Sunday, 5 July 2015

Birth in Japan Stories ~ Sunday Surf
The care I received during third stage was just as gentle and honoring as the labor and birth support.  We enjoyed two hours of skin-to-skin together without any mention of interruption.  The room was filled with women caring for us, celebrating us, supporting us, and recounting what we had just experienced together.  A room full of almost strangers who treated us like family from start to finish.  I was grateful.

My baby's umbilical cord was not clamped until it had completely ceased pulsing and the placenta was birthed gently by me when it was ready and not a moment before.  My doula cut her cord once the placenta was born and we continued to snuggle as I inspected the placenta which was soon after picked up by a fabulous placenta specialist to encapsulate it, all the while chatting to my husband and staring at our incredible, perfect daughter.  She was later weighed (7lbs 9 oz) and was measured the next day.  We were tucked in later to our cozy private room in a double bed to co-sleep and nurse the night away with angel-nurses quietly and gently checking in on us every few hours and silently disappearing again.  It was the most gentle care in the most gentle space one could image for birth to take place.  I'm so thankful for the kindness of the welcome they provided me.  This birth center was truly a safe haven for me and my daughter and I am forever grateful for its existence and my experience there.
you slid out into your father’s hands, and as i said, we both hovered over you, taking you in.  you were so distinctly you to my eyes.  not like your brother.  you had your own eyes, your own nose, your own hair.  just you.  your papa cut the cord and i took it all in. i could hardly believe the blonde haired, blue eyed babe in my hands was you, and you were mine.
Much of the day was spent walking.  I feared that laying down would stop labor, and after having spent hours laboring already, there was no way I was going to risk slowing it down.  Around noon, I was completely surprised by a nurse bringing me lunch.  That’s right, the Japanese believe in nourishing women who are trying to push babies out of their bodies!  And MAN does Japanese hospital food taste good.
When I had my first baby 4 years ago, I chose a general hospital and my experience there was not very good. It was all about pain. Fear of the pain overtook everything and I was confused, panicked, felt hopeless and got angry afterwards. I lost my energy struggling with the pain through the birth and I couldn’t push at the end. So that the nurse got on my belly & pushed the baby out and also vacuumed, I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. Luckily my baby girl was born safely, but I lost a lot of blood (1300ml) and I had postpartum depression for a while. I couldn’t have a feeling that “I” gave birth. I thought this experience was produced by that hospital system such as – nurses were too busy & didn’t have time to stay with me to support – they didn’t provide the natural birth, but also I myself didn’t study & understand well about the birth. So that this time I read a book to study about & chose a maternity center (Aqua Birth House in Setagaya) to do the natural birth. Aqua Birth House was such a wonderful place. Each & every checkup was enjoyable. They gave their time for us fully and took at least 30 min for each checkup. They listened sincerely to even small concerns or questions and gave beneficial advice.
Then we went up the elevator to the 5th floor and that’s when everything suddenly changed. The nurse couldn’t find the baby’s heart beat and was worried about the shape of my tummy. My husband asked me what is wrong and I said they can’t find the baby’s heart beat. My heart dropped. I was terrified. Suddenly everything changed, nurses and doctor ran in immediately, I was moved onto a stretcher and rushed into the operating room. Clothes stripped, spinal block in, curtain up, everything was a blur of running nurses and doctors. It all happened so quickly. I could even feel the doctor cutting my stomach. I felt everything and even some pain from the knife. I was panicking and asking the doctor about the baby, but she said she didn’t know yet. Just then my husband was by my side in his operating clothing and hairnet, and then I felt the doctor pull the baby out and we heard our baby cry. I can’t describe the relief. I started crying. 
I had a very positive birth experience. I wanted to try for a natural birth, but was very flexible and open to different things.  The most important thing for us was we didn't want to feel as if things were just happening to me and I didn't have a say. My birth experience involved every decision and choice being made by G and I with no pressure from my doctor or midwives, they listened and took cues from me and I am so thankful.
Finally, they gave him back to me.  They encouraged me to have skin to skin contact with my new baby and to try nursing him.  He stayed with me for a long time.  It’s amazing how quickly the memory of the pain fades when you look into the eyes of your new baby. He was finally here, and he was perfect!
Around 10pm I was in complete hysteria. The pain was so great that I just kept crying and begging to be taken to a hospital which performs epidural or at least get a C-section in my current hospital (which was denied). The hospital I chose is all about natural birth and don't usually give any painkillers, but the nurse's heart finally went soft on me and she suggested one drug. She told me it is a very strong one and supposed to work and allow me approx 3hours of sleep. She warned me the shot would be painful too, but at that moment I was ready for anything just to make the pain go numb for some time so that I can get some sleep. Well, and I still can't figure why, that "super strong and effective painkiller drug" had ZERO EFFECT ON ME. Like, really, zero! It actually became worse because I had to endure the pain from the shot, too. I was completely in tears from the huge frustration. I soooo hoped that drug would work and I can rest...
He informed us that in order for them to proceed, they were going to need to perform an X-Ray on my wife in order to admit her into the hospital.  The reason that we were given was so that they could make sure her hips were wide enough to deliver the baby.  This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in both my wife’s and my own head.  Every bit of literature that we had read up until then had said that X-Rays while the baby was in the womb were generally regarded as a bad idea.  Considering the baby wasn’t quite full term, we were concerned about the safety of such a procedure.  When we brought this up to the doctor, he immediately began to get defensive.
He replied quite aggressively that all hospitals did that, which was the first time that we had ever heard anyone say that.  Up until that point, every examination we had undergone was done by ultrasound only.  When we said that this was not a common practice in the US, he replied with, “If you want to use American procedures, then you should get on a plane and fly back to America.”  This obviously rubbed us the wrong way, but we tried to keep an open mind.  Maybe he was just gruff in his manner.  We asked for some time to do some more research to make sure it was ok, and he responded with, “If you don’t accept this procedure right now, then we will not accept you at all.  You will have to leave, and don’t bother coming back.”  He followed that up with, “If you don’t do this, there’s a possibility the baby could die.”  Finally, he kicked us out of his room while we were trying to discuss what to do because he didn’t want us to waste his time.  Keep in mind that all of this is being filtered through our friend who was acting as translator, and the doctor would give her time to translate his responses, but would cut her off whenever she would try to translate what we were saying.
I can’t find the words to describe how I felt at that very moment – relief, triumph, sheer amazement at what my body could do and the miracle of this beautiful baby boy that came from me (somehow, the c-section misses that last step). Another contraction later and I felt a huge blob (the placenta) slide out too. I cannot believe I actually pulled off a VBAC, and with absolutely no painkillers at that. I claim the honor of being the one successful VBAC at Todai this year.
By this time I was really on edge. They would not administer any sort of pain relief and kept telling her to shut up. I felt hopeless to help her. So guilty.
The checked her over and said its time to go to the delivery room. We went in and I was told to stand behind a white line and wipe sweat from her head. Not to speak to get as it wastes her energy to listen. So I held her hand. Throughout the whole delivery they kept telling her to stop screaming and stop making facial expressions. I was so upset, worried and scared. They then cut her down there even though we asked not for that to be done and were told it won't be. (I have heard that hospitals like doing this in Japan and always will, even if you request not to)
So our baby was finally born. I was immediately told to leave and given the left over peice of umbilical cord in a bag.
And that brings me to now. I am no longer allowed to see the baby other than through glass for 10 mind per day. For a week. I am very happy yet very upset at this whole ordeal. I can't wait for her to get out and come home, it's like escaping a concentration camp. 
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  1. Father of two: first born in a large Toronto hospital, second in a medium-sized Tokyo clinic.

    Birth is all over the place in Japan. It's all about the clinic's philosophy, period. Shop for the clinic which best agrees with what you (think you) want. Surely anyone who's spent any time in Japan should know there is no individuality of care. Doctors will do for you ONLY what they always do in their clinic, be it excellent and up-to-date, or minimal and mid-century.

    My wife was quite happy with Japan : a scheduled C-section without complications, in a clinic with a similar philosophy to what is current practice in N. America, which she researched as the Japanese speaker/party. I was a bit less happy: they 'supplemented' feeding, and took the kid away for some of the day. However, as this was kid-2 it was less of an issue than if it had been kid-1. We knew milk would come in fine, etc.

    Conclusion: if your wife is Japanese, let her research and choose. If you are a non-Japanese woman giving birth, research, research, research! Finding the best clinic for you is the whole battle.

    1. Yes, these are all stories I read when I was trying to get psyched and they are all so different. However, I attended all the antenatal classes, talked over my wishes with my doctor and got his OK for my more unusual requests, made sure every staff member had a copy of my birth plan... and they still just did what they usually did in the end and at that point there was nothing I could do about it. Frustrating, because if they had told me straight-up "we aren't OK with doing things that way here" I could have gone else-where >:/ Moral of my story simply being, research doesn't guarantee the outcome you are hoping for!

  2. Exactly. Getting a promise in Japan's clinics isn't that useful, because it's a culture:
    - where avoiding conflict is more valued than standing by one's word
    - where service is not individuated
    - where birth-clinics are profit driven

    I hope you and your child are well, which is the main issue. And yet, non-Japanese women reading this should be aware of what we've discussed and find the clinic whose STANDARD practice best fits their wants. After which diplomatically make your specific requests, which you may even get.

    That said, there are versions of this in Canada, as elsewhere, and no doubt mothers with poorer English have a harder time here than my wife with very good English, with my support: a native speaker who has some medical terminology from his mother - a nurse. I do wonder if they couldn't have waited on the C-section, and if the baby didn't come of his own because they put in the epidural too soon. Hospitals are interventionist and medically conservative, because liability. Ultimately, my wife and children are well.

    1. You are, of course, quite right. I should have known better, really >.< Still, it is important to mention that Japan is second in the world for newborn/maternal health outcomes, worlds ahead of the USA and UK. Ultimately us both being safe is the only thing that matters. I didn't have a terrible time, for the record, actually had a very easy birth. I just didn't want to be in the stirrups and despite having said I didn't have to be, when it was time to deliver I was forced into them and when I kept trying to pull my legs away they tied me into them. That sounds more dramatic than it was, I think they probably usually tie women in just so they don't have to waste energy holding their legs up, but I felt like I was being restrained and it wasn't the greatest feeling at a very vulnerable time.

  3. Thank you for sharing these birth stories--I am always fascinated by reading about others' birthing experiences.

    I am sorry things didn't go how you wished for them to go, and that you were forced into something you didn't want--that makes a mother feel so powerless, to have her wishes ignored!

    I gave birth here in America, where I know the experiences can vary so, so widely. While I felt very respected by my doctor and was very comfortable with him, he did talk me into doing it his way and pushing the baby out on my back with my feet held up, in spite of my wish to push in an upright position to have gravity on my side. At the time, I didn't care anymore what my wishes had been--I just wanted to birth her as quickly as possible, and was in considerable pain and didn't take much convincing! After the fact, I still wonder if I would have had less tearing or not needed the episiotomy if I'd had my way, but I'm overall not upset with my doctor for changing my mind in the moment. He certainly asked me, too, and didn't force me, which I appreciate.

    I am sorry that you were made to feel powerless--no mother should ever feel that way when she is giving birth! I think it probably always goes a bit awry from our best-laid plans no matter what the birthing situation. Not necessarily a comfort to think that, but I guess it makes me feel better to think of that, anyway!


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