Alive Again

Yesterday, I didn’t even proofread the post before hitting publish (which I never do!). I was functioning but at an apparently low level. So I apologize if there was anything incoherent in there. 

Anyhow, today’s post won’t be long but I did want to say thank you to everyone who has been praying for us– the headache source was indeed epidural related and by the morning, I was unable to even sit for more than 30 seconds before the headache became absolutely unbearable. 

The doctor came, explained what a blood patch was to me and the success rate, had me sign papers in Japanese and viola, I was scheduled for one at 1pm, which could not come soon enough. 

The nurses, as always, were extremely kind to me. They really helped me during the process and the doctor talked to me during the procedure about the difference between American accents and that he has had trouble with British and especially Australian accents in the past. Apparently 1-2 Americans (or English-speaking women?) give birth here every year.

Anyway, PRAISE THE LORD, it worked (the back up plan was vague and scary), and I almost hugged him as he helped me down from the OR table (a place I didn’t really want to see again but now have been able to exit from with a sense of closure- no puns intended).  

Every staff member throughout the rest of the day stopped to chat with me and ask me about my condition and to be elated that I was better. I’m guessing they heard about my hot mess postpartum breakdown last night in front of a nurse and my family with my two year old getting in my face to ask, “mommy, what’s torn? What’s torn?”, which we understand to mean “what’s wrong?”.

So I’m alive again, and so, so happy to enjoy the simple pleasures of life again. Like moving my neck. 

So onto more interesting things:

-Also included in my room “gift bag”- I can’t believe I forgot- was a tiny little wooden box with gold kanji to keep the umbilical cord. Said box is now occupied but what I’m going to do with it, I have yet to figure out. 

-I know not all hospitals offer this here, but included in the hospital stay is one “relaxation time”. I was able to get mine after my headache was gone. It was basically a 30 minute-ish mini-massage and stretching of arm/chest muscles. All is supposed to help the mother recover and be relaxed to help with breastfeeding and all that. I was impressed that she did a massage pull down from skull to shoulder and at one spot I thought, wow that hurt. She stopped, pinpointed that exact spot and asked, “did it hurt here?” 

I’ve found myself asking “how did they know I was going to need…” “how did they know to come with such and such at this moment?” “Oh yeah, I’m gonna need one of those” multiple times during my stay. The Japanese are great at looking ahead and thinking through what you will need and providing it before you need to even ask (or in some cases, think about it). 

While it’s awesome to be on the receiving end, in every day relationships, it can be hard to reciprocate to such a degree because they are so good and reciprocation is always expected (though they’ll say “no, no”). For example, my prego neighbor took me to an appointment in her car a couple of weeks ago and we were going to do baby shopping afterward. I had Rosalyn with me and she had packed a bag of snacks and juice for Rosalyn to enjoy while waiting. I have more stories, but how do you get to be so thoughtful? 

-I get to control the temperature of my room. That is control, people. I think it’s a requirement that all American hospitals be like ice boxes (I understand cooler temperatures mean germs increase more slowly). But not mine! We are nice and toasty up in here. 

-I have a paper from the hospital certifying that baby was born here. This paper I will take to city hall to eventually receive the birth certificate. That’s a process I’ll describe later. But it’s so interesting that I have to go file for myself, it’s not something the hospital does for you here. Everyone has to go through this process. 

-I was handed my paper today telling about how much it would be to discharge from the hospital (to be paid in full on exit). We already paid a down payment to register and leaving will be more than I expected (I think due to the blood patch, but worth every yenny), but it’s really nice not to have a foreboding sense of doom at multiple, vague invoices to be later received asking for payment- a doom augmented by another language. I remember cringing I opened the mailbox. When I’m done here, I’m done. 

And we’ll, for the time being, I’m done here too. I’m going to catch some Zs before the next feeding. 

I’ll keep you posted if anything else interesting happens around here!


I thought I’d post a few pictures of the food and lounge, where I happen to be right now, enjoying a cup of coffee which I was able to locate yesterday. 

Recovery continues and the hospital has been extremely helpful. My only serious malady is the continued headaches. There was a bit of discussion as to whether they are related strictly to the out-of-whack neck or if it’s related to the epidural and it’s after effects. 

Nonetheless, when the nurses heard, they gave me bean heat packs to help with the sore muscles. And after asking 3 times or so for meds, the doctor finally gave me my own stash in my room. 

In other news, the thing that blew my mind yesterday was that they served créeme brûlée for the afternoon snack. Seriously? What places serves it in the first place? 

It was wonderful. 

I was able to have breakfast in the cafe this morning (lounge). It’s where breakfast is normally served but until today it’s been delivered to my room. Today there was a special treat apparently because one of the staff members who is an artist did pictures of the flowers associated with the birth days of our babies and what their meanings where. It was copied onto a paper placemat and we received the original on a 4×6 size postcard. You can kinda see what it looked like on the bottom left corner of the French toast picture above. 

Yep, that’s what I had for breakfast. 

Anyway, everyone here is very thoughtful and helpful. All details are thought out and what you could possibly need is so often provided before you could even think to ask for it. 

Again, the only thing I don’t quite get is the low, flat beds and how that works for a c-section momma but I suppose I’ve survived. 

Well they are getting to the afternoon snack time so I better beat them to my room. 

Wonder what it will be today?!?

Post Op Perspectives 

So we are on day 4 of the hospital stay. And yes, it has been an adventure. 

It makes sense to say so but today I feel my best. 

Thursday was the surgery with all the attending prep. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the Japanese are very sensitive to your “uncoveredness”…. anytime I’ve had to be changed into new clothes, they always arrange it all underneath a blanket or towel. On the OR they literally changed me from one outfit to another underneath a towel. Don’t even ask me how. I wondered though why they didn’t just have me change beforehand. But, well, this is their show. 

We will do it their way. 

Surgery is surgery and the first part was horrendous (let it be noted that I’m typically not the type of person to use such strong “negative ” words about experiences. So when you read them in this post, realize that I really mean them!). I felt like I couldn’t breathe and uncomfortable in every way imaginable. But then Vicente came in and held my hand and that was a great comfort. Of course, he looked like he would pass out himself since he had a full access view to everything going on.  

But the baby was born, and the pressure relieved off me and I practically slept through the rest of the surgery. 

I spent the night in the recovery room. Every hour or so, and they did checks on me. I was amazed at how much the majority of the nurses had memorized from my file. They knew my job, my husbands job, that I had an older daughter who was born in America. And many other small details that took me by surprise. 

Though I got to see the baby right after surgery, the nurses took care of her and I didn’t see her again until just before leaving the recovery room. Of course, laying flat on your back with multitudes of wires doesn’t really provide for the agility needed to take care of a newborn. I was pretty wiped out anyway and just slept as much as I could. 

Yesterday, the first full day after the surgery, was pretty awful. While I did get my baby back (which does in fact lower the suffering factor in most categories), i found the room’s accommodations difficult to adjust to fresh out of surgery. 

The bed, while very wide, was flat and difficult to get in an out of without the necessary use of the abdominal muscles. That was my biggest problem. Who wants to lay down and get back up a million times while taking care of a newborn and feeling like you’re being ripped in half each time you get up and down? Really, I just do not understand these arrangements. 

My other issue was also bed related. And this is probably more of a personal issue, but I am used to sleeping with about 3-4 pillows of the good feather type sort. I’ve had neck problems for the better part of my life and two flat pancake pillows (I had to ask for the second one) just hasn’t been doing it. This leads to migraine type headaches. 

Last night though, the nurses said they’d take care of the baby so I could rest. I definitely took advantage of that offer. I still had the issue of having to get up every couple of hours to visit the restroom, but finally- and I don’t know what changed- but around 4:30 or 5, I was able to get up pain free. 

This helped restore my general mood in ways I can’t even describe. Since then, recovery has been easier. I’ve also been relieved today of my IV and epidural, so my ever present luggage has disappeared and I am finally free! 

I’ve placed an order with my husband for two pillows from home (which I’m praying will take care of these neck and headache problems) and a chocolate bar, which cannot fail in being an excellent restorative. 

As of yesterday, I was completely against ever having another child again. Today, I’d have to give it some serious thought. But you can see the progress– and it’s significant. 

Well it’s time for baby to eat so I’d better be getting on. 

“The food is really good there…” 

I started to label this post “Giving Birth in Japan, part 1”, but then that gives the idea that there will be a part two, etc. And I’m not making any guarantees. 

I do want to document it though as much for myself as for anyone else who might be interested or who might give birth in Japan some day. 

I think this is my first post this year, much to my shame, therefore I’m not guaranteeing more while I’m here. Nonetheless, eventually I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the experience and getting foreign babies registered overseas. 

Though we had the option for VBAC, we went with a scheduled csection (most hospitals in Japan don’t offer VBAC it seems, ours does). Our reason has little to do with convenience or preference, but with the fact that VBAC is considerably more expensive than a csection, which happens to fall under regular health insurance. Giving birth naturally does not. Go figure 

A friend recommended this hospital once we moved to a different city and prefecture, around 16-18 weeks pregnant. In our previous city,I had been to a regular city hospital and a medical college hospital. The latter I was extremely unimpressed with. 

And I love this hospital- Matsuda Boshi Clinic. It’s clean, nice looking and the staff is friendly and helpful to the Nth degree. Whenever I’ve mentioned that I’m giving birth here (the which-hospital question is a common question wherever you go, it seems), I always get the answer, “Oh! I’ve heard the food is very good there!”

And so it is. One thing different than America is that the check you in about 24 hours or so before the csection. So, tonight I’m chillaxing here in my huge bed, watching Japanese game shows and writing this post. 

I received a nice bag upon arrival full of goodies– hospital gowns for pre-birth and after birth, the afterward undies, socks, a gift set hairbrush and toothbrush and random other things. Also, I have an iPad at my disposal (but not for taking home!) that I can watch YouTube on and a key to my room and drawers. 

Since arrival, I think I’ve been visited by a different staff member every 30-60 minutes, either for food or baby monitoring or looking at the mother-child handbook, discussing medication, and for pre-op preparations and notifications on what I will need to do. Every staff member asks me similar questions about my Japanese ability, though I think they discuss it at the nurses station. But they are kind to answer all my questions. I’m sure I take up more of their time than the average patient. 

The most amusing thing that happened today was that my actual doctor came in (great doctor- apparently he was so popular at his previous hospital that he opened his own clinic) and he stared for a few moments at my hair straightener (I had just taken a shower (in the general use shower room down the hall), and asked what it was. He wasn’t sure and so I explained the use to him and he’s like, oh I’ve heard of them but never seen one before. He left and I chuckled. 

The sole purpose of his visit though was to basically tell me to go to bed earlier than usual tonight. 

Aye, aye Captain. No problem there. I’ve had a cold/sinus infection going on for the last 5 or so days and between that and preparations for my husband and daughter to be at home without me for a week, I’m wiped out. 

[I miss them already…] 

I think I have one more visit tonight to do some baby monitoring and then I’m headed to bed, for my last full night of sleep for the foreseeable future. 

Tomorrow is bound to be an interesting day! Will be back when I have both time and energy… 

Indigenize

Yesterday [at the time of my writing] was our Christmas party.  It was an incredible amount of fun, planning and coordination (think 40 people, different types of activities and rearranging tables in a Japanese sized space).  There were moments of chaos and afterward I wanted to collapse on the ground.  Fortunately, I waited until I got home on my couch to completely pass out for 45 minutes or so.

We started talking about this party (in theory) in September.  We started putting it into form at the beginning of November.  And slowly but surely the plans came together in the last few weeks.

It came at the end of a study we’d been doing on prayer.  It was a goal to be praying for, reaching out, and had a prayer challenge at the end (which is still ongoing). It was also one of my first real involvements in working with the new church we’re now serving here in Japan.

One of the things we discussed amongst ourselves (my husband and I) when we were planning on moving to this church was that our goal was not to become the great leaders ourselves but to raise up leaders and to equip the people that we’re serving.  However, being in a small church and especially having serving as a full time job– it’s really easy to become the front leader in many things.

We’re also part of an organization called World Indigenous Missions.  Indigenous is a word that sometimes throws people– but it means native to that land (essentially that’s my definition).  WIM believes that the church established ought to be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating (runs and organizes itself; financially supports itself and does the outreach itself).  That’s not to say there’s no room for a national organization or denomination or anything like that– just that it ought to be a reflection of a mature, healthy church representing that culture and not the foreign culture of the missionary.  I think someone once said that a true indigenous church sometimes makes the foreign missionary uncomfortable with the way they do things and deal with them.

A church and a people that does these things must depend on the Lord– and not the missionary.  Though of course, advice and guidance can be given by the missionary.   There’s a progression in the relationship of the missionary with the believers, much as there is between a parent and children.  But I don’t want to get that much into that.

Our question and journey so far has been how to use these principles in an existing framework.  And that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong at all with the place that we’re serving, so please don’t interpret it that way– just how do we best serve and equip the people and the church, to bless and strengthen it and not usurp any place that ought to belong to the Japanese members of the church.

So, the Christmas party was one way that I could put some principles into practice. I am a natural admin kinda person (though you might not believe it right now with my prego brain)… and while we’d love to sponsor the party ourselves, we felt that it would be good for people to invest in it themselves (though we did everything to keep it on the cheaper side) and of course, the invites came from the people involved.

It was very tempting for me to take over the planning.  But I had a partner in it (having a partner- not always possible at the beginning- is a good way to help things be “indigenous”), and so I tried to always defer to her.  At times, people would come to me for decisions but I tried to always point them to the leader.  OF COURSE I had my own opinions.  When I had ideas or suggestions, I tried to always submit them to the leader in the form of a question, to avoid pressure.  When decisions or suggestions were decided on that weren’t what I expected or thought, I deferred to them.  And then I always asked, would you like me to do such and such or what can I help you with? Many times I had a good idea of what needed to be done, but my goal was not to take the initiative but to give leadership to the native leader. In fact, many times, my partner was willing to defer to me to lead a discussion or meeting but I always pushed it back on her.

We also looked at delegating responsibilities and asking for volunteers in areas and everyone really came together at the end.  We had WAY more guests than we expected (though I kept saying, this is a good problem!!) but they were able to share with people and connect with new moms and we have another low-key event next month that we’ve already invited all the other ladies to. There were moments of chaos, especially during the sharing of the Gospel, but we all noticed how, despite the kids, the moms were hanging on the words of my partner giving a wonderful Gospel explanation.  Decisions aren’t typically made in a moment in Japan, but we already have relationships with the people who came, so it’s a seed that can be continuously watered.

One of the sweetest moments (for me) was at the end when all the guests had gone.  We inadvertently ended up around one of the tables and we were saying wow, that was great and thanking everyone for their hard work– and all the ladies clapped in the cute Japanese way and smiled a victorious smile together.

Later, my partner sent me a message at night, “I am amazed at how God brought so many people to the party today!  I never thought it would be this much people. I had little faith. The Lord is teaching me in so many ways, and I am learning to trust in Him more. Thank you for all your help and support!  I am learning a lot from you!”

While me being in the forefront, doing everything and organizing and exhausting myself to pieces makes for better newsletter pictures and stories and perhaps adds to my self-importance, this is far more effective long-term.  It’s far more healthy for their growth and I look forward to seeing what God does through this.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I suppose the same could be said in church planting and serving overseas.  Plan it all for the people and do all the work for them and great– you’ve had an event.  But teach them to do it for themselves, work alongside them and prompt them when you can while encouraging them to depend on the Lord, and you’ve taught them something that will surely lead to more.

 

Oh the Holidays

This year Christmas falls on a Sunday (so does New Years, for that matter).  I love the idea of going to church on Christmas morning, and I also really enjoy when I get to go to church on my birthday (not for the congrats, I’m not that vain).

This year though, contrary to every American feeling, we are going to the church Christmas potluck dinner and party on December 25th (and service too in the morning).

That’s because Christmas here is not a family holiday.  New Years is the family holiday. Christmas is for couples and for friends.

Christmas is never the same when you’re not with your family, but it’s even weirder when you’re in a place where it’s an adopted foreign custom.

It’s strange though– there are beautiful lights (called “Illumination”) here and there, Santas and Christmas trees and the decorated gift boxes all throughout stores.  It feels like America– often even Christmas music playing… I’ve always thought it ironic that there’s beautiful Christian music with the Gospel message playing throughout malls– what an odd feeling to hear the most precious salvation message being broadcast throughout the store in English while no understanding, no comprehension is making it close to the ears and hearts of the hearers.

Somewhere along the lines, by means of some ingenious marketing ploy, the Japanese honestly think that we celebrate Christmas by eating KFC and “Christmas cakes”.  You literally have to order these things weeks in advance. They are astounded when I tell them that we’d never do that.  And that most stores are closed on Christmas Day.

On the other hand, during New Years, most places are closed here, and especially small businesses are closed for the first 5 or so days of the year. It used to be that ATMs were all closed too, but I’m pretty sure you can use them at convenience marts now– those stay open. It’s a family time– many people go back to their home towns and eat their traditional New Years meal of sushi and hot mochi.  They typically hang out and relax and most people will visit the local (or famous) temples to buy their charms and trinkets and pray.  I want to say 2-3 million people will pass through the famous Meiji Jingu Shrine (not too far from us) during the first few days of the year.

The other notable thing on New Years is that people typically send “Nengajo”, New Years postcards.  You send them to all you know with a greeting/wish for the new year and say “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”– please have favor on me this year as well. (You actually say that to every person you meet for the first time in the new year- so you get lots of practice). They are delivered on New Years Day, which to me is very interesting.  The only exception would be if you had a death in your family that year, in which case you’d send a postcard either a month early or late (I don’t remember which) to explain why you’re not sending it on New Years.

The holidays on the exterior feel normal to me.  But when it comes down to the actual week, it feels backwards.  Christmas is like a normal day– a party day if you want or a good excuse to have a romantic date, while New Years is not the big party night like it is in America (though they do seem to have typical New Years Eve tv shows).

But as Christmas is an excellent opportunity to talk about the real meaning of Christmas and to invite people to things, that’s why we’ll be going to a potluck instead of sitting down to a special family dinner and hot cocoa. It goes sorely against my cultural grain, but if it’s really all about Jesus anyway, I suppose we should take the opportunity to tell people about what’s important to Him– His great gift of salvation that was set into motion on Christmas morn.  What better message of joy to mankind than actually sharing that message with them?

The Mountain

Imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful field full of flowers (your preference), a lovely partly cloudy day with a gentle breeze and whispering trees in the distance.  Your tour guide leads you down an unmarked path and as you go conversing, you realize that you’re slowly making a giant circle.  Soon, you will be approaching the spot you just stood in to take the scenic selfie a few moments ago.

Welcome to the cultural dynamic that I’ll call the invisible mountain.

Note that to your tour guide, this mountain is very real, very steep and full of rocks. But to you, it’s just a field a beautiful flowers.

When maneuvering through a different culture, you will eventually and inevitably  recognize that this seemingly peaceful terrain has mountains scattered here and there and… well… everywhere.

So what do you do? Well, step one (which would be good to do before making the trip in the first place) is reading up on cultural dynamics and communication patterns of the people you are with.  That way, you’ll have a general layout of the land.

The next tip (and I’m no expert, but this is my tip from having run into a few mountains myself) is to not approach things directly.

DON’T DO IT.

Stop.  Don’t be too anxious to give your opinions or views of the matter.  Listen. Listen some more. Watch intensely. Pay attention to what’s said, the way it’s said and don’t forget about what wasn’t said.

Wait, that sounds complicated. I told you– the mountain is invisible.

One of the things that makes this more challenging is that when you are in another language, you automatically say things more directly no matter what.  Things are more cut and dry in the first few chapters you’re mastering while language learning.  It’s only later that you realize people typically have many ways to say the same thing and they get longer and longer.  Or as we used to say about Spanish, they get more and more flowery.

And when you’ve mastered the flower decor, you’re getting a good handle on the language.

I’ll give you a simple example that everyone learns on page 1:

Where’s the bathroom?

We all learn that phrase.  But let’s face it, if you as an American went into a store and just walked up and asked, “Where’s the bathroom”, it would come across as rather blunt.  Wouldn’t you usually say, “Excuse me, but is there a restroom here?” “Excuse me, where is the ladies’ room??

It’s just a little more finessed.  Not a big difference, but it’s there.

In English, Spanish and Japanese (that’s all I can speak for), there is more than one way to say bathroom or restroom, but you don’t learn that until later.

One mountain we’re still learning to identify here is honne and tatemae. Honne is one’s true feelings while tatemae is, gently put, pretense. Here you do not usually express your true feelings; you say what you need to say to keep the harmony (and there are other layers of factors to consider here too).

There was one time where I was in a group situation in which a foreigner called out a Japanese, expressing their true feelings about a situation.  Let me tell you, it immediately got awkward. For my part, I froze.  I waited.  Many awkward pauses as only the foreigner spoke. I listened as eventually all the other Japanese all diplomatically expressed their understanding of both parts of the situation without ever really addressing the core issue. Meanwhile, we had a foreigner who was convinced they were right and valid in their point, while the Japanese was mortified.

Afterward, another in the group came up to me, gave an exhausted sigh and said, “Wow, that conversation was way too frank.”

Whether the foreigner was justified in their perspective on the situation, it should not have been handled in the way that it was.

There’s a Japanese expression which always gets some titters from Americans. It’s called “kooki yomenai” people, or KY for short. But it refers to people who can’t read the air. And that’s important here.

Someone this summer, as we were discussing the difficulty in knowing how to interpret these situations, asked us, “So, what do you do?”

Good question, we answered. Indeed.

We’re still learning.  But opening your mouth is not the first solution (even if you are correct and have the answer).  You watch for the minutest of expressions (I’m talking about a momentary twitch, a change of sheen of the eye, a thoughtful pause), you listen.  You pay attention to what’s not said and what’s hinted at. Ask open-ended questions, not hinting at what you think or how you interpret things.  That’s one of my preferred mistakes: to explain what I understood and my perspective and then ask if I was correct/etc.

Not the smartest approach.

Eventually the mountain will begin to take shape in your mind. And someday… someday, you might end up with a map of your own making of the terrain.