When we found out I was pregnant, we had to go to city hall and register the pregnancy. Upon doing this, every pregnant woman in Japan receives a packet of various items. I believe they vary from prefecture to prefecture, but they all have the same basic items:

  • coupons for each pre-natal appointment, which cover almost all of the cost and are accepted by any hospital or clinic.
  • a “mother’s book” for recording information during pregnancy. The expectant mother takes this book with her to every prenatal appointment, gives it to the staff, and receives it back when she leaves. It includes all the information received during the appointment: weight, blood pressure, sugar levels, notations from the doctor, advice, etc. The second half of the book is dedicated to the first 5-7 years of the child’s life, detailing everything from the wellness check-ups to physical growth to developmental growth to dental records. It’s a personal record of a child’s medical history. I loved mine. Every once in a while, during the pregnancy, I would open it up and look at all the things Lauren was going to be doing in the future. I still keep it in her memory box.
  • lots and lots of pamphlets and booklets about what to do during pregnancy, what to eat, what to expect, and how to deal with life with a newborn. Also, a checklist of all the things you need to have in preparation for newborn.
  • information about local doctors and other services pregnant women might need.
  •  and this:

    Literally: "There is a baby inside."

When a pregnant woman leaves the house, she puts this on display somewhere, usually by clipping it to her purse or bag. By wearing this little badge, you let everyone know that you are pregnant. The idea is that people will be more courteous and helpful. And, often, that was true. Several times, people on trains and subways got up to offer me their seats, which I appreciated greatly even before I grew to the size of a whale. What was really nice is that you got this badge early in the pregnancy, as soon as you register. Which means that people will be considerate of your needs even in the first trimester, when you’re not even obviously pregnant. Or even during winter, when you might be wearing a big, bulky coat that hides your growing belly.  And since I almost always got motion sickness on the train during the first half of the pregnancy, I was always happy to sit down.

But  I also just enjoyed wearing it when I went out. Sometimes, it made people smile (seriously, I had so many little old Japanese ladies smile at me. It would have been creepy if it hadn’t been so adorable). Sometimes, if the person was really brave, they’d ask me when I was due. Once or twice, I had people strike up English conversations with me. It was a way of sharing my baby with everybody, and I really enjoyed that. And now I’m even happier about it, because even if those people don’t remember me, they noticed me for just a moment. And therefore, they also noticed Lauren. And I love knowing that. For just a moment, her presence was acknowledged and appreciated by people who would never get to meet her.

My special girl. I miss you.