"The baby is not reacting well to the medicine, we will have to perform a caesarean"
- Naoko's doctor, after a very small heart suddenly started beating very slowly.
In mid February we found out that our second child was to be a girl. Since the company had decided finally that the foreigner allowance they were paying Chris and me was to be stopped, and since
that allowance was the only reason I had not yet applied for permanent residence, I popped down to the local immigration office to see what paperwork was necessary. I have heard other people
complain that this involves a lot of jumping through hoops, but I found that if properly researched it can be done with relatively little pain and a couple of trips to city hall and other places.
The only annoyance, really, was one of the banks I use. I had gone to another bank which I use more regularly to obtain a statement of my assets with them, and had got it in matter of minutes.
This emboldened me to visit my other bank and ask for the same thing. They told me to come back in a week. Since I had travelled half an hour by train to get there, I was not pleased that my time
had been wasted, and since I was planning to make the application to immigration the next day, I did not go back. The immigration people were helpful throughout, and were at pains to point out to
me that the processing of my application would take a very long time. It did.
March also saw the St. Patrick's Day parade in Tokyo's Harajuku. It was a good family day, with many foreigners, mainly Americans, and a substantial number of Japanese finding Irishness in their blood for a day, and sticking a shamrock or two on their cheeks as the unexpecting Tokyo population watched in bewilderment as an outlandish parade of green clad revellers escorted fifteen foot high inflatable pints of beer down one of the most exclusive streets in the capital. Aran too was a little overwhelmed by it all, being his first time in such large crowd, and his first encounter with a dog that was bigger than him. Naoko's parents and aunt also joined us, and enjoyed it as much as Aran, if not more. As soon as the parade ended, they were leading the rush to the pub, where they rekindled their fondness for Guinness from their trip to Ireland three years before. Aran was a popular guest and enjoyed the attention he was getting, not to mention all the fruit juice he could drink. Naoko told me later that her mother had been moved to tears by the pipe band, a thirty-something strong group of bagpipers and drummers that could probably be heard up on Mount Fuji.
Later in March, I received a text message from friend Chris asking me if I was interested in going to see the Rolling Stones - that evening! He and his wife had gotten tickets through the fan club but could not get a babysitter. Judging from the prices, which were close to twice what I had paid for the last Rolling Stones gig I went to, they were good seats, so I went to work and immediately booked an after noon off. I got into Tokyo early, and spent the afternoon wandering around the Ikebukuro area, eventually finding myself meandering all the way down to the Four Seasons hotel where the Stones were reportedly staying. Since this was the same place we had held our wedding reception, it was little nostalgic for me, and I enjoyed the relaxing afternoon overall. Once I got to the Tokyo Dome and hooked up with Chris, we found out our seats were not as good as we expected, and that put a bit of a damper on the evening.
The next day we had planned to take Aran to a strawberry farm with his grandparents, but just as we were about to leave Naoko had to use the bathroom, and noticed a discharge which worried her. She decided not to go, and would go to the hospital instead to have the baby looked at. I went with Aran and the parents, and we all feasted on Aran's favourite fruit to the point where he threw up. Unperturbed, he continued eating as soon as we had cleaned him up. The farm allowed you to eat all you could but not take any strawberries home, but when we went to leave Naoko's mother could not get her car keys out of her purse because of all the strawberries she had surreptitiously stuffed in there.
While we were there, Naoko reported by phone that she had been told to take it easy by her doctor because the blood loss she had experienced may have been a sign that there was a problem with the baby. Naoko seemed more depressed than concerned by this, but I am sure that she was only putting on a brave face. It concerned me greatly. This was not helped by the fact that in early April she hurt her back, and this left her even less mobile. Later on in the pregnancy she would be warned of a high blood sugar level, and thus we were both quite anxious for the last trimester.
In advance of the refinancing of our mortgage that was due in November, I decided to put my financial affairs in order in Ireland. I had been sending money home reasonably regularly since I came here, and had started a personal pension after about five years here. Not only was I uncertain at that time whether I would stay in any one place long enough to qualify for that country's pension, there was also considerable doubt about whether or not the Japanese government would be able to meet its pension obligations as the aged population continued to grow. I also had some investments which I wanted to cash in to help reduce the capital of our loan. I asked my father to send me all details he still had of my bank accounts in Ireland. I had been letting him look after things to keep it all out of sight of the Japanese tax inspectors, as I mistakenly assumed at that time that anything kept out of the country was out of their reach. I was surprised when he sent me a massive package containing all my bank statements, lodgement and withdrawal stubs and ATM dockets. On the basis of this I was able to reconstruct the history of my financial affairs over the previous ten years with hardly any blank periods. Doing so kept me busy at lunchtimes for about four months.
As a result of Naoko's condition, the Golden Week holiday was a quiet one, and the only events of that week were a dinner to mark our wedding anniversary, a few hours at a fishing farm for Aran, and a barbeque at her parents place. The fishing was fun for Aran, who was amazed to see so many fish in one place, but not so pleased when they started splattering about after being caught. Much like the strawberry farm, you caught as much fish as you liked, and after paying for them you could take them home, or they would fry them for you to eat on the spot. The barbeque was held in the field opposite Naoko’s parents’ house. Her father had suggested to the owner of the field, which did not appear to be used for anything, that he should mark off a small section of it near the road for use as parking spaces to make a little money, as he wanted a second parking space for himself. The owner agreed, and Naoko's father further suggested that the field be divided up and used as allotments. As a result, Naoko's father ended up farming forty eight square meters of it on the weekends for only a couple of thousand yen in rent each month, and many is the time that he had a little helper in the form of Aran. He even got me to put a row of potatoes in, which as I mentioned before, came up the size of peanuts the first year we tried, but yielded about twenty kilos worth the second year.
Later in May, while Naoko was at the hairdressers, I was looking after Aran at home. As I laid him down on the couch to sleep, I noticed he felt quite hot. I took his temperature and found it to be over forty degrees. While I realise now that I should have got him to a doctor immediately, at the time I was struck with a sense of indecisiveness, unsure what to do. I fretted about calling Naoko, or her mother, but worried that I might start a panic over nothing. (Naoko's mother had a tendency to overreact, and on many occasions she has caused unnecessary trouble by panicking over trivial incidents.) I thought of taking him to the doctor myself, but found myself unsure I could handle this as I had never done it before, and was afraid I would forget his health handbook or make some other similarly stupid mistake which would incur the wrath of Naoko and her mother. Struck by an appalling lack of self confidence, I dithered and did nothing until Naoko came home. After bawling me out for not taking him straight to a doctor, we got in the car and took him to the hospital. The diagnosis was a simple cold. I felt considerably useless for a while, as if I had let our child down. This incident reminded me of a time after Naoko first moved in with me, when for the first time my actions affected someone other than myself.
Since arriving in Japan I had always had a reasonably carefree attitude towards Japanese social customs. I was never deliberately rude, and always tried to follow the expected social norms, but if my actions or omissions caused offence, I would expect people to take a light-hearted view of it, and accept that no offence was intended. I tended to avoid people who I found to be overly strict when it came to social behaviour, as I was of the opinion that people should be more tolerant towards the foibles and differences of others, and since I was from a different culture to begin with it was inevitable that my manners and behaviour would be less than perfect in some eyes. As a result I had surrounded myself with friends who accepted me for what I was, and who I was, and who didn't mind too much if I behaved slightly different to them.
However once Naoko and I got engaged, Naoko was of the opinion that my behaviour would reflect on her, and tried to get me to change, to take more care to meet the expected social behaviour. She implied that while it may have appeared to me that people accepted my behaviour and accepted me for who I was, it was possible that they were just being tolerant to be polite, and were actually disappointed in, or even offended by, my behaviour.
This caused me some discomfort at first, as it seemed as if she was condemning the person I had become and wanted me to become someone else. I know this was not so, and that she was only saying what she thought was in my best interests, so that people would have a better impression of me, but it also made be begin to doubt if I really knew the people I had considered to be friends all those years, and this led me to doubt a lot of things about myself. I tried to comply at first, and this led me to question a lot of what I thought I knew about how to behave. For a while it felt as if everything I did had the potential to offend someone in some way, and I found myself suddenly unsure of how to behave around people. It took me several months to get over this, and I still find myself uncomfortable talking to people more so than I used to.
Thinking back on this later in life I have come to the conclusion that I am probably too critical of myself, and expect too much of myself. This is probably because I mistakenly assumed at that time that Naoko expected too much of me, and I started driving myself harder to try and please her. I now realise that her maintenance of a high standard for me to meet will mean I will be less likely to offend others, and for this I am grateful.
In early June, Naoko's cousin Kaoru, who had come to our wedding in Ireland, got married. Since Naoko was so close to giving birth, I went with Aran, who was called upon to present a bouquet of flowers to the bride and groom. The wedding took place at the Meiji Jingu, the famous shrine in Yoyogi, and involved a parade across the courtyard which ran the gauntlet of the many tourists that visit the site every day. Aran, of course, was a magnet for the cameras, and almost stole the show from the happy couple. Once the reception started, the host introduced the bride and groom as is customary, outlining their backgrounds and how they met. Then a respected guest made the first toast (only after performing a magic trick that could only be properly seen by the front two tables, for some reason). What deviated from custom was the fact that all of this took over an hour, and several of the guests were muttering afterwards that they were made to wait too long before getting their first drink. The most impatient person in the room, Aran, was thankfully placated with two glasses of orange juice and some bread. Had this not happened I am sure he would have disrupted the proceedings. As it was, some of Naoko's uncles were beginning to fidget. The two and a half hour long ceremony proved too boring for Aran, and he became a bit unruly towards the end, and ate almost none of the main course that had been specially prepared for him. While the other guests dined on salmon, lobster and other delicacies, Aran got a hamburger, sausage and rice omelette. Since I had very little time to eat my own courses because I was looking after Aran, Naoko's sister, who was sitting on the other side of Aran from me and was often assumed by the waiting staff to be his mother, took him outside for a few minutes so that I could eat in peace, and rather than the salmon and lobster (which I am not to hot on anyway), I dived into Aran's mixed grill, which had been left untouched. Towards the end of the reception I realised that I hadn't checked Aran' s diaper since the start, and my worst fears were confirmed when I pulled back his waistband. The orange juice and other goodies Aran had been nibbling on all day had filled his diaper to overflowing. Naoko's mother helped me to change it, but I was terrified she would get some stains on her kimono. As it was my shirt sleeve needed a very quick wash in the men's room. After a long and enjoyable, but hectic day, Aran and both his grandparents slept soundly on the train home.
With the prospect of a long hot summer approaching, I went on a Saturday afternoon to a nearby superstore to stock up on beer. Normally I would buy three or four cases which would easily last a month, but this time I bought a record 7 cases. This showed an exceptional talent for planning on my part, as only two weeks later I would stop drinking completely.
Naoko called me at work to say that she had shown a sign of impending labour, and that I should refrain from drinking that evening in case I had to drive her to the hospital. It turned out to be a false alarm, but left me with the dilemma of facing that situation at any time. I decided to switch to non-alcoholic beer, and for the next three months did not take a single drop of alcohol. It was the first time since my college days that I was not drinking regularly. Apart from a tendency to wake up in the middle of the night (since I did not cut down my daytime caffeine intake), it had no noticeable effects. Naoko, and to an even stronger extent her mother, took my sudden abstinence as a sign of some problem, maybe because I made the mistake of telling them that I was looking forward to the results of my next company physical, where I have uniformly scored above acceptable levels since joining the company for some test on my liver, to see if the reduction of alcohol would have any effect on those figures. I said this because I was curious to see if the above limits levels were a result of my lifestyle or my not fitting into Japanese medical statistical averages. Naoko's mother took this to mean that I had been ordered off drink by a doctor, and thus started worrying unnecessarily about my health. She also could not accept the possibility that I would not want to drink socially, and was at pains to try and get me to drink something any time we visited her house. It was because of this pressure, and the removal of the original reason for my abstinence, that I came off the wagon three months later.
In the weeks following that first false alarm, Naoko had a couple more, but each time it became clear that the baby had no intention of moving out yet. At each examination, the baby's estimated weight kept rising, to the point where it was decided that the best thing to do would be to induce labour. We booked a hospital room for the fourth of July. Naoko and I went in that morning and she checked in. Once settled in her room, they applied a heart monitor to her waist and inserted a drip with the drugs to induce labour. I sat beside her, once again able to do nothing of any value. After a while I noticed that the baby's heart rate shown on the monitor had dropped from about 160 to about 80. As I was about to mention this to Naoko and suggest that we call the nurse's station to ask if this was normal, one of the nurses burst in to the room, looked at the paper roll that recorded the baby's heart rate, and told me to leave. I was called back a few minutes later to hear an explanation from the deputy head of the hospital that the drugs used to induce labour had had an adverse effect on the baby, causing stress which led to the reduced heart rate. At this point they would have no choice but to perform a caesarean. Since there were three other operations scheduled for that day, and since our baby was not in immediate danger (they had stopped the IV immediately once they noticed the problem, and the baby's heartbeat had returned to normal) they would deliver the baby in the afternoon.
This meant that all we had left to do was wait. I went outside to the waiting room to call Naoko's mother for an update, and as soon as I told her about the caesarean, she went into a panic. She told me she was already on her way to the hospital with Aran in tow. I went back inside to tell Naoko this, and she asked me to ring again and warn her mother not to allow Aran to go into the play area in the hospital because she did not want him to pick up any germs from other kids. When I did so, Naoko's mother became livid, assuming incorrectly that we did not want her to come to the hospital. My explanation that she would not be allowed into the area we were in and would have to wait out in the general waiting room did little to help. She declared that she would go to Naoko's sister's place instead.
When I reported this to Naoko, things became even more bizarre, as Naoko insisted on going out to the waiting room so that she could call her father to get him to intercede with her mother to try and diffuse the situation, even though the nurses had already come to take Naoko into the operating area to prepare her for the surgery. I watched in half disbelief as Naoko made her phone calls while the nurses pressed her to accompany them, repressing the urge to scream at her that she should give her own well being, and that of the baby, highest priority and that any family squabbles could be sorted out afterwards. Once Naoko had satisfied herself, she went with the nurses to get ready for surgery. I went out to the main waiting area, and the reprieve from the pandemonium I had just witnessed allowed me sufficient emotional leeway to consider the situation, realise the full implications of the fact that someone was about to cut a hole in my wife, and get very, very scared.
I sat in the waiting room and tried to remain calm. Naoko's father arrived after awhile and once I had brought him up to speed on what was going on, the first thing he said to me was not to worry about what had happened, Naoko's mother could get like that sometimes. We sat in relative silence for a while, until a nurse came out and told us that everything had gone well, and the doctor would be out to talk to us in a few minutes. I was relieved, but still so angry at the day’s events that I found it hard to show any joy. The fact that the impending birth of a grandchild was not the centre of attention of everybody in the family was something I found incredulous and enraging, and try as I might to not let it get me angry, my emotions were too strong that day to be suppressed. The doctor that came out was a younger man than the deputy head we had met earlier. He took us into an examination room and, after suggesting we wait for "the mother" to join us, and being told that that would not happen, he explained to us that the caesarean had been successful, and we could see her in a little while. He seemed like he wanted to use English phrases but was unsure of when to do so, and had all the baby's details written down in advance. We thanked him and went outside, and Naoko's father reported the event to her mother, who had decided she was too angry to come and see the baby that day. In the end, she would not come to see her for three days. After about twenty minutes the baby was brought into the nursery where we could see her through a glass wall. Like her brother, Karen, as we had decided to call her, was big, markedly larger than the other babies on display. Later that evening we were allowed in to see Naoko and the baby together, and I got to hold my daughter for the first time.
On the way home I picked up Aran from his grandmother's house, and forced myself to be cordial as I had nothing to gain from an argument with her. For the next couple of days, Aran would spend the daytime with her, until Naoko came home a week later. She rang me the day after the birth to explain what she had been feeling on the day, how she had been driven to distraction worrying about her daughter having an operation, and it angered me again that she talked almost exclusively about her own feelings, as if she was the only person who was worried about Naoko. Again, I kept silent. It would take me a few months to be able to respect her again.
Karen, though, was a darling little baby, with no ill effects from her unusual delivery. Although she was above average weight at birth, compared to Aran she was tiny, and it was a strange feeling to be able to hold a child in one hand again. Aran was both intrigued and amazed, but he took to her very quickly, soon referring to any baby he saw as "Karen Chan", and patting her on the head while saying "ii ko, ii ko", - "good child, good child". Her arrival in our house threw sleeping patterns out of whack again, and much as her brother's arrival had reduced the 2004 Olympics to a minor background event, the 2006 soccer World Cup went blissfully unwatched. After all the scares and worries during Naoko's pregnancy it was a great relief to finally have her here safe. Naoko's parents were in Nirvana, with both a grandson and granddaughter to dote over, they had also just found out that Naoko's sister was also expecting a baby after years of trying and, eventually, medical intervention.
I developed a rather annoying back pain soon after this which sometimes made it difficult to bathe Karen, but I did as much as I could to help Naoko look after them both. Aran spent most days with his grandmother, and the influence of another person other than his mother on his daily life was soon noticeable. He was also picking up mannerisms and expressions from us, so I have found it necessary to curb my tongue on more than a few occasions, when my unthinking expressions of "fuck" and "shit" have been echoed back to me from a young voice nearby.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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