they could make sure her hips were wide enough to deliver the baby.  This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in both my wife’s and my own head.  Every bit of literature that we had read up until then had said that X-Rays while the baby was in the womb were generally regarded as a bad idea.  Considering the baby wasn’t quite full term, we were concerned about the safety of such a procedure.  When we brought this up to the doctor, he immediately began to get defensive.
He replied quite aggressively that all hospitals did that, which was the first time that we had ever heard anyone say that.  Up until that point, every examination we had undergone was done by ultrasound only.  When we said that this was not a common practice in the US, he replied with, “If you want to use American procedures, then you should get on a plane and fly back to America.”  This obviously rubbed us the wrong way, but we tried to keep an open mind.  Maybe he was just gruff in his manner.  We asked for some time to do some more research to make sure it was ok, and he responded with, “If you don’t accept this procedure right now, then we will not accept you at all.  You will have to leave, and don’t bother coming back.”  He followed that up with, “If you don’t do this, there’s a possibility the baby could die.”  Finally, he kicked us out of his room while we were trying to discuss what to do because he didn’t want us to waste his time.  Keep in mind that all of this is being filtered through our friend who was acting as translator, and the doctor would give her time to translate his responses, but would cut her off whenever she would try to translate what we were saying. 

By this time I was really on edge. They would not administer any sort of pain relief and kept telling her to shut up. I felt hopeless to help her. So guilty.
The checked her over and said its time to go to the delivery room. We went in and I was told to stand behind a white line and wipe sweat from her head. Not to speak to get as it wastes her energy to listen. So I held her hand. Throughout the whole delivery they kept telling her to stop screaming and stop making facial expressions. I was so upset, worried and scared. They then cut her down there even though we asked not for that to be done and were told it won't be. (I have heard that hospitals like doing this in Japan and always will, even if you request not to)
So our baby was finally born. I was immediately told to leave and given the left over peice of umbilical cord in a bag.
And that brings me to now. I am no longer allowed to see the baby other than through glass for 10 mind per day. For a week. I am very happy yet very upset at this whole ordeal. I can't wait for her to get out and come home, it's like escaping a concentration camp. 
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Wednesday, 10 June 2015


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At the swimming pool the other day a woman approached us and asked if we remembered her. We meet so many people, I put on my fake "ohh, you..." smile and was racking my brains for what school I may have worked with her when a little girl poked her head around the woman's legs and I realised who they were. The girl was just a baby last time we saw her, one of the residents of a baby orphanage we volunteered at. Her mother visited her every weekend, usually while we were there, so we met her often. There were a few parents like that, ones who visited regularly and planned to take the kids home when they could. I didn't really understand it at the time, but having tried to figure out childcare arrangements in Japan it now makes complete, miserable sense to me. If you are a single parent you have to work. There aren't enough childcare places, even fewer will accept infants, and the cost of out of hours care makes it prohibitive for parents who may work odd hours like night shifts or split shifts. Even if you have a "9 to 5" job, the working culture here usually requires more like "8 to 8", with the overtime unpaid, of course. The orphanage, on the other hand, may cost nothing (depending on the circumstances) and allows visits that may be almost as much time as a working parent would be spending with their child anyway.
We can pause for a moment here to shudder at how deeply wrong everything about what I just said is.
It was so lovely to see that in this case, this time, it had worked out. She'd been able to maintain a bond with her daughter and bring her home. Sometimes there really are happy endings.
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Monday, 8 June 2015

Breastfeeding in Japan (the Bad)

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Have boobs, have baby... NOW WHAT?!
"Are you breast feeding?" is one of the first questions I am always asked, following "how old" and either before or immediately after "boy or girl". What depresses me is been the number of women who have then continued on to say "it's best, but sadly I couldn't make enough milk." Being actually unable to produce enough milk is incredibly rare and usually linked to a medical condition, but after my experiences with medical authority figures it makes depressing sense that so many women think they couldn't. I'm actually surprised that anyone manages to successfully feed given the awful advice and out-right sabotage.

Having established breast feeding, everything has been great. Getting established, however, was a nightmare. I had very poor support during the hospital stay, and having spoken to a number of other women I think my experience was pretty normal. Here's what the nurse-midwives instructed the new mothers in the clinic where I gave birth:
1. At first, feed for only 5 minutes per breast then supplement with formula until the baby has consumed a set amount (about 60 ml per feed). Feeding longer will cause cracked nipples, and if that happens you will have to stop feeding completely until they heal.
2. Weight baby before and after each feed and supplement with formula to make up the proscribed weight.
3. Feed when the baby cries.
This is exactly the advice I would give if I wanted someone to fail to establish a breast feeding relationship and to ensure they did not produce enough milk. Seriously, I can't think of anything else to add if your objective was to ruin all chances of someone breast feeding.Not a single bit of advice on that list is correct, NOT ONE THING. Furthermore, the most important thing that new mums really do need help with, getting a good latch and position, there was no help offered for. I struggled for a month with latching problems that any nurse-midwife worth her salt should have spotted immediately, then when Cricket hadn't gained "enough" weight at his one month check the pediatrician told me to start giving formula with no attempt to help me breastfeed better, and followed this recommendation up by sending a representative from the formula company who sponsor both the pediatrician and maternity clinic to lecture me while we were trapped waiting for the checkup to finish. Yes, sponsor. Did I forget to mention that? When I was very clear that I wasn't going to give him formula she then tried to tell me I should give him barley tea! A one month old baby who is gaining weight slowly. Tea. I kid you not. Thankfully I got help from a lactation consultant who does skype appointments (thank you Blue Sky!), and she spotted the latch problem right away and within three days Cricket was gaining weight at such a rate that the pediatrician (who insisted I go back the following week to make sure I wasn't killing the baby with my crazy tea-refusing ways) said with a big smile "so, you started using formula then?"

It all ended happily here, but I'm furious everytime I think about all the women who want to breast feed, and carefully follow the advice of the people they trust to tell them how they should do it, and then feel that they have failed because they aren't producing enough milk.

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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Breastfeeding in Japan (the Good)

Sakura and Breastfeeding
 This disclaimer applies to everything I ever write, really, but I'm going to make a special point of restating it here~ these are my experiences, and do not necessarily reflect the situation for others or in other parts of Japan. With breastfeeding in particular, I think my experiences in a rural area with a relatively high birthrate may be very different to the situation a tourist may encounter in Tokyo, for example.

Cricket is fast approaching three months old. In that time I have nursed him on a train, in several parks, in an onsen, in a PTA meeting and during a Buddhist service in a 450 year old temple. Not only have I had no problems whatsoever, if he gets the least bit restless when I am out with him I can guarantee that within a few seconds an old lady will appear with one hand squeezing my breast and telling me to hurry up and get it into the baby quick-snap! Everyone I have encountered has had a very positive attitude towards breastfeeding, and the facilities available just about everywhere are fantastic:

One of several small "private" feeding rooms in a department store. The pillow is provided.
A nursing lounge in the same department store. This one has room for a pram and picture books for older children to read while waiting for their younger sibling to finish nursing. There are twice-weekly lactation classes offered here for free.
Although the best baby care facilities seem to be on the kids' stuff floor of department stores, all major shops or government offices have them. Even the garage where we had our brakes done recently had a big comfy nursing lounge. The other thing I am really loving about the baby care facilities in Japan is that they are offered to men, as well. Men's toilets come with changing tables, there is always a gender free toilet with a changing table too, and some large department stores have "daddy care" and "mummy care" rooms. In the mummy rooms you can breastfeed freely, while I guess the advantage of the daddy care rooms is that guys don't need to feel as self-conscious (on one occasion when I met a dad by himself in a baby care room he was quickly mobbed by curious mums who wanted to check out his diaper changing technique and tell him how great he was, which I am guessing would get old very quickly).
Lovely clean changing tables and nappy vending machines
Feeding chairs for toddlers, hot water and microwave, and pamphlets on various services for young families
In terms of social acceptance, facilities and general ease, I think Japan is awesome for breastfeeding. Getting established in the first week after birth was another story though, and I'll write about that in part 2.
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Friday, 29 May 2015

Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras

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I'm so excited to be able to tell you that Leza Lowitz's memoir is now available for pre-order (the release date is July 1st). I shared some excepts a few years ago and have been waiting to read the rest. There is so little information in English on adoption in Japan that a book like this is a real treat. Here's a link to the book on Amazon: Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras 
And here is the official blurb:
At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they?

When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return.

The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood.

I've reviewed the book for another publication, so I wont say too much about it here, except that it is well worth reading.
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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Murderers Just Don't Say Good Morning

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A man in Osaka murdered his neighbor this morning, killing her in front of her one year old son. The media pack which assembled immediately began interviewing the other residents of the apartment building about the nature of the murderer~ "I hear he didn't give set greetings (aisatsu)," a reporter asked, "is that so?" "Yes!" The neighbor replied. "He never returned greetings."

In 2005 I was having dinner with a professor of law who taught at a prestigious university. He was telling me about a case with a particularly violent offender. During interviews with the man's family it turned out that his mother had never said "welcome home" (okaeri). "No wonder he became a criminal" my acquaintance exclaimed vehemently, "he never learned the most basic thing about living in society!"

In 2011 I was teaching at a junior high school in a low socio-economic status area with a number of pretty troubled students. There was violence, teen pregnancy, kids cracking open beers on the front steps of the school, that sort of thing. The principal made a speech to the assembled student body about how if they just worked on their greetings, their lives would change for the better.

These experiences are why, when I started watching the TV drama "あいしてる” and a kid came home from school without saying "I'm home" (tadaima) I knew he was going to get into serious trouble. Sure enough, episode two and he'd smashed another kid's head in.

Aisatsu, guys. Don't mess with the greetings.
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