Having been engulfed by the baby bubble, my awareness is now on things I did not think about before (and vice versa I am sure, like having to think really hard to know what day it is). Being a first time father, I have no experience of being in the Swedish baby bubble, so instead of comparisons I will focus on the interior of my Japanese bubble seen through the eyes of a Swedish house husband (although from the outside I feel that there is more coparenting in Sweden). Here in Japan I find that there is a lot of focus on mother and baby when it comes to baby goods, nursing and generally life with a baby. I have identified two very distinct categories of this focus, one that I can sympathize with and one that I find quite old fashioned (and sometimes amusing) for lack of better words. Let me start with the first one.
When I went to bring home my wife and son from the hospital, she was carrying a gift bag from a baby supplies maker called dacco. This brand has the tag line mama & baby, signifying I believe that they are making products for babies as well as pregnant and post pregnant mothers. There are many brands like this in Japan, Mama & kids is another one, not to mention all the magazines focusing on mothers and babies. All of this has its understandable reasons, the pregnant mother is the one carrying the baby for ten months, the pregnant mother is the one whose body goes through those huge changes, the post pregnant mother is the one whose body needs to go through even more changes and sometimes being the food producer as well. (Even though it is difficult not to feel that my body has changed as well, those changes do not seem to require special body care products.)
The 母子健康手帳 is the maternal and children health handbook that every child in Japan has, and we had to collect ours at the nearby ward office when registering our pregnancy. This book is a medical record for the pregnancy as well as for the child, in which the hospital writes down all information regarding the child such as weight, length, vaccinations and so on. Of course it is a mother’s book and not a father’s or partner’s since my wife’s pregnancy is recorded in it (her weight and blood pressure for example as well as the baby’s vitals while he lived in her stomach). Thus I find this name quite understandable (although I cannot help feeling that maybe it will come a time when the name changes to something like 親子健康手帳 instead, meaning parental instead of maternal – it does contain childcare information and I am allowed to put my name in it).
However there is another aspect of mother and baby that is quite different and I have started to collect those signs in society that focus on describing the mother as the natural primary caregiver. Instead of making myself feel excluded and upset, I try to see the comedy in this and hope that change will come so that when our son becomes old enough to be a parent, there will be a more coparenting approach breathing through society.
Part one of my collection is what I call the snot sucker. In Japan it is very popular for parents to suck the snot out of babies’ noses when they are blocked or the baby has a cold. Since the baby seems to be only breathing through the nose (and breathing through the nose is difficult when it is blocked), this is a very important and useful skill for parents, and there are many devices to help the parents do snot sucking, both manual and electrical. Or maybe I should say help the mother – on the packaging of our snot sucker, it is written ママのお口に鼻水が入らない, roughly translated to nose water will not enter mummy’s mouth (is that not an adorable way if describing snot – nose water). And there is a picture of a mother sucking snot from a baby.
This has left me with the following questions:
1. Is it not to be recommended for other people than mothers to do snot sucking?
2. Is a dad not allowed to use the device at all?
3. If a dad uses the device, will the snot enter his mouth?
The differences that exist between a mother and a father, legitimising the mother-and-baby concept in the above mentioned category, can not possibly extent to the ability to do snot sucking. Therefore this is my exhibit number one that there is work to be done on the coparenting front here in Japan. Stay tuned for part two.
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