"How many children shall we have?"
This has been one the top issues for my wife and me over the past ten years.
When we got married, we agreed to have at least three children. My wife and I both have three siblings, and so we wanted the same for our children. We enjoyed being DINKS (Double Income, No Kids) for three years after getting married; my wife was 29 when she gave birth to our first son. The second and third children were born at a good spacing of two years apart. Having pretty quickly achieved our minimum objective, we wondered about what to do next.
Having had our children two years apart, around the time the lactation period ended, about one year after giving birth and the infant was starting to walk, we naturally would begin talking about the possibility of another child. We love children. They really are so cute, and it's so much fun to help them grow in the course of playing with them.
My wife had also been blessed with wonderful health, and our family budget, which had once been rather tight, now had some leeway, so our conversations about a fourth child ended up in our deciding to go for it. And so, son number four came along in April 2003. Four kids, all boys. I know we have a little parental bias here, but this son is really cute, too.
At the end of spring in 2004, we once again had a series of conversations on what we were going to do about the next one. My wife had spent the last eight years either pregnant or breastfeeding. It means, she had completely committed her life from her late twenties to mid-thirties to childbearing and childrearing. Of course, she wants to travel, play tennis, and work. She even had to occasionally stop the operations of a venture company she had launched that deals with translation. It would only seem natural that she would want to start living her own life again sooner or later.
At this point, my wife was approaching her late 30s, but with today's medical technology, age is no barrier. When I think about people who want to have a baby but can't, I realize how lucky we are. The only thing stopping us from having a fifth child was our own feelings.
However at this stage, the man doesn't have any say in the matter. He can do what he can to help with childrearing and offer encouragement, such as, "Come on, let's have one more!" but he can't demand that his wife go through another two-year cycle of being pregnant, going through the pain of giving birth, and then doing all of the work to change diapers and breastfeed. That's not to even mention the fact that we had already had more children than we had planned on having when we got married. I couldn't force her into having any more. It was all up to her. This was a lifestyle choice for my wife.
After agonizing over it, we decided to take another step forward when she said, "If we stop here, we may regret it. Just look how cute all the kids are." So she decided to spend the next two years being pregnant and then breastfeeding.
The due date was at the end of September 2005, but as the time drew closer, there was no sign of her going into labor. I have made it a policy to be at her side for every birth, and so I didn't schedule any business trips two weeks before and after the due date. And anytime I scheduled an appointment, I warned them in advance that I may have to cancel should the birth take place.
Male readers of this column will know what I am talking about, but around the delivery date, you've always got your cell phone close at hand. I feel like crying out, "Why can't we just make an appointment to have this baby?" But unless you have a Caesarean section, there's no way to control the timing.
Then my wife developed her own birth plan, as she wanted to attend the sports day events of the other kids, no matter what. "I'll give birth the day after the sports day on September 26, and after a little rest, I'll be able to take part in the pre-school sports day on October 8." That was her plan. However, unexpectedly the September 26 sports day was postponed due to a typhoon. My wife was despondent beyond words.
She quickly regrouped and made a new plan (although perhaps a little over-optimistic). "On the first of October I will attend the elementary school sports day, give birth that evening, and then be discharged on October 8 in time to attend our pre-school son's sports day." The children and I really wondered whether things would go as she expected.
The October 1 sports day arrived. The sun was shining. The sports day was to be held as planned, and my wife woke up early to prepare eight lunchboxes for the kids and grandparents and then she enjoyed the event to the end with her big tummy.
Without taking a rest, she prepared dinner afterwards, fed everyone, cleaned up, helped the kids take their baths. After that, she calmly declared that the time may have come.
I was coming down with a bad cold and was not feeling particularly strong at that point, but I thought that it was the time to really buckle down. Piling the kids in their pajamas into the Land Cruiser, I drove my wife to the hospital with the whole family. On the way, she said she expected to give birth either that night or the next day. I was impressed that she could be so calmly analyzing her state at a time like this. An examination at the hospital revealed that, as she had said, the time was coming close, and so she was immediately placed in an LDR room where the entire birthing process would take place, from labor to recovery.
I then phoned my wife's mother who was on standby at home in Chiba, and arranged for her to come to our place in Sanbancho. I took the four kids home, put them to bed, and waited for my mother-in-law to arrive. After she arrived, I headed back to the hospital, arriving around midnight. My wife was on her back in the LDR room, ready for labor. Things were quiet for a while, so I lay down on the sofa. As I began to doze off, my wife woke me up, and looking at my watch, I saw it was 2 am.
She asked me to stay by her side as the contractions ensued. They seemed to be coming on strong, so at 2:15 I called the nurse. Three nurses appeared, and in no time everything was ready. Following instructions, I put on a blue gown, mask, and cap. It seemed as though she might have the baby at any moment. The next instant, a little head came out, and then the entire baby, still attached by the chord; all in the blink of an eye.
Our tiny infant was covered in membrane, but below the chord you could clearly see it was a boy. As he cried, the nurse cut the chord and declared that our baby boy had been born at 2:25.
And so our fifth son had arrived. People often ask whether we had kept on having kids with the hope of having a girl. I can certainly say, without any "sour grapes," that we had always wanted a boy right from the start. No one else that I know has five sons. With the birth of this boy, whom we had expected and hoped for, it felt as though we had completed a "royal flush."
I immediately called the family and was greeted with congratulations, followed by "Is it a boy or girl?" When I told them it was a boy, they all laughed heartily. I returned home to pick up the other boys and brought them to see their new brother. They were overjoyed.
I let all my close friends know by phone or email. I took the kids to the hospital again in the evening. They seemed so relieved to be near their mother. But, over the next week she will stay in the hospital, so it will be a life of Dad and the four kids. I'm a little worried, but with a little help from my mother-in-law, I'm sure we'll be able to manage it.
The email I sent out to friends ended like this:
"The Hori family now would like to move from the production/incubation stage of the last 10 years into the growth stage. Please welcome the new addition to our clan."
With this, our family structure is complete with five sons, which I might say, means we did better than expected for our initial "production stage." I guess our conversations will now shift from how many to have to how to raise them.
I wonder what new joys await us in the next stage of growth…
I will continue to share this part of my journey in "Views from an Entrepreneur" as I watch the family take shape.
October 2, 2005