Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Giving Birth in Japan

I'm sure it's no surprise that giving birth in a foreign culture and country is a little bit stressful, especially when you don't speak the language.  Things were a little different in Japan.

On May 31st, I went to bed thinking that something was going to happen that night and sure enough, at about 1:00AM on June 1st, I was woken up with contractions.  I started timing the contractions and they were already about 8 minutes apart.  I contacted our 24-7 help phone number (ISOS).  They called the hospital for me.  This whole process took a little while.  By the time we went back and forth a few times it was about 5AM and we were told we should probably head to the hospital.

This is a 24 hour hospital (not all hospitals in Japan are) but there is a different entrance that you have to use during off times.  We went through the funny little side door.  Some guy said a bunch of stuff to us that we didn't understand but he ushered us in to the main lobby.  There was one lonely worker there who checked us in.  She knew who we were since she had been contacted by ISOS and since they were not expecting any other white, very pregnant women it was pretty easy to figure out.  We went up to the maternity ward.

Things started pretty good.  Then checked me out, and said I should walk if I felt up to it.  I started doing laps around the maternity ward with Jeff.  The contractions were 4 minutes apart at this point so I thought things were going to go fairly quickly.  I was very very wrong.

In Japan, you are attended by a midwife who takes care of almost everything, until something goes wrong.  The doctor stops by every once in a while to check on things and helps with delivery but I didn't see her very often.  The interpreter that had attended most of my appointments came to the hospital around 9:00 AM.  She was extremely helpful but some things definitely still got lost in translation.  i can't imagine trying go through that without any language support.

A couple hours later the contractions were too bad for me to walk around and I started throwing up.  The midwifes just kept telling me to eat and drink.  After I threw up for the 4th time I explained to them that this was not working and said that they needed to get me some anti-nausia medicine or an IV.  I was done trying things their way and didn't want to throw up while having contractions any more.  This was around 10 or 11AM.  They reluctantly agreed and gave me a saline drip IV to keep me from getting completely dehydrated.

Contractions continued to get worse and worse but my body didn't seem to want to cooperate.  Every time they checked there was very little progress with dilation.  They kept checking the baby's heart beat to make sure she seemed okay and she was fine.  She was doing so good that she kept kicking me.  Most babies don't kick during labor.  Mine did.  The midwife was very surprised to see the kicks show up on the monitors.  The down side of the kicks is they often caused me to have massive nasty contractions.  I remember talking to my belly and asking the baby to stop kicking.

Things just kept getting more and more painful.  I thought I liked the idea of natural birth but I really would have loved an epidural.  Epidurals are seldom used in Japan.  They really prefer to keep things as natural as possible (which is why even getting the IV was a pain).  No pain meds, nothing to speed up the birth process.  You are pretty much supposed to endure quietly.  I was not quiet.  I didn't curse or anything but I can't say that I didn't make noise during the contractions at the end.  Finally at around 10:00 PM I went in to the delivery room.

I felt  much better in the delivery room.  Being able to push made me feel like I was doing something to get closer to the end of things, like I was making progress instead of just suffering.  Things took longer in the delivery room than I expected as well.  Eventually the Doctor made a small cut to help the baby's head come out.  Unfortunately her body was bigger than her head.  I didn't understand this at the time but all the sudden I had 2 women folding my knees to my ears while a third was playing tug-o-war with the baby.  All three were yelling "push".  Next thing I knew they were holding what looked like a purple, rubber frog.  There was a little cry and then a much bigger one and the purple started going away and moved it's limbs and started looking more like a baby.  It was 11:57 PM.

Jeff was kicked out of the delivery room while I delivered the afterbirth and they stitched me up.  They cleaned up Wren and checked her out.  This process took about 45 minutes.  Then then let Jeff back in the delivery room and we had about an hour and a half to hold our new baby.  I started going in to shock a little and was pretty shaky but it was nice to be able to lie there with our new little girl.

Normally they let the papa's stick around for 2 hours after delivery and then, if it is after visiting hours they have to go home.  Some how Jeff and our interpreter convinced the doctor and midwife that it would be a good thing if he stayed the night.  They let him stay in the labor room with me.  Around 2 AM they cleaned me up a little bit and by 2:30 we were back in the labor room.  Around 3:00 they took the baby so that we could get a little sleep.  They brought her back at 6 AM so it really was a little bit of sleep.

The moral to the story is that giving birth is hard.  Really really really hard.  You add in the complexity of being in a foreign culture and a large language barrier and it gets much harder.  If I decide to have a second kid, it will not be in a foreign country.  I'm sure there are problems with the US hospitals and I honestly think I got excellent care in Japan.  However, I think I would feel much more comfortable in my own country. 

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