Camera-Shy Foetuses

We went to the clinic again yesterday, for the regular checkup on Yudetamago’s progress. There don’t seem to be any problems; she’s getting bigger at an appropriate speed, and Yuriko seems to be doing well. The longest discussion was over the sorts of exercise that Yuriko should do, which boiled down to “it’s difficult”. She should definitely being doing some, because she will need the stamina when it comes to giving birth, but picking a good type and a good amount may be a bit harder. For the moment, we’ll probably stick with walking, as we both like doing that, and it’s not the sort of thing that can cause damage. She’s also going to carefully-monitored maternity exercises at the local sports centre.

We also got some more ultrasound pictures. Yudetamago is now too big to fit on the screen, so we have to look at one bit at a time. She also appears to be camera shy; she has her arms crossed in front of her face, which means that we can’t get good 3D pictures. So we have to make do with the 2D ones of her skeleton. Mind you, the doctor did manage to get one that shows a bit of her face, which is nice. But I guess we will have to wait until she’s born to see what she really looks like.

Baby News

I’ve got a bit behind on the absolutely fascinating news concerning our incipient child. People with no interest in the entirely normal process of pregnancy can ignore this article.

So, we went to the clinic on Monday, and there’s almost no news. Which is good, because it means that Yudetamago is developing normally. She’s now head down, as she should be, and right on the centre of the growth curve for her age, which is also good. She’s too big to fit in the ultrasound window now, and she was hiding her face again, so we don’t have a 3D picture. It’s early to be camera shy, but maybe we won’t be putting her on the stage.

Last time we went to the clinic, she was in breech presentation. One of Yuriko’s Japanese books suggests that an effective way to deal with this is to talk to the baby and tell her that her head needs to be at the bottom. So I did that. And now her head is at the bottom. Clearly, this works. (In English, as well as Japanese.)

We’ve also had our local-government-provided parenting classes, which provided rather more useful information. It has been mainly the basic stuff: brushing teeth, basic nutrition, home environment, the process of birth. There were partners at all the sessions (even in Japan, they don’t call them “husbands” any more, although they did call them “fathers” at the last one), maybe three, for thirty mothers. The average age of the mothers was about 30, and most had lived in Miyamae-ku for less than three years; that is, apparently, normal.

For the last session, the fathers were encouraged to attend, because there were special things set up for them.

One was the pregnancy experience; they had jackets with breasts and stomach attached, filled with stuff that made them weigh eight kilograms. The idea is that the man tries it on, and finds out how hard it is for the woman to move around. When I put it on it provoked comments like “Yes, well, this is designed for Japanese people, we really need a bigger one for you”, especially after I did a sit up in it. Yes, the exercises are working. I have no doubt I will be very grateful for that post-birth, when I actually will get to carry the baby.

Talking of which, the other experience was giving the baby a bath. They had a proper simulation doll, the right weight, floppy in the right places, and anatomically accurate, for us to practise on. I think I did OK; I didn’t drown the doll or anything. Of course, the real baby might decide to move by herself, something that wasn’t a real possibility.

I think about half the mothers got their partners to come along, and there was a bit at the end where the mothers consulted together, and so did the fathers. I asked if anyone was taking paternity leave, and it seems not. I probably will; being self-employed I can take it whenever I want, as long as I don’t mind not being paid. And I’ll give myself my job back afterwards… However, this still seems to be something that hasn’t really caught on in Japan.

Overall, the lessons were useful, and we’ve made contact with half a dozen other families in the local area, which should be good. For now, I just have to keep supporting Yuriko.

Yudetamago’s Sex

We went to the ob/gyn clinic again today. It was really, really busy; we had to wait for about two hours to see the doctor. (Japanese clinics generally don’t do appointments.) When we did see him, it was very briefly, as I suspect he was trying to get through everyone quickly. We did get some more pictures of Yudetamago, and the doctor did a check to see what sex the baby is.

If you don’t want to know that Yudetamago is probably a girl, why are you reading a blog entry with this title?

Actually, things could still change. One of Yuriko’s friends was told that the baby was a boy at about this stage, and then, three months later, that she was actually a girl. I imagine they’re waiting to see what actually gets born. Nevertheless, I will start preparing myself for having a daughter.

Busy, busy, busy…

So, I’m a bit busy at the moment, largely due to having a touch under 30,000 words to write in the next ten days. Other than that, I think I’m fine, but I’m getting a bit behind on email, especially the non-urgent kind.

Lots has happened while I’ve been busy, which is one of the reasons I still have 30,000 words to do; we been back to the clinic and seen our baby again, dancing to the ultrasound. (So the 3D photo is a bit blurry, because Yudetamago just wouldn’t sit still.) One of my US cousins has been to visit. Yuriko’s art fair happened. Yuriko’s brother came to visit, for the art fair. Teaching has still been going on. And did I mention the tens of thousands of words in not very long at all?

So a short blog entry before I go back to work. (Actually, 5,000 words written today, so I won’t be doing any more writing today. I might be burned out tomorrow as it is. And I don’t have time to be burned out.)

What’s Going on in There?

Continuing my program of reading about babies and children, we have a book about the neurological development of the foetus and child up to the age of about five. This was very interesting; lots of neuroscience I knew in outline, put into a definite context.

The aim of the book is to provide the background necessary to understand why it’s best for parents to do certain things for their children. Some of it concerns how to avoid things going wrong: folic acid in pregnancy (did Yuriko have enough of that? IwillnotpanicIwillnotpanicIwillnotpanic), avoiding cigarette smoke (don’t Yuriko’s co-workers smoke? IwillnotpanicIwillnotpanicIwillnotpanic), and making sure that your baby is neither blind nor deaf early on. Early impairment in either sense can lead to the relevant parts of the brain not getting properly wired up, which means that the child will never be able to use them properly, even if the physical problem is resolved later. In the case of the ears, this can mean losing the ability to use language, even sign language. (This is the book with the quote about auditory systems not developing in a vacuum, by the way.) Other bits concern things that you should do; those are much more positive to read about.

Some bits are quite obvious. Babies, apparently, need loving parents who talk to them. Who would have thought it? Other bits are really not obvious at all. For example, there is pretty good evidence that spending ten minutes a day spinning round in a swivel chair while holding your baby can bring the age at which it walks forward by a couple of months. (You spin slowly, and hold the baby in different positions.) As an added bonus, babies, apparently, love this. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not something that would have instinctively occurred to me. Similarly, while babies should sleep on their backs, to avoid SIDS, it’s a good idea to put them on their fronts while they are awake, because that lets them exercise their arms and heads. And some are somewhat surprising: baby walkers retard a baby’s own walking, for example. (Baby walkers are those seats with wheels that let babies move around by pushing with their legs.) The best guess is that it makes them lazy.

While much of the book concerns the various subsystems of the brain, from vision to language, the final three chapters concern intelligence. Apparently, about 50% of the variation in intelligence is genetic, and the other half due to environmental factors. (That fits with most of the numbers I’ve seen elsewhere, as well.) So, what can parents do to encourage their children’s intelligence?

This is another bit that isn’t terribly surprising. Teaching calculus to three-year-olds is not, apparently, much use. On the other hand, playing with them, and encouraging them to do things that use their brains, is.

One thing that struck me was the extremely close similarity between the parenting styles that seem to produce the happiest and brightest children, and what I think of as a good teaching style. Parents need to be responsive to the child, so that they always respond to the child as an individual. They should be as positive as possible, concentrating on what is good rather than criticising and correcting. And they should encourage the child to reach high standards. In fact, when you correct for subject matter, the two seem to be exactly the same. I’ve never had to teach anyone table manners, but teaching philosophy and English both work that way.

Finally, there was one comment which I will find extremely useful. The book says that parents should keep up their reading, in front of their children. This encourages children to read, and that has a massive positive effect on their intellectual development. So now I have the perfect excuse. “But honey, I am raising our child. I’m providing a good example, just like the book said.”

Growing Up with Two Languages

Since learning that Yuriko is pregnant, I have been reading books about child rearing. Obviously, it’s true that there’s a lot of stuff you can’t learn from books, or indeed from any source other than personal experience, but there is still quite a lot that you can learn from reading. So, recently I read Growing Up with Two Languages, the topic of which should be clear from the title. Yuriko and I both want to raise Yudetamago speaking both English and Japanese, for several reasons. The most important is making sure that our child can communicate with my parents; since we anticipate being in Japan for at least the next few years, learning Japanese should not be a problem.

This is the second book I’ve read on this topic, and so far both agree that One Parent – One Language is a good way to go. Indeed, they both agree that parents should talk to their children in their native language, so that the parent can be fully comfortable when explaining things. So we’re going to do that.

This book put a strong emphasis on the need to provide substantial input in both languages. In other words, I have to spend lots of time talking to our child, reading stories, and singing lullabies. Oh, the burden! It also emphasises the work involved; children might be very good at learning languages, but learning two is still harder than learning one. Thus, it is, apparently, very common for the languages to be at different levels of competence. In particular, the majority language (Japanese, in this case) tends to be stronger than the minority language (which will be English). Finding other children who speak the minority language is recommended, because a monolingual playgroup is a good context for learning to use the language like a child. I’ll have to look into that; fortunately, English speakers are not unheard of around Tokyo.

Actually, in a lot of ways it looks like we have almost the ideal combination. The minority language (English) has a very high status in the majority culture. That is, almost all Japanese people want to be able to speak English. The ease with which I can sell my services as an English teacher is evidence for this, but the use of English in adverts also reveals it. No-one is going to suggest that it is bad for our child to learn English, and it’s quite likely that some parents will want to get English lessons for their child through ours. Materials in the minority language are easily available, and other minority language speakers live in the local area.

One thing that this book emphasised was the importance of having two cultures as well as two languages. Visits to countries where the minority language is the sole or main language are highly recommended. Thus, it looks like we might have to plan for somewhat extended visits to the grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Fortunately, the grandparents have not been indicating that this would be a serious problem. Obviously, that only becomes necessary when the child can talk, so we do have a bit of time to work out details.

This book avoided the term “bilingual”, due to lack of clarity over its meaning. By the standards that are sometimes applied, a large number of people do not even count as monolingual: they cannot converse fluently about any arbitrary subject in their native language. On the other hand, on other definitions anyone who can say “hello” and “goodbye” in a foreign language counts. I count on just about all definitions, but I don’t sound like a Japanese native. (Yet.) Still, I think it’s a useful shorthand.

Overall, this was a very useful book. It made the process sound rather more work than the last one I read, and it will probably be even more work than that. On the other hand, it also made it sound very definitely worth doing. So we’ll just have to try our best.

Mother-Child Health Record Book

The Mother-Child Health Record Book is a small book issued to all pregnant women by the Japanese government. The actual records go in the first half, which is set by the national government, while the second half, written by the local government, contains additional useful information for parents-to-be. The book covers the time from becoming pregnancy until the child starts elementary school at six, and has been part of the Japanese system for years; Yuriko’s mother had one for her, for example. I suspect that the content has changed, however.

It tells the mother when she should go to see the doctor during pregnancy, and when the child should have check-ups afterwards. It also contains a list of questions about the child’s development, which includes questions to check for hearing and visual problems early on, something I gather from one of the books I read is very important. There are graphs for recording the child’s height, weight, and head size, showing the mid range and with notes about how far outside the normal range the child needs to be before you start worrying. It also covers vaccinations, and dentistry.

The second half includes basic advice on raising a child: breastfeeding is best, the father should be involved, discipline should not involve hitting, friends are good. It seems pretty uncontroversial stuff, and generally supportive of families with two involved parents. It does, however, seem to assume that situation, which tells us something about the social situation in Japan. Basically, it’s probably still reasonable to assume that children will be raised in a two-parent family here, although I’m not sure how long that will remain true.

The book is issued by the local government when the woman goes to tell them that she’s pregnant. At least in Kawasaki, it also comes with a stack of other literature, which I haven’t read yet (although Yuriko has). This includes information about the government financial assistance for mothers. All the obstetric clinics, I believe, tell women to get their record books very early, because it includes vouchers for some free examinations.

I think this is a brilliant idea. It gets the necessary basic information into the hands of every mother, and I think most, if not all, women read it. According to Yuriko, when she looks in maternity sections of shops, there are lots of cloth covers available for the book; it seems to be a fairly important part of child-bearing culture here. I don’t know whether anywhere else does something similar, but if they don’t, I think they probably should.

After all, children don’t otherwise come with a manual.

More Baby Pictures

So, one of things I couldn’t write about while my access to my blog was broken was our visit to the Ob/Gyn clinic for a check-up on Saturday. I just got to sit there and nod and smile, but Yuriko seems to appreciate me doing that.

We had ultrasound scans done again. The first was a standard 2D ultrasound, but then the doctor did a 3D ultrasound scan. 2D scans are all very well, but they are fuzzy patches of white on a black field. With the aid of the doctor, it is not too hard to work out which bit is which. On the other hand, if the doctor said “This is a radar image of the surface of Titan. Look, you can see the methane lakes”, I might believe him. (“Why is your ultrasound machine connected to Cassini?” would probably come to mind as a question, however.)

The 3D ultrasound scan, however, looks like a baby. It really is a baby picture. We can see Yudetamago’s arms, legs, head, and see how they are positioned. It’s quite remarkable, and looks a lot like the pictures in Watch Me Grow, the book that my Mum bought us. Except, of course, that this is our baby. Yudetamago is not a very distinct individual yet, but by next time we might well be able to see the face properly. (That also depends on the relative positions of baby and camera, however.)

Yudetamago, by the way, is our nickname for the baby. “Yu” is the first character of Yuriko’s name, “de” (the “e” is pronounced) is the first character of mine, and “tamago” means “egg”. “Yudetamago” is also the Japanese for “boiled egg”.

Anyway, the check-up and blood test did not turn up any problems, so we’ll be going back in about a month for the next routine check-up. In the meantime, I’m reading more books about child-rearing.

Watch Me Grow!

My Mum sent us this book as a present, so that we could follow along with the baby’s development. It’s really good, because it isn’t a technical discussion of what goes on and the sorts of problems there might be. Instead, it’s basically a collection of 3D ultrasound pictures of various babies, at various stages from the very beginning to the verge of birth.

The pictures are great, because they really look like pictures, as opposed to the rather fuzzy grey blobs that you get from 2D ultrasound. Obviously, pictures of our baby are even better, but these images have given me, at least, a fairly definite feeling for the process. Seeing the images goes beyond just knowing what happens when; I can imagine what our baby probably looks like right now, which means that the whole thing feels a lot more real.

Actually, the book was very good in conjunction with the 2D pictures of our baby. From the 2D picture, it was easy to work out which page was appropriate, and thus get a better idea of what the foetus looks like overall. Some movement is, apparently, possible at that stage, so I probably did see our baby move its arm on the screen.

So, thank you Mum for the book. It’s great.