Later-Life Parenting, TV, & the World’s Youngest Democrat

The mini, 11 months old now, has a new favorite activity: clapping. She spends a lot of time each day clapping along to her musical toy cell phone. (Yes, we bought her a toy cell phone. Actually, two, but that’s another story.)

The other day in our living room in Japan, CNN on was on satellite TV, playing in the background while the mini and I went about our morning routine. I like to leave CNN on sometimes during the day so I can hear English–it makes me miss home a little less. I know some experts say children shouldn’t even look at any screens until they are at least two years old. But I think the extra exposure to English for her and my need to stay sane and rooted in my own culture as an expat in Japan, both outweigh any argument against her seeing a screen. As older parents, we tend to sweat the small stuff a little less, I think. (Thus, the two toy cell phones, one could argue…)

In any case, that day CNN was showing live coverage of the State of the Union address in the US. When Obama was introduced, Congress burst into applause. The mini enthusiastically clapped right along.

So proud that she already identifies as a Democrat.

Does Being in a Mixed Partnership Make You More Open-Minded?

For those in mixed-marriages/partnerships: Do you think being in a multicultural union makes you more open-minded about race/ethnicity?

It seems from how the media covers mixed partnerships, the assumption is that those of us who are in one are somehow less influenced by racial stereotypes, but I’m interested in the ways this both is and isn’t true. For instance, of course I love the shogun and see him first and foremost as a man and not a Japanese person, but I still hold certain beliefs about him based on his ethnicity and know he does the same about me (don’t get me started on his theories about ear wax, sweat glands, and westerners…), and my guess is that anyone growing up in this world is never fully outside of cultural beliefs about race and/or ethnicity.

Would love to know your thoughts and experiences!

The Good Wife’s Guide

From Housekeeping Monthly Magazine, 1955

A friend sent me this recently, and I thought it was very appropriate given the forthcoming Good Shufu (housewife). My favorite line: “Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.” Although I have to admit, “Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him” is pretty hilarious, too.

GoodWife

Japanese Faux-Pas and the New Parent

One nice thing about being a new parent in a country like Japan, where the people are famously reticent and usually even avoid eye contact, is that you have the rare chance to chat with strangers. Walking down the sidewalk with the little shogunette in the baby carrier, I frequently pass parents with their little ones strapped to their chests too, and we’ll smile at each other and do a little head-bow and sometimes we will even stop to talk.

There is a downside to this however if, like me, you are terrible at Japanese. Frequently, instead of asking “And how old is your baby?” (nan sai, desuka?) I end up asking “What floor are you going to?” (nan kai desuka?).

Of course, this is somewhat better than what used to happen before I had a baby and we moved to a house in the suburbs of Yokohama, back when we lived in an apartment in the center of Osaka city. Then, frequently one of my elderly neighbnors would get in the elevator after me and instead of asking “What floor?” I’d ask them “And how old are you?”

On Delivering My 1st Child at 46

If you’ve landed on this page after a random web-search, you aren’t alone.  The topics of “natural pregnancy at 45” and “getting pregnant at 45” draw more visitors than any other to this blog and have gotten almost half a million page views (which is a lot more than I ever expected!).

 And if you’ve landed here because you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and especially helps banish any guilt you may be feeling about what you are or are not doing to have a baby. And please know that although I (probably) don’t know you personally, I’m keeping you in my thoughts. 

After more than 4 years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, a country where I barely speak the language, I turned 45, and my Japanese doctors turned down the corners of their mouths when I asked about continuing to try to get pregnant.

They pointed not just to my age but my high FSH as a procreative non-starter, as well as a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. I tried natural approaches to fertility enhancement, cutting out coffee, wine, milk, soy milk, meat from non-organic farms, even water without ice-cubes and exercise at certain times of the month (to, I was urged, “nourish my blood”–whatever that means). I tried acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. I subscribed to podcasts about “positive thinking.” I felt guilty that nothing I did was working because I must not have been doing any of it well or strict enough.

On my 45th birthday, my chances of getting pregnant, according to the popular statistics, reached zero. I cried, and my husband assured me we could keep trying naturally. I said “ok,” but I thought he was being foolishly optimistic.  We stopped all medical treatments, and I gave up all the alternative approaches to boosting fertility I’d been using too, like acupuncture and herbs.

There Go All the Theories about What To Do and What Not to Do

Six months later, just after mother’s day and just after I wrote this post, we learned I was almost seven weeks pregnant. At the time, my beloved father-in-law was dying, and I’d been spending 4-6 hours a day in a Japanese hospital with him, where once again, I couldn’t understand any of the nurses or doctors. So there goes the theory that we just have to relax or not be stressed and we’ll get pregnant.

My husband and I were still trying naturally every month, although sometimes we were so tired from his father’s illness that we could barely make it past 9pm. But still, we were still trying, so there goes the theory that we just have to stop trying to get pregnant.

After my 45th birthday, I’d started drinking wine and coffee again. I ate what I wanted to eat and worked out when and how I wanted to. I tried to monitor my body with OPKS and other physical signs of ovulation, but that’s it. So there go the theories that we have to monitor what we eat or how we exercise to get pregnant.

My husband and I had also decided not to adopt if we couldn’t conceive (as I’d written about here, in the New York Times online). So there goes the theory that you’ll get pregnant if you just adopt and start to love a child–which I found the most insulting of all theories, actually.

In February of 2014, I was 4 months past my 46th birthday when I gave birth to a healthy, perfect little girl. She is lying beside me now as I write this.

I tell the story of how we waited for our daughter, and all the ups and downs this waiting entailed, in my book (The Good Shufu). But I post this now in the hope that it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads these words and is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether you are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive. And I wish the same incredible good luck for you too.

On Shogun Sr.’s First Birthday Since His Death

Today would be Shogun Sr.’s birthday, and it’s the first one to pass since his death. I miss him a little bit every day, but today the missing comes on a little harder. I wish he were here with us to celebrate.

I think about cooking him his favorite foods for most of the nine birthdays I knew him, and how, after he had eaten, he’d always push back his chair, nod his head earnestly, and say Gochisosamadeshita, “thank you for the meal,” and then in English, he’d sometimes add “Thank you To-ray-shee!”

I think about the little baby inside me now, at almost 27 weeks old, who showed up unexpectedly in the last two months of Shogun Sr.’s life. How, when I told him I was pregnant as he lay weak in his hospital bed, saying “Otōsan, I have a secret; I have a baby inside,” and then I patted my stomach, his eyes went wide with surprise. He thought about it for a moment and then asked, “Does Toru know?”

I laughed and said “Of course!” and then switched into broken Japanese, explaining Watachitachi wa hontoni bikuri shimashita! Onaka ga warui deshita, dakara byoin ni ikimashita, to Isha wa, “Anata wa ninshin desu!” to itaiimashita, “We were both shocked! My stomach was bad so I went to the Dr, and the Dr said ‘You are pregnant!'”

And then Shogun Sr grabbed my hand and kissed it, and then he burst into tears.

I think about how we asked him to name the baby, and he said he would, but then he stopped speaking, and he died before he could tell us what name he had picked.

I think about how once, before he went into the hospital, he fell early in the morning in his kitchen. When the helper-san arrived, she couldn’t lift him, so they called. Toru was on his way to work, and when I answered the phone, Shogun Sr said quietly, To-ray-shee, es-oh-esu “Tracy, S.O.S”

After I got there, two other female helper-sans arrived, and the four of us women fussed around in a frantic rush of lifting, cleaning, tending, changing. Then, when one helper-san wheeled him out of his shower twenty minutes later, he took one look around his living room at the four us of women standing there, and he said Yare, yare, “Oh boy…”

When I feel the little baby kick inside me, I think about how happy we are that our baby finally seems to be making an appearance, and how sad we are that Shogun Sr won’t get to be here for it. I think about how the baby waited quietly through five years of medical treatments and miscarriages and general fertility-specialist fracas before showing up, as if waiting for all the fuss, all the frantic rushing, to quiet down before making a move.

And I think gratefully about how, in this assertion of that quiet, wondrous presence, she is so much like her grandfather.

“Japanese husbands. No good!”

I think I’m developing a love-hate relationship with the prenatal nurse. The last two times I saw her, she failed to yell at me about gaining weight, even though I looked on the Japanese chart and I’m still a few kilos (now two!) above where I’m supposed to be at this point. I sort of missed her chastising me and her funny comments about Americans and their eating habits.

Still, today, just to disabuse me of any inkling she’s becoming a softie, she dismissed my assurance that we’d be OK after the baby comes, even though we no longer have any family in Osaka to help us. I assured her that the shogun was always really helpful, pitching in with laundry and cleaning, and that he’d do a lot of childcare, too. She shook her head, completely unconvinced. “Japanese husbands. No good!” she said.

But then she smiled hugely, her eyes going all crinkly at their corners, like she used to when she was telling me how fat I was getting and how I shouldn’t enjoy the holidays coming up. I think it’s that combination of harshness and sweetness that gets me, like a lover who’s all push-and-pull, until you fall under their sway even though you know you shouldn’t. I also have an inkling she might make a great interrogator, or hostage-taker.

Is it possible I have some sort of weird Stockholm-Syndrome attachment to her? Does this happen with women and their prenatal nurses?

And on the Topic of Japanese People Reacting to a Pregnant Westerner…

A week or so ago, I wrote about my hospital midwife’s reaction to my being 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target weight for a pregnant woman at my stage. The encounter with the midwife happened a little more than a month ago, so now, my belly is even rounder.

I’ve actually been surprised to find that, once my nausea waned at about 19 weeks, I’ve really enjoyed having a pregnant stomach. There are two things I like about it:

  • One, I love not having to suck my stomach in after eating. I used to favor tight-ish tops before I got pregnant, and when I ate a big meal, I’d want to tuck my little belly roll in. Now I don’t even need to think about that.
  • Two, I kind of like being able to touch my own stomach in public! Is this weird of me? I realized yesterday, as I was coming home from a walk and rubbing my belly to see if I could feel the little one kick, that being pregnant is one of the only times we’re really allowed to touch our bodies in public without it seeming inappropriate. (I think this prohibition against interacting with our own bodies in public goes for both women and men, in both the West and Japan.) I didn’t realize being pregnant would provide a kind of unique bodily permission, and I really like it now, how it feels both secretive and special and public all at once.

My Japanese neighbors have seemed very sweet about my pregnancy, cooing over my belly, urging me to kiwo-tsukete, “be careful!” But they invariably seeming bowled over when I tell them that no, I am not about to give birth, I am due in about four months. (I don’t have enough Japanese skills to explain that, according to my American pregnancy books, size-wise I am right on target, so I just nod and smile and say Oki, ne? “Big, right?”) One neighbor, who has three incredibly polite kids of her own, is especially sweet, but every time she’s seen me for the past month or so, she points to my stomach and asks, in all seeming earnestness, if there are one or two babies in there.

I always smile and hold up one finger, but inside I’m always wondering, “Does she think, at 6 months, they are suddenly going to discover a hidden twin?”

The Draconian Midwife

Before I got pregnant, I’d heard from my Western friends in Osaka that Japanese midwives and doctors are very strict about weight-gain for expectant mothers. Pregnant women in America are told that “normal weight gain” falls between 25 – 35 pounds. In Japan, it tops out at 10kg, or 22 pounds.

At 5’5″ and 118lbs when I conceived, I figured weight-gain in pregnancy wouldn’t be a big concern for me. After-all, I’ll be 46 next month and had gotten pregnant naturally at 45 and 1/2, against all expectations. Weight gain, when I learned I was actually knocked up and not sick with the stomach flu, was the last thing on my mind.

Apparently, the midwife at my maternity hospital here would like to disabuse me of my laissez-faire attitude towards my growing belly.

At my last appointment, I was about 1.5 kg over target. In addition, the baby’s heart was still beating and the chromosomal screenings came back all-clear. I couldn’t have been happier. Until that draconian midwife beckoned my husband and me into her office.

In Japanese with my husband translating, she informed us that I was already entirely too fat. She admonished that Americans like juice, and I needed to stop drinking juice right away. Although I asked my husband to explain that I don’t drink juice, she remained unmoved. She encouraged me to weigh myself every night and every morning, so I could remember how fat I was getting. Then, despite it still being late summer, she brought up the holidays. December was around the corner, she warned, and then she switched into broken English, seemingly for emphasis: “So please don’t enjoy!”

In my own broken Japanese, I tried to explain that I didn’t celebrate the holidays. “Why not?” she wanted to know.

I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for Jewish, so I asked my husband to translate again. A brief conversation between the two of them ensued about what “Jewish” meant, and it seemed to distract her for a moment. Veering off course from my apparently egregiously ample belly, she inquired about what I celebrated in December, if not Christmas.  Next followed a rough explanation of Chanukah, although, I explained, adults don’t usually celebrate it, since it’s mostly a holiday for kids.

She mulled this information over for a few moments, uncharacteristically silent. “Well,” she finally told me in Japanese, “You’ll still probably be too fat in December!”

After my husband translated this last bit for me, we both couldn’t help but giggle. And I still can’t get worked up about her distress. If I end up becoming much more than 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target, if I develop high-blood pressure or gestational diabetes, if I stop being able to eat healthily and start scarfing down sweets, then I’ll start taking her diatribes more seriously. As I said, I’m still in shock over my luck that, if all continues to go well, I’ll turn 46 in about 3 weeks and be 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t have any room in my psyche for distress over 1.5 extra kilos. In fact, as I reach the 21-week mark now, I think I’ll celebrate with a fresh glass of juice.