Friday, June 29, 2012

Dad passes/ Mayra visits

Dad passes/ Mayra visits
Last week was fits of crying then laughing, as my dad's dying coincided with the visit from Mayra Calvette's project, Birth Around theWorld.  Mayra came to Saito and Imoto Birth Houses on June 19th, 2012.  The day before, my mom called to say that my dad was finally giving in to the cancer that he has fought bravely and incredibly, head held high, for 6 years.  I knew it could happen while I was here, but I was hoping it wouldn't.  Lukas and I had decided we should go home.  To say goodbye, to be with my family.  

After crying and talking, and with the tender words of two of my friends from home, including: "he chose who he wanted to have with him when he died," we decided to stay.   

When I did Morioka-san's post-partum 4 day visit in the morning, we were leaving. 
When Mayra came in the afternoon, we were staying. 

Morioka-san and her little man.  Morioka-san was born at home with an old midwife.  She birthed so beautifully.  This is her second son.
Mayra started her interview at Imoto's.
That night, the 19th, a typhoon was brewing.  Imoto-san is bringing her plants in.
In the early wind and rain, this man delivered sushi on his bike.

The evening Mayra arrived, thanks to Saito-san, we toasted my dad with a special Japanese toast to the dying.  "Kambai!!!"  Saito-san said, "only a typhoon has strong enough winds to carry your dad over here!!!" she exclaimed.  And so it was.  We all enjoyed the following light meal... while the winds howled, and we wondered, seriously, if the roof might blow off. 

Lukas- always happy to see beauty

Hmmm... what should we say...?
The great discussion: Saito-san and Imoto-san; Kaneko-san ("the boss") has their backs

I cried A LOT, translated til late 2 nights in a row, saw the world through Mayra's eyes, and got special Q & A time as the midwives sat down to Mayra's Interviews.

Labor Demo

It really was one of the most poignant moments of my life.  I thought of my dad passing as I held my 3rd new baby laying, so much like an invalid dying person, in my arms- soft and dependent and utterly precious.  It was quite a beautiful, life-filled moment.  
Infant Massage at Imoto Birth House

I collapsed for an evening, rested, and got back up again, Ricker-style, Japanese-style, to do it again the next day.  

Saito-san has been a mother-friend-mentor through this whole process.  The night before he passed, she encouraged me, even though there was more work to be done: "Go home!  You must want to call to your dad and tell him to come be with you!"  And so I did.  He passed the next morning, and the winds had wiped the place clean.  I walked up the hill to the birth house, not yet knowing he had died, with a feeling of peace and freedom and such happiness in the clear air.  When I found out he was gone, there was a moment of elation. 

I am surrounded and inspired, at this moment by powerful, committed, caring women (*and 2 charming gentlemen and a few lovely babies and their mamas) who make my life immensely rich and warm.  

Ancient Hot Spring Path

Ancient Hot Spring Path
I have nightmares, literally I do, where I am in Japan, but I can't get to the hot spring.  One of my big points of this trip was to enter the "perfect" hot spring.  The one I found almost perfectly fit my dreams.  It was absolutely hidden, among trees and moss.  The structures looked abandoned and disused.  Shrouded by mountains and without any signage.  But I was so hoping they just might be what I thought they could be that I ventured into them...

We had wandered off the highway because I was looking for an excuse to stop driving and I spotted an almost-hidden mountain shrine entrance. 

To Lukas' left are the baths.  The shrine entrance is in front of him.
Shrine entrance
(Airalia, if you're reading this:  there were gnome-homes there.  I've found them.  They're there and though I didn't actually see any gnomes, I could feel them watching us, giggling and jiggling and hiding and making cute little gnome-homes.)

The ancient roadhouse visible from the gnome homes  

We spoke with an elderly man, who claimed to be the oldest person in the hood.  (At eighty?  Come on!)  He said this place was a shrine sacred to travellers from who-knows-where to Kamakura, which you all remember was highlighted in a previous blog.  In addition to being in my blog, and encouraging homoerotic shrine-carrying, Kamakura was the capital of Japan for a couple hundred years.  So the road to Kamakura was well-worn and important.  As you'll see by the following photo of Lukas on the ancient path:
Andrea, these photos were taken for you.
I know many of you thought this was going to be a blog about birth in Japan... Well, we're getting there.  It's been "the lightest month they've ever had," at Saito Birth House.  In ten years.  But it turned out to be abso-smurfly perfect for Lukas and I.  For so many reasons... including having time to get to know the midwives and their practices and... (next blog)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Midwife Model of Care: Saito Birth House

Mama holding her new babyJapan birth center birth house japan saito birth house
Immediate Post-Partum

Grandpa holding baby grandson
One hour after birth with Midwife Ryutaki and the Thai Curry I made frantically for everyone just one minute before the mom arrived.  Baby came 10 minutes after arrival.

Special post-birth sashimi
I was lucky enough to be part of this woman's life for a few moments, and to catch her quickly-emerging baby.  She did not tear, she did not push, thanks to her hu-hu-hu breathing as she panted her baby out.  The midwives encircled her, 4 or 6 of them, puffing, chanting, hu-hu-hu, gently reminding her to breathe her baby down and out.  It was pure magic.  To witness her efforts and the baby's spontaneous emergence.  To feel the seemingly enormous roundness of the baby's head against my palms, to protect the mom as the shoulders emerged, to "catch" the soft, wet bundle from her body and hand it to her- pure magic.
Mama with her 2 girls, brand new baby boy, and special sashimi

with mama and midwife Yoshimoto at Saito Birth House- my first catch here
Japanese Birth Houses are different from American Birth Centers, in that Moms and Babies stay for 4-5 days after birth.  This allows the moms (often having subsequent babies) a chance to rest, have the cooking done for them, have breastfeeding support, and supportive people to hold the baby when she needs sleep or a bath.  It is a very cozy feeling.  This mama was surprised as she was the only Mama in the house for her stay.  Last time she birthed at Saito Birth House, there were many other mamas to keep her company.  She enjoyed the comraderie.  She said having me, kayti, around this time was special for her, and helped her feel she was not lonely at all.  I felt really blessed to have this woman be my first mama to look after in Japan.
Her baby was pretty great too.

Midwife Model of Care: Imoto Birth House

39 week visit at Imoto Birth House

positions practice for labor and birth

5 day home visit       
Baby weight scale
Baby weight scale in traditional carrying cloth
39 week visit includes a lot of paperwork

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kamakura Festival

Goshō Jinja Reisai (五所神社例祭?) at Goshō Jinja: The faithful carry a portable shrine ( a mikoshi) on Zaimokuza's streets. At about 3:00 PM the mikoshi is carried into the sea at Zaimokuza Beach.

We arrived at Kamakura Station and a photographer was taking a photo of a black and white poster.  On the poster, large shrines were floating in the waves of the sea.  It looked very old, and I assumed it was a museum exhibition.  I was very interested, but a museum wasn't possible.  Our day's exploits were about seeing this charming beach city.

We visited the Dai Butsu En (Large Buddha) and HaseDera Temple, and worked our way down the touristique streets to the sea. 

The day was beautiful, sunny, warm- the only day without rain in the last 2 weeks.  The beach was perfect, our feet were sore, we immersed them in the sands and warm waters.

Around 2pm, hungry and tired, we stumbled on this little cafe just off the beach.  Lukas had, of course, been craving his coffee, and I, my bread, and here it was.  The best coffee we've ever tasted and possibly the tastiest bread.  Cost was very high.  But they had a sign posted which, I think, said, "The quality is high so please don't question our prices."  We enjoyed it thoroughly as a respite: a moment of shade, beach breezes and perfect taste.  A handsome moment for a handsome couple on vacation in a little beach town.  Oh, the good sweet life.

And then something happened. 

People in "happi" and "tabi" (summer festival wear) began coming down the street. 

A portable shrine decked out in samurai regalia and florescent pink flower garlands, carrying drum-pounding pre-teens, passed us. 

Drunken men wearing sumo-type thongs trickled by.

Two men came from the beach wearing nothing but seaweed.  Crews of old men photographers gathered beside us.  Asked to take our photo. 
We crunched our bread and sipped our coffee, starting to wonder what was happening.  As the drums continued to pound out a rhythm, over the next half hour, large shrines carried by 40 men and women heaving and chanting, chanting and heaving, pulled and oriented by large thick rope-pullers, passed us by.  What kind of luck, to see a festival pass us by. 

We were so happy we laughed, taking our pictures along now with dozens of other onlookers.    And just after the last of 3 shrines passed us by, and just as our last crunches of tasty bread were eaten and sweet strong coffee was drunk, I realized what we were about to miss...

The shrines were headed for the ocean.

Out of the Sea
After the Sea
As these kindly police officers told us, the townspeople take the gods from the temple to the sea once a year, to let them bathe in the sea. 

What struck me most profoundly is this:  It took many neighborhood teams taking turns, each turn of 40 or 50 men and women, to carry these heavy, sacred, old and profusely decorated shrines down to the sea and back.  I was brought to tears by the community effort it took.  It took many many people, all working together, huffing and puffing.  And laughing and really goofing it off and drinking sake and beer.  They must do it this way to get all these people excited and doing this, together, year after year after year.

And as I watched 2 shrine carriers fall in the crush of the waves and wood, disappearing into the ocean, I gasped.  I scanned the water searching for them.  I wondered if they would return from the sea.