The Differences (Part Two)

April 28th, 2009 Posted in Observations | No Comments »

This is part two in my series discussing the differences between pregnancy, birth and child-rearing in Japan. Last time I wrote about the differences in prenatal care, this time I will start writing about the differences with birthing in Japan.

First, it is important to explain a bit about me and my views on birth. From before I knew I was pregnant, I knew that I would want as few interventions as possible during the birth process. After spending so many years with endometriosis I had had quite enough of doctors and medicines relating to my reproductive organs and system and wanted, for once, to do things simply and naturally. Also, I had read too many books and watched too many movies (especially “The Business of Being Born”) which convinced me that interventions and medications, if not used responsibly and for the right reasons, could ultimately lead me to an unnecessary c-section, which is something I desperately wanted to avoid (I have already had 4 abdominal surgeries since I was 20 years old). My ideal birth would have had me at a birth center, with a midwife to deliver, without any drugs for induction or pain-relief. That is what I wanted and was willing to fight for.

As it turns out, that type of birth is pretty easy to come by in Japan. In fact, it is pretty much standard. As I mentioned in the last post on this topic, pregnancy and birth are considered natural states for a woman to be in. Since they are natural states, women are usually left to deal with them on their own in a natural way unless a complication arises which requires something different.

Most women birth at small maternity clinics, hospitals are typically used for births that are a little more complicated and may require interventions beyond the capacity of what a maternity clinic can provide.

In my case I had intended to give birth at a small clinic about 10 minutes (by foot) away from my house. The clinic had one doctor, two midwifes and a handful of nurses on staff. It had only six rooms, all private, and one birthing room. It was small, cozy and had a relaxed atmosphere. My plans were foiled, however, when I started labor 5 weeks before my due date. I went to the clinic to get examined by the doctor and he decided that it would be best for me to deliver at a nearby hospital to make sure that my baby and I could both get the care that we needed.

When I arrived at the hospital I was met by a doctor who had already been called and briefed on my case. It was about 8am on a Monday morning. We sat with him in a common room on the labor and delivery floor and he calmly explained my options. I don’t remember very much from that day, but I do remember what he said very clearly.

“We can do a c-section, or you can ganman.”

Ganman is best translated in English as endure. My choices were simple, to go for the operation or to do my best to work with my body, endure the pain as nature intended it and deliver the baby naturally. Actually, I was relieved to receive these options, if not a little surprised. I had wanted an unmedicated birth and here, in Japan, I wasn’t going to have to fight for it, as I might have had to in the U.S.

Well, I will spare you all the details of the birth (I am still working on a full birth story to be posted on the other blog), but I will say that I did ganman. About 21 hours after my water broke I delivered our son. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world and I am so glad that I was fully awake and aware of the variety of experiences and sensations that coursed through my body that day. I felt alive and healthy and strong. There were times when I didn’t think I could do it, there was one time when I did cry out for the c-section, but I am glad that I had the support and the strength to continue and do it the way I always wanted to.

Now, I am not sure that the Japanese way is always the right one. There are a lot of times when a bit of medication could save a woman from a c-section and I do think, in those circumstances, that a little medicine is better than major abdominal surgery. But the U.S. doesn’t quite have it right either. The vast majority of pregnancies and births are normal and uncomplicated, but most of them aren’t treated that way in the States. Whether it is the medical system, with all of its malpractice or whether it is just that women have come to believe that they simply can’t do it, I’m not sure. But, either way, both countries could learn a lot from one another.


April 19th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

When we came to America in September to visit our family, my old supervisor sent with me three daruma dolls, as gifts for each of our families. The daruma is a famous Japanese wishing doll. They are round in shape and do not have their eyes drawn in. When a person purchases, or receives, a daruma they think of a wish that they have while the draw in one of the eyes, usually the left one.

The daruma is then placed in a high place in ones home until the wish comes true. Once the wish comes true the second eye is drawn in and the doll can be returned to the temple where it was purchased for ritual burning.

My mom, Sue, had made her wish with her daruma when she received it in September and, since then, her wish had come true. So, she brought the daruma back to Japan with her and she wanted to visit the temple where it was purchased, Dairyu-ji, so that she could return it.

So, yesterday we boarded a bus, all four of us and went to Diaryu-ji. Ewan made the trip, like all the other places we have gone with him, without even noticing that he had left the house. We strapped him in a carrier and he slept the whole way. It wasn’t until we got to the train station again on our way home that he woke up.

It was a nice little temple, just about 30 minutes from Gifu station and it was a beautiful day. My mom returned her daruma and Aaron and I bought one for ourselves. Now we just have to think of a wish for it.

More photos on flickr!


April 13th, 2009 Posted in Gifu-ken | No Comments »

On Saturday we went to Gifu Park to spend a day wandering about, enjoying the beautiful weather (about 80 degrees) and taking photos outside with Ewan. After our day out we enjoyed a really nice dinner at the Natural Cafe and had a nice evening walk. As we walked to our bus stop we made a really nice discovery, a street lined with beautiful lit-up weeping cherry blossom trees.

To get the picture above took a bit of doing since Aaron and my mom had to stand in the middle of the street to do it. They would run out there, with their cameras ready, and try to take the photo before a car came and interrupted them. I stood on the sidewalk watching for traffic and yelling out “Car!” whenever one was coming and they would quickly run to the side of the street before repeating the whole process again. But, eventually they did get a few of the shots they wanted and we were able to walk down the street.

The whole thing was just so peacefully and refreshing. The street was quiet, the blossoms were still, and the night air was warm. Aaron and I had yet to see a night light-up of the cherry blossoms and this, being our last blossom experience in Japan, was sort of our last chance. It was so lucky for us to just happen upon this street and this chance to catch a glimpse, all while killing about 20 minutes before the next bus was scheduled to come.

In some ways the cherry blossoms, from a distance, almost looked like the branches were covered with snow. It was just beautiful and now that most of the blossoms have fallen, I am sad to see them go. I know this is the last time, for a long time, that we will be in Japan for the cherry blossom season and as we start having more “lasts” instead of “firsts” my heart and my mind ache just a little bit. I know that these last few months will pass all to quickly and I will be sad to say goodbye to Japan, the place where our son was born and the place where we have had so many good times.

Sakura Season

April 8th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Cherry blossom season is truly my favorite time of year in Japan. I cannot get over how much the Japanese appreciate and enjoy the short-lived blooms. It really is remarkable how life is, in many ways, put on hold once the blossoms come out. Instead of going about regular daily life, Japanese people slow down and take time to smell the roses. . . er cherry blossoms.

This year we feel very fortunate to be doing the same. Yesterday was Ewan’s due date. In some ways we were lucky that he came as early as he did, it meant that we were able to enjoy Sakura season in Japan as a family of three! Had he come closer to his expected due date, it is likely that all three of us would have missed cherry blossom season entirely.

We were able to get out twice to see the cherry blossoms this year. The first time in Kakamigahara with some friends. Saturday was a rainy day, but we wanted to make sure that we went out in case the blossoms were all knocked down by the storm.

The next outing was on Monday night with my mom who was so excited to be in Japan to meet Ewan and to see the blooms. The blossoms were a little past prime, with many of them falling as we walked around the park, but it was still a gorgeous night.

The Differences (Part 1)

April 3rd, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | No Comments »

So, I have been pretty much silent on this blog for the past month. There are two basic reasons for this. First, one month ago today I gave birth to Ewan and it has been a crazy busy month ever since. Since he was early (by about a month) we were spending a lot of time in the hospital for the first two weeks, after that we have been at home, trying to figure out how to care for him all day every day. Second, the theme of this blog is Japan. All the adventures we have here and all the things we see. Well, for the past month we haven’t really seen much of anything aside from Gifu Municipal Hospital and our apartment. Nothing to see, means nothing to write about.

But, I realized that I do have a few things to write about in regards to birth and childrearing in Japan. A few months ago I talked a little bit about some of the cultural differences surrounding pregnancy, and I thought I would do the same now. We only have 4 months left here in Japan and I promise we won’t stay holed up in our apartment the whole, there are still adventures to have, but until we have things sorted a little bit more, I will try my best to share some of the stories and the interesting differences we have found as we navigate being parents in this foreign land.

Let’s start with prenatal care in Japan.

For the most part pregnancy is not considered a medical condition in Japan. Instead it is considered, simply, a natural state of being for women. It is treated as such. Prenatal care is delivered on the same time line as the U.S., appointments once a month for the first six months, twice a month for the next two months, and once a week for the final month. However, there is a major difference in where this care is delivered and what it entails.

First of all, the vast majority of prenatal care and births do not take place in major hospitals. All around Japan are small maternity clinics, the one that I intended to give birth at had only six rooms and the doctor lived in the house adjacent to it. These clinics are designed to handle normal, uncomplicated, births and they do so quite well. Most of the care is given by midwifes and nurses, but the doctor is on staff to oversee each pregnancy and ensure that everything is going as planned.

In contrast, the major city hospitals are reserved for those births that are complicated and those babies that need extra care. In our case, we were transferred to a city hospital when I went into labor because my clinic did not have the facilities to provide care for a premature infant, the city hospital did. We were glad to have access to top-class care and that the doctor at the clinic had the foresight to know what was beyond his capabilities.

Aside from most of the care surrounding pregnancy and birth being handled outside of the hospital, the prenatal care itself was also a bit different from that in the U.S. For the most part it was just a bit more hands off. They assumed that the pregnancy would, most likely, progress in a normal fashion. They checked enough things at each visit to be responsible, but didn’t go looking for problems.

At each visit they would check my weight, blood pressure, and urine. At one appointment in the beginning and one nearer to the middle of the pregnancy they checked my iron levels. At each visit the doctor would measure the height of my uterus, check for swelling, and do a very quick ultrasound. Yes, unlike in the states an ultrasound is given at every appointment. The ultrasound would last a minute or two, maximum, and they would check the heartbeat, size of the fetus, and development of major organs. This is the one place where I feel the Japan system was a bit more invasive.

Unlike in the U.S. no other tests or procedures were offered or recommended at any point in my pregnancy. Amniocentisis was not an option. Testing for gestational diabetes isn’t routine. As I said earlier, they don’t really go looking for problems. It just seems like a basic, fundamental difference in the way they approached things. In the U.S. it seems that doctors assume that there will be problems and that it is their job to find them, lest they be sued for missing them. In Japan it is the opposite. Doctors assume that the pregnancy and birth will progress normally, as most of them do, and only go looking for problems if there is an indication that one might be present.

Those were two differences that were immediately apparent from the very beginning of our journey into parenthood in Japan and there have been many more since. Next time, I can’t promise when that next time will be, I will talk about a few of the differences we found during the birth.

Engrish Tuesday

March 10th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This lovely little gem is a condom vending machine. Somewhat ironic that the slogan on the machine is, “Happy Family Life.” As Aaron remarked, wouldn’t the machine help you to avoid the happy FAMILY life?

Another Addition to the Adventure

March 4th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Here is the little guy that will join us for the rest of our Japan adventure. Right now he is busy exploring an incubator at the NICU in a Japanese hospital, but it shouldn’t be long (hopefully about 2 weeks) before he can start exploring the rest of his birth country.

Welcome to the world little Ewan!

Ghibli Museum

February 27th, 2009 Posted in Tokyo, Travel | No Comments »

One place on our list of places to visit since before we came to Japan was the Studio Ghibli Museum. Now that our time is starting to wear down, it is becoming more important that we visit the spots sooner rather than later. So, just about two weeks ago Aaron and I hopped on the shinkansen (oh, shinkansen, how I will miss you) and made our way up to Tokyo.

We were only spending one night, two days and we wanted to make the most of our time. We splurged on a nice place in Shinjuku, a very central area of Tokyo. We bought advance tickets to Cirque de Soleil (more on that another day) and to the musuem. Actually, you have to buy tickets in advance for the museum because they regulate the number of visitors each day and during each time slot to ensure the enjoyment of each visitor. If the place was too crowded it would be unmanageable and a lot less fun.

The entire museum is dedicated to the work and art of our favorite Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is notorious around Japan for the films he has made. The intended audience of his films varies from small children through adults, and the stories are well-crafted enough that almost anybody can enjoy them. One of my personal favorites, and perhaps the most popular in Japan, is “My Neighbor Totoro.” So, I couldn’t help but get my picture taken next to the giant Totoro at the museum.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Been Quiet

February 25th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It’s been really quiet around here. I apologize. I have excuses, of course. And, for the next few weeks at least, I hope that I have fewer excuses and that I am able to peek in here a bit more often to share some of the Japany-ness that we have been enjoying.

For starters, yesterday was my last day at Gifu Kita before my maternity leave. So, I have been quite busy finishing things up there and also in other areas of my life.

Secondly, I am pregnant. Not just a little pregnant anymore, I am REALLY pregnant (Just about a month away now). As a result, I am slowing down a bit more than I really thought I would. It is harder to get things done, harder to keep up the pace, and harder to keep my eyes open past 8 or 9pm. Not to mention that it just seems harder for me to put together coherent thoughts at any given moment. However, now that I am home-ish full-time, I am hoping that this will be partly resolved.

But, now that my maternity leave is underway and I don’t yet have a little munchkin to care for, well at least not one that is out and about and is a bit more vocal about its needs, I am hoping to do some catching up around here including sharing a bit about our latest trip to Tokyo, what it was like to wrap up the year at Gifu Kita, and all the advice my second-year students gave me before I left (there’s some pretty funny stuff in there).

So, for now I am going to sign off, but I should be back (hopefully tomorrow) to check in and give a bit more of an update.

Oh Central Heating

February 16th, 2009 Posted in Daily Living | 1 Comment »

Initially I thought that this would be another one of those things that I would miss. At the beginning of the winter last year, I thought that I would be desperately anticipating the return of a warm home, a home that is warm in each room, especially the toilet room. But now, after two winters of adapting, I feel a bit differently.

This past week we spent a few days in Tokyo. A little pre-baby, Valentine’s getaway. We stayed at a really flash hotel in Shinjuku that had a few luxuries that we have become accustomed to doing without – a bed and central heating.

One of them I really like, the bed. I really like sleeping in the same bed with Aaron and miss that. In our apartment we have our own futons and, even though they are placed side-by-side, we tend to remain in our own spaces throughout the night. There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for unintentional snuggling in the middle of the night. Sleeping on a bed is different. Perhaps it is because I am a bit of a bed hog, but it is nice to roll over and bump into one another, to be reminded that the other person is there. So, I definitely look forward to sleeping full-time in a bed once we return.

The second amenity I am not such a fan of. The central heating. The hotel had forced-air heat and the room had a thermostat that allowed us to control the temperature. Even when we turned down the thermostat, it still felt exceedingly hot and dry in the room. I found myself waking up any number of times to get a glass of water because I felt totally parched. I really missed the cold, refreshing air on my face as I slept that we experience each night in our apartment.

I know that central heating won’t be optional, most likely, when we return. The winter weather is much more extreme in most of the areas that we are considering living, but I am not really looking forward to it. It sucks all the moisture out of the air, it is expensive and wasteful to heat rooms that are not currently being used. So, for now, I will enjoy my little space heater and my super thick down comforters knowing that this central-heat-free era of my life will be coming to an end sooner rather than later.