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  • Marie

Marie's birth story at Seijo Kinoshita hospital, Tokyo

My name is Marie I am 31 years old. I am from France.

I came to Japan almost 7 years ago to pursue a master degree in Architecture at Tokyo University. I loved Japan so much I decided to apply for another master degree in urban planning. I met my future husband who is Taiwanese at the university; after we graduated we decided to stay in Japan.

I was job hunting when I got pregnant.

We were considering having a baby one day but when I discovered, while in France during the Christmas holidays, that I was pregnant it was a surprised.

I felt a little bit overwhelmed conducting a pregnancy in a foreign country without the support of my family.

When I came back to Japan I did not know where to go. My previous gynaecologist in Japan had just retired. I looked on the Internet for a maternity with English speaking doctors. I understand a bit of Japanese but felt it would be easier for me as it was my first pregnancy and my husband and I did not know any pregnancy related vocabulary in Japanese.

I only found 3 hospitals: Aiiku international clinic, Saint Luke Hospital and the Red Cross Hospital. I decided to go for Aiiku clinic because this was the one I found most information about in English. I called to get an appointment and got pleasantly surprised to have a nice lady on the phone that gave me a lot of information about the clinic in English. So I was a bit reassured. And stop doing my research.

At my first appointment we discovered I was 9 weeks pregnant. Everything was fine. The doctor Sen answered the many questions I had noted on my notebook.

But then she told us that we would have to decide soon if I wanted to give birth at Aiiku Hospital, as it get booked really fast.

It was not February yet. I was just told my due date was August 31st so I did not understand the rush. They gave us papers to explain the hospital guidelines and told us that we would have to pay a huge deposit fee (100,000yens) to secure my place at the hospital. But they did not give us any fees breakdown. We had an idea of what the birth and stay at the hospital would cost but not in detail. At this point I just knew it would cost a lot of money!

We booked our next appointment (the 12 weeks one to check the nuchal translucency) and decided we would think about it in the meantime. We taught to give our response at that time as the deposit fee was not given back if we changed our mind.

I felt a bit rushed and not knowing the cost of everything made us a bit uncomfortable. So I decided to pursue my researches. Doing so I found the website of an American doula working in Japan, Brett Imura from the child education centre. She offers her service to help couples to find a hospital in Japan. I met with her: she asked what were my expectations for the birth of my child. I was looking for English speaking staff and the possibility of an epidural. She has really good knowledge of the facilities in Tokyo. So according to my requests and my location in Tokyo she suggested I should contact Seijo Kinoshita Hospital near Seijo Gakuen station. Doing my research I had not find this hospital. I immediately contacted them.

I wanted to be able to have a point of comparison in order to make a choice.

But as I was already seeing another doctor I needed a letter of recommendation from her to be able to have a doctor appointment at Seijo Kinoshita Hospital. I went to Aiiku clinic to get my letter and was told that unfortunately the hospital was full for August 2020. I was shocked! Only two weeks had past since my first appointment at the clinic.

We decided to go to our 12 weeks appointment anyway as it was with the renowned professor Sakamoto. Being my first baby I was scared and needed to be reassured. Everything was good. The baby was healthy. During this appointment we discovered I could still give birth at Aiiku Hospital but we would have to book doctor Sakamoto or doctor Sen for an extra 300,000 yens fees!

A week later we went to Seijo Kinoshita Hospital. First it was much closer to our place (20min by bus against 50min by subway for Aiiku clinic). And when we arrived we were welcome by member of staff, Tanaka San. She explained us everything (for example what to do before the check up with the doctor), handled us a guide book with the hospital policies, what to check or be careful at each stage of pregnancy, schedule of each appointment with the name of each medical exam: procedure done each time AND the breakdown of each appointment’s price! The cost for every procedure during childbirth plus each bedroom price during the hospital stay was also given. After meeting with a doctor, Tanaka San showed us a delivery room and two types of bedroom. We visited the common room for 3 women and their babies and a private room big enough for the husband overnight stay. She was really kind and answered all our questions. That was it! We decided after that to continue our “journey” at Seijo Kinoshita Hospital.

We ended up signing for Seijo Kinoshita and paying the deposit fee (50,000 yens deduced from the final childbirth cost) in mid-February. Even tough they said we still had time to register later.

After that, when we (with my husband) went to the doctor’s appointment Tanaka San was always there if the doctor was not confident enough speaking in English.

It was not always the same doctor, which I think was a good chance to meet every doctor. As for your childbirth there you get the “on call doctor” of the day.

Unfortunately from April my husband was not allowed to come with me for the check ups anymore due to the pandemic. At that point husbands were not allowed during childbirth either. They could only stay for 2h after childbirth and were only allowed one visit of 30min during the entire stay.

At each check ups I would get a 4D ultrasound and was able to come home with a picture of our baby. Each doctors explained well what they were doing (measuring what part of the baby), explaining the results. Also asking if I had questions. Always asking if I were well and needed anything (medicine for gastric reflux in my case). Thanks to the guidebook I always knew what medical exam I would have during the check up.

Around week 32 I asked to meet with the midwives to speak about the details of childbirth. I met with two midwives that speak good English. They gave me a paper explaining what happens during childbirth (the main steps, what happens in the women body etc..) but it was not what I was looking for (I already had a childbirth lecture with a French midwife, Celia Hughes, who lives in Japan).

So I decided to write a birth plan in order to check the details during childbirth with the midwives. I handled it to Tanaka San at my next check up. She gave it to the midwives so they can read it before our next “meeting”. At my 37 week check up I had a meeting with the midwife Nakamura San who is very kind and speaks well English. She explained that my requests will be taken into account during my childbirth (no episiotomy or use of tools as much as possible during childbirth; skin to skin after birth; exclusively breastfeeding) but for some it would be complicated. For example I wanted to be able to use a Swiss ball during labour to release the pain but the hospital does not have one. I also wanted to be able to choose the position in which I would give birth but the midwives were not trained for that. So it would have to be on my back on “the table”. She was really sorry for me but that was the hospital policy.

Fun fact! Two days later I came back to give birth to my baby boy.

I red somewhere that you usually give birth like your mum did. So I asked my mum about my birth. She said that she did not have any pre-labour contractions. She only had them when labour started.

One morning I woke feeling that my baby was quite low in my belly.

Little after the first contractions started and I knew labour had started and I would give birth to my baby within a few hours.

Around 10am contractions began to be regular. I asked my husband to measure them and to write how far apart they were. In the beginning I was fine. I kept doing what I was doing (cleaning the apartment mostly). I would just stop during the contractions to breath. I took a breathing class with the doula Stephanie Katherine Kawai and I do not regret it. It really helped me to go trough the contractions. I felt ready and surprisingly relaxed.

At this time the hospital policy was no husband allowed during childbirth so I wanted to stay home with him as long as possible during labour.

Around 3pm I decided to take a bath, as the contractions were getting stronger. It did not help releasing the pain. I got out and decided it was time to go to the hospital. My husband called the hospital and explained my contractions were 10mins apart for several hours already. So they said I should come to be checked. Then he called the taxi service (we already booked in advance). It arrived within 10/15min. The ride was about 15min from our place to the hospital.

When we arrived at the hospital I knew it was time to say goodbye to my husband. The midwife Nakamura San welcomed us, the one I had spoke about my birth plan, with one of her colleague. Unfortunately it was almost 5pm and Nakamura’s day of work was almost done. Her colleague could not speak English so I had the extreme luck to be accompanied by my husband.

At that time I was really focused on my breathing so I did not thank the midwives properly but I should have. I know today that without my husband my childbirth experience would have been completely different.

The two midwifes brought me into a private room as I requested it, changed me into hospital cloth and checked me out. I was 5cm dilated so they decided to keep me in. Then they attached a monitor on my stomach and put an IV in. These were two things I asked not to have as I wanted to be mobile at the hospital in order not to slow the labour. But I did not get the choice (hospital policy). I remember asking if there was still time for an epidural. The midwife said she would prepare it.

The following hours are quit blurry. I was focusing on my breathing seated on a chair. I know at some point Nakamura San left. My husband ate the diner they had prepared for me (at this point I did not want to eat).

I even forgot about the epidural. My husband told me they came to give it to me but I was very focused and calm. And did not ask again for it.

Around 11pm the contractions intensified. They brought me to the labour room, laid me down on “the table”. The contractions were strong but after a certain time they started to space out. So the midwife said I should walk to reactivate the labour. It worked! I laid down again as the pain was quite intense. At some point my water broke. Some time after midnight the midwife said I was almost at 10cm so I would be able to push. So she properly installed me on the table and asked me to push. I don’t know how long it lasted but it felt very long. And my baby was not coming. But the midwife said we were both healthy thanks to my breathing technique. After what felt an hour of pushing I was exhausted. The midwife went away and came back with the on call doctor and two other midwives. They gave me an oxygen mask and explain I would need an episiotomy to get my baby out. I wanted to avoid it as much as possible but I was exhausted and I just wanted him to be out!

The doctor did a local anaesthesia before the episiotomy. Then within three push my baby was born!

They immediately took him for check up. But as soon as the doctor finished the stitches they put him on my chest for kangaroo care and the “welcoming feed”.

We stayed like that almost two hours in the labour room with my husband. After that they asked him to leave. Put my baby into the care room with the other babies and brought me back to my room to get some rest.

The usual stay at the hospital is 5 days but I ended up staying 6 days. As my husband, who did not get a paternity leave, had to work and could not take care of us the day of our outing.

Good to know: at Seijo Kinoshita Hospital women who want to can stay 15 additional days for the after care.

I had a wonderful time at the hospital. I felt safe and pampered. Everyday two midwives were assigned to me (one during the day and one during the night). They would come every morning to check my blood pressure and temperature. I could call them anytime when I had a question or needed help. I was really happy Nakamura San was with me for several days in the end (I feel I got a special treatment because she spoke English and we got along well).

The meals were delicious! We had three very healthy meals per day plus a snack in the afternoon. The snacks were delicious cakes. It always made me very happy.

Baby was rooming with me but when I felt tired I could ask the midwives to take care of him. For the first 3 days they took care of him from midnight until 6 am so I could get some sleep. And then he stayed all night with me.

The only down point was that I expressly said that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed and after the first hitch a midwife pushed to give him formula. He is my first baby and I had no experience breastfeeding. I got scared that my baby did not get enough milk so I let her do. With hindsight I should have stay on my own mind and just continue trying breastfeeding. Fortunately not all the midwives there were pro formula. One night a midwife helped me express my milk by hand every two hours to stimulate the rising milk. She really cheered me up and showed me I could do it (as it was my choice).

When I left the hospital breastfeeding was a bit better. I had more milk than before but I was not really confident. I was told to use a shield to help my baby to get the nipple and I was pumping to stimulate the rising of my milk. So when I came back home I called the French midwife Celia for help (she is a lactation specialist). She made things easy. I am really happy I called here. I was getting exhausted. My baby is now 7 month old and still is breastfeed.

Unfortunately during the stay my husband was only authorized one visit of 30min. This was really hard for both of us. We called each other several times a day but it is not the same as being together.

We ended up paying less than we expected. The main reason being I did not need the epidural after all. And even tough I stayed one more day.

After the deduction of the government allowance (400,000 yens) and the deposit fee we paid a little bit less than 500,000 yens. Which is still a lot but half of what we taught we would pay at Aiiku clinic.

The hardest part for me during pregnancy was not to be able to share this moment with my husband (during check ups) and family as we live very far from each other.

Morning sickness in the beginning was hard and it took me time to find something that helped.

I wished I had shared it with another women who had the same problem with me earlier.

But I was lucky to have a healthy pregnancy.

The hardest part during labour was the push. I got prepare to deal with the contractions. I was a bit scared to give birth so I took breathing class to deal with the pain during labour. But I did not know how to deal with the pushing as I was “forced” to lie on my back. I could not follow or even hear my instinct. I wished I had red more about it.

My advice for other women would be to ask yourself what you want your childbirth experience to be (epidural or not, water birth etc...), read about it, ask for advice on pregnancy group talk and find the place (hospital/ childbirth house) that most feet your needs. Always ask when you have a question. If the person you asked do not know or did not give a satisfying answer ask someone else. You are not alone!

Trough the group talk I got lucky to meet with other pregnant women that lived nearby. We got along really well. We were telling each other our experience and asking questions. Our babies are born now but we are still seeing each other. Now we have other questions about raising babies. We still help each other.

It feels good to be listened to by people who understand what you are going through!

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