Being a pregnant foreigner and giving birth in Japan reinforced in my mind one universal truth: that the pregnancy and birthing experience should center around putting the birthing woman (or person) first.
Unfortunately, we often see our needs overshadowed
– sometimes by what’s more convenient for doctors and other times by performative rules that are believed to minimize liability for hospitals. We’ve especially seen this over the past couple of years throughout the global pandemic. Through my own experience, I learned just how critical it can be to have a birth team you can trust to help minimize your stress & fear and empower you to achieve the birth you want…a birth team that will put you first!
As I searched for a hospital to give birth in, I was struck by how many were hesitant to accommodate research-backed protocols, such as delayed cord clamping and immediate skin-to-skin, all of which only serve to benefit both woman and baby. But most of all, I was stunned by this no-partners rule. The pandemic brought on severely strict restrictions here in Japan with a majority of hospitals banning husbands & partners from labor, delivery, and/or postnatal visitation. The more lenient facilities I spoke with would allow my husband to be there shortly before and after birth but not during labor or in the days following birth; some places would not allow him in at all at any point. Maybe some can agree these restrictions are justified and are able to deal with them with minimal stress (a discussion for another day!). For me personally, this was a dealbreaker. After all, my husband is my baby’s parent just as much as I am. Not only that, but I needed his support.
I chose to give birth at Birth & Ladies Clinic Sola, a midwife-run facility in Yokohama.
At Sola, I genuinely felt like my needs and wants were put first.
Delayed cord clamping? Check. Immediate skin-to-skin? Check. No episiotomy? Check. Support for breastfeeding? Check. And not only did they allow my husband to stay by my side the entire time, they have also continued to allow doula support throughout the pandemic. With that, I was so fortunate to have a solid birth team made up of Sola’s midwives, Japan-based doula Stephanie Kawai, and most importantly, my husband. This made all the difference in me feeling fully supported and walking away with a positive birth & postpartum experience, despite a whopping 34 and a half hours of labor!
Here were just a few of the ways I felt supported by my birth team:
For me, mindset was key. I used a handful of affirmations to stay in control mentally and emotionally throughout labor. These were simple things I told myself over and over like, “You can do anything for one minute” and “This is intense, but you’re not suffering.” When I wavered, my husband and doula Stephanie reinforced these affirmations and helped keep my mindset where it needed to be.
They advocated for my wishes, even after I lost the energy to care about them. I had expressed interest in a water birth, but after 30 hours or so, I was too tired to care. After being in and out of the tub for over a day, my birth team encouraged me to get back in when I finally got close to the finish line. They knew I had wanted this, and they continued to prioritize it, even after I had stopped. I’m so glad they didn’t let me give up on it!
They gave me total freedom to move my body and change positions. I wasn’t confined to my bed; I wasn’t even confined to my room. They encouraged this movement, and they moved with me.
They were patient with me, and let my body do its thing for as long as possible. They trusted my body, so I trusted my body.
While I can’t help but feel lucky for the support I received from my birth team, I also strongly believe it should be the norm and not the exception – not only here in Japan but everywhere. Could I have experienced the above support without my husband and doula present? Probably. And I’m sure many people have felt very supported, despite dealing with partner restrictions… but I’m glad I didn’t have to! There is already so much about pregnancy and birth that is unexpected and out of anyone’s control. Here are a few things that are (or at least should be) in a birthing mama’s control:
Building your ideal birth team and preparing with them. This could mean being selective about where you birth if it’s possible for you to do so, sharing your birth plan with your partner and the rest of your birth team, hiring a doula to serve as your coach and advocate, etc.
Seeking counsel, whether this be from a doula, other mamas, or your healthcare professionals
Doing research. Learn what is evidence-based, and decide what your priorities are for your own birthing experience. Try to make sure your birth team is aligned with these priorities.
Adding techniques and comfort measures to your “toolkit” for labor. Some of the most useful ones for me were breathing techniques, positive affirmations, a birthing ball, a hot compress, an electric fan, and a warm bath!
If mamas are able to have people they trust acting as their advocates throughout their birthing experience, I know firsthand it can greatly maximize the support, comfort, and confidence they feel, as they bring new life into the world. While not everyone can have their chosen people with them during labor and delivery for all sorts of reasons, one thing still remains true:
Every birthing person deserves to have a birth team that puts them and their babies first.