Wednesday, May 16, 2012


My friend at the Japanese sweet shop just had a new grandchild. This morning we were talking about the differences in customs for new mothers these days. Though it has been 30 years since my first baby, I thought I'd reminisce today (before it gets too far in the past that I forget!)

With our first baby, I still didn't speak much Japanese and I remember visiting the doctor and having things explained to me and not really understanding much at all. And doctor offices then (and now!) often have an inner waiting room with other patients waiting just on the other side of the curtains. I distinctly remember thinking

"Everyone in this room is understanding this doctor's conversation with me, but ME!"

With one baby I remember the doctor consulting his calendar and announcing that I would be wrapped up in a long piece of gauze (in those days they didn't use girdles) on Dog's Day because dogs give birth easily. It didn't seem to be a very medically sound reason for choosing this day (and let me tell you, that gauze wrap was uncomfortable!) but that was what the custom was.

With our first baby we wanted Tetsu be present at birth but we were the very first couple to make such a request and the doctor thought it a very odd American custom. No such thing as Lamaze classes so Tetsu, me and the hospital rolled with the punches. Young, first baby, not much Japanese language. I REALLY needed Tetsu there. With our other two children at different hospitals, for some reason they wouldn't let Tetsu attend the births.

"That's okay. I saw it once."

"Let me tell you, fella! It ain't for your observation!"

I managed the others alone.

In those days, though Western hospitals were letting mothers go home the day after having a baby, in Japan mothers were still being kept a week. I remember people being so surprised when Princess Diana was televised leaving a hospital with Prince William the day after he was born. My sweet shop friend's daughter-in-law came home after 5 days so things are changing in Japan too.

"They kick you out of the hospital these days because there are not enough beds to go around. Poor girl..."

And new Japanese mothers will go home to their own parents' house for a month to let their mother take care of them and the new baby. I've always thought it a shame that the father gets very little bonding time with his new baby that first month. Sometimes he will only visit the hospital after the baby is born and then a month later go to pick up his wife and baby.

At the very least, the new mother's mother will come to stay for a month to do all the laundry and cook and wash dishes etc. In the old days, it was supposed to be bad luck and bad for the health for a new mother to touch water. A new mother wasn't even supposed to bathe for a month. YUCK! You can be sure I threw out all those Japanese customs right away. Tetsu mother came and helped for a week or so but we had our own tiffs about how this new baby was going to be cared for (does the baby sleep face down or face up?) and Tetsu's mother gave up quickly, went home and let me make my own American mistakes...

I think I'll go upstairs and think about making a baby quilt for my friend's grandchild.

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