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January 26, 2010

萌奈 (Mona)

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January 22, 2010

Bare With Me

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Don't worry, once things get closer to normal, there will be more photos about life here that aren't exclusively about the baby (Tomorrow I go snow-hiking and hope to get some good photos). But for now, by popular demand, more photos of Jane Doe. We have until Monday to figure out what this little girl will be called for the rest of her life.

Here are some photos from today - as little Mona(?) enjoys the warmth of Aunt Kelly's hand-knit winter cap.

In the mean time, everything is going well. I just got called into the local office to speak with the village official in charge of social welfare. I was afraid that it was because they heard that we had taken baby to the public bath, and as everyone in Japan knows - taking a baby out of the house before he/she is one-month old leads to most certain death.

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It turns out that she just wanted to check in and see how everything is going. They also have to make a "home visit" sometime in the first month. On the one hand, this is offending. I am SURE that they would not approve of the conditions we live in (no heat but for a small fire stove, dust and wood chips around, no baby bed (we all sleep together in the same futon), and four cockatiels in the same room, not to mention the mice we hear in the walls every night...) But on the other hand, I also understand their position and the service they are providing. Not all the new parents in the village are as educated and informed as we are. We know what we are doing, and when we do something different than the "national standard" we know why we do it differently. Just a few months ago though, a neighbor's daughter (twenty years old) gave birth and when I asked about her experience at the hospital, she said "It was great! They gave me free diapers!". I guess when it comes to looking after the dwindling population of the village, there are bound to be some false-negatives. I am happy to oblige.

Others have asked me to blog about how we are raising her in our bohemian way, and I plan to give some details. Fact is, though, we are not that unorthadox.

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January 20, 2010


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I miss the days when I could shovel my Mrs. Stabnicks drive in an hour and get a stick of Juicy Fruit gum or an apple as payment...

As I mentioned in the "Baby Comes Home" post, there was an unusually big snowfall for January while we were in the hospital. That was Thursday and Friday. Saturday was a bit less snow falling, but all the drainage ditches were clogged due to everyone shoveling and dumping their snow in at once, and an avalanche up-river. I didn't know about it until yesterday, but apparently two of the 80-year-old men put on their snow shoes and made the trek up to clear out the river, once again bringing water to our little hamlet. Apparently there was no one else who was experienced enough to do it. I told the local head that next time I would like to go along - even if I can't be of much help, at least I can watch and learn. He laughed at me.

On Sunday, all the head (males) of the houses gathered in the morning to shovel the snow from various hamlet assets, such as the shrines, the fire-brigade shack, and all the fire hydrants. In the photo you see my kumi (section of the hamlet) trying to find a shrine under the snow. It was literally under the snow. Out of sight.

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I was on Yuki-fumi-toban ("your turn to stop the snow down") duty, so on Monday I and a neighbor set off to shovel in front of the garbage collection spot, again in front of the fire-brigade shack, and in front of the local meeting hall. It is quite an easy job now, but back before the big snow-plows, yuki-fumi-toban had to stomp down a trail in the morning so the children could get to school, and other people could get to the local store or wherever they may have needed to go.

Due to the water shortage, I have not yet shoveled the roof of our entrance-way, but the doors still slide smoothly, so it must not be too heavy. Instead, I spent yesterday helping our neighbor shovel another neighbor's roof. Usually it takes him only one day to do it alone, but by night-fall, we had still not finished.

Today and yesterday, I set out to clear the snow from our backyard, where it is piled up to the eve of the second-floor roof. If I don't clear it away, it will eventually just be resting on top of the roof on the oldest part of the house. While I doubt it will collapse, it may warp the house, and cause some very unhappy chickens living in the first-floor garage who can't get food until spring.

I shoveled all day, mostly just re-digging the path I dug to the river a few weeks ago. Just as the sun was about to go down, I was finally to the point where I could start clearing the area that is actually important. Luckily, tomorrow is going to be sunny and warm again, so if I am not too sore, I might be able to make some headway - and possibly find the pond that is supposed to be used to melt all that snow...

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January 17, 2010

Mona, Kogomi, Kumori, or Fubuki

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We came home from the hospital a day early. I am not sure if it is because Tomoe and the baby were in such good condition, or if they just wanted to get rid of those freaky people who bring a rice cooker and rice to cook their own meals, and walk through the halls at night singing to their baby. Whatever the reason, they were happy to see us leave early. (Even nurses on different floors who we had never met saw me in the elevator and new that we were leaving that afternoon.)

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The TV crew came for our release. It couldn't have been a better day for TV documentary drama. Some of the rads were closed due to snow, and we chose to take a back road to avoid heavy traffic. Back roads take longer, but make for much better scenery and TV.

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All the nurses were asking if we would be able to get into the house, and I assured them that our neighbors had probably shoveled our entrance way already. When we got home though, there was a meter of fresh snow between us and the front door, so while Tomoe and the baby waited in the car, I tunneled a path to the door making it extra dramatic for the TV folks.

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We are still thinking about names. I like "Kogomi" (a type of wild edible fern that people in this area eat a lot of), "Fubuki" (Means whiteout. One of the boys who will be in her class is named "Kaisei" which means "Clear skies", so i thought that if they ever hooked-up, it might be cool to have those names.) We have a few days left before we have to officially decide. So far the front-runner is "Mona", because it is two syllables and easy to say, and it is pronounced the same in Japanese and English.

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January 12, 2010

The Scoop

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I know there are some people wanting updates, but the hospital does not have Internet. Made the trip back home today to check on the chickens, clean the house for baby's welcome home party (there will be a TV crew here), and bring Tomoe something edible. Apparently hospital food sucks in Japan too. I am lucky enough to be ineligible to eat it, so I always take a walk to the supermarket.

Since I don't have a lot of time (I still gotta cook up the placenta, but I only have a few hours to look up recipes), I will give the detailed run down in semi-bullet-point format, and is purposely long in order to discourage anyone who doesn't really care from wasting their time :).

Note:Some of the times after 11PM are probably a bit off.

Background: There is more to it than this, but this is the quick version. (and if you are looking for a more detailed background, well... there are other places dedicated to that. After all, this is the Internet.

  • Several months ago. We express a rough "birth plan" to the hospital, explain that we want no drugs unless needed, we want to be with the baby at all times (it is normal for this hospital to take the baby for observation for 24 hours after birth), and various other things.
  • A Few days Ago. The doctor finally sits down to meet with us, and is angry that we requested so much. He tells us that epsioctmy (I can never spell that right) is required. The baby will be taken for 20 minutes after birth and then for 24 hours, and the baby will be given supplements to compensate for Tomoe's potentially (no reason to believe that) poor quality milk, and antibiotics will be administered copiously. (my translation)
  • The night the doctor told us this: Tomoe is on the phone frantically calling the nearest midwife birthing center (2 hours away) to see if it is too late to get a spot there. It is.


  • Morning of the 9th.
    TOMOE:"Ouch!" Ten minutes later "Ittattattaattaa" (Japanese for "ouch"). Ten minutes later. "Oooo".
    ME: This is every ten minutes. Are you sure these are not contractions?
    TOMOE: No it doesn't hurt so much, just a pinch. Everything I read said I wouldn't even be able to walk.
    ME: "OK. I trust you" (As I start shoveling, loading and packing the car.)
  • Mid-morning / afternoon of 9th. Nothing.
  • Around 11pm on 9th.
    TOMOE:"Ouch!" seven minutes later "Ittattattaattaa" (Japanese for "ouch"). 15 minutes later. "Oooo!". Six minutes later "MmmmmmmM!"
    ME: This is closer than ten minutes. Are you sure these are not contractions?
    TOMOE: No it doesn't hurt so much, just a pinch. Everything I read said I wouldn't even be able to walk.
    ME: "OK. I trust you. But lets call the hospital anyway." (As I start chugging coffee.)
  • 1 AM on the 10th. We get in the frozen car with the "Da Yoopers" playing again and again in my head. (for those cultural illiterates out there, song, lyrics)
  • 1:01 AM. The car starts fine. There is no fresh snow on the roads, and thankfully we only passed what seems like about 10 cars in the 45 minute drive.
  • 45 Minutes later: Arrive at hospital and Tomoe is still smiling. We make our way through the dark corridors to the delivery room where Tomoe leisurely changes and lays on the table while chatting with the hospital midwife, while I am trying to reach the TV documentary camera-woman who, just hours before going to the hospital, we had just told "not for another week". She doesn't answer so I call her producer and wake him, asking him to keep trying her number.
  • About 10 minutes later: Tomoe is writing in pain on the table. Contraction are now four minutes apart.
  • I forget how long we were there now...
  • At some point the TV woman (a friend of ours) and another friend from our village arrive. The hopes were that she could film the birth, but 1) the doctor is a grump. and 2) There is no more time between the contractions for me even to go out and talk to them, so they wait in the hall.
  • At some point, the baby's heart rate drops drastically from 122 to 80. This is normal, as it is the most stressful time for her, but usually it goes back up much sooner, so Tomoe is given oxygen and told to breathe more deeply. She doesn't know how to. She wants to die.
  • At some point the doctor arrives and is angry at the midwives for not having hooked Tomoe up to an IV and pumping her with antibiotics (they were following our request)
  • The doctor puts on some gloves (don't remember if he even said hi to her) Starts pushing on her stomach, trying to squeeze the baby out like toothpaste.
  • He says he is going to do an espicotmy. We ask him to wait. He miraculously agrees.
  • A few minutes later. DOCTOR: "Your baby will die. I am cutting". (we have no reason to doubt him, but also he was angry at Tomoe for requesting a natural birth. We don't know if saying that was just a way to force us to agree - after all, who would respond with "That's fine" to a statement like "Your baby will die"?)
  • He cuts. She is in pain. The friends are listening at the door with the camera's audio running, and the doctor is squeezing the toothpaste tube.
  • At some point around 9 AM (I think): Black hair comes out and Tomoe wants to die.
  • More black hair comes out and Tomoe wants to die more.
  • A crying baby with an umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck emerges. Tomoe no longer wants to die.
  • I don't even remember the rest coming out.
  • Tomoe gets a short time to hold the baby, and they take her (with me along) into the next room for a quick exam. maybe five minutes, maybe less.
  • I carry baby back to Tomoe, and the camera-woman friend is allowed in, unfortunately Aunt Maiko (our neighbor friend) had to leave earlier to go to work). We sit and chat and get interviewed while the staff prepares our room. Since we insisted, and there is only one more baby in the hospital now, we are allowed to keep baby in the room that night, and she has not been out of our sight since.
  • We are settled in the room, and Kemoe is sleeping, and I still have time to get home, print out some photos, and take them to the local festival that is happening that afternoon in our hamlet. As soon as I arrive home, everyone already knows that the baby is born because when our car was missing when he woke up at 4am, the news and speculation spread like wildfire.
  • Aside from getting to give the news and show the photos to everyone in the hamlet at once (rather than go house to house), the timing was also fortunate because this is a Little New Year festival where things from the past year are burned, and the ashes are spread onto the faces of certain members of the village, including children born within the year as a wish/symbol of health. Kemoe just made the cut, so they spread ashes on the photo I printed of her, and then on me - they then got the camera woman who came to film it for the documentary.
  • I went back to the hospital and spent a wonderful evening with my daughter and Tomoe. We were awake most of the night, of course, but I can't blame it all on Kemoe crying. She actually didn't cry much, but we just couldn't stop staring at her long enough to sleep.
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Fast-forward To Day 2

  • Tomoe is already giving milk since the day before - apparently extremely fast. It is not enough to satisfy Kemoe's appetite, but she has three day's worth of reserves, so the midwives allow us to *not* feed her supplements. On the afternoon of the second day, her boobs seemed to explode with so much milk that suddenly Kemoe was so satisfied that she was sleeping four hours in a row.
  • Kemoe had her first bath. Despite the photo, she likes it.
  • The TV woman and Aunt Maiko drop by for a "little" visit that lasted several hours, because they wanted to see/film Kemoe awake, but she was just so comfy...
  • While we have had Ben Harper's The Three of US on repeat for most of the time, (long since my favorite Ben Harper song and the first one I learned to play on guitar - can't wait to play it for Kemoe live!) we also find out that she loves G-Love and the Special Sauce.
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Fast-forward To Day 3

  • Even with the hospital staff loudly coming into the room what seems like every few minutes to offer us tea, or something else completely unnecessary, Kemoe sleeps soundly at my side until past 9 am. Pretending I was asleep while the midwife sighs at the scene is my favorite moment yet.
  • The midwives seem very happy that we are here. They all agree with and understand our desires regarding the birth, but hey have no power to change policy, and there are not many other patients to bring the issue up, or if they do, they back down quite easily. It seems that we have become a bit of a hot-topic in the staff meetings.
  • Aside from above average breasts, Tomoe is also healing extremely well from the delivery. We successfully avoided being given any extra drugs or hormones to control the bleeding, believing that breast feeding would cause her body to supply what is needed, and she is recovering faster than most people. We may be "allowed" to leave a day early. But the truth is, despite the anxiety we had about the hospital the day before the birth, it is actually a really great place - except for the food, which is why...
  • I am now at home cleaning up and preparing for the TV crew and Tomoe and Kemoe, writing this update, and getting some food from our fridge to give to Tomoe instead of the hospital food, including...
  • The placenta. Everyone says it is gross, but it is actually not so unheard-of to eat the placenta. It helps stop the post-natal bleeding (which Tomoe's doesn't need to do anymore) and, more importantly from my standpoint, will help to lessen post-natal depression, and hopefully make it so that Tomoe is not mean to me. My sister-in-law sent me this funny and interesting link when she heard about our plans, but we will probably end up making lasagna or soup with it.
  • It is getting late, and I want to research more recipes online before cooking it, but I also want to get back to Kemoe, so I am thinking about asking a neighbor if we can store the placenta in their freezer... I'll let you know how that works out...
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Well, I gotta go now. Tomoe just called to remind me to bring the rice cooker, and I heard Kemoe in the background crying. I my daughter needs me.

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January 10, 2010

Nothing more to say.

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January 08, 2010

To-Do List:

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Today's to-do list:

  1. Move mountains

I spent most of the day shoveling mountains of snow away from our house, and shoveling the car out in case today is the day. As you can see in the photo of our entire house, the roof is a bit strangely shaped. This is so that all the snow slides down on its own and I don't have to climb up there to shovel. All night long we hear the snow avalanche off, and feel the house shake as it falls from the upper roof onto the lower roof. And all night long I lay awake wondering if the area were it all ends up has gotten deeper than the second-floor kitchen window, or on the opposite side, the garage windows that are the only light source for the chickens cowering inside. I have long since given up on the fancy sun-room I was so proud of a few months ago. Remember that?

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These photos were taken yesterday morning. I didn't manage to move all the mountain, but I at least got the chicken windows freed-up (hey, a little mountain-top removal never hurt anyone, right?). The big problem is that the snow in the yard is already 2 meters deep, and the pond is non-existent (I imagine the fish stranded immobile in the slush). This means that I had to shovel a path to the river in the back, and with each shovel scoop I take from the mountain, I have to transport it further and further. I am currently carrying each shovel scoop about 20 meters before I can dump it.

Oh, and that green pole in the one photo - that was my marker so I could find the compost bin. I couldn't even ind the pole today so I dug it out and this time planted it right on top of the bin, instead of next to it.

Tonight the snow continues, and last time I checked (about 3AM) the snow was almost to the kitchen window (deeper than in the photos). We have given in to social pressure and niceties, and I will have to take Tomoe to the hospital tomorrow, which means I have to shovel the car out again, and for the half-day it takes for the worthless checkup, I will be thinking about the snow crashing through the kitchen window. When I am not worrying about being a daddy, that is...

I love it here!

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January 06, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Everybody In Your Business (mostly cons)

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A few weeks ago the doctor told us that Tomoe could give birth at any moment, and prescribed some expensive medicine which is only approved in Japan. Since the hospital and pharmacy are so far away, we didn't have an opportunity to research, so just to be safe we shelled out the cash. Once we got home and Internet access, we realized that the drug potentially has very uncomfortable side-effects, and is only approved in the US and Canada for emergencies were the woman is already in premature labor. Tomoe took about 1/4 the prescribes dose on the first day and quit. The thing that really ticks us off is that there is a generic brand for 1/4 the price - also available at the same pharmacy, right next door to the hospitol.

Despite the doctor telling us that the baby is dangerously close to being born, we are very close to the due date, and the baby is very big by Japanese standards. We are supposed to go in for weekly checkups, but the checkups are usually with an incompetent first-year mid-wife who doesn't even know what we are talking about when we ask questions about issues which appear to be very common based on web research.

Given the cost of the checkup, the cost and time involved in going all the way to the hospital, and the lack of any clear reason, we skipped the checkup this Monday. The next thing I know a lady from our own local welfare office is calling me in to have a meeting with her to explain how important it is to go to the checkup. When I ask why, she says "Because the doctor likes you to". When I ask why, she says "Because it is troublesome if you don't". I stopped asking why and explained our situation and thoughts - the fact that Tomoe feels fine and the baby is moving, and usually the doctor doesn't even see us, its just the incompetent mid-wife, and we get nothing out of it other than misinformation and expensive drugs. She is a very nice lady, and gave up, asking me to call the midwife at the hospital to let her know that we had talked (although I had already explained most of this to the hospital already - minus talking badly about the inexperienced midwife).

It seems that, despite us asking questions too technical for her to even know what we were asking, she was afraid that we do not understand that breaking water and increasingly close contractions are a sign that we should go to the hospital. In their defense, however, the other expecting parents we met there for the child-birth class were not the brightest of the bunch, and when they told the husbands not to smoke in the house, one girl raised her hand and said "I smoke... is that bad?"

Anyway, enough about my hospital rant. It is just so much hassle for so little return, and really tires Tomoe (and me) out to go there, so I just wish they would let us, two intelligent, informed, healthy people, take some responsibility for our own health without all the fuss.

On the other hand, I feel very grateful to live in an area where they take such effort to make sure that we are OK, and where the local welfare lady knows us and will call me up because she is concerned about Tomoe. I guess I can't have it both ways. Everyone is in everyone else's business here, and it has its drawbacks, but I guess mostly it is a positive thing. I certainly wont be complaining when neighbors are crawling out of the woodwork to help out... or will I?

Anyway, the baby may be stuck in there a few more days.

Other than that, absolutely nothing new to say. My days are filled with shoveling, and an occasional trip to the ski-hill, where I broke down and purchased a season week-day pass for 5,000 JPY (about $50). I was planning to use the money to buy skins so I can ski up instead of use the lift, but the price of the skins in Japan (much cheaper in the US, just have to find a way to get them here ASAP), and the fact that I am on the board at the ski-hill, made me think I should at least drop some money there way. For an extra 10,000 yen I can upgrade to include weekends. Luckily I am unemployed, so weekends/weekdays makes no difference for me... I don't even know what day today is...

The snow is getting deeper and another 50cm expected for tonight. I have started placing an old straw mat over the car, covering the windows and top of the car so that if "the moment" comes, I can have the car mobile in a minute, instead of the time took me to dig out the other day.

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January 02, 2010

Tomoe... I think someone stole the car.

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When we sent to bed there was a car in front of our house. Its a good thing that Tomoe didn't go into labor last night because it took three hours to find it, and five men to get it un-stuck.

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I spent the rest of the day helping neighbors shovel their drives and roofs. What a great treat to wake up to! The man in on the roof in this photo is Eighty years old. He was very reluctant to let me help him because it would be too dangerous for a young 'un like me to be on the roof, but in the end he let me help.

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Aside from a blow-out fight with Tomoe in the afternoon, New Year's day was fun. I headed off to the local meeting hall were all the "head of the house-holds" gathered to drink and eat junk-food. It would have been more fun if I oculd have parteken in the sake, but there is no telling when Kemoe will be born, so I had to refrain as much as I could. In the end though, it was impossible to keep refusing whenever anyone tried to pour me more, so I ended up calling the local taxi company to make sure they were working that day.

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