- my wife, about ten seconds before giving birth to our son.
With the move completed, we still needed a few weeks to get everything out of the cardboard boxes and put the finishing touches to the house. Naoko decided most of the decorating, and I just did
the work. I was quite pleased to actually own a house, and sometimes would stand outside just looking at it, comparing it to the house I grew up in, and thinking of all the times we would have in
it. As our neighbours gradually moved in, each new arrival was met with anticipation. Would they be young or old? With families? Psychopathic? Biker gangs? As it turned out, we got a good mix.
Most were young families, one couple had grown children, two other families had young children, and there were four families who had none. There were nine houses in a U shaped road, with two
empty lots in the middle, right in front of our house. These were to be built on later, but it annoyed me that the sites were left untended for so long. It took nearly a year for the portable
toilet the builders had been using to be removed.
On New Year's eve we were invited to our friend Osawa's house, but Naoko decided not to go since she was pregnant and would spend the entire night refusing alcohol. I stayed out past midnight, and Naoko was not pleased about that. I had wanted to leave earlier, but it seemed awkward as the food and drink kept flowing. Osawa was a very friendly person, who would often invite people to his home for long and late drinking sessions. I have sat in his living room as his children passed through to take their baths, and interrupt us on the way back for their father to brush their teeth. In fact, the first time I met him (at Simple Simon of course), he invited me back to his house after the bar had closed, and it was only when I reached his gate and realised he had a family that I decided it was not a social hour and made my excuses, at which he seemed genuinely surprised.
I bought a bike for commuting to work, and would often go out riding on it on weekends also. It was nice to have that freedom again. On some weekends, I would ride over to Naoko's parents place to ostensibly help her father in his vegetable patch, but as soon as I got there, he and a neighbour would down tools and crack open a few cans of beer. He planted a row of potatoes in deference to my Irishness, but when it came time to harvest them, what we dug out were so small they looked more like peanuts, much to our amusement. My father in law had proved immensely useful when we did the final check of our new house before purchase, but he exceeded even that a few months after we moved in, when one of his major clients, who made air conditioning systems, offered to replace all the air conditioners in his house with their latest models as a token of their gratitude for his continued business. Without blinking an eye, he refused their offer, saying that his daughter had just got married and her house needed the air conditioning system much more than his did. As a result, we got air conditioners fitted in every room of our house but one, without paying a penny for any of them. We received one when we purchased the house, and three more rooms were fitted as result of Naoko's father. He was proving to be an extremely beneficial father in law.
One Saturday in March we were driving towards Naoko's parents' house when Naoko suddenly realised she couldn't get the car to go into third gear. She could use first and second, but not third, fourth or reverse. We drove straight to a garage to get them to take a look at it, and ended up having to leave it there. We walked the rest of the way to her parents' house and ended up borrowing her mother's car until we were informed how much it would cost to repair Naoko's car, at which point we decided to scrap it and buy another. We did so, putting the registration in my name. Since the house was in her name, she reckoned I should be allowed to own something, and thus it came to be that I owned my first car. Naoko had always been nudging me to get a driving licence, and I think this was another not so subtle hint.
Naoko had been going for monthly checkups since her pregnancy had been confirmed, and each time they would let us take a video copy of the ultrasound. It was amazing to watch the development of the foetus; so much is formed so early, and when the foetus is so small. At first we could barely make out the skull and spine, but gradually legs, fingers and finally a face became clearer. They also had a system which could produce a computer processed 3D image, which gave us a reasonable idea of what the baby's face would look like. We would both watch in awe as the baby yawned, blinked and even smiled in his dark little world. (Yes, it was a he; we could see other body parts also. The doctor assured Naoko on the first occasion that our baby's gender could be determined that the young fellow was "very well endowed".) We had started to call him "Kozaru" which means “little monkey”, since he would be born in the year of the monkey, as was his father.
Naoko somehow managed to cut her hand badly while cleaning the cooker, and since she was worried about getting an infection in the cut, she drove herself to the hospital and got it all bandaged up. I had to help her get undressed and do other things for about a week after that. She was getting bigger and finding it harder to move around, so she eventually she gave up her job in April. Later that month, the car we had bought to replace the one that had conked out finally arrived, and one of the first things we did in it was to go buy a baby bed. Naoko didn't want me to assemble it yet though, in case I jinxed the birth.
At the end of March, my boss asked me to help out on another project that was having trouble. With only one week to go to a deadline, they realised that a large part of the software had never been implemented, and they only had five days to get it to work. I had worked on the same technology for a different model in the past, and it turned out I was the only one who knew how it all worked. This resulted in me doing a record forty three hours of overtime in one week, including full fourteen hour days Saturday and Sunday. I made a packet on the overtime pay, but it was the way my boss thanked me afterwards that really made it worthwhile. Normally people in Japan are extremely formal when expressing thanks for big favours, but in this case, as he passed by me in the corridor one day, he called out to me and very casually and simply said ; "Thanks, you really saved us there!". It was the informal nature of it that struck me, as I could tell he really meant it. (I don't know if there was a direct connection to this event, but the following year I finally got a promotion that was a few years late in coming.) The down side was that the overtime left me very stressed, and one night I got really ratty with Naoko when she came to pick me up after work. I apologised immediately, and resolved never to let that happen again, but it concerned me that work was having that effect on me.
As the expected date of birth was getting closer, Naoko gradually found it harder to resist the urge to buy things. Once we knew it was a boy, clothes started appearing. A baby bath and a car seat were the other big purchases. Around June we were told that the baby was facing feet first, and was getting too large to turn himself around to be born the proper way. We were told to prepare for the possibility of a caesarean section being necessary. We got an explanation from the deputy head of the hospital of what was involved and what the risks were, and decided to have a caesarean to be on the safe side. We booked the hospital for the twenty third of July, to be well ahead of his expected date of August third. A week later, Naoko went for her regular check-up, and when the doctor started the ultrasound she stopped almost immediately, and went to take another look at Naoko's file. "It says her you are scheduled to have a caesarean!", she said, and before Naoko could confirm that, she added "well you won't need one, he's facing the right way!". Our little monkey had waited until the last minute to get himself ready for his departure, just like I did when I first came to Japan. He was already showing signs of taking after his father!
We had spent some time thinking of names, and had drawn up a list for both boys and girls. Once we knew it was a boy, it made things easier because we had much fewer candidates than for a girl. We wanted a name that would be easy to pronounce in both English and Japanese, so that both grandparents could handle it. (My father had taken a while to get his tongue around "Naoko".) Naoko eventually suggested "Aran", which I had suggested because it was the name of a chain of islands of the west coast of Ireland, where in olden days the inhabitants crushed up rocks and mixed them with seaweed to make their own soil, so that they could cultivate crops on the barren windswept rock that was the landscape on which they had chosen to live. I hoped that a little of that ruggedness, determination and self reliance would rub off on our son through that name. It was also possible to use the characters for "love" and "orchid” to make a convoluted version of "Aran" which I thought was cool since the same characters are used in one rendition of the Kanji name for Ireland. In the end we decided not to give any Kanji characters, but to just use the Katakana version of his name.
As the summer approached, Naoko was finding it difficult to sleep because of her ever expanding stomach. Record temperatures (Tokyo reached 39.5 in late July) didn't help. On the evening of July 22nd, I was still at work when my mobile phone rang. I was pretty sure the only person who would ring me was Naoko, and when I took it out of my pocket it was her number on the display. With growing trepidation I answered, and Naoko told me "it's time.", but that there was no need to panic. I finished up work for the day, told my boss I most likely would not be coming in the next day, and headed home.
Naoko was waiting with her mother, remarkably calm. She had started having contractions, but there were too far apart to go to the hospital yet. I ate dinner while that was still a possibility, for I had no idea when I would be able to eat again. By around ten o' clock her contractions were getting reasonably regular, so we went to the hospital. They put a heart monitor on Naoko, and quickly decided that it was still too early, and we should go home for a while longer. Around eleven thirty, Naoko had a contraction which was visibly (even to me!) a scale of magnitude more painful than those she had been having up to then. After a few more hours of suffering on our sofa, we decided around three in the morning to go to the hospital again, and this time Naoko was not taking no for an answer.
They checked us in to one of the pre-delivery rooms, where I spent the next six hours watching Naoko groan and grimace her way through the labour pains, with me capable of nothing more than holding the cup when she drank some juice. I tried holding her hand, and comforting her, but she had no time for anything but the pain. I don't think I have ever felt more useless. (But I don't doubt that she was glad I was there.) For those six hours Naoko groaned in pain on the hospital bed, and the nurses kept telling us that it was just a matter of waiting for her water to break. In the end I think they had to forcibly break her water. When they came to take the final examination they told me to wait outside, and then told me they were moving her to the delivery room, and by the time they let me in there, the baby's head was already visible. The delivery itself was quick, about 20 minutes. After about six good pushes the head was out, and after that it was all downhill. I barely had time to get the video camera ready. At nine thirty six AM Aran was born. He drew his first breath, scrunched up his face against the morning light and let loose with a scream that is probably the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. Ten fingers, ten toes, blue eyes and a lot of body hair. Perfect! Naoko held our child and positively glowed. I took photos and a short video, half blinded by tears, and then I was led out of the room while they cleaned Naoko up. I went out to the waiting room and made my phone calls. My father's house was engaged which was unusual for that hour. I presumed my sister was using the phone line for her computer, and tried to dial her mobile but got another busy tone (I had in fact dialled the house again.) So I decided to try Naoko's parents, but again got a busy signal and then their answering machine. By now I was thinking, "Fuck this, I am not telling this news to a machine!" So I tried my sister's mobile again and got through. I told my sister to wake up my dad and tell him he was a grandfather. After that I got Naoko's mother and told her the news too. At this point they let me back in to see Naoko and Aran, and I took another, longer video and some photos. These were emailed to Ireland the same day along with the full details of the night’s events. I got home around noon, and cracked a beer. I had had damn all sleep in the last twenty four hours, but I was in no mood for it now. The longest, most tiring, most frightening, most harrowing, most wonderful night, had dawned into the greatest day of my life.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
Copyright (C) 1997-2011 A.Keyes All Rights Reserved.