We have known the name of the newborn princess since about five years ago. I do not remember when it was exactly. It was between the wedding and the honeymoon, so somewhere in March or April. I was a PhD student at MIT, living in a messy three-bedroom apartment facing Charles River, shared with two of my friends. My wife, Eriko, still lived a graduate dorm located about a mile away from my apartment. It may sound weird that newlyweds lived separately – since we knew that Eriko would go back to Tokyo in June, we did not take a trouble of finding a new home just for three months. So every night, one of us would wear a thick coat and bike to the other’s apartment, carefully avoiding the piles of snow, cursing the cold weather in Boston. It was already in the season of cherry blossom back in Tokyo.
At that night, we got in my full-size bed together and talked about many things because we did not want to go to sleep. I forgot which of us brought this up, but we talked about the name of our future children. Actually, I already had had a name for a boy since before the wedding, and Eriko liked it. Then it came to the name for a girl. I did not have one.
“What about Erika since you are Eriko?”
“You don’t want to confuse everybody, don’t you?”
“Then how about Yuko?”
“Nope. Sounds too much like Yoko Ono.”
“No historical figures, please.”
After this back-and-forth, Eriko suddenly came up with something and said humbly.
“How about… Misaki?”
Misaki, which spells 美咲 in Japanese, means “bloom beautifully.” A girl who blooms her life beautifully.
“Yeah, that sounds… great.”
That was it. Neither of Eriko and I proposed to come up with more options to compare with. Somehow, we had an instinct that it is her name. There was no reason for it. But we knew.
Once we knew the name, I started feeling that a being named Misaki had already been existing somewhere. It should not be that an individual would emerge out of nothing as a result of spontaneous rendezvous of an egg and a sperm and then receive the name. It may sound silly, but I felt that a girl named Misaki was living in a kingdom of baby or something above the sky, anxiously waiting to be delivered to us. Therefore, we did not say “we want a child soon.” Instead, we said “we want to see Mi-chan soon.” (Mi-chan is the nickname for Misaki, where “chan” is a Japanese suffix for the name of persons or animals that are cute and adorable.)
After I graduated from MIT, I moved to Tokyo for a while, but I came back again to the US to work at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, while Eriko stayed in Tokyo. Such a “two-body problem” is very common among couples with international careers these days. Eventually, Eriko took a leave from her job and came to California in March, 2015. The primary reason was to see Mi-chan (or the boy, whose name is still secret).
It was on a pleasant morning in June with a bright sunlight and a cloudless sky, which is very common in Southern California, when we saw in the indicator window of the pregnancy checker a clear purple line, which means positive. We literally jumped for joy. I do not know what change occurred in her mind, but since then Eriko started insisting me not to disclose the name of the baby until he or she would be born.
Eriko’s morning sickness was terrible. She threw up every day. On bad days, she threw up several times a day. She lost 9 pounds in a month. I took her to the urgent care in the night twice because she was seriously dehydrated. The list of the foods she could not eat became so extensive that she refused to eat almost anything but seaweed noodle soup. So she ate seaweed noodle soup almost every day. I joked the baby would have a plenty of hair (it is said in Japan that eating seaweed makes your hair grow, but I doubt it is scientific at all) but she did not even chuckle.
What helped her a lot to go through the morning sickness was a fetal Doppler heartbeat monitor that we bought from Amazon for 30 bucks or so. Every night we would put the heartbeat monitor on Eriko’s tummy to hear the heartbeat of the baby. What a joyful music it was! And the music told us that, like lotus flowers that bloom beautifully out of mud, a new life was about to bloom out of the lasting pain.
In September, when the pain was finally fading away, Eriko took an ultrasound exam to check the baby up. The radiologist said to us as he looked at the monitor.
“It seems to be a girl.”
“It’s Mi-chan!” We shouted in excitement.
In the late fall, Eriko’s baby bump grew as a fruit ripens. She started sensing fetal movements, which became increasingly strong over the holiday season. Mi-chan seemed to be a very active baby. Her favorite prank was to kick Eriko’s bladder and make her mother run to the bathroom. When Eriko took a hot bath, I often heard her gently talking to the baby bump and calling the name of Mi-chan.
The morning of the day Mi-chan was born was adorned with a clear pink twilight, which predicted that it was going to be a usual day in Southern California with a cloudless blue sky. I drove my car on a six-lane freeway to the hospital. In the mirrors was the glorious sunrise. On the passenger seat was Eriko in labor. When we arrived at the hospital near Hollywood, stars were completely driven away from the sky and the white moon was going down to the west.
The labor intensified in the afternoon. In order to encourage the cervix to open sooner, we went for a walk in the courtyard a couple of times. February in Los Angeles is already in the middle of the spring. Colorful pansy flowers were blooming in the flowerbed, while several men and women were talking on the bench, praising the beautiful day. We slowly walked around and around the flowerbed, while I pushed an IV pole with one hand and led Eriko with the other hand.
During contractions, Eriko sat on the edge of the flowerbed or placed her both hands on the wall to wait for the pain to go away. Every contraction was stronger than the previous one. Groans turned to cries. Sweat covered her forehead. Tears were in her eyes.
I think Eriko was exhausted by the pain. In one of the strongest contractions, she winced in pain and said in tears,
“I want to see Mi-chan…”
I do not think she really worried about not being able to see her daughter. Nowadays tragic deaths of mothers and babies during delivery are, of course, very rare. Perhaps, for Eriko, Mi-chan was like the warm, white light at the end of the long tunnel. And I think the word “Mi-chan” meant for her more than just a name. Like the name of Jesus for Christians, for Eriko it was the embodiment of all the hope she had, and all the happiness she could expect. She would not have been able to go through the pain of morning sickness and labor without the name.
Around 9 o’clock, when a doctor found that the cervix was dilated to 9 centimeters, a nurse brought a cuboid cart, which was slightly larger than a typical shopping cart. A blue, clean cloth covered the top surface of the cart, on which many tools in various shapes were placed in an organized fashion. The look of the silver metallic surface of the tools made me feel like my heart was touched by something cold and icy. “The time has come,” I thought.
A band of a cheery young doctor and several nurses came in around 10 o’clock. Not a long time after that, one of the nurses who kept watching a monitor saw another contraction started and told Eriko to push. As Eriko took a huge breath in and pushed, she cried with pain. Perhaps the epidural was not enough, or the pain was so strong that nothing could stop it.
“Hold your breath, Mom! If you make a sound, you cannot make a strong push. Breathe in! Close your lips! Hold your breath! And now, push!” said the nurse, as if conducting a marching band. I also took a breath in, closed my lips, held my breath, and pushed as Eriko did. Soon, when Eriko was pushing, I could see the top of the head of Mi-chan. When she stopped pushing, the head went back in. It was as if her vagina breathed in and out. As Mi-chan made a progress at every push, I could see a greater portion of her head.
Eriko’s pain became even sharper. As I learned later, a part of her vagina was torn during the delivery. She tore her tissue with her own push. What a force she poured in. What a pain it must have been. The cry of pain leaked from between her gritted teeth. Her face turned to red. Her tearful eyes were so wide open that they appeared as if they were about to pop out of her eye sockets. Her expression might look like the wrathful deities in Buddhism, but what made the expression was love, the purest form of love in the world. And the expression was beautiful. Her love and dedication to Mi-chan made her this strong, and this beautiful. I admit I was a bit jealous.
“Push! Push! Push!”
The voice of the nurse got excited. The doctor pulled Mi-chan’s head by her hand. When Eriko made the last big push, the whole body of Mi-chan suddenly flooded out of the vagina like a dam break. Mi-chan’s body was covered by vivid red blood like roses. A nurse picked her up, wiped her body, sucked her nose, and then – Mi-chan cried! The nurse put Mi-chan, still naked, on the chest of Eriko. Mi-chan’s eyes were already wide open, and with the beautiful eyes she looked at her mother. Eriko was already crying. I also cried. And then, from the right eye of Mi-chan, a teardrop flew down her cheek.
We saw Mi-chan, at last.
“I think Misaki is really the right name for this girl.”
I said to Eriko as I gazed at Mi-chan’s face, in the labor and delivery room that became quiet after the doctor and the nurses left. Mi-chan’s eyes were beautiful. Shiny like pearls, reflecting the lights on the ceiling. She had a well-shaped nose and an adorable little mouth. I know I was biased. But I honestly thought I had never seen such a beautiful baby.
“Yes, I think Misaki is the best name for her,” said Eriko, too.
The intuition we had five years ago was correct. I know it is not by chance. I think, at that moment that we came up with her name, it was decided, somewhere in the universe, that this child was going to come to us.
Misaki. This name will be loved by many people. The nurses already remembered her nickname and treated her very kindly. Many of our friends celebrated her birth. Soon, Mi-chan will grow up and make a lot of friends in school, who will affectionately call her name. Men who fall in love with her charming brown eyes and become desperate for her heart will call her name every night like a magic spell. And the lucky man who wins her love will be filled with joy and happiness every time he calls her name.
Mi-chan’s beautifully blooming life has just begun. In her journey, every time she meets a new person, she will smile with her beautiful eyes and proudly say,
“Call me Misaki.”
Acknowledgement: Rachel Bradley provided very helpful suggestions on the text, as well as a stuffed panda named Panda, which is the best friend of Mi-chan.