Bump Update: Months 5 - 7

I say it all the time but this pregnancy is flying by - third trimester already?!  I definitely see why people rave about the second trimester.  Morning sickness subsided and my energy levels felt pretty normal.  It was almost easy to forget that I was pregnant most days.  The only downside was Rob being gone pretty much the entire second trimester so I spent most of the time missing him like crazy!
pregnant in iwakuni japan
maternity photos kintai bridge
space a iwakuni to okinawa
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21 weeks pregnant vs 29 weeks pregnant
21 weeks pregnant when he left vs 29 weeks pregnant when he came home
Travels:  He is already my little travel buddy!  We flew Space A to Okinawa to visit our old friends Mackenzie and Jake and again Space A to Tokyo to see Rob when he got back!
Cravings:  Milk!  After drinking almond milk almost exclusively for years, I am shocked at how much I crave regular cow's milk.  Everything from cereal and milk to straight out of the jug, I cannot get enough.
Movement:  I felt him kick for the first time around 18 weeks and since then, it has been constant moving.  I love it and felt like he was reminding me that he was keeping me company while Rob was away.  Also having Braxton Hicks fairly often but luckily they are not painful.
Nesting:  Went on a trip to Ikea in Fukuoka to get baby furniture...and couldn't wait to put it together.  It's been so much fun planning and decorating his nursery...and makes things feel much more real.
Sleep:  Waking up a few times in the night but sleeping well.  Going to bed early and waking up early which is out of character but not unwelcomed!
Favorite Moments:  Finding out the gender.  Surprising Rob with some big belly changes when he finally got home!

Friendship Day

Every May, the air station in Iwakuni opens its gates to over 250,000 (!!!) Japanese locals for Friendship Day.  This event is part air show, part cultural experience and definitely something to experience!  We spent the day touring static displays, watching air demonstrations, and of course checking out the F-35.  It was so fun to see how excited people were to eat cheeseburgers, drink bud light, and watch jets fly - proving this novelty is not limited to Americans ;)
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Friendship Day Iwakuni
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VMFA 121 Green Knights F-35
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Gender Reveal

Although the anatomy scan did not go as planned, I refused to settle for a surprise and we ended up finding out the gender through a blood test (Thanks Trisha!)  We received the results the very morning Rob was leaving for a long training exercise.  We ate cinnamon rolls in bed, called the baby by name, and celebrated with all the happy tears that...
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We were having a sweet baby BOY!  It was such a special morning and a blessing that we were able to find out together before he left.

Prenatal Care + Anatomy Scan in Iwakuni Japan

When we found out that we were moving to Japan in the middle of this pregnancy, I was convinced it would be an adventure... what could be cooler than our baby starting out life as a little traveler!  And while I still agree with that, I realize now that ut I underestimated the struggles that I would face.  From the lack of shopping (and FPO shipping size limits) to the medical care options, it has given a bit of a different meaning to the word adventure!  For what it's worth, every person and every pregnancy is different - different levels of expectations, needs, wants, etc. so as a disclaimer, this is 100% just my personal experience!

One of the biggest challenges of having a baby in Japan is specific to living in Iwakuni.  The hospital on base here is actually just a clinic so they do not deliver babies.  They are building a larger clinic which eventually will have the capacity for OBGYN/labor and delivery but currently, if you are pregnant and stationed in Iwakuni, you are given three options:

     1.  Have your prenatal care then labor and deliver at Dr. Shoji's, a Japanese clinic out in town.
     2.  Have your appointments at the clinic on base but deliver at the bigger traditional Japanese hospital, Iwakuni Clinical Care, out in town.
     3.  Have your appointments at the clinic on base until 34-38 weeks, and then travel 6 hours by bullet train to a different military base, Yokosuka, in Tokyo, to live at the Stork's Nest until you deliver at the American hospital there on base.

I was scheduled for a meeting with the nurse on base to discuss my delivery options.  There were so many things I had not even thought to consider when comparing the different options: Western vs Japanese meals, options for private rooms, required length of stay after delivery, even cultural things like whether or not circumcision was an option or if the dad would be allowed to hold the baby while in the hospital!  While different people have different preferences and each option clearly has its own pros/cons, delivering at the American hospital in Tokyo was the clear answer for *me*.

Even though that was my chosen route, the clinic on base does not have the technology to do level 2 ultrasounds so instead of sending you all the way to Tokyo just for an anatomy scan, they send you out in town with a translator to the Japanese doctor, Dr. Shoji.
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Dr. Shoji's Office Iwakuni Japan
Dr. Shoji's Office Pregnancy Iwakuni Japan
Back in Beaufort, we had the most amazing prenatal care (shout out to Riverside Womens Clinic).  They were so sweet to us and even tried to tell the gender early at my last appointment before we left.  Unfortunately, our little babe was uncooperative and we left without a clear answer.  This meant anxiously counting the days until the 20 week anatomy scan!  When the day finally rolled around, Rob took off work, we met our translator, and excitedly headed to the appointment.  Anyone moving to Iwakuni with any thought of having a baby has heard of Dr. Shoji - he is 78 years old and has been delivering babies here for almost 50 years!  After reading a million articles about him, it almost felt like we would be meeting a local celebrity.  I even said to Rob on the drive over, "what if I end up loving this experience and want to deliver here?!"  The drive to his office itself is TERRIFYING - you have to cross a tiny bridge and then travel down an even tighter road that you are convinced cannot possibly be two way traffic (but it is!).  We parked, walked in, and the translator handled all of the check in process/paperwork for us.
having a baby in iwakuni dr shoji
gender reveal anatomy scan iwakuni japan
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We were taken back to the exam room and this is when expectations vs reality started to set in.  I had talked with so many friends about what to expect from the anatomy scan and everyone pretty much told me the same things: get excited to see the baby actually looking like a baby, the doctor will show/measure/explain all the parts and carefully analyze everything to make sure it is all progressing correctly, it will be much longer than your past ultrasounds, you will get a bunch of great pictures/find out the gender/it will be one of your most exciting appointment.  I couldn't wait!  As it turned out, my ultrasound was a total of about five minutes and maybe ten words.  "Size okay.  Weight okay.  Any questions?" were the only things that the doctor had the translator tell me.  Not a single detail or smile.  Shocked, I asked (through the translator) "Is it a boy or a girl?" to which he replied firmly "I do not know.  Any other questions?".  I was stunned...too stunned to even think clearly.  He handed Rob one single picture from the ultrasound, we walked to the car, and I immediately burst into tears.  That was my chance.  I was already having a baby in a foreign country; I had no interest in the gender being a surprise.  I was devastated.  While I read tons of people who loved this sweet old man and had great experiences, I found the entire experience so cold and so far from what I had envisioned.  I kept telling myself that this would make a funny story one day but it was hard to keep that perspective while feeling so disappointed at the time.  Maybe he just did not like my brightly colored outfit or big personality HAHA ;)  While I love living here and experiencing the different culture, this appointment confirmed that embracing it to the point of medical care and having my first baby out in town is not the best fit for me.

Sakura Season

105 years ago, Japan gave the United States two cherry blossom trees as a symbol of friendship.  They were planted at the Tidal Basin and began a wonderful tradition between the two countries.  We have been lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms in DC many times, and now to see the original sakura trees begin to blossom in Japan!
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Yamaguchi Flower Land

What better place to spend a gorgeous sunny afternoon (especially after a week straight of rain!) than a park full of flowers?  Yamaguchi Flower Land - you are the Maymont Park of Japan and totally have my heart.  I am already picturing many spring picnics here, especially next year with the baby!
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yamaguchi flower land
iwakuni flowerland
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flowers in iwakuni
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How to buy a car in Iwakuni (and what not to do!)

We bought our first car here in Iwakuni the first week we arrived.  I left the car lot and told Rob "that was the easiest car buying process EVER!"  Unfortunately, I think I jinxed myself because things got comically difficult from that point on.
Buying a car in Iwakuni Japan
There are several ways to buy cars in Japan.  You can buy them new from a car dealer (not very common) or used from lots out in town, from a person who buys cars from auctions all around Japan, or directly from other Americans on base via Facebook pages like Iwakuni Classifieds.  Cars in Japan are commonly much older than we are used to in America...and also much cheaper.  We walked right off base and bought our car from a lot (Kaz) where most of the employees spoke at least some English.  At Kaz, they will start the JCI (required Japanese insurance) fresh when you purchase and it is good for two years.  When you buy through a private sale, you have to be sure to check how much longer is left on the JCI and factor that into the price.

After we had an idea of what type of car we were looking for, we just walked around a few lots until we saw something we liked.  It was very low pressure - the man simply asked if we wanted to keys to look inside and the price was listed right on the windshield.  No sweet talking or making deals.  We decided we liked it and he drew up the papers for us to take to PMO (military police) on base.  We headed to PMO (to confirm that we are allowed to have a vehicle, have our drivers license, etc) and they began the process on the car getting inspected, new JCI, new license places, etc.  This process took about five days.

Once they called and said the car was ready, we were able to go pick it up.  Unfortunately, this is where all of the mistakes started happening for us.  When you pay for the car, you pay American cash.  They called on a Friday afternoon and Rob was at work.  By the time he got home and we walked to bank, they were closed until Monday.  We used the ATM but the daily limit is $600 each.  We figured we would just wait until Saturday morning and get out another $600 each and combined with what we had at home, we would be fine.  Unfortunately, when we walked back to the bank the next morning, our daily limit was not reset at midnight and instead is just a 24 hour period.  We called the bank and unfortunately, there was nothing they could do.

LESSON #1: Get out the money ASAP when you find the car you are going to buy

We ended up piecing together the money and headed to Kaz to get the car.  We paid, were given the title, registration, and JCI and off we went in our new car.  Super simple!  When we got to the base, we had to get a temporary pass until PMO opened again on Monday.  Unfortunately, when we tried to do this, they told us we needed our secondary insurance on top of the JCI to get on base.  We planned to get it that morning but both locations are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.  Because this is required on base, they would not let us bring the car on base.  Not only that, but they wouldn't let us leave it in the parking lot and told us we had to "find somewhere out in town legal to park it".  (We had just arrived to Japan a few days prior!)  I had to run back to Kaz and beg them to let me leave the car until Monday when I could get the secondary insurance.  I will always be grateful to their kindness in my moment of panic that day!

LESSON #2:  Get the secondary insurance ASAP after you go to PMO the first time!  Who cares if it expires a few days earlier.

On Monday morning, Rob went to work and I walked to the insurance place to get the secondary insurance and finally pick up our car.  Naively, I was so excited to finally get the car and end this crazy process.  When I got there, they asked if my husband was there or if I had a power of attorney and I said no and they kindly told me that without him or a POA, I cannot do anything - even get the insurance in my name.  (Japanese customer service is SO NICE, it's hard to even get frustrated!) Of course I rang Rob's phone a billion times but when he is at work, he usually does not have access to his phone.  Fail!

LESSON #3:  Get a Power of Attorney ASAP when you arrive on base!

Most of these issues were things that we could have prevented if we weren't jet-lagged/thinking clearly/weren't preoccupied with a million other things.  But at the end of the day, we are the proud owners of Fanta, a sweet orange Cube and all is well.  Now if I can just stay on the left side of the road ;)

First week living in Iwakuni

We survived our first week living in Iwakuni, Japan!  It was a jam packed week but I am all about getting stuff done to feel settled ASAP and I think we made pretty good progress!
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Like any good Iwakuni residents, our first adventure was to the Kintai bridge and Iwakuni castle.  These are landmarks in Iwakuni and total necessities!  Jet lag had us up early the first few morning here so our friends were nice enough to take us out to explore.  I cannot wait to go back when the cherry blossoms bloom in a few weeks.  We also adventured to a McDonald's out in town and tried the infamous Shaka Shaka chicken (worth it!)
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On Monday, we attended the mandatory Welcome Aboard brief.  This was mostly helpful but also VERY long (7:30am - 4pm)!  After the welcome aboard brief, we headed downstairs for the SOFA drivers class and test to get our drivers licenses in Japan.  I was SO NERVOUS for this!  Anyone who has driven with me knows I am not a very good driver in America...let alone trying to drive on the left side of the road with all of the signs in Japanese!  Luckily, after a two hour class, we took the test (they made Rob and I have different forms of the test!) and we both passed!  Woo!
SOFA Driving Test in Iwakuni Japan
With drivers licenses in hand, we headed out the next day and bought our first car here in Japan!  Proud owners of a bright orange Cube we named Fanta! haha  Everyone here buys old, cheap cars and there are used car lots everywhere.  It was literally the easiest car buying process ever - the only hard part was waiting 3-5 days for the inspection and paperwork to be finished. UPDATE: more on this here!  Not quite as easy as I originally thought ;)
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driving in iwakuni japan
Our express shipment was delivered and it was great to see the first half of our stuff.  Now just patiently waiting another few weeks for the rest of our stuff!  We also took the bus tour on Wednesday which took us around base and off base to downtown Iwakuni.  They showed us some favorite local spots and gave us lessons on how to use the bus and train systems here.  It was super helpful!
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I have been feeling more confident with my shopping off base!  I have gone with friends to Fresta (a grocery store), Uniqlo (a clothing store), a local coffee shop/bookstore, and Daiso (100 yen store, like a dollar store).  I also got lunch with my friend Margaret and her kids at Rai Rai Tei Ramen out in town.  We finished off the week with our first mongolian night and our first Friday (St. Patricks Day!) at the officers club on base.
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It took almost the whole week but the jetlag subsided and we are sleeping through the night like normal people.  I guess that means this is officially our home now!

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