Sorry, lots of words and no pretty pictures on this one.
I found out 2 weeks ago that you can't just show up at the hospital when you are in labor. You need an appointment. I thought that it would have been nice if someone would have mentioned this to me a few months ago as this is something you are supposed to do around the 12 week mark. Oops. Some frantic e-mails later and I now have a reservation at a hospital that isn't too far away and is actually a 24 hour hospital (yep, in Japan a large percentage of the hospitals do not admit people at night).
The city of Higashihiroshima offers a 3 day parenting class for expectant first time mothers. The classes cost a total of about $7.50 for all three days which it think was to cover the cost of food on the cooking day. The classes were every Tuesday for three weeks in a row and lasted 3-4 hours each. I had a translator for the classes. There were a bunch of handouts that they gave me but they were all in Japanese. The class had about 16 pregnant women in it.
The first class covered basic pregnant anatomy, labor and breastfeeding. All of the information seemed to be at a very basic level. The one I found the most surprising was when talking about labor. The focus was pretty much on staying calm and embracing the pain as part of child birth (Japan is really in to natural birth, epidurals are not really an option unless something goes very wrong). There was no talk on breathing, kegals, or any other labor preparation that seems to come up when I read information from the US. Very odd.
The second day was a nutrition class. We were divided in to groups and made lunch together. Lunch was very Japanese in that it was a bunch of small dishes. There was chicken stir fired with lemon and ginger, yogurt with fresh fruit, a dish made from sea weed, miso soup and of course, rice. After lunch there was a lecture on nutrition. The Japanese like to have a starch, protein and fruit/vegetable with every meal. I think that is one reason why they typically have so many dishes as part of one meal. Americans tend to be lazier and try to eat balanced for the day and not cook 5 different things for one meal and have them all served in 5 different little bowls that need to be washed. The nutrition lecture was interesting in that the focus was on eating less salt when pregnant. I guess Japanese food is fairly salty. They very briefly talked about eating folic acid (Japanese women don't even take folic acid supplements), calcium, fish (omega-3s), iron, which are brought up often in the US information, particularly folic acid. Caffeine was not mentioned at all which is supposed to be reduced in the US to the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee a day. The other one that I thought was funny was they talked about cooking vegetables but no mention of not eating sushi or other less cooked meat dishes that are common in Japan. Japanese women eat sushi throughout pregnancy. There was also no mention of not drinking alcohol in the lecture but it was on one of the handouts.
The third day was a lecture on baby supplies with a strong emphasis on how to keep your baby clean and what materials you will need to do so. Bathing and cleanliness are very important in Japan. They had weighted baby dolls and we had time to practice one change of clothes and a diaper change. I have spent most of my life avoiding babies and have never changed a diaper on a real one so it was good practice. I wish we had more time to play with the dolls (first time in my life I've ever wanted to play with a doll, I never liked them as a child, lol). Next we went to a different room full of women who took this same class and now had 4-6 month old babies. We could ask them questions and play with the babies. The babies of course didn't like anyone but momma holding them so soon there were 15 babies screaming bloody murder in this tiny, stuffy room. The babies were there to be weighed and measured so then needed to be stripped down to their diapers. Another girl from the class and I got to undress and re-dress a little 5 month old girl who really didn't like the looks of the foreigner. Every time she looked at me she cried. The class ended with a lecture on life after having a baby. They mentioned all the usual stuff, sleep when the baby sleeps and that with practice things get easier. There was a big emphasis that recovery from child birth is long and slow and that women need someone to take care of them for a month afterwards. This seemed a little excessive to me. Yes, help would be greatly appreciated but the whole thing seemed a little odd to me.
After taking the 3 classes, I learned very little that I didn't already know from my pregnancy book that I bought from the US, but the cultural differences were interesting. It's hard to tell how much was lost in translation. The feeling on how Japanese women handle birth seemed very 1950's or even more old fashioned. Rest, don't exercise, don't exert yourself, don't prepare for labor, you need someone to take care of you after the birth because you will be weak... Most women started maternity leave more than 2 months before their due dates because work (even a desk job) was too strenuous when that pregnant. I made the mistake of riding my bike to class one day and they all freaked out as that was way too much effort for a pregnant woman. (Uh, I rode slower than I did pre-pregnancy? Its about a mile and I don't have a car.) It just seemed really odd and very different than the approach I'm more used to reading about from US sources; prepare physically and mentally and you will have an easier labor and a faster recovery.
I am still trying to get into an actual "birthing class" that is offered through the hospital that I am going to be using for birth. I can't seem to get that set up until I switch my check up visits from the clinic I've been going to, to the hospital and that happens in 2 weeks. It will be interesting to see what that covers.
Till then the baby seems to be strong an healthy based on the kicks and jabs in the ribs :-)