First Birthday

Yesterday I went to a former client’s baby’s first birthday.  This is the second time this year, and I can’t even begin to say how much I enjoy them.  This client found me when looking for a Japanese-speaking doula.  While I couldn’t express her birth options, or talk about medical procedures in Japanese, the important thing was that I could understand her when she expressed her hopes and fears.  This would be particularly useful later, during her birth, when she spoke only in her mother tongue (as women often do.  This once happened to me with a Palestinian couple, where I quickly learned to recognize the words “water,” “higher,” “lower,” and “enough.”).  She wrote her story in her own words for the (re)birthing blog, so I’ll let you read that there.  Yesterday, I found out that everyone remembers the end of that story a little differently…which is the way it should be.

I got to the party a little late and was greeted by Eri’s father.  He spoke in English, but I smiled inwardly because it was still a traditional and formal Japanese greeting.  Then he called Eri over and when she saw me she exclaimed from all the way across the room.  I heard her mother chime in and as Eri explained to her father who I was, he told me he had heard all about me and that he couldn’t thank me enough.  Her mother said that she thought of me often and would never forget me.  I was a little embarrassed and couldn’t remember the things you’re supposed to say during those situations in any language, but I was also so touched and grateful for their appreciation.  Doulas are often only in their clients’ lives for a brief moment and with birth in our culture the way it is, it’s easy to wonder if we’re making a difference at all.  I cherish the births, but I also love being asked to baby-sit, to be invited to first birthdays, to receive holiday cards and email updates.  It’s heart-warming to know that even if we only knew each other for a moment, the connection we share will last a lifetime.

Prior to watching a one year-old tear into a cupcake the size of his head, Stephen (Eri’s husband), explained that with the recent disaster in Japan, they had actually considered canceling the party.  They didn’t feel they could celebrate in the midst of such tragedy, when they were both so concerned about their family and friends.  In the end, they decided to celebrate, and instead of gifts, they asked for donations.  They wanted to show Kenta that even when things are bad, there are still things to celebrate, and also to cultivate in him a spirit to give when others are in need.  If you would like to donate to the American Cross Japan Relief Fund, you can do so here.

Later, I learned about a Japanese tradition that I had never heard of before – the baby mochi crawl (pretty sure this is not it’s traditional name).  一生 (isshou) means “one’s whole lifetime,” but I guess it’s also a unit of measurement.  So they place one “shou” (apparently roughly one kilo) of mochi onto the one year-old’s back and have them crawl a certain distance (one meter?) to demonstrate to them the burdens that one must carry throughout their lifetime.  Unfortunately they couldn’t find 1 kg of mochi – they could only find a 2 kg brick (~4 lbs), which was too heavy for Kenta to carry.  So they put it in a cart and had him pull it the one meter, demonstrating yet another important life lesson – sometimes the burdens you get are too heavy, and you need a little help.  =)

As I waited around for Muni, I felt myself tearing up (and not just over the prospect of riding Muni).  I’ve been crying a lot lately, which I know is a weird thing to say, both because it sounds alarming and because I’m not typically a cryer.  Sometimes they’re sad tears – for feelings of powerlessness, or grief over what I’m leaving behind.  But these were tears of joy and gratitude for everything that has been given to me, for the love of the people I know and have met in my life.

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