Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Day I Became a Dad

Well I suppose that was nine months ago but until it happens then it hasn't happened. Just as until the fat lady sings or the whistle blows the game is not won or lost.

It's a good place to start time. Having a baby in Japan is confusing for foreigners. I've recently concluded that the real religion of the Japanese is not Buddhism or Shinto but Japaneseness. As with all national identities it is partly social engineering and partly true cultural reflection. One of the tenants of Japaneseness is that they recognize only their own version of time. Not only do they count the years since their pathetic Emperor ascended to the throne instead of counting the years since the birth of that pathetic Jew, Jesus; but even more objectionably they insist a baby gestates and is born in 10 months and 10 days. When I flatly denied this to one of my classes they seemed quite put out. After all an attack on one’s religion is a serious matter.

It took the smartest (and youngest) of the old ladies to realize that 10 months and 10 days refers to a lunar calendar. Despite all of the women in the class being a mother only one seemed to recall that they did not carry their children in their womb for 10 months and 10 days.

My wife carried our off-spring for 9 months and one week. She was overdue.

They don't like this in Japan. Babies and trains should be on time. Only big cheese bosses are allowed to be late.

So my wife was given her orders and told to check into the hospital and start induction.

Now I remember induction from my university days. That was the first week when we didn't have any lectures so we could dedicate our time to spending our grants down the bar and hopefully get some baby making practice in.

No such luck for my wife. She was rigged up to a drip and told off for encouraging tardiness.

That was Thursday. My wife went to hospital and I stayed in our flat and continued my job. There was no hurry. The doctor had said induction would last three days so I settled back into bachelor life and discontinued the regimen of washing clothes every day.

On Friday morning I taught my last class of the week and duly checked my emails at 10.20am before going back to bed. I had just put down my book and was anticipating an excellently long snooze when I got a phone call from my mother-in-law. When was I going to the hospital? Later I replied. The doctor said the induction would go on for 3 days so I figured that there was nothing wrong with a bit of sleep since nothing was happening. She phoned off. Having my pre-sleep routine interrupted I went back to my book for a further 10 minutes to get back in the mood. Again as Morpheus gently whispered into my ear to follow the blasted phone went again. It was my snotty eyed juku boss wanting to know what hours I had worked that month. For Pete's sake! I curtly told her I would get back to her.

In the end I got 2 or 3 hours decent kip before the phone went again. It was my wife. It seemed that she and the doctors had decided that the induction wasn't going as planned and that now the big C-section was planned to commence at 4.30pm. Fuck. I put the phone down and immediately the mother-in-law phoned and told me to get to the hospital.

I had a hasty coffee packed a bag full of records and my computer and cycled to the station.

For some reason the downstairs reception area of the hospital was chocka with women. Every bench was taken. Standing room only. None of them looked pregnant. If they needed any help with that I could donate some seed, I thought. Proven product after all.

I pushed through the crowd and found the door to the hospital.

My wife was in a narrow room. There was a Winnie the Pooh clock on the wall, a tiny TV in the corner and a dirty patch on the floor where a mat had escaped its mooring. Mrs. Trippy Traveller was in good spirits despite being hooked up to a machine that constantly made a thumping noise which competed with some obligatory ersatz ‘calming music’ coming from a CD player on the dirty floor. She told me that the doctor had decided to cut her open to extract our daughter. She seemed to think it was a good idea since the drugs weren’t working. Was this immunity due to our former frequent forays into recreational altered states of consciousness I wondered. Next door we could hear the clink of metal as they prepared to operate.

We chatted for a while. Her mother turned up and then it was time. They were late. It turned out that the vast gaggle of women downstairs was delaying kick off.

I kissed my wife and told her it would all be all right.

We waited in the corridor. We saw the doctor in his green surgical kit walk past us. He bowed and went into the operation room.

I had no idea how long it was going to take. The sofa was comfortable and so I pulled out my book thinking perhaps I could do a few pages of Anathem and drift off. Just as I was getting heavy-eyed my mother-in-law got all excited. Sporadic cries came from the operating room. I could hear my wife's voice. Thank God. Both my girls were alive.

We waited an anxious 15 minutes before a nurse bought out the baby for me to hold. It was covered in wrinkles. Its tiny hands and feet were ashen grey. The face looked like an old man. I was reminded of Gollum. Oh well. Emotion welled up in me. My precious.

The doctor came out and tarried briefly to receive our thanks. Then he miraculously came out again and told us that the baby’s leg had got tangled in the umbilical cord. Odd. Why hadn’t he mentioned that 30 seconds ago when we met him in the corridor?

The nurse took the baby away from me and placed it in a plastic box in a room with a big viewing window. There were two other babies in the room. One was born just a few hours before. It had hairs on its back and constantly oscillated between crying and sleeping. I stepped over and looked at the fruit of my loins. Slightly less ashen now but she looked so unhappy. It struck me that being born is the first big injustice done upon us. Torn from warmth, nourishment and protection and forced into a world of plastic. I could see her arms flailing, looking for the walls of the womb. This was the start of psychology: the beginning of the hang ups, disappointments and confusion.

It was also the start of my mother-in-law and her obsession with the baby's weight. 3,294 grams (they can't say 3.3 kg in Japan for some reason) was written on a card placed above the Perspex box. My mother-in-law was on her phone immediately texting and phoning her friends to tell them the baby’s weight. Had they held some type of raffle in secret?

Eventually we were allowed to see the mother. She was fine only she couldn't feel her feet. They moved her into a better room that was 27 degrees Celsius. On the table was a knobbly bit of bloodied umbilical cord. A fat nurse in white crocks came and gave my smiling wife some more drugs and changed the water looking drip for a piss coloured drip solution.

My wife and I chatted about our ugly baby and about the fact that two doctors had performed the operation. They were twins. That explained the corridor encounters. I thought it was a good trippy touch too.

The mother-in-law reappeared with her husband. He had just got back from work. His broad grin showed his ill-fitting dentures. My mother-in-law went off on the topic of the weight. Claiming her first was much heavier. I thought 3 kg was a fair effort - nearly twice as heavy as hairy back boy in the plastic box next to my Sophia. It seemed 3kg was nothing. She must have squeezed out a mountain.

And so it continued in the car to the local bar, in the bar to the locals and on the mobile phone to the other witches in the neighbourhood: the story of how much heavier her baby had been. If I hadn't known my brother-in-law (a superlative consumer and average PE teacher) I might have formed the impression that she had given birth to a black hole.

I ate too much katsu curry, drank two beers and phoned a couple of mates. They weren’t in to going out on the lash so I ended up staying at home and writing this.

Goodnight, Sophia. And may flights of angels protect you from exaggeration.

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