Giving Birth in Japan: My Experience - Part 1, Childbirth

6 weeks. I can't believe it has already been about 6 weeks since our dear daughter Ai-chan joined us in world. It's mostly been a blur of sleep, insomnia, diaper changes, incessant feeding, incredible soreness and lots of baby time. But, reality shows up sooner or later and it's time for me to try and start adjusting back into some sort of routine (while I hope that our child also figures out some sort of routine in the coming weeks).

I want to say a huge thank you for your patience in the meantime, as I know I've been a bit absent on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and now catching up on emails! I also want to give a special thank you to the fabulous guest posters, Erica (x2), Amanda and Caroline, who helped me out and allowed me time to rest the past 6 weeks!

No, this isn't our daughter or the clinic I went to.
I've mulled over sharing this experience with you all many times, as I want to present it as objectively as possible, because to be honest I came away from the experience completely traumatized. NOT because of the fact I gave birth in Japan, just the labor and childbirth process itself. So, I'll do the best I can here, and please understand that this is only my experience. Everyone has completely different birthing experiences, no matter where they are in the world, and even in Japan, your experience may differ depending on your doctor or midwife, and various other factors.

However, I don't believe there is any reason to fear giving birth in Japan (and I do speak from personal experience now!), so rest assured that as long as you find a doctor or midwife you like and (hopefully) trust, you should be fine (well, as fine as you can be going through this kind of experience...)


Our daughter was due on August 22nd, but the day came and went rather uneventfully. No baby.

I was tired of being a giant whale in the ridiculous heat of summer, so was eager for the baby to hurry up and come out. My husband and I did what we could to "prepare" (although in hindsight it was worthless - how can you "prepare" if you've never given birth before? You have no idea what it's going to be like or feel like), and basically waited, while visiting the doctor twice that week for fetal monitoring. [Side note: After 40 weeks in Japan you typically visit the doctor twice a week.]

On Friday, the 26th, we were at the clinic again for another heart rate test of the baby in the early afternoon, and the doctor said I was 2 cm dilated and that I would likely go into labor within the next couple days.

Later that evening, as my husband and I ran errands, I started getting random contractions. I'd never felt a contraction before, and the doctor had asked me at the past few appointments if I had felt any contractions yet, but my answer was always "no."

I figured the contractions I was having were just the practice kind preparing my body for labor, so didn't worry too much. We ate dinner at home, watched some TV and went to bed (I was still having irregular contractions).

The contractions continued over the next couple hours, though I just kept trying to sleep, as I was incredibly tired. My husband, on the other hand, was wide awake during all this and timed the contractions. They actually became regular, and went from 10 minutes to 5 minutes apart in the course of a few hours. I also started bleeding a little, and so after calling the clinic, the nurses told us to come in.

Originally, we wanted to stay home as long as possible for the labor, but we figured if my contractions were moving that quickly then perhaps the labor would progress quickly as well.

We arrived at the clinic around 2 am, the doctor checked me and said I was 5 cm dilated, and that it would likely be 7-8 more hours before I gave birth (my husband wasn't too thrilled about this). I was taken to the labor, delivery and recovery room (LDR room) to wait out the rest of labor. Despite the fact that I had wanted to be more on the active side during labor, e.g. moving around, eating, etc., all I could think about doing was sleeping. [Side note: The doctor said it was fine if I wanted to move around, etc., aside from when they needed to monitor the baby.] So I slept between contractions. The pain wasn't terrible at this point - I could breathe through them and managed as long as my husband rubbed my lower back.

This continued for several hours, and the contractions became far more painful, to the point where I felt like I was being punched in the stomach every time one occurred. I couldn't breathe. AT ALL. Everyone kept telling me to breathe, but it hurt SO BAD to breathe in. Holding my breath, or yelling, seemed to be the only thing that felt remotely better. That said, a nurse, who I will call Nurse Ignorant, told me that I shouldn't let the pain get to me because the baby can feel my pain, and if the baby feels my pain, then she won't come out.

Um, ok. Logical. Perhaps you want to trade places then?

[This particular nurse was the only one who caused me real problems through this ordeal.]

The contractions lasted for about 12 hours total. I wasn't aware of time through the whole experience, as I kept drifting in and out of sleep, except towards the end of the first stage when they were 20-30 seconds apart and I felt like my lower body was paralyzed aside from the intense pain. I couldn't breathe, but yelling felt good, so I did that and kept getting tapped on the nose by one nurse (who was actually a great nurse overall, but more on that later) who insisted I breathe through my nose.

They also decided, based on the opinion of some guy at Tokyo University, that the insides of my lower legs felt cold, and that meant my contractions were weak because of it. I don't know how much research or logic is behind this school of thought (I wasn't in any state of mind to ask), but I was already hot, sweating and miserable, and they put something hot between my legs and then pressed them together and held them that way. I desperately wanted to kick out or something in that moment (I did not feel like my sane self at all through all this), but the pain through the ordeal kept me from moving my body much at all.

All the nurses told me not to scream or yell (I'm ashamed to say that I did, but I have to be honest as it's the only thing that felt remotely "good" throughout this whole experience). They continued to remind me, as in their words, it "wasted my energy." I was taught differently as a track athlete, so though I tried to do what they said and just "breathe through my nose," I kept letting out sounds anyway, along with pleadings to "make it stop!" and "Just take it out! Take it out!"

Eventually the doctor appears, and as I'm unashamedly losing it on the delivery bed, the doctor chuckled and said, "I'm trying to help you." I don't remember my response but there is a possibility it may have been snarky. Poor guy. Although I was in a much worse state at the moment than him.

The pushing stage came just before this, and that's also when I felt my water break. I was still laying on my side as I had been for the past 12 hours, sadly. The pushing contractions felt different, but they weren't any less painful, just a slightly different kind of pain for me. It hurt like hell to push, but it also hurt like hell not to.

During this stage, apparently my contractions were "weak," though they certainly didn't feel that way to me at all. And as I was pushing, the baby's heart rate wasn't recovering. I didn't know this, as I was pretty much checked out from the beginning of labor, but my husband thought it best not to tell me so I wouldn't start panicking (I would have).

The doctor decided in that moment a vacuum extraction would be best and the next thing I knew he was squirting some kind of numbing liquid on me, then I felt a needle stab my crotch, followed by a sharp cut. I actually did scream at him at that moment, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!???" We had discussed beforehand that I did NOT want an episiotomy unless absolutely necessary. It was necessary, in this case, but even my husband, who had no idea the doctor was going to do that until he did it, was a bit angry that he didn't say something before cutting. [Just to clarify, it was necessary, and I'm glad he did what needed to be done, though I'm still not thrilled about the fact I had an episiotomy.]

They put oxygen in my nose, which I kept trying to rip away, and an IV drip in my arm with something to boost my blood sugar (I hadn't eaten since dinner and it was now around noon the following day) and to help the contractions along.

The doctor tried the first vacuum extractor and it broke as I was pushing, so he had to get another one, and after a few more pushes (ugh, why wouldn't this baby just COME OUT) they grabbed her and set her on my stomach in a pile of slimy, blue/gray, crying wetness.

Again, I was so out of it, the only thing I noticed was the liquid gushing out of me. I don't think I grasped that it was our baby, and that she was OUT until after they took her away to clean her up and I started to regain some sense of reality. (At which point I kept asking if she was ok).

After that, one of the nurses massaged my abdomen to get the blood and the placenta out, as the other nurses cleaned up baby, and then the doctor stitched me up, while I apologized profusely for being such a terrible patient. The doctor just laughed and said, "all my patients are like that."

End of Part 1 - To be continued...


Part 2 - Giving Birth in Japan: My Experience - Clinic Stay

For info on being pregnant in Japan, check out the following posts (more to come as well):

Pregnant in Japan: Visiting the Doctor and What to Expect
Pregnant in Japan: Diet, Nutrition and Weight Gain
Pregnant in Japan: How to find a doctor, hospital or midwife
Pregnant in Japan: Resources

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