By the time the third trimester came around, we were pretty much already set. We had bought the majority of the “baby stuff” in my second trimester, during the New Year sales, which I’d had mixed feelings about. My mother didn’t buy baby things for me until much closer to her due date, so it felt almost like I was jinxing things by buying everything “too soon”, but… well, anything could theoretically happen at any time, and since we had to buy things anyway it made sense to buy them at a discount and while I still had the energy to choose what we got!
Next, I did a ton of cooking, freezing things in portions so that we wouldn’t have to bother with cooking in the evenings when my husband got home from work. My work contracts were beginning to end and no new ones were being offered (unsurprisingly) so by the time my third trimester started I was down to working only twice a week. This was fortunate, as I had been increasingly concerned about this new coronavirus spreading in Japan following the Chinese New Year (not to mention the trouble on the Diamond Princess) and was reluctant to be out and about much. I was wearing a mask and using hand sanitiser as part of my pregnancy precautions anyway, which was a blessing since it meant we already had a supply of masks and sanitiser at home before the panic-buying wave hit!
But unsurprisingly, this new virus continued to spread, and things continued to change.
When I went for my 29-week checkup on 3rd March, I walked into the hospital building and no sooner had I taken my shoes off and sprayed my hands with sanitiser than the nurse at the door said, “Oh, Mrs. H, you’re due mid-May? Your husband won’t be able to be with you at the birth, then.”
I heard what she said but it didn’t properly sink in. “What?”
“It’s been decided as of today,” she said, seemingly oblivious to my horror. “No fathers at any more scans or meetings with the midwife, and unless things improve he won’t be allowed in when you give birth, either.”
I put my shoes in the shoe rack and took a pair of hospital slippers to put on instead. “Oh. I see.”
She was a nice nurse, but I truly think she was wrong to have dropped that bombshell on me in the way she did. I more or less fell apart after that. My dream had been for my parents to be in Japan, and for (at the very least) my mum and my husband to be there when the baby was born. I’d actually said to the midwife at a previous appointment what is the point of making a birth plan when it won’t happen anyway? and now, although the birth plan was written, I felt bitterly justified. Nothing was going to go as planned. I was going to be totally alone. My husband wasn’t even going to be in the building, let alone in the delivery room. He wasn’t going to meet his baby for the first week of her life.
So that shock took a while to process, to say the least. I think I cried about it at least once a day for about a month. I kept thinking, praying, “I hope things will improve by mid-May,” but we all know how that went. Physically, I was dealing with the third trimester as one generally does, with mild nausea, horrendous heartburn (I drank SO MUCH MILK, as it was the only thing that helped) and awful pain in my ribs from where the baby was constantly beating me up from the inside. I had stabbing shoulder pain that prevented me lying down (from lying on the same side every night for months, as I was advised to do) so I spent every night sitting up in bed, leaning against pillows in an attempt to get some sleep, and trying not to cry as I imagined having to go through giving birth in a foreign country alone.
Over the next few weeks we started doing odds and ends that we wanted to get out of the way before Golden Week: having my free dental checkup, taking the dog to the vet’s for his annual health check, going to the antenatal class at the – no, wait, that one was cancelled. Everything was beginning to be either postponed or cancelled as the medical side of Japan started to struggle. My hospital was increasingly strict with its anti-covid measures, and fair enough. The only problem (for me) was that I had been a consistently warm person throughout my whole pregnancy, and relying solely on temperature checks had its downfalls.
On April 21st, at 36 weeks and 1 day, I made my way to the hospital for my routine checkup. The scans had been every month until now; from the next week they would be every week as we approached my due date. The weather was still fairly cool, but as I waddled down the street from the station I began to regret wearing a heat-tech camisole under my top. I was running a bit late, and got to the hospital just in time.
The thermometer read 37.6 degrees. Anything over 37.5 counted as a fever. But I didn’t have a fever! I felt fine! The entrance to the hospital had a portable heater in front of the chairs; the nurse invited me to sit down to see if that would help me cool off a little. “What, sit by the heater to cool down?” I said. I began to get flustered. I am not sick! Just warm! And wearing the wrong clothes! The more flustered I got, the warmer I became. The thermometer reading went up to 37.8 degrees. The nurse called my doctor out, and he stood in the doorway to talk to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Come again tomorrow, at 11:30am. I’m not usually here on Wednesdays but I’ll come in for you.”
I was so embarrassed and angry. I suddenly had so many questions! What were they going to do if I “had a fever” the next day too? Would they just continue to refuse to give me checkups four weeks before my due date? What about on the day I was due to give birth? Would they just turn me away then, too? Did they even have a plan? And was it okay that they asked me to take public transport to and from town two days in a row if they really thought I was infectious?
So I went back home, fumed a bit on twitter, and ranted to my husband. He took the morning off the next day so that he could drive me to the hospital instead of risking me getting too warm walking from the train station, and I took a photo of my (still warm by Japanese standards but not feverish!) thermometer reading before leaving the house. Everything went smoothly. I had a nonstress test which was uncomfortable but fine. The ultrasound showed no negative change and predicted the baby to be 2500g.
At this checkup, however, my doctor said to me that there were some potential health issues. My blood type is Rh-negative, and as an IVF patient I was at higher risk of significant blood loss during and after delivery. “Anything more than 500ml is a lot, and once you go over one litre we have to start thinking about blood transfusions,” he said. “And then after delivery, IVF patients have a higher likelihood of having uterine atony. That can be pretty serious, too.
“Only right now, because of covid-19, there is basically no blood being donated. Even A-type, Rh-positive blood (the most common blood type in Japan) is hard to get. Big hospitals get priority, and they are struggling. We have almost nothing. If you end up needing a blood transfusion we could be in trouble,” he said. “So I recommend that we try to avoid that by scheduling you in for a c-section.”
Naturally, I couldn’t easily make that decision right there and then without discussing it with my husband and so we pencilled in a tentative c-section date – “It has to be during week 38, because if you spontaneously go into labour we could end up needing to do an emergency caesarian,” he explained. So we tentatively decided upon 8th May for the c-section, but we scheduled another consultation for three days later on Saturday, April 25th, to give my final answer and to clarify the details.
Only, the baby didn’t quite get that memo.