Excerpt from Postpartum Confinement/
産褥の記 の書き抜き

Akiko Yosano, 
translated from Japanese by Marissa Skeels

Excerpt from Postpartum Confinement

Akiko Yosano, translated from Japanese by Marissa Skeels

 

A nurse waits in the prep-room next door. There is a small cooking stove in there, tea ware and hand towels, and a supply closet. It seems the sort of place where tableware gets boxed up. Clattering of its iron kettle boiling, squeaks of faucets being twisted now and then by doctors and nurses scrubbing up in the long basin in the corridor, murmuring of distant nurses, and alarm clocks summoning them—these are all the sounds there are. I always wanted to live in a quiet house. Now I cannot stand this monotony.

 

○ ○ ○

 

Every time I give birth, I tend to write starting five days afterward, but this time my condition was such that I must stay in hospital, severely fatigued. My heart is bad, too, and I’m mildly feverish, so I haven’t thought to take up a pen, but many thoughts arise as I lie here in this silence. Even meditating to achieve some tranquillity is contrarily painful, and the thoughts that well up must run their course. Among them, only two stories have come. One has come to me twenty times, and isn’t yet finished. I recite them, trying to not forget them, and when the nurse is away I give only the poems I’ve written in pencil to my husband to send to journals and papers with which I have deadlines. I’d like at the very least to be able to read the journals beside me, but the nurse strictly enforces the doctor’s prohibitions, so all I avail myself of are women’s magazines and the Mitsukoshi Times photobook. It’s to a patient’s advantage to keep a strong-willed nurse onside.

 

From before giving birth to afterward, I didn’t sleep a moment for seven or eight days. Two nights before it, I felt an object shaped like an airplane that stretched from my stomach to my chest whenever I lay down, and breathing was so painful it felt like I was suffocating, so I sat perfectly straight, waiting for a crack in my groaning, for a sliver of light. Since its third month, this pregnancy, with this set of twins, involved pain on a different scale to my other pregnancies. Dr. Morimune would say the child in the higher position was in a bad spot. To me, they felt like an airplane-shaped object. My kidneys became inflamed, and edema spread throughout my body. Day by day the pressure increased, affecting my breathing until I couldn’t sleep. I readied myself to be killed this time by the airplane, and was sent to Dr. Sasaki’s hospital.

 

○ ○ ○

 

In a car I won’t live to return in, I come through the hospital gates as if entering my place of execution.

That was the feeling I had.

 

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When I realized I was close to going into labor at the beginning of February, midwives and nurses assisted Dr. Morimune throughout the night as if tending to a house guest, but it came to nothing. My earlier pregnancies also had late deliveries, delayed by up to a month. Saying it was routine for me, they imagined it might be March before I gave birth, an extension which my body wouldn’t permit. Dr. Morimune and the surgeon said it would be necessary to induce labor.

 

My husband and our relatives said that a mother should carry her baby to term no matter what. I thought so too. I didn’t fear death, of course. As for the pain wrought my body at the moment of death, I feared that a little, but having been laid waste to before in the course of births, I felt no terror such as a young man may feel approaching his first battle. And I hadn’t the slightest illusions about the honor society attributes living on to insignificantly serve my country. The reason for wanting to live longer which I kept returning to was my husband and children. All that made up “me,” in my position at this coalface, was my husband and children. If you consider this a normal mindset, saying that I’m nothing but for them, it’s only natural I’d need to keep living. Those being the circumstances, I felt that at the moment I passed away, they and I would return to nothingness. People have always been egocentric. The lauded words of Zen priests on their deathbeds are that nothing is greater than having descendants, which is a foundation of life, is it not?

This matter troubled me for the ten days leading up to the birth, tormented by the pain in my body, nerves strung unusually tense.

 

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They say the relative ease of your second or third birth fades with each additional one, until it becomes as traumatic as the first. While it may depend on the constitution of the mother, in my experience, this is true. The delivery I’d gone through before this one had been risky too, but this one was even more serious. My pain was excruciating not just during delivery, but before and after it. Fortunately, I was not induced, and at three a.m. on February 2nd, gave birth naturally, once more being watched over by Dr. Sasaki. I’d never before had issues bad enough to make coming to hospital for the delivery necessary, but I understand that it’s the safest course of action, economics permitting. Having the doctor-in-charge personally take your pulse, and having doctors and nurses all at hand, is more reassuring than anything else for an expectant mother.

However, the suffering of childbirth was not lessened. On the contrary, it was worse than ever before.

 

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Unless the pain becomes a dragon, the injury a boar, a birth is not difficult. 

Freezing “time” locks eyes with a serpent mother, her womb ripped open by a baby snake.

 

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I thought that, with nothing beyond continual screaming. The first twin was born easier than I’d expected, but the airplane sent pain through me in every direction. When the composed doctor said, “Let’s operate,” I felt I was standing, poised, at the edge of a cliff leading to blank death.

The breeched airplane was born dead. I heard later that the doctor had immediately administered artificial respiration to no avail.

 

○ ○ ○

 

Amid torture shattering all of a mother’s bones, a healthy baby wails.

An unborn child gnaws on its mother.

In the quietude a silent demon’s hand waves, stirs.

A weakened child, lacking strength, dies in the womb.

Fighting its mother, fighting its sister.

A grieving, half-dead mother lies beside the un-breathing child. The floor is dim.

 

○ ○ ○

 

The pain of this birth, wrought by violence I’d never before encountered, lasted a whole day and night. Its ferocity was said to be a good sign, of my womb shrinking after the birth, and I couldn’t wholeheartedly detest the child who inflicted such pain even after it was out, nor the feeling of a child demon clawing rift after rift into my stomach. They say that in cases like mine, a mother’s affection for her child will not sprout. I find that strange.

 

○ ○ ○

From the next room comes the sound of my husband’s younger brother and Mr. Wakai from Subaru Press banging nails into the dead child’s coffin.

“You don’t want just one glimpse?” my husband asks. “There’s never been such a beautiful baby.”

But I don’t want to see. Postpartum pain this intense, plus fatigue, leaves no space to think about a dead child.

 

○ ○ ○

A child is put into a wooden box like a bowl, in its mother’s stead. 

The birth of nothingness, the birth of death, these are the grave matters heard at the border of dreams and reality.

 

○ ○ ○

The truth is, as I am now, I can only think of the stillborn child as being akin to bowls and teacups that have been dropped and smashed. The first time I welled up was when my brother, who took them to Kirigaya Funeral Home, said, with tears in his eyes and the sentiment of a doting adult, “Such an awful thing to happen when they were such a dear little baby.” I wasn’t crying for the dead child, but reflexively at the beauty of his tender affection for them.

 

○ ○ ○

The postpartum pain has finally faded, so I try to doze, but horrible hallucinations assail me when I close my eyes. Things like the coffin of Ooishi Sainosuke, whom I’ve never met and who was condemned to death at the New Year for the crime of high treason, being lined up next to my bed. They vanish completely when I open my eyes. My body is so worn out I can’t stand the fatigue, but whenever my eyes relax shut, the fine fingers of something which seems like a dead baby always peels back my eyelids. Inevitably, I kept them open for a whole day and night. This is the first time I’ve had such hallucinations. This fatigue will not break.

 

○ ○ ○

As days pass, so too does the postpartum risk period and my medical complications, and my body and mind in turn seem to recover, flattening out. Since yesterday, I’ve been allowed to walk a little indoors, and may write so long as the pieces are brief.

The impression of the dead baby which sadly vanished without once really touching my eyes has gone today, now that the afterbirth pain no longer remains. It’s as if it happened to someone else. There is emptiness, there is nothing. Only when I see the now unnecessary red pillow and clothes in a cupboard in the prep-room, which were brought here for them, does fleeting, crushing grief grip me.  Ah, yes. The loneliness is unlike that which comes of being separated from other people. It’s that of an abandoned mother.

 

○ ○ ○

The nurse picked a withered heliotrope from the glass vase and threw it away. I want to go home soon to my noisy house in Rokubancho.

Among all the men who debate women’s issues, those who view women’s constitutions as inherently weak are odd. I want to ask people who say that: Could a man’s body withstand pain up to the level felt giving birth? This was my sixth pregnancy, I’ve produced eight children, I’ve brought seven new human beings into the world. Could a man go through pain of that magnitude again and again? If nothing else, I didn’t sleep for a week. Could the average man manage that?

It can be said that women’s rounded bodies are beautiful and soft, but isn’t it rash to argue on seeing them that they are fragile and weak? And aren’t the judgments of men who say we should be subordinate, who base their arguments on that fallacy, a disgrace of theirs?

 

○ ○ ○

I curse at men. 

How leisurely the life of he who can’t bear children, never gambling. 

 

○ ○ ○

Though I abhor the barbaric traditions of Chivalry, the luminous, ruinous duty of increasing the number of new humans by risking one’s life—Maternity—holds eternal grace. In contrast to the savagery of the past seven or eight hundred years, the violence and suffering from which the Imperial Household and our country grew, I believe humanity’s happiness is truly borne of this women’s duty. These are not the falsehoods of a barren woman. I write with the consecrated blood spilled from a womb torn by eight children. 

It is too hasty for Japanese women to follow the Western fashion of cautioning against getting married. We Japanese women wish for a happy marriage. We are preparing to give life to strong girls.

 

○ ○ ○

 

 

産褥の記 の書き抜き

 

看護婦さんは次の副室に控へて居る。其処には火鉢や茶器や手拭掛や、調度を入れる押入や、食器を入れる箱などが備へてあるらしい。副室で沸る鉄瓶の音と、廊下の前の横長い手洗場で折折 医員や看護婦さんが水道栓を捩ぢて手を浄める音と、何処かで看護婦達の私語する声と、看護婦の 溜で鳴る時計の音と、其れ位のものである。宅に居て何時も静かな家に住みたいと願つて居たわたし も此単調には堪へられない。

 

いつも産をして五日目位から筆を執るのがわたしの習慣になつて居たが、今度は病院へ這入ら ねばならぬ程の容体であつたから後の疲労も甚しい。其れに心臓も悪い。熱も少しは出て居る。其 れで筆を執らうなどとは考へないけれど、じつと斯うして寝て居ると種種の感想が浮ぶ。坐禅でもし て居る気で其を鎮めようとしても却て苦痛であるから、唯妄念の湧くに任せて置く。その中で小説が 二種ばかり出来た。一つは二十回ばかり出来てまだ未完である。其等は諳誦して忘れない様にして 居るが、歌の形をして浮んだ物丈は看護婦さんの居ない間を見計つて良人に鉛筆で書き取つて貰 ひ、約束のある新聞雑誌へ送つて居る。せめて側にある雑誌でも読みたいのであるが、院長さんの 誡めを厳格に執り行ふ看護婦さんに遠慮して、婦人雑誌や三越タイムスの写真版の所ばかりを観る のを楽みにして居る。斯う云ふ意志の強い看護婦さんが側に居られる事は真に患者の めになるの であると思ふ。

産前から産後へかけて七八日間は全く一睡もしなかつた。産前の二夜は横になると飛行機の様 な形をした物がお腹から胸へ上る気がして、窒息する程呼吸が切ないので、真直に坐つた儘呻き呻き 戸の隙間の白むのを待つて居た。此前の双児の時とは姙娠して三月目から大分に苦しさが違ふ。上 の方になつて居る児は位置が悪いと森棟医学士が言はれる。其児がわたしには飛行機の様な形に 感ぜられるのである。わたしは腎臓炎を起して水腫が全身に行き亘つた。呼吸が日増に切迫して立 つ事も寝る事も出来ない身になつた。わたしは此飛行機の為に今度は取殺されるのだと覚悟して榊 博士の病院へ送られた。

 

生きて復かへらじと乗るわが車、刑場に似る病院の門。

と云ふのがわたしの実感であつた。

 

二月の初に一度産の気が附いて、産婆や看護婦が駈け付け、森棟先生に泊つて頂く様な騒ぎを 夜通しながら其儘鎮まつて仕舞つた。此前の産も同じ様な事があつて一月程経つてから生れた。癖 になると云ふから今度も三月に入つて生むのかと想ふと、其様に延びてはわたしの体が持ち相に無 い。森棟さんも榊博士も人工的に分娩を計らねばなるまいと言はれる。良人も親戚の者も子供は何 うなつても可いから母親の体を助けて欲しいと言ふ。わたし自身にも然う考へて居た。死を怖れるの では勿論無い。死ぬる際の肉の苦痛を怖れるのかと云ふと、多少は其れもあるが、度度の産で荒瀬 に揉まれて居る自分には、男子が初陣の戦で感じる武者ぶるひ程の恐怖は無い。又もつと生き永らへ て御国の為に微力を尽したいの、社会上の名誉が何うのと云ふ様な気楽な欲望からでは更更無い。 つづまる所良人と既に生れて居る子供との為に今姑く生きて居たいと言ふ理由に帰着する。此の切 端詰つた場合の「自分」と言ふ物の内容は良人と子供とで総てである。平生の心で考へたなら、何も 自分が居なくなつたからと云つて良人や子供が生きて行かれぬ訳も無いであらう。其れが此場合で は、自分が亡くなると同時に良人と子供とが全く一無に帰して仕舞ふ気がしてならぬ。人は何処まで も利己的である。禅家の大徳の臨終が立派であると云ふのは何よりも繋累の無いと云ふ事が根柢に なつては居ないでせうか。

わたしは斯んな事で産前十日程から不安に襲はれ、体の苦痛に苛まれて、神経が例に無くひど く昂つて居た。

 

お産は二三度目が比較的楽で、度び重る程初産の時の様な苦痛をすると云ふ。産む人の体質に も由る事でせうが、わたしの経験した所ではよく其れが当て適る。此前の産も重かつたが、今度のは 更に重かつた。産む時ばかりで無く、産前産後に亘つて苦痛が多かつた。幸ひ人工的の施術も受け ず、二月廿二日の午前三時再び自然の産気が附いて、榊博士の御立会下さつた中で生みました。わた しは病院の御厄介になると云ふ事を従来経験しませなんだが、お産を病院ですると云ふ事は経済さ へ許せば万事に都合がよい。院長さんに親しく脈を取つて頂き、産婆さんや看護婦さんの手が揃つ て居るので、産婦には何よりも 強い。

けれども産む時の苦痛は減じない。却て従来よりも劇しかつた。

 

悪龍となりて苦しみ、猪となりて啼かずば人の生み難きかな。

蛇の子に胎を裂かるる蛇の母そを冷くも「時」の見詰むる。

 

と思つて悲鳴を続けて居るより外は無かつた。先に生れた児は思つたよりも容易でしたが、例 の飛行機が縦横にわたしを苦める。博士が「手術をしよう」と沈着いた小声で言はれた時、わたしは 真白な死の崖に棒立になつた感がした。

逆児の飛行機が死んで生れた。後で聞くと院長さんが直ぐに人工呼吸を施して下さつた相であ るけれど甲斐が無かつた。

 

その母の骨ことごとく砕かるる呵責の中に健き児の啼く。

胎の子は母を噛むなり。静かにも黙せる鬼の手をば振るたび。

よわき児は力およばず胎に死ぬ。母と戦ひ姉と戦ひ。

あはれなる半死の母と呼吸せざる児と横たはる。薄暗き床。

 

産後の痛みが又例に無い劇しさで一昼夜つづいた。此痛みの劇しいのは後腹の収縮の為に好 い兆候だと云ふのですけれど、鬼の子の爪が幾つもお腹に引掛つて居る気がして、出た後でまでわた しを苦めることかと生れた児が一途に憎くてなりませなんだ。親子の愛情と云ふものも斯う云ふ場 合には未だ芽を萌かない。考へて見ると変なものである。

隣の室で良人の弟と昴発行所の和貝さんとが、死んだ児の柩に成るべく音を立てまいとして釘 を打つて居る。良人が「一目見て置いて遣らないか。これまでに無い美くしい児だ」と云つたけれど、 わたしは見る気がしなかつた。産後の痛みの劇しいのと疲労とで、死んだ子供の上などを考へて居 る余裕は無かつた。

 

その母の命に代はる児なれども器の如く木の箱に入る。

虚無を生む、死を生む、斯かる大事をも夢と現の境にて聞く。

 

実際其場合のわたしは、わが児の死んで生れたと云ふ事を鉢や茶椀が落ちて欠けた程の事にし か思つて居なかつた。桐ヶ谷の火葬場まで送つて来て呉れた弟が、その子煩悩な心から「可愛い児 でしたのに惜しい事をしました」と云つて目を潤ませた時、初めてわたしも目が潤んだ。其れは死ん だ児の為に泣いたのではない、弟の其子煩悩な美くしい涙に思はず貰泣をしたのであつた。

 

漸く産後の痛みが治つたので、うとうとと眠らうとして見たが、目を瞑ると種種の厭な幻覚に襲 はれて、此正月に大逆罪で死刑になつた、自分の逢つた事もない、大石誠之助さんの柩などが枕許 に並ぶ。目を開けると直ぐ消えて仕舞ふ。疲れ切つて居る体は眠くて堪らないけれど、強ひて目を瞑 ると、死んだ赤ん坊らしいものが繊い指で頻に目蓋を剥かうとする。止むを得ず我慢をして目を開け て居ることが又一昼夜ほど続いた。斯んな幻覚を見たのは初めてである。わたしの今度の疲労は一 通で無かつた。

 

日が経つに従つて産後の危険期も過ぎ、余病も癒り、体も心持も次第に平日に復して行くらし い。昨日から少しづつ室内を歩く事を許され、文字なども短いものならば書いてよい事になつた。

わたしの目に触れないで消えて仕舞つた死んだ赤ん坊の印象は、産の苦痛の無くなつた今日何 もわたしに残らない、まるで人事の様である。空である、虚無である。唯其児の為にと思つて拵へた 赤い枕や衣類が、副室の押入に余計な物になつて居るのを見ると、物足らない淡い哀しみが湧いて 来る。やはり他人に別れたのでは無い、棄てられた母と云つた様な淋しい気持である。

看護婦さんは硝子の花瓶から萎れたヘリオトロオプを一本抜いて捨てに行つた。

わたしは早く騒しい中六番町の宅へ帰りたい。

 

婦人問題を論ずる男の方の中に、女の体質を初から弱いものだと見て居る人のあるのは可笑し い。さう云ふ人に問ひたいのは、男の体質はお産ほどの苦痛に堪へられるか。わたしは今度で六度産 をして八人の児を挙げ、七人の新しい人間を世界に殖した。男は是丈の苦痛が屡 せられるか。少くと もわたしが一週間以上一睡もしなかつた程度の辛抱が一般の男に出来るでせうか。

婦人の体質がふくよかに美しく柔かであると云ふ事は出来る。其れを見て弱く脆いと概論する のは軽卒で無いでせうか。更に其概論を土台にして男子に従属すべき者だと断ずるのは、論ずる人 の不名誉ではありませんか。

 

男をば罵る。彼等子を生まず命を賭けず暇あるかな。

 

わたしは野蛮の遺風である武士道は嫌ですけれど、命がけで新しい人間の増殖に尽す婦道は 永久に光輝があつて、かの七八百年の間武門の暴力の根柢となつて皇室と国民とを苦めた野蛮道な どとは反対に、真に人類の幸福は此婦道から生じると思ふのです。是は石婦の空言では無い、わた しの胎を裂いて八人の児を浄めた血で書いて置く。

日本の女に欧米の例を引いて結婚を避ける風を戒める人のあるのは大早計である。日本の女 は皆幸福なる結婚を望んで居る。剛健なる子女を生まうと準備して居る。

 

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From Hunger Mountain Issue 23: Silence & Power, which you can purchase here.

Art by @anna_croc01, curated by Dana Lyons.

 

 

Akiko Yosano (1878-1942) was a pioneer of modern literature in Japan. A famous but impoverished poet and essayist, she had thirteen children and funded the first co-ed school in Japan with the aim of promoting gender equality. Her poetry, celebrated for its anti-war sentiment and sexually liberated feminism, is available in English translation.

 

Marissa Skeels is a Melbourne-based editor and translator who has lived in Fukushima, Kyoto, and Tokyo for several years. Her translations of Japanese literature are appearing in Overland, Inkwell, and Ezra.