My Japanese birth story
We live in Fukui city. Fukui city is in Japan. My baby’s birth certificate says “福井市” in several places.
There are ~270 000 other people here. It’s not a thriving metropolis, it’s not a fishing village, it’s home.
Preparing for the big day
I don’t speak Japanese. My husband knows more than me, but not enough. A while ago we found an English speaking obstetrician through Japan Healthcare Info. His clinic was small and he had no birthing facilities, but he didn’t require appointments. I was able to see him on Saturdays, and visits were always fast with only marginal wait times. I continued to see him up until I was 30 weeks pregnant. At that point it was time to make the final decision about where we wanted to give birth.
We drafted a list of questions and musts for the place our baby would be born. After we went for a few tours, we decided to give birth at Saisekai Hopsital in Fukui city. It’s a larger hospital and it’s known for being foreigner friendly. They even practice kangaroo care! They had an English speaking female obstetrician on staff as well as a English speaking midwife. Unfortunately, the wait times to visit them were always long.
Initially we thought we would need a Japanese friend to attend the birth to help with interpretation, but our new doctor told us that she would come and deliver the baby regardless of when we gave birth!
“We’re ready…as long as he doesn’t come on August 11th”
At 40 weeks and 5 days, I felt what I thought were contractions. It happened to be on the morning of August 11th: The same day as the famous fireworks festival in the nearby town of Mikuni. All of our friends were planning to spend the whole day there and wouldn’t be returning until very late. We had been debating if we should go because if I went into labour we would need someone to watch the Bunny.
Despite my reluctance Mike made the call and decided that it was best for the Bunny to spend the day in Mikuni with our friends and for us to stay home. I protested throughout the day. I didn’t think my contractions were getting closer together or stronger, and I know the Bunny can be a handful. I kept telling Mike that we should go pick her up. Mike insisted that our friends would understand if labour didn’t progress, and that they wouldn’t be upset if they spent the day watching Bunny and the baby didn’t come. I was, after all, five days past my due date and we knew that the Bunny was having a good time. I tried to relax and we decided to go for a walk to see if the contractions would pick up.
Mike did a little research and found a waterfall not too far away. We drove, parked the car, and walked up a small hill to a beautiful waterfall. Contractions continued throughout the day, but sometimes got closer together and sometimes spaced out. We took it easy. When we got home we had a great supper and watched Doctor Who on Netflix.
At around 10:00pm that evening we decided it was time to call the hospital. It still felt too early to me. Mike called JHI and got them to call the hospital for us. On the way to the hospital we stopped at McDonald’s for a snack. We arrived at the hospital at about 10:30pm.
Because it was after hours we entered through a special door near the emergency ward and went directly to the maternity floor. I was directed to a small labour room and was hooked up to a fetal monitor that kept track of baby’s heartbeat, the time between contractions, and my pain level. In the meantime the Japanese-speaking staff called my doctor in.
A little while later my doctor arrived. She said that the monitor needed to stay on for about 20 minutes, but it felt like it was closer to an hour by the time they removed it. Next, I walked to another room that had a robo-chair (it spoke, rotated and flexed its hinges). My doctor did a pelvic examination and determined that I was 4cm dilated. She said that labour was underway and I needed to stay at the hospital, but I could walk around.
For the next while Mike and I walked around the maternity ward. I was doing great, and there were nice breaks between contractions. Shortly after that my contractions started to really pick up and get more painful. At one point I thought I might even vomit, but thankfully the nausea passed. I was still in my street clothes, but I stopped caring about changing into something else as the pain worsened.
Eventually, I stopped walking so much and spent the last part of labour in my small labour room. I tried hard to focus on my breathing and breath through the contractions. I knew from the start that pain medication wasn’t an option. In Japan epidurals are not very common. I think that knowing that it wasn’t a option helped put me in the right frame of mind. I knew I just needed to get through it. I didn’t use an epidural with my daughter’s birth, so I knew I could do it. The nurses checked on me more frequently at this point and gently rubbed my back to help relax me. I tried sitting on a rocking chair contraption…it didn’t really help.
I began to feel the urge to push and got the nurses to call for the doctor. The doctor came and told me I needed to walk to the delivery room. It was a very slow walk. I delayed getting into the delivery bed while another contraction came on. Once in bed the doctor determined that I was fully dilated. Everyone was fully gowned, including Mike and even my legs.
The big event
My water still hadn’t broken. My doctor touched it slightly with her finger and it broke. She commented that it was “almost natural”. I think she was doing her best to follow my birth plan. The pushing stage lasted what felt like an eternity. Mike was a really awesome coach during this stage. He was super encouraging and did his best to open the lines of communication between me and the doctors (there were 3 people ready to catch my new baby, including my doctor and the English speaking midwife). At the beginning I had been closing my eyes while pushing and blocking everything else out. The doctor said I should push with my eyes open and look at where the baby would come out. It would help me be more focused and my pushing be more effective. This also really helped with communication and brought me back into the reality of what was going on around me.
My doctors were constantly swabbing me and wiping up any fluids. They were also stretching my cervix and preparing it for baby’s head. When my first child was born I had an episiotomy so I never really felt the burn of crowing. This time was different. It hurt. I was thankful for the few times the baby slipped back inside and I didn’t have to endure the burning pain for too long. I should mention that during the pushing stage I was on my back and my legs where in stirrups. My doctor asked me if I wanted to change positions, but I said no. It’s the same position I was in for my daughter’s birth and I hadn’t done enough research about positions to know another one that I would prefer more. My legs cramped a lot, and in between pushes I was able to stretch my legs. After about an hour of pushing, our little guy was born. He entered the world at 2:57am, and the doctors put him in my arms right away. No stitches required! In my birth plan I had requested that Mike be allowed to cut the umbilical cord if he wanted to. After clamping the cord, they offered him the scissors and he cut it.
I can’t remember the order of events following that. I know they cleaned him up, checked his vitals, gave him to me, weighed him, and then gave him to Mike while I delivered the placenta. At this point I had a bad muscle spasm in my one leg. Normally I can get them to go away if I stand on my tippy-toes, but that wasn’t an option at the moment. I asked the doctor to massage my leg for me and thankfully it went away.
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 6:00am, Mike went home to take the Bunny to hoikuen, shower, and sleep and I relaxed with my new baby trying my best to get some sleep.
When I look back on my birth story, I think the only thing that could have gone better for me would be that my little boy magically appeared in my arms without the pain required to bring him into the world. That being said, I had a great birth experience. I had a wonderful supportive husband, doctors that cared enough to follow my birth plan, a relatively easy labour with no complications, and best of all: A beautiful baby boy, tiny and perfect.