Giving Birth in Japan
Joanne G. Yoshida
I came to live in Japan eleven years ago, when I was five months pregnant. My daughter was born in April, after the cherry blossoms season. I remember my first hanami, watching what seemed like a miracle-- the buds on the sakura trees opening into soft and delicate whites and pinks.
As I touched my growing belly under the blossoms I wondered what this new journey would be like---having a child in a culture that I was just stepping into myself.
The decision to have our child in Japan came about without much discussion for us. After ten years of living in New York, my Oita-born husband was ready to return home, and I was open to the move.
I knew some Japanese, but not nearly enough to understand much of what I'd need to know during my remaining four months of pre-natal care and childbirth in Japan.
In Japan, births take place primarily in hospitals, smaller birthing centers or clinics. If you plan to give birth in Japan, you will want to find a hospital or birthing center where you will be able to communicate about a birth plan in a way that your wishes can be understood. We chose a hospital near our apartment because we wanted to be within easy access -- in walking distance!-- and because it has a good reputation in our area.
The amount of information has increased tremendously over those eleven years when I gave birth in Japan. Find a pre-natal course or approach that will prepare you as best as possible in the philosophy that feels right to the way you would like to give birth. If it is your dream to have a child at home in a tatami room, you can prepare for this experience. Or, if you wish to have your delivery in water, there are centers in Japan, which specialize in water birth.
Pre-natal courses that focus on a holistic and natural approach to childbirth are a great way to empower women for birthing experiences by connecting with their natural rhythms and calm. HypnoBirth, Maternity Yoga, and other group or individual classes are becoming more widely known and available in Japan. In HypnoBirth, woman are taught through relaxation techniques to replace their fears about pregnancy and childbirth with confidence and trust in their bodies.
In this method, which is also considered to be a philosophy, practitioners begin with the premise that labor and birth do not have to be painful, but rather the power of labor can be an invigorating experience.
Allison Evans, a practitioner based in Japan at the time of writing, says of her teaching at Wisdom Childbirth, "We teach mothers deep breathing and visualizations that also work with their laboring bodies and helps them to stay calm and focused. So when they labor and give birth, they surrender to the process and actually work with it."
In Japan, natural childbirth with un-medicated delivery and breastfeeding are the 'norm.'
If you choose a traditional hospital, a standard stay for childbirth is one week for natural delivery and two weeks if Cesarean Section is needed. During this time, mothers are taught by nurses or nurse midwives about how to bathe and care for the newborn and are prepared for breastfeeding.
I had planned to deliver naturally, but when the baby's heartbeat increased to a worrisome speed and I developed a fever, my Doctor consulted with me about delivery by a planned C-section. He wrote everything out for me clearly in English.
Find out how things are done where you plan to give birth. Many hospitals and birthing centers will accommodate your requests if you communicate what your needs are.
Where I gave birth, the babies stayed in the nursery, separate from mothers, and strict nursing schedules were adhered to for breastfeeding. I remember calling a La Leche consultant in Tokyo when I couldn't communicate my needs.
The woman I spoke with advised me to get the baby into my room right away if I wanted to breast-feed without fixed schedules and measurements. I managed to tell the nurses and they did not question my request. I knew it was what was right for me, when I was able to snuggle with my daughter and begin to find our own rhythms from that point on.
I was grateful for the patient and supportive care from the hospital's dedicated nurses and doctors; as well as for the ability to be navigate difficult points with the help of outside resources, in this case La Leche. The experience with all it's surprises still provided me with a feeling of safety, joy, and amazing, almost pampering care throughout the two week stay.
There are probably as many different stories about the experience of giving birth in Japan as there are ways of looking at Mt. Fuji. It will never be exactly what you expect. We are lucky today that the multi-cultural path to childbirth and child rearing has been paved by women who wrote and shared their stories, and that we can choose from a variety of options.
Creating the bond of love with a child and holding a child the first few minutes after birth have universal and everlasting effects. Giving birth in any culture may be a balance of making informed choices while keeping open to possibility---finding the right combination of holding on and letting go.
Pregnancy and Childbirth Resources to get started
* Childbirth Education Center (CEC ) for consultation, pre-natal classes of all kinds, doula/interpreting services www.birthinjapan.com
* The Tokyo Pregnancy Group, tokyopregnancygroup.blogspot.com
* International Childbirth Education Association www.icea.org
* Wisdom Childbirth , Birth Preparation Classes teaching HypnoBirthing, www.wisdomchildbirth.com
* La Leche International, breastfeeding support organization, www.llli.org/Japan.html
* Japan with Kids, interactive on-line community for English-speaking parents. Support groups, discussions, e-mail list, www.tokyowithkids.com
* Giving Birth Naturally, Empowering Women to trust their bodies, and pregnancy books on related topics www.givingbirthnaturally.com/pregnancy-books.html
For Information about National Health Insurance, Costs, and Documents/Foreign Registration, Beppu City's Official site gives some important practical information: www.city.beppu.oita.jp
Further Reading on Multi-Cultural Parenting
Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, by Suzanne Kamata
Not What I Expected: The Unpredictable Road from Womanhood to Motherhood, edited by Donya Currie Arias and Hildie S. Block (Paycock Press, 2007)
Joanne G. Yoshida