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A Rural Saga of Birthing Babies in Japan, Part 2

With my friend’s amazing experience as my introduction to childbirth, and several other friends who were trying it, too, there was no doubt in my mind that a homebirth was the way to go. Having my mother come for a month was not an option, but my husband’s mom was willing to help out. My friends were great cheerleaders and even attended the birth, which was a 30 hour process involving lots of walks to swear at the moon, music to moan along to, herbal baths, and even some construction to finish up our new home. As the harvest season had just ended, my husband was able to be fully present, too.

Part 2: Pumpkin

My baby girl took her own sweet time coming out. We’d dubbed her “Pumpkin” because my stomach looked like I’d swallowed one, and when contractions started on her due date exactly, we laughed and changed the nickname to “Punctual Pumpkin.” I joyfully called in “in-labor” to work, then phoned the midwife who came by to take my vitals and help me set up the tiny newborn clothes. She showed me how to layer the undershirts and outer garments for dressing ease, but I still didn’t quite believe that an actual baby was going to go in them.

We went over the supplies: old towels, brand new towels (to wrap the newborn Pumpkin in), a plastic sheet (dollar store shower curtain!), postpartum pads and hand-me-down underwear (with Amy’s name embroidered on them!), as well as clothes for me to change into (I planned on being naked, much to everyone’s chagrin). Amy’s husband had carved us a beautiful bamboo knife with which to cut the umbilical cord, so we located that. And put plenty of kettles on the woodstove to boil. As the contractions were still far apart and not so intense (by bystander’s standards; they felt plenty intense to me!) the midwife said she’d check back in an hour or two, and to call her if the pace started to pick up.

Meanwhile, my friends were starting to gather, as well as my in-laws. Amy’s husband is a carpenter, and he came to finish laying the floor of our new bathroom. She tagged along with her just-turned-two-year-old, whom I’d seen be born and adored, but who ran at me for hugs I couldn’t return in my current state. My FIL had parked himself on the couch and was staring at me intently, probably wishing his future grandchild and I were safely in the hospital. Someone suggested going for a walk, so we headed outside. Another friend pulled up at that moment and was delighted to find that I was in labor. Everything was beginning to feel like a bit of a circus, so I decided to take things into my own hands.

I grabbed one friend and we headed out to wander around the fields near our house. I had to squat down every now and then when a contraction came, but women squatting in the fields is nothing unusual around here, so no one really noticed. My friend, let’s call her Micky, was encouraging and supportive, and almost as excited to meet Pumpkin as I was.

The walking worked and the contractions intensified, so I headed back inside to put on some music. I was into the soundtrack from the film “Oh, Brother” at the time and “I’ll Fly Away” was the perfect background music because I really did want to fly away. With each squeeze of my uterus, I lamented my fate, and the fate of all women. How could Amy have done this more than once? How had my grandmother done it NINE times? I couldn’t imagine ever repeating this experience on purpose.

The midwife returned just as I was tucking into a big bowl of noodles that my mother-in-law had brought. “Eating might slow down your labor,” she said. But, I was hungry, so I ate. I also wanted to get into the tub I’d borrowed from Amy, and put bergamot oil in it to ease my pains. “That will slow things down, too,” my dear midwife advised. But, I was miserable and getting discouraged, so I did it anyway. Ah, the pitfalls of ignorantly running your own show.

As the night wore on, the room became darker and darker. We had candles (I think?), wanting a mellow environment for our baby to enter the world. My friends lounged on the couch, nearly falling asleep at times, while my mother in law ripped towels into long strips to be used for wiping up the various fluids. In the pitch-black video of our daughter’s birth, you can hear the rrriiiiiippppppp of each strip in between my moans.

At last, the midwife said I was ten centimeters dilated and could start pushing. My husband had performed the strenuous demon dance of our neighborhood festival in the spring, and he called upon his extra dancing muscles to support me as I stood. The poor midwife, left to peer up at the baby’s progress in a nearly dark room, did her best to advise me, but I was ready for this baby to be out! I was tired of keeping my friends waiting, too. These women had families of their own and I felt bad for keeping them away from them. “Let’s get this show on the road,” I thought.

My efforts paid off and soon the baby was crowning. My friends woke up and began cheering, “You’re almost there, Molly!” and “We see Pumpkin’s head!”

It was 1:48 am, the day after her due date, when my own slippery maroon mass came into this world. Literally caught by the midwife, as I was still standing, she was laid on the birthing mat and began her mewling cry. It was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard, and my immediate response was, “Don’t cry, Pumpkin.” Then, joy of joys, the midwife announced, “It’s a girl!” My mother in law, especially, was overjoyed. Having had three boys of her own, the opportunity to be involved in raising a girl was something she had always dreamed about.

We had decided NOT to find out the baby’s sex and took most of the unsolicited predictions of our elderly neighbors with a grain of salt. At a checkup the week before her birth, however, the ob/gyn had let slip that she was a girl, but I pretended I didn’t understand and deliberately didn’t get my hopes up. I also didn’t tell anyone, just in case I really had misunderstood. In addition, I’d had a dream about a baby girl with cheeks like puddles pooling on my husband’s chest as we rode somewhere on a bus. This, too, I kept to myself, because I am extremely superstitious and didn’t want to jinx the possibility!

Side note on gender predicting superstitions: Throughout my pregnancy, various strangers and acquaintances had offered opinions on my baby’s sex. “Your belly is shaped like a torpedo, so that means it’s a boy.” “You look like a raccoon (translation: you have dark circles around your eyes), so it must be a daughter in there, stealing your beauty!” I enjoyed playing along with these silly speculations and took no offense whatsoever.

The midwife who caught our Pumpkin was a radically flexible professional who let me choose everything, despite the difficulties to her job my decisions posed. For example, standing to deliver in a dark room made it nearly impossible for her to see the baby’s head, and to help with the stretching of the perineum and so on. I ended up tearing a lot and having to be stapled back together, a pain more surprising and fierce than my 30 hours of labor. My midwife took it personally. Maybe she could have requested a light, or asked me to lie down, but she respected our birth plan to the extreme, and I will always be indebted to her for that.

For more birth stories to shock you, go to A Rural Saga of Birthing Babies in Japan, Part 3!
To return to Part 1 of this article, please click here.