Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hatsumiyamairi: a Japanese birthday

Last week we headed to our local shrine for a ceremony called hatsumiyamairi 初宮参り, which literally means "first shrine visit". When the baby turns one month old, it's a Japanese tradition to visit the shrine and attend a purification ritual from a Shinto priest. It's a bit similar to a Christian baptism. We dressed bebe in a frilly white robe that had belonged to my husband when he was a baby, so it was a very meaningful ensemble (and I like to think he was best-dressed of all babies in attendance!). I wore a white cape over my clothes that matched the robe.

I held bebe during the ceremony, in which the priest chanted the names of all the babies and parents. He also waved around a stick with paper strips to purify, which is done in many Shinto celebrations such as weddings. Photos are not allowed inside the shrine since it's a sacred place but it was a beautiful ceremony, and bebe slept the whole time despite the chanting, bells rattling and drum banging.

We took many photos on the grounds surrounding the shrine, it's a special place we visit yearly for the New Year celebrations. We also had some time to relax following the ceremony, with some sake and traditional sweets. We then headed to a wonderful soba restaurant, which is my favourite Japanese food. It was a kaiseki (full-course meal) and every dish was exquisite.

We've taken Anri out and about a bit more lately, he usually always sleeps in his carrier so it's fairly easy. He also met one of my friends at my favourite cafe in Hiroo, and she held him the whole time. I also take walks to Starbucks in my neighbourhood with him, nothing wild but it makes me feel somewhat back to normal. Life is a lot slower lately, but I'm enjoying this time at home and savouring it as I know it won't last forever.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Giving Birth in Japan

I didn't have the chance to write much about giving birth while in Japan, but I wanted to mention it was a great experience overall.

I received amazing care during my pregnancy and after the birth, and I'm so happy I was able to experience it in Japan. Giving birth wasn't how I expected it at all. I had all these ideas about labour and birth, mostly from watching movies (and Friends episodes); they somehow always have the dramatic water breaking at home and frantic taxi ride to the hospital, etc. My version was the complete opposite, it just slowly started at home, I wasn't even sure I had contractions and what they felt like, and I stayed up all night timing them and watching movies on my laptop.

We finally decided to go to the hospital in the early morning, and that's when the 33-hour (all natural!) fun started. I was pretty out of it for most of the time, time just did not exist and I can barely remember the details. I was lucky to have the support of my husband and my mother-in-law, and the labour room was nice, dimly lit and quiet. The midwives took great care of me even though it was unusually long and there were complications. I remember being presented with big meals and rice, rice and more rice, I just didn't have an appetite but they kept telling me to eat to get more energy. It did help in the end!

In Japan, it's standard to stay at the hospital for about a week after birth. I think it's a great idea, as you can recover and learn how to take care of the baby with the assistance of nurses and midwives 24 hours a day. I had no idea how to do anything when I first met bebe, I was completely at loss, even about changing his tiny diaper. I stayed in the hospital for 6 days, and I both loved it and hated it. I'll call this "baby boot camp". Basically I didn't get much sleep since the nurses would bring in the baby every 2 hours to try nursing, and during the day I had an actual schedules with classes such as breastfeeding and learning how to give baby a bath, etc. We even had to watch DVDs but I skipped many of those sessions, with the excuse that my language skills weren't good enough to follow.

On the bright side, it was wonderful to have the help of nurses at all times, and their support for every single step. It was great to have doctors' checks daily for both bebe and myself, and the meals were fantastic- no kidding. I ate such balanced and delicious meals, and every afternoon they would bring in tea and cake. I also briefly met and talk to other mothers, it was comforting to see other new, sleep-deprived mums in the same state. I cried when I left the hospital because I knew I'd miss the nurses, but at the same time I also felt like I was getting out of prison and couldn't wait to be home. Sounds dramatic, but that's a side effect of post-birth I'm sure…

Overall giving birth in Japan is great, and I went to the hospital weekly ever since to get support for nursing and get bebe checked. I can call my hospital any time of the day or night with questions, and the nurses recognize Anri when we visit, which is so sweet. It's a big hospital in central Tokyo, they speak limited English but somehow it all worked out and the care I received was outstanding. The facilities were very modern and clean, and baby was sleeping next to me most of the time.

I never gave birth in Canada so I don't know how it compares, but I love the natural approach of Japan and the slow recovery. I cannot imagine being sent home with a newborn the day after giving birth, there is so much to learn and get used to. Also, in Japan it is recommended to stay indoors for a full month after giving birth. I thought it would be so difficult, but I liked that as I got to rest and recover and plus, let's be honest, I didn't feel too social or presentable those first few weeks. I'm getting a lot more sleep lately, so I'm excited to finally go out and take bebe along.