April 12, 2015

International Birth Stories – Japan

Welcome back to the International Birth Stories series!  I’m loving reading what these women have to say…and I hope you are too!  If you’re just joining us, make sure to check out the previous weeks’ testimonies from England, Djibouti, Northern Ireland and BrazilThis week, I am featuring Melissa, with a birth story from Japan.
 International Birth Stories thebestofbaby.com
Melissa gave birth in a private birth house and describes it as “the best of both worlds…(personal, intimate care in a relaxed, gorgeous setting as well as the medical care and technology to assist, if needed)”

Intro – What brought you to Japan?

My husband is Japanese, but spent the entirety of his life (minus being born) in the US. What gets me excited is having our world expand and raising children who will know both places, both languages, and belong to both, and all of it.

International Birth Stories - Japan www.bestofbabylady.com

 1.)  What surprised you about prenatal care in Japan?

 First of all, women generally do not take any prenatal vitamins, but gather all the needed nutrients from their food. They’ll eat lots of leafy greens like spinach, teeny tiny fish (with teeny tiny bones), and tofu, all for calcium. They’ll just pay more mind to their diet, since it is filling the gap of not having that prenatal vitamin. I mailed-away for expensive food-based vitamins.
I was surprised, perhaps, by the very moderate eating pregnant women do here. There is no “I’m eating for two” attitude and many women even use the word “diet”. There is concern that women will gain too much and will then experience complications.  Also, many foreign women feel pressure to be as thin or gain only a little in their overall pregnancy, often chided by doctors or nurses. I experienced no such thing and was encouraged to eat well and simply feel healthy. 
One cultural issue that came-up: My midwives (at the very au natural, no technology birth house I was first at, wanted me to cover my ankles and stomach with leg-warmers, thick socks, a cotton belly band. Problem? This was the height of Tokyo’s humid, sweltering summers and I would already show up dripping with sweat (Ugh) from my walking and riding trains and walking some more to the birth-house where they promptly advised me to cover these areas of my body, everyday, all the time. 
Why? Good question. It is part of Chinese medicine/Asian wisdom that every point on the body, or meridian, controls a specific part of the body. The ankle points correspond with the uterus, so creating warmth helps the uterine muscles to be soft and flexible, not tense and contracted.

2) What surprised you about giving birth in in Japan?

 Japan has a much lower medical intervention rate and thus, a much lower Caesarian Section rate. Vaginal, unmedicated birth is the norm. I believe all nurses are also midwives and lactation specialists. 
Pain blockers and/or epidurals are not widely-used here, by any means. Women wanting at least the option or promise of an epidural will go to a very expensive doctor. He is a kind of king for many international expat ladies. I didn’t go that route, but strengthened myself in the belief that I could do what my mother, grandmother, and women before me did—go into labor without any drugs.
My postpartum stay was incredible. Every woman’s stay is a customary six days, or more following a C-section.  My birth house was such a positive experience that I could easily be persuaded to carry a child a third time.  I experienced a restful, quiet stay, receiving support in breastfeeding.
Wait–don’t go yet! You have a gift: After giving birth, you will be given a protective box that will house a very unique parting gift — your baby’s preserved umbilical cord, which they will have dried and wrapped up tiny, tiny. An umbilical cord is called, heso-no-o, or point of connection (literally “tail of the belly). This connection between mother and baby is celebrated. I have two wooden eggs, for each of my babies, containing their/our point of connection.
Some caregivers will ask if you would like to consume your placenta, either in capsule-form, or even cooked as part of a post-natal meal. We did not go that route, let’s just say, though my husband did joke. 
International Birth Stories - Japan www.bestofbabylady.com
 3) What surprised you about post-natal care in in Japan?
 Women generally leave their home with their partner/husband nearing the end of their pregnancy, give birth in a hospital or center near her parent’s home, and then stay under the care of their mother for one month or more. During this post-natal recovery month, they do not leave the home. Their only job is to rest, nurse, and establish a bond with their child. This generally means that the new mother is away from her husband as he is working and will visit weekends or maybe hardly at all. His bonding with baby will have to wait until later, I suppose. 
Because women generally do not leave the home with their baby until a month, my normal American venturing outside of the house with a young infant was met with equal parts wonder and general concern. Some older women were concerned that my baby’s neck was weak at their stage and could possibly break. Some women squealed with absolute surprise. Many had never seen a child so young. 
4) Overall impression of pregnancy/birth culture
It is celebrated. Pregnancy and birth culture are not treated as maladies, so life continues just fine.Women understand the value of being in community, and cultivate mama-tomo relationships (mama-tomodachi, which means mother-friends, other women who have children the same age as theirs). 
I loved being pregnant and would have anywhere, but Japan felt so right. There is a poetic quiet even in the midst of crowds. I wandered through lush gardens and parks, eating food that was so gorgeous and nourishing. (I also frequented a great ice cream shop).  It took time and energy for me to run to my appointments using the train, but in the end, I was able to enjoy such quality care, for me and my babies. Overall, we’ve been treated very very well. 
International Birth Stories - Japan www.bestofbabylady.com 
You can read more about Melissa’s life in Japan at her blog, Melibelle In Tokyo.   You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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Iulia is a former educator turned stay-at-home mama of a spunky toddler and a squishy infant. With a touch of sass and a good dose of self-deprecating humor, she has an ever-expanding repertoire of bloopers, insights, stories, and impassioned opinions to share. Iulia likes to think she has this parenting gig figured out, but her littles remind her daily just how far from the truth that is.

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  • Reply Looking Back on Birth | Melibelle in Tokyo April 12, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    […] Here is my part in an amazing tour of what it is like to live abroad, learning another culture, while growing a family. Here is my experience in Japan. […]

  • deliberatemom@gmail.com'
    Reply Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom April 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    How fascinating! I just love reading these birth stories. The birth house thing does seem like it would cause some discomfort… pregnant ladies are already hot as is!

    No prenatal vitamins – woohoo! Prenatal vitamins made me so sick. I had to split up the dosage throughout the day. I should have just taken notes from Japan.

    What a interesting little “gift” you get at the end,

    This was a lovely and fascinating read.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom recently posted…How a Few Simple Changes Can Reap Amazing Results on Pinterest!My Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      Ugh I’m sorry that prenatals made you sick! I can’t imagine…so many other foods made me feel awful that I fully depended on prenatals the first few months in order to feel like I was still providing my baby good nutrition!

  • jenny@thelittlestway.com'
    Reply Jenny April 14, 2015 at 12:02 am

    How neat to read these birth stories. Wow! a six day stay. That sounds great.
    Jenny recently posted…Bible Quotes: Love is KindMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      I agree! Especially since it wasn’t in a hospital…kind of sounds like a vacation!

  • jermbarnes@att.net'
    Reply Jeremy@thirstydaddy April 14, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Interesting that the mothers are pampered so much more than here but the fathers are kind of left out.
    Jeremy@thirstydaddy recently posted…It’s a Trap!My Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Hmmm, Jeremy, you know I’d never thought of it from the father’s point of view. I’ll have to ponder on that some more.

  • echoesofmyheartcd@gmail.com'
    Reply Katie April 14, 2015 at 9:29 am

    This was so fascinating! My friend gave birth in Japan and the doctors kept telling her to be mindful of her weight; it was a big deal. I love how the mother can stay so long and recover so well. We could learn from this in our country. In Canada moms get a year paid before returning to work. Stopping over from the #RaRaLinkup

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      Ohhh Katie, your Canada mom comment just made all American moms weep with frustration. We’re lucky if we get 12 weeks unpaid.

  • h.fleming182@gmail.com'
    Reply hannah April 14, 2015 at 9:38 am

    wow that was such an interesting read what a different experience. Other cultures are so fascinating. I’ll have to read mroe of these features. #twinklytuesday
    hannah recently posted…Maternity Style 2.0 – second & third trimesterMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

  • baurains@gmail.com'
    Reply Julia @ Swirls and Spice April 15, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I love hearing these stories! I had one child born in Vietnam and one in Thailand, so it’s especially interesting to compare and contrast the experiences.
    Julia @ Swirls and Spice recently posted…Black Bean Stuffed AvocadosMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 15, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      Ooh Julia I’m sure you have so many interesting stories from that experience!

  • tmpresser@gmail.com'
    Reply Terri Presser April 16, 2015 at 7:08 am

    What a great story and I appreciate you sharing it at Good Morning Mondays, I’m not sure about eating the placenta, but I have heard it is meant to be very good for you??!!! Blessings
    Terri Presser recently posted…PASTA SALADMy Profile

  • caro@thetwinklediaries.co.uk'
    Reply Caro | The Twinkles Mama April 16, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Gosh, what a fascinating interview! I love reading about other countries customs — that’s so interesting. So fabulous that Melissa’s experience of the ‘birth house’ is so positive. Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday — please could you pop our badge on the end of your post, the next time you link up? And comment on a couple of other posts too, thanks. x
    Caro | The Twinkles Mama recently posted…109 weeks and 1 day | Easter is #BetterWithCakeMy Profile

  • morningmotivatedmom@gmail.com'
    Reply Emily April 16, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    Fascinating! That is very interesting about the diet. And the legwamers?? No, thanks. 🙂

    A six-day postpartum stay! The umbilical cord gift…is it wrapped all prettily? I will stop repeating all the points of the article, but this was my favorite so far in your series. So interesting!
    Emily recently posted…4 Simple Steps to Stress-Free HomemakingMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 18, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Oh my gosh Emily the legwarmers would have set me over the edge. A nurse at my practice suggested I get compression stockings to deal with my stupid varicose veins that I got during pregnancy. I was like NOPE. I live in the south, it was summer, and I was hugely pregnant. Nope no way.

  • sharonrowe@howtogetorganizedathome.com'
    Reply Sharon Rowe April 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    It is amazing the differences of giving birth in different countries! Thank you for sharing on Monday Madness link party 🙂

  • createwithjoy@gmail.com'
    Reply Create With Joy April 19, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Julia, thanks for sharing this article/series at Inspire Me Monday at Create With Joy – I thought it was fascinating!

    I’m delighted to feature you both at this week’s party – and I look forward to reading the entire series (including the previous stories!)

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 21, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      Thank you so much…I’m honored!

  • daffny@dontdareblink.com'
    Reply Daffny April 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I am seeing a theme here, and that is women helping other women to have their babies. It’s not an overly complicated or stressful thing, it’s quiet and beautiful. I absolutely love that! Here in the US, I have what is apparently rare: a female MD who is available from conception to death, and who makes herself available for every birth (instead of being in a practice of rotating on-call OB/GYNs.) My experiences were amazing (and while I do have friends who love their male OBGYN), I have so many friends who’ve never found someone they connect with and who really cares about them. They miss out on experiences like this, because our culture doesn’t look at women or childbirth the same way other cultures do.

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 23, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Your MD sounds AMAZING — and unfortunately a rarity…no rotating on-call ob’s? The only time I’ve heard of that was with an OB in my town, but rather than making himself available to the timeline of a woman’s body, he just pressures everyone into inductions and c-sections so he can neatly fit things into his schedule. I’m not even exaggerating. He’s been quoted to say that if he had it his way, every woman would have a c-section.

      • Daffny@dontdareblink.com'
        Reply Daffny April 24, 2015 at 9:43 am

        How awful! I wonder just how many babies have been put at risk, and how many women have undergone unnecessary cesareans because doctors did not want to be inconvenienced? It’s a general rule that babies come at unexpected times- why would someone even go into a profession if they couldn’t deal with the realities of it?

        My OB is actually a funny story. When I got pregnant with my first, I didn’t have a doctor and wound up seeing my husband’s family doctor. She was an MD who saw me through my whole pregnancy… Until she went on a missions trip to Africa when I was 38 weeks and left me in the care of her partner. I was furious! But as much as I loved my husband’s doctor, I love her partner even more. She is now my primary MD, and has delivered all of my babies. I’m eternally greatly for that little African trip!
        Daffny recently posted…The Heart Episodes: The Journey to Catch My ArrhythmiaMy Profile

  • Reply My Birthday, Her Birthday and All That Collective Age | Melibelle in Tokyo September 4, 2015 at 2:20 am

    […] My International Birth in Japan Post on Best of Baby […]

  • Reply How To Stay Cool in Djibouti | Melibelle in Tokyo September 7, 2015 at 5:00 am

    […] discussing her experiences as an American giving birth abroad in Djibouti. (I also contributed my Giving Birth in Japan […]

  • Reply It Starts As a Seed | Melibelle in Tokyo September 16, 2015 at 2:54 am

    […] My experience of birth in Japan!! My contribution to an INCREDIBLE series! […]

  • naturalfitfoodie@gmail.com'
    Reply Krystal October 5, 2015 at 4:53 am

    I really enjoy reading these stories. I have given birth in Hungary and now my second will be born in Spain. Really looking forward to my birthing experience here. I imagine it will be quite different. Thanks for sharing!
    Krystal recently posted…One Pot Chicken and Pumpkin RiceMy Profile

  • matulova.marta@gmail.com'
    Reply Marta January 26, 2017 at 12:02 am

    First of all, the information about Japanese pregnant women not eating any vitamins is misleading. Japanese buy dietary supplements everywhere – drugstores like Kawachi have 20-meter long aisles with vitamins and other dietary supplements packed on both sides, convenience stores have also a section with vitamins and vitamin drinks – Japan is (after USA and China) the third biggest market. Japanese even put vitamin sin eye drops. I have checked availability of pregnancy vitamins in our local store in Japan and it was almost sold out.
    Second, you can opt for Japanese traditional medicine or Western health recommendations, but please put your facts together first. To obtain recommended calcium intake during pregnancy (WHO says 1.5-2 g in 2013) you would have to eat 4-5 cans of sardines daily or 0.5 kg of tofu. I realize, that you eat other food during day, but to reach such levels of calcium that are adequate and so your teeth and hair don’t fall out, it is safer to get it from a pharmacy. Furthermore, milk and dairy consumption in Japan is not as high as in Western countries, so naturally Japanese have to obtain calcium from some other sources.

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