active maas

The blog of thriller writer Robert Maas

Make mine a double

I like to think that I inherited a force of will. Both his parents are brooding, stubborn people, so I think my son has a will, too, even if it has yet to manifest itself as more than temper tantrums and biting other kids in the kindergarten.

There is, first, the doctor who tried to kill him. In, if I remember rightly, her 16th week of pregnancy, my Japanese wife and I began looking around for a hospital or natal clinic in Tokyo in which to give birth.

The doctor in one of the places we visited, a modern dedicated affair near Jimbocho, glanced at the two of us and declared that my wife would need an amniocentesis “just in case.”

He bullied her into taking the exam, despite it being risky, expensive, and unnecessary. When the results came back from America (since the clinic lacked the facilities to process the tests themselves, though not to issue invoices), the doctor told us that the child would be grossly deformed and should be aborted immediately. Of course, they could do that on the premises.

I got my wife out of there fast.

This was all, needless to say, merely racism. I know about Japanese racism only too well, having lived here long enough to get bored of it. Even my wife, who studied abroad and married a foreigner, will sometimes inform me that the Japanese people have a different body temperature to the rest of the world, though to her credit she’s never complained about my blood type.

The Japanese refer to children of mixed parentage as ‘half,’ which is a polite enough slur for this country. Somebody once retorted in the English language newspaper Japan Times that a better word would be ‘double.’ I absolutely agree. However, I have about as much hope of swaying opinion on that score as getting grown men to stop riding their bicycles on the sidewalk.

Still, at least we learned it would be a boy.

We eventually found the perfect place to give birth: St. Luke’s Hospital, just up from the fish market in Tsukiji, refused to give its patients epidurals (a Christian foible, I presume), but on the other hand it was modern, clean, state of the art, and international.

Japan still tried to snatch our child from us. In her 28th week, my wife and I visited a Shinto shrine dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of expectant mothers and their unborn children.

We prayed, we took away the sacred bandage you’re supposed to wrap around the pregnant belly, we did our part. We showed all necessary respect for those animist hordes. But they weren’t having any of it.

The very same evening, my wife went into premature labor. I rushed her to St. Luke’s, who laid her in a bed, put her on a harsh regime of tocolytic drugs, and forbade her from as much as sitting up in case that brought back the contractions. At 28 weeks, the boy would not be viable.

My wife spent two months lying immobile in that hospital bed, groggy from a constant drip of tocolytics and whatever other drugs they were using to damp down the contraindications.

By the end the nurses were running out of places to stick their needles in her. My poor wife’s arms were bruised black from shoulder to wrist. If they had such things as terminal junkies in Japan, that’s what they would look like.

It turned into a balancing act. The longer they kept my wife on these drugs, the more likely the boy would survive. But the health of the mother was degrading day by day.

Finally, in the 36th week, they decided our son would probably make it and experimentally withdrew the tocolytic. Within hours he came popping out, easy as you please, a month ahead of time but, as parents of premature children will tell you, that’s just an extra month of life. He got to see things a little early.

He spent a month in the NICU in St Luke’s, moved quickly out of the incubator, sailed through his jaundice, became lustily strong, and we took him home on the day he should have been born.

He is a healthy, normal, genetically perfect human boy, full of energy and life.

I have nothing but praise for St. Luke’s, due to the tremendous care they showed my wife, and of course to my wife for her endurance in the face of heartbreaking odds.

There are wonderful people in Japan, but you do need luck and perseverance to find them. Like many places, any romance you might have about the country is soon disabused out of you when you actually try to live here.

I know my son will face problems growing up in this country, due to the racism of other boys in school. Foreign friends with children have moved away just to avoid putting their ‘doubles’ through this thankless educational system. But my son’s feisty enough to punch the racists, and if that fails, his father is big enough to tackle their dads. It’s the dads that deserve it, after all, not the kids who were never taught anything better.

My own tolerance goes only so far. I have no Christian sense of forgiveness. In Japan, you’re always cremated, never buried, but there’s a ritual whereby your relatives take a cup of water and pour it on your gravestone in remembrance and respect.

One day, I tell my son sometimes, when he’s old enough and the bastard has died, he and I will visit a certain gravestone in Tokyo, and stand side by side to water it.

Cheer Up Sleepy Gene-S

Robert Maas put some of his experiences with childbirth in the thriller Cheer Up Sleepy Gene, available to buy at Amazon.


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