Some husbands are very supportive and hands-on during their wife’s delivery. Not mine. Mine sits back in the shadows taking notes so he can remind me later of how much I cried. He is very loving in that way (hopefully you can read the sarcasm). You may recall his “smell log” from our first child’s birth. Well, he did not disappoint with his thorough account of the events leading up to our son’s birth in the local Japanese hospital.
We arrive at the hospital several miles out of town in a run down area. It is Saturday night yet there are few signs of the local population, save those hurrying back to their homes. We wander out of the gravel parking lot down the street until we see a dimly lit alleyway, now to select the correct door. Unable to read kanji we continue checking each door until one pulls open. With it comes the yellow glow of old GE light bulbs and the smell of Florida. Not the salt sea air of spring break but the musky oder of a retirement barely keeping the tenant afloat. There are racks of shoes to the left just inside the entryway, someone has been using the facility.
We step hesitantly, quietly, inching down the hall, the only sounds our own footsteps. The exit signs tell us we’ve gone the wrong way as we explore the first floor. A set of stairs eventually appears, but was it there the first time we passed down the corridor? As we climb up the stairwell there is a faint unidentifiable sound ahead. Cresting the top we look left, then right. The second floor much like the first appeared vacant of any life, only the old cream tile floors, walls of peeling paper and medical equipment long abandoned. We continued our search past the check-in hub, which was devoid of life. Then the noise again, this time closer. As I turned to confront it I only catch a glimpse of a white spectre scurry, or did it float? across the hall from one doorway to another. It was too quick to make out its true form. I rushed to follow, hoping for answers to this mysterious haven. But as I made the turn into the room with the strange bed, giant clock with its gliding hands, and foreign machines I am confronted head on with the creature, “Morris!” it exclaimed bursting from the shadows. Her…Her! accent, was thick…
She was no ghoul, but the on call nurse. Her actions were quick and severe. I was quickly backed into a corner, isolated, as she dashed off, quickly returning with a larger male. Still in disbelief at our discovery I am unable to protest as they tear away my wife to strap her to that strange bed. It is obvious the medical equipment still functions, though archaic it may be. While they focus on her I am able to visually investigate my surroundings. Every item in the room unmistakably has a place, though there are so many instruments in such a small space, that the look is very chaotic. The most disturbing, however, are the three metal pots, each about the size of a human head, with lids that have been locked shut.
After strapping my wife to the bed they leave and shut the door. It is very hot in here and we brought no water and there does not appear to be a tap in our confines. I don’t understand why one of us should be restrained, yet I am free to move about. How would they react if they found I had loosed her bonds? I don’t know how many others are here with us, either as “guests” or those who are holding us here. All I can hear now is the female milling about outside of our room, there has been no indication of the male for sometime. What do they want from us? And why are they heating our room? It is so hot!
They must have gotten what they wanted, they are moving us to another space. The first room must have been some sort of processing facility. This place looks more permanent, there is a bed, and an unusual looking stool. Neither are comfortable, however, when I lie on the bed exhaustion takes hold.
My wife wakes me frantically, they will begin the extraction on her now. We groggily move back to the original room, they’ve brought more of their people. All of them wearing pink smocks circa 1960s America, and masks to hide their identities, though I wonder how many have made it out the exit and back to safety. They are frantically chittering away like a swarm of insects working on a hive, strapping my wife back down to the table.
After half an hour of prodding and examining my wife their elder appeared before us. At this point, through tears and gasps for breath she begs him to end her pain no matter the cost. With a grin he speaks in his guttural language, in what I can only assume was a pleasant surprise that his subject broke so quickly. The chittering from the elder’s subordinates picks up in a deafening crescendo as three of the pink clad females grab my wife by the arms and legs. They contorted her until her spine was exposed and vulnerable. The elder then brought out an immense needle, plunging menacingly as her pain intensifies. I don’t know if that’s when they planted the darkness in her, but it certainly was the beginning of our hell to come.
We had quite the experience. It would be generous to call the place I delivered at a hospital. It was as empty and sweltering hot as my husband described. The OB has been in practice there for nearly 50 years and it definitely showed. Their methods were effective, but they were also very crude.
One of the main reasons I chose this particular place was that they offered an epidural, which is not common in Japan. I am not ashamed to admit that I do not handle pain well. Once I was taken to the delivery room the 200-year old doctor arrived to administer the epidural. He had lots of trouble placing the line, which resulted in several painful punctures along my spine and tenderness around the site for several weeks. It was all for nothing because the dosage was so low it had zero effect on me.
That birth was the most painful experience of my entire life. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. I was crying, kicking, and begging for it to be over. I thought at one point that I might actually die, especially when the attendant had clearly also had enough and gave me a quick episiotomy, then went elbow-deep inside of me to pull the baby out. There was one nurse beside me the whole time whose only job was to shush me when I got too loud. And not in a kind or nurturing way either. I couldn’t believe it. We were absolutely the only people in this “hospital,” why did I have to be quiet? First, they botch giving me an epidural and then they tell me I’m being too loud as I writhe in pain. WTF?
I have since learned that the Japanese do not believe in pain-relieving drugs during childbirth, or after for that matter. This explains the doctor’s inexperience administering epidurals. It is believed that a mother’s ability to endure the pain demonstrates her strength and responsibility and not experiencing pain hinders the bond between mother and child. Japanese women are also expected to experience labor and birth quietly, explaining why the nurse kept trying to silence me. I have a whole new respect for these women, but I absolutely do not believe that my inability to suffer silently has any bearing on my capabilities as a mother.
From the day I announced that I was pregnant, my husband announced he would not be taking part in any of the delivery. He agreed to drop me off at the hospital and come back in three days to pick me up if I could not find a ride home on my own. This is what he told EVERYONE for 9 months!!! Sometimes he would say he’d wait for me to bring him his heir in the waiting room while smoking cigars, but then I’d remind him we were having a girl and of the hospital’s “no smoking” policy and he’d go back to his original plan of dropping me off…or calling an Uber for me. Don’t start sending me hate mail just yet. Of course this was all in jest.
Before our baby’s arrival we took a Baby Care Basics class in which we learned how to swaddle, diaper, bathe, and care for our baby. My dear husband (DH) thought this was unnecessary, but I wanted to be fully prepared. They gave us a brief rundown of what would happen in the hospital as soon as the baby was born so we would know what to expect. I don’t remember everything the lady said exactly, mainly, because I got hung up when she said our baby may come out with feathers and a cottage cheese-like substance all over her. I will get to that later, but eww, gross! DH was already weary about being in the delivery room (read above) and now he was convinced that there would be bad smells and did not want to be a part of it. I assured him there was nothing to worry about, but he told me he’d keep a “smell log” while we were at the hospital, nonetheless, to prove me wrong. Like any good marriage, we spend the majority of our time trying to prove each other wrong. The following is my account of the labor and delivery with my husband’s “smell log” mixed in. I do not remember a single smell, but then again the memory of all the pain is slipping by me more and more every day.
We arrived at the hospital around 7AM on Saturday, January 16, 2016. Contractions started the night before and progressed into the morning. We waited until they were 5 minutes apart just like the doctor told me. I was so excited when we got to the hospital; I was sure the baby would be here shortly. The nurse did a quick check to see how far a long I was. I was only 1 cm! What??? Bummer! They did not send me home though, luckily, because I was leaking amniotic fluid and the risk of infection is higher. Whew! Now it is only a matter of time.
Once I was admitted and settled into my room the nurse asked about my birth plan. I let her know that I was going to do this drug free. My dear friend Claire did it without an epidural so I figured I could too. I’m a brave girl! Plus I read a blog about how you can make childbirth easier by doing 300 squats a day. I did about 300 squats total over the last 3 years so I was basically ready. I mainly had a fear that if I did want the epidural it would not work well on me since I am a redhead and I have had trouble with analgesics in the past. It is a redhead thing, don’t laugh at me. If you don’t believe me you can look it up. It is science based I promise. Anyways, I was going to do this drug free. The nurse wrote it on the board and my husband’s only job was to keep me from asking for an epidural.
I was not in extreme pain at first (DH will tell you I don’t know how a pain scale works), but I was definitely uncomfortable and the contractions were getting worse each hour. After 4 hours, the doctor arrived to check on me. Still 1 cm!!! OH MY GOD, WE WILL BE HERE ALL WEEKEND AT THIS RATE! The doctor was probably thinking the same thing because he started me on Pitocin to speed up the process. Within minutes of receiving the Pitocin my contractions increased tenfold. “¡Ay, caramba!” It took everything I had in me to not immediately start crying. I used the breathing techniques the nurse showed me, which helped a little, but not really. I tried to get into a different position and lay on my side. As I rolled in the bed, I heard a loud “pop” and felt the rush of my water breaking. I made my husband bring me a towel and help me to the bathroom to get cleaned up. He came over to the bed with a pad of paper and pen like a goddamn reporter. This is where his “smell log” began.
“12:11PM Jan 16th 2016: Leaked on towel, smells like chicken and wild rice soup from Panera, mixed with warm cleaning products”
“12:26PM Jan 16th 2016: Wife jams towel between her legs and covers her mouth and nose, presumably to stop the smell from nauseating her”
At this point (1 hour after Pitocin) the contractions were so painful that I honestly thought I was going to pass out. I was crying like a baby and begging my husband to get the nurse. I was positive I was fully dilated and about to give birth…I just had to be with that kind of pain. Right?!?!
“1:15PM Jan 16th 2016: Wife taps out and asks for drugs. Thinks baby is coming out, only 2 cms dilated”
“1:25PM Jan 16th 2016: Doctor stifles laughter when he hears how far along wife is when she asks for epidural”
DH made sure to steal my phone during all of this and text Claire the good news (that I gave up and asked for an epidural). He is so sweet!
“2:19PM Jan 16th 2016: Moaning has subsided while desire for Subway sandwich grow. Still unsure how pain scale works.”
The epidural was the best decision I could have made. It calmed me down and I was able to rest while I became more dilated. There is no way I would have had the strength to push if I had not received the epidural.
“4:10PM Jan 16th 2016: Fully dilated. Thinks she’s done something to move birth along. Misguided”
“5:05PM Jan 16th 2016: Pushing starts. Room begins to smell of a mix of sweat and vaginal mucus. Urine is sprayed everywhere when securing catheter bag.”
They have to take you off the epidural once you are ready to deliver so you can feel when to push. Luckily the effects of the epidural linger for a bit so it is not so bad at first. If you are lucky your baby will slide right out and you won’t have to push for very long. If you are unlucky, you may have to push for several hours. I was unlucky. After pushing with every contraction for 2.5 hours, I was toast and the baby’s head was still not out. The Doc ended up using a vacuum to get her head out. I didn’t care what he used; I just wanted it to be over.
As soon as the head came out, to my husband’s surprise, the Doc told him to pull her out. It was one of the greatest moments watching my husband raise our daughter up over my legs, but also horrifically frightening. I was not expecting her to look the way she did. There was nothing cute about her. She looked like an alien and was covered in slime. Remember that cheese-like substance I mentioned in the beginning? (It is called vernix and it is completely normal; it protects the baby’s skin while in the amniotic fluid.)
They laid her on me and I cried, not from joy, but from disappointment. I was afraid I gave my baby this awful cone head because I could not push her out on my own. Babies’ heads are cone shaped at birth due to passing through the birth canal, but my daughter’s head was 100x worse because of the vacuum. You could see where the suction cup was on her head!! I was freaking out! I asked the doctor repeatedly if her head would ever be normal. He definitely laughed out loud at me and told me she’d look more normal in a few hours. I, of course, did not believe him. I was so worried and upset. One of the nurses saw that I was getting upset over this and threw a cap over her head and quickly cleaned her up for me. Her head did go down after a while and is a completely normal shape now. She also is no longer slimey, except when she drools. She is a beautiful baby and I love every piece of her. I think she is one of the cutest babies ever, but then again I am biased.
As for my husband’s “smell log,” I think we can all agree it is a bunch of BS. There were no significant or memorable smells to ward off fathers from delivery rooms. The nurses and hospital staff do a fantastic job of caring for you and cleaning up anything you may expel. Smells are definitely not something I’d recommend you concern yourself with. I’d be more worried about the alien being that will emerge from your loins. Prepare yourself for that. They don’t show you that in the movies.