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.