There are two very special little boys in my life, Andrew and Ayumu, but I have yet to meet either one of them. Andrew, my first grandchild, was born in Canada on May 1st and I knew that I wouldn’t meet him until my year in Japan is over. Ayumu, on the other hand, was born here in Japan on June 14th, just in time to make his father the newest and possibly the proudest Daddy in church on Father’s Day morning.
I went to church this past Sunday hoping that my friend, Seiko, and her wee son might be there. It was then that I began to learn about the differences between giving birth in Canada and in Japan.
My daughter, Melaina, gave birth to Andrew at 4:21 in the morning and took him home around noon the following day. Because he was her first baby, she was required to stay in the hospital for his first 24 hours. Had he not been her first, she would probably have gone home later the day that he was born. Japanese women are absolutely astonished to learn this. Here, the mother and baby stay in the hospital for about a week.
Andrew was born on a Thursday and was in church that Sunday morning, hence my expectation that I might see Ayumu this past Sunday. He was, after all, eight days old by that time. It was then that I learned that after leaving the hospital, the Japanese mother retires, often to the home of her parents, where she spends the next couple of weeks resting in bed while family members care for the baby. She doesn’t usually go anywhere for the first month of her baby’s life. Wow! Personally, I think that sending new mothers and babies home within the first 48 hours is too hasty but a month of going nowhere! I’d have gone absolutely mad!
Even though he arrived two weeks before his due date, Andrew was a robust 8 pounds 1/2 ounce at birth. Japanese babies are only measured in grams but if I’ve done my math correctly, Ayumu, who arrived a week after his due date, weighed about 6 pounds 11 ounces. That’s considered an average birth weight here. Japanese mothers are encouraged not to gain much weight during pregnancy and low birth weights are preferred.
The naming of babies is another interesting cultural difference. Japanese babies are given only one name so Ayumu is Ayumu, plain and simple. Andrew, on the other hand, has three given names. He is Andrew David Richard. Like our oldest son, his middle names were given in honour of his two grandfathers. The Japanese find this custom very peculiar. The meaning of the Chinese characters used to spell a baby’s name are very important here. Ayumu’s name means “a walk with God”. How wonderful! I find this especially interesting because when Seiko and I talked about names before she and her husband, Atsuo, had chosen one for their son, I told her that though the meaning of names doesn’t have much significance to most North Americans, Janina, Matthew, Nathan and Melaina’s middle name, Jean, all mean “gift of God”.
When I finally do meet Ayumu, I’ll have the chance to use my newest Japanese word, kawai. Sounding almost like Hawaii except beginning with a k, it means cute. As I proudly showed off photos of Andrew, as all good grandmas do, I heard the word over and over again. It didn’t take long to figure out what it meant!