Aug 4, 2011

Earthquakes in Japan - Are you prepared?

It has been 5 months since the March 11 earthquake, and people may be tending to forget about preparing for the possibility of another one (I am one of these people!). There is still potential for another major earthquake to occur– we will never know when it will actually happen, so it is important to be prepared just in case - and being pregnant makes these preparations all the more important!

Here are some links on preparing your Earthquake Emergency Kit:
Earthquake Survival Manual

Embassy websites also have good information on how to prepare for an earthquake:

American Embassy advice

Australian Embassy advice

British Embassy advice:

Other points to consider
Other than preparing an earthquake emergency kit, here are some other things you may like to consider:

- After the earthquake on 11th March, phones were congested in Tokyo, but internet/ emails were still possible. So for me, I couldn't call my husband or my family back home, but in the hours walking home after the earthquake we were able to keep in touch through sending emails from our mobile phones (Facebook is also an option). We copied all our family members on each email, and just kept clicking "reply all" when we sent an update. This was the best way to keep in touch at the time, and helped my family back home to keep calm as well as they followed our progress. The one problem I had was my mobile ran out of battery -  it is a good idea to include a mobile phone battery charger in your emergency kit just in case internet is still available (buy a battery-operated charger, as electricity may not be available). 

- If both phone lines and the internet are down, how will you contact your partner? If you are heavily pregnant, you will not be able to walk far, so you need to decide on a meeting point close to the house or your/ your partner’s workplace (usually the closest school yard or park will be the designated emergency evacuation point for your neighbourhood). Always make a few contingency plans - you may be out shopping for example, and have difficulty walking home. It's good to send your partner a message about what your plans are for the day, so you'll know in general each other’s whereabouts.

- How far is your hospital from home? Could you walk there if all the trains have stopped and there are no taxis available? Remember, if there is a large earthquake, it is likely that all the ambulances will be busy and may not be able to pick you up. Determine the best way to walk to the nearest hospital, print-out a map with detailed directions and store in your emergency kit.

- What if your partner is away on a business trip? Do you have a friend or work colleague living close-by who you could reach? Talk with your friends in advance - it is always good to have a chat just in case and think about alternatives. 

Real life stories from TPG members
Some of our TPG members actually experienced first hand giving birth after the shock of the earthquake on March 11. Today we would like to share two of these stories with you. I remember reading these stories for the first time on the way home from work, and the emotion and worry I felt for Sarah and Charlotte, as well as feeling inspired by their courage and the positive outcomes from their traumatic experiences. Thank you so much Sarah and Charlotte for sharing your birth stories with us!!

March 11 birth story from Sarah

Today we have two special March 11 birth stories to share with you from our TPG members.

Sarah sent her story to us just one month after the earthquake, and she has kindly allowed us to post it on the TPG website to share with you all. 

"Here is my birth story... it's a LONG ONE!!

It all started March 11, 2011...I was 34 weeks pregnant, huge, and pretty darn happy!
As you all know, March 11 was the day the BIG earthquake hit Japan... Well, due to the earthquake and the chaos of that day, my baby suffered too much stress and almost died inside me!

Immediately after the earthquakes hit- I started to have contractions and than started to bleed very badly a few hours later.

Thank goodness at the time, I was with my dear friend (she 'was' my bump buddy - also pregnant at 21 weeks - SHE WAS OK!!). During the earthquakes, we held each other and helped to calm each other down. We were extremely lucky to be together at that time and to be in a safe building!

Well, when I saw the blood, I had no idea why I was bleeding but knew something was terribly wrong. I immediately told my bump-buddy and she calmly let me know that I needed to get to a hospital ASAP.  We contacted the security officers in the building and they brought us to their office - they called for an ambulance, but we all knew it would take hours!  We waited there and tried numerous times to contact our husbands, but it was hit or miss because most cell phones didn't work that night… so we waited, and waited...

It took HOURS for the ambulance to arrive and figure out where to take us.  I am a patient at Seibo Hospital and that was the ONLY place they were willing to take me! I was very frustrated and angry because my bump-buddy was also feeling pain and we just wanted to be seen at the closest hospital ASAP!! We found out very quickly THAT WAS NOT AN OPTION! Even in that extreme situation, they would NOT take us to a closer hospital - I was going to Seibo and my friend was going to her hospital, there was no negotiating!

We had no choice but to say goodbye and wish each other good luck - we were put into separate ambulances and headed in opposite directions. They raced me all the way across Tokyo to get to Seibol! The ride was intense - my contractions were getting worse and with all the traffic it took over an hour to drive there. I was in so much pain- I kept passing out and was in shock, confusion and constant fear for the baby!!!

Once we got to Seibo, the Doctor checked me ASAP and told me that the baby was in great danger and was going to die!!!

We had an emergency c-section within the hour. The staff, nurses and Doctors ALL worked quickly. They were very kind to me and did anything they could to keep me calm. I begged for them to call and wait for my husband or at least wait until the morning, but they all insisted that it needed to be done ASAP!  My c-section was very scary and painful and lonely. Yet, thank goodness - moments before the surgery, I managed to talk to my husband from the bathroom for a few seconds - to let him know that I was having the baby!

On the operation table, I cried - I was in such shock that my husband wasn't going to be there!! I was in shock that I was having a c-section, in shock that I was all alone! The entire surgery was very scary...That was until I heard the first cry from my son!! At that exact moment my heart became so light and I was filled with such a rush of happiness, love and pride!  They let me hold him for about 1 min on the operation table. I touched his hand and he grabbed my two fingers, so tight! It was the best moment of my entire life, meeting my son for the first time. It was the truest love that I have ever felt!

He was born safe and sound at 34 week, on March 11, 2011 at 11: 22 pm, weight 2732 grams. Together the baby and me made it just fine, just in time!!

My poor sweet husband was upset that he missed our son’s arrival. The night of his birth, as all trains, roads and buses were a mess- my husband ran home from work, jumped on his bicycle and drove all the way across Tokyo - it took over 3 hours to arrive early the next morning to meet his son for the first time! I asked him later, if it was hard getting to the hospital and he told me it was nothing. He just kept smiling the whole way and couldn't wait to meet his baby!

Immediately after his birth the baby went inside an incubator and needed lots of medical attention around the clock. It was so hard not to be able to hold him, my heart was breaking every time I saw him with tubes and cords, and wires all over his tiny body. It was hard because all I could do was touch him through a small window with my fingers.... I talked to him all the time- I told him stories, and sang songs. I told him all sorts of stories. I just wanted him to know I was there with him and he was safe. Over the next few days I was able to hold him and started to breast-feed.

After a week at Seibo, I was released and went home, alone. The baby had to stay until he was 37 weeks old-which was 2 more weeks! It was a very hard 2 weeks on me emotionally and physically after having a c-section and only a week to recover. I had to travel everyday to Seibo, which is pretty far from my house - almost 2 hours by buses and trains….but I did it everyday to feed him with great happiness and pride!!!!! I was so happy, I WAS A MOMMY!!!

We named our son Keigo Siem Yamaguchi and he is such a fighter! I know, he will grow strong and become a good man with a warm heart!  He is such a gift from heaven, a survivor from all this chaos, death and disaster.

Everyday I kiss my little baby and tell him that I am so lucky to have him!

I am still not feeling 100% recovered from the surgery yet, but I'm sure over time it will get better! One other thing that has made me smile throughout this past month is the love and support that I have felt from my friends here locally, from work, through facebook, TMG, TPG and my friends back home in the states.  Thanks ALL for the love!!

the yamaguchi family!"

Thank you so much Sarah for sharing your birth story with TPG. We wish you and your husband and baby Keigo health, safety and happiness!! 

March 11 birth story from Charlotte

Charlotte also sent her story to us just one month after the earthquake, and she has kindly allowed us to post it on the TPG website to share with you all. 

"I still maintain that it was the earthquake that started it off! As we all know, northern Japan was rocked by a massive earthquake on 11 March which shook Tokyo to the tune of magnitude 6. I was in the bank at the time and ended up cowering under a nearby table praying desperately that the shock didn’t trigger labor.

The following morning I woke up at around 5:15AM and noticed something dripping from me. “Water breaking?” I thought. Surely not; everyone knows first babies are always late. As the dripping continued, however, I started to panic. With the situation as it was, neither taxis nor the trains could be relied upon, and unassisted childbirth was, let’s say, not an option for me; my daughter was breech and Dr. Sakamoto had already scheduled a cesarean schedule to take place on 17 March. So I did what the 21st century human does in such situations: went online, checked my symptoms and posted on a couple of busy internet forums, both of which advised me to start moving towards the hospital right away as who knows how long it might take.

As I predicted, no taxi was to be had as everyone and their dog wanted a taxi after the earthquake, and an ambulance was out of the question since I was not in active labor and Tokyo’s emergency services were already stretched to breaking point. So finally, after my husband had phoned round everywhere, I said “Sod it. If the Ginza Line is working now, let’s go on the train.” So I threw on the grotty old clothes I had worn the previous day, stuffed my underwear with paper towels, and that’s exactly what we did. As we sat on the train, the leaking became more pronounced and I said “Okay, this is it. Let’s hope the train doesn’t suddenly grind to a halt and leave us stuck here for hours…”

After a 40-minute journey that felt like forever we got to Hiro and somehow staggered up the interminable hill to the hospital (no taxis to be had here either). The midwife confirmed that labor had begun although I couldn’t really feel any contractions yet other than a slight squeezing sensation, and the nurses started prepping me for emergency surgery. When they left the room for a moment I finally started to sob out of sheer terror at the situation. This wasn’t helped when a few minutes later, the baby’s heartbeat began to decelerate; the midwife said something about a descending cord and before I knew it the nurses were putting an oxygen mask on me and hauling me onto all fours (I later discovered that what was threatening here was a cord prolapse, and that the risk of this happening is higher with breech births and when the waters start leaking before the onset of contractions). Then the baby’s heartbeat returned to normal and Dr. Sakamoto arrived and truly, I have never been so glad to see a doctor in my whole life! I was wheeled into the operating theater, drips and wires were attached to me, and a spinal block administered. The idea of having something put into my spine was frightening, but the reality was shockingly simple and quick; a mosquito-like sting, then numbness kind of pouring down into my feet and legs. They raised a screen, tested me for lack of sensation, and got down to it.

It was a very odd feeling; there was no pain whatsoever but I could definitely feel some pulling and pushing going on. I stared at the screen and started practicing my times tables in my head and trying to remember the kings and queens of England in order, in an effort to try and distract myself from what was going on on the other side. “Talk to me about something else…. Like, anything!” I pleaded with my husband.

“Um, like cricket?”

 “No, something I can talk about as well!!!”

“Hey, Charlotte, she’s out!” And there she was, a real live baby! I felt stunned (partly because I’d gone from “What’s that weird dripping feeling?” to “Wow, I’m a mother” in about three hours). They showed her to me briefly, then off she went with my husband and the nurses for testing while Dr. Sakamoto stitched me up. An hour later she was brought in to me, and I can honestly say that life will never be the same again. She is the most precious, perfect little thing I ever saw, and I’m quite shocked by how hard I’ve been hit with the mother-love stick.

I think it’s interesting how any given birth can arouse such different views and opinions depending on the person. I know that for many people my daughter’s birth (breech baby becomes planned c-section becomes emergency c-section, with earthquake craziness and threatened cord prolapse thrown in) would be considered a bit of a trainwreck. Personally, however, I thought it was great! It did exactly what it said on the tin (healthy mother, healthy baby), and I really didn’t feel any pain at all from start to finish, unless you count the recovery period. Shame I didn’t have time for an epidural, because a walking epidural dose would have made for a more comfortable recovery; as it was, I had to be content with the less effective option of painkilling drugs. Still, the scar is healing away into a mere pink strip, and breastfeeding has (so far) gone so well that Cecile regained her birth weight at five days old. If I have another child, I will definitely go for a repeat c-section rather than a VBAC.

So all in all, not a bad experience; now I just have to worry about the situation going on around me in Japan!"

Thank you so much Charlotte for sharing your birth story with TPG. Cecile is adorable! We wish you and your husband and baby Cecile health, safety and happiness!!