Just after celebrating my birthday this year, my Japanese husband and I were blessed with a pleasant surprise. I’m pregnant!! – according to the two sticks I peed on that night at least.
Though thankful and excited, I quickly went into panic mode thinking about the possible hurdles I would be facing throughout the pregnancy. Sure, I might be able to get by with some daily conversations in Nihonggo but how the heck do you say “Stick me with the freakin’ epidural!” in Japanese? There’s also the fact that my husband and I have no other family in Tokyo. Oh, and don’t even get me started about work arrangements, maternity and child care leaves!
So here goes. If you are finding yourself in the same situation I am in, congratulations and I hope that you’ll find this record of my own experience helpful in easing this process and making it as enjoyable as it should be.
I am starting to write this at 10 weeks of pregnancy and I will keep updating with every useful tidbit I’ll learn along the way.
Pregnancy Tests (Kanji: 妊娠検査薬 /Hiragana:にんしんけんさやく Romaji: Ninshin Kensa Yaku)
Maybe you’re not quite sure just yet but you’ve missed your last period and are noticing some changes in your body.
Worry not, pregnancy tests are easy to come by in Japan. I got mine from Amazon since I already had an account. In case you don’t use Amazon or would like to secure one immediately, just visit your nearest drugstore and ask for 妊娠検査薬 (Hiragana: にんしんけんさやく / Romaji: Ninshin Kensa Yaku). They’re pretty much the same as the ones abroad (2 lines = pregnant, 1 line = not pregnant) and the pictures that come with the instructions are easy to understand. I used the brand WO+MAN (ウー。マン) since it delivered the fastest but some of the more common brands you might find are Clearblue (クリアブルー) and do test (ドゥーテスト). Whichever you choose, most brands boast over 99% accuracy.
Confirming Your Pregnancy
First, you’re going to want to have a doctor confirm your pregnancy. This does not require you to have already had a doctor beforehand or to hastily make a decision as to where you’re going to have a baby and make a reservation there. What I did was go to a “Ladies’ Clinic” (レディースクリニック) in our neighborhood. We are based in Tokyo and keying in “ladies’ clinic + area name” returned a couple of places. My husband was able to make a reservation the same day we went there but you might want to try making an earlier reservation in case the one in your area is busy. Clicking on the clinic’s website might also be useful as some of them allow online reservations.
I went to Hanaoka Ladies’ Clinic which is a very short distance from Omori Station. Although they did not specify that they had support for foreign patients, the male doctor who saw me was very understanding of my situation and not only allowed my husband to enter the room during the ultrasound but also tried his best to explain things to me in English.
During this first checkup, expect to be given a urine test and a transvaginal ultrasound. You would also most likely go home with the very first picture of the tiny human in your womb.
Aside from easing your feelings about your pregnancy and giving you an idea as to how far along you are, this clinic visit is a good resource for some needed information. The doctor that saw me, for example, had a ready print-out of recommended hospitals nearby. He also told us what to expect going forward such as how often the prenatal check-ups would be.
Registering Your Pregnancy in City Hall
Next, you would want to visit city hall. I know long lines are not anybody’s thing and one tip I have for you is to try looking for 特別出張所 (Tokubetsu Shutchoujo) in your city. Tokubetsu Shutchoujos are like City Hall’s branch offices but since they are smaller and there are a number of them, they are less busy. I’m not sure about other cities but in Otaku, they are scattered everywhere and it really makes it easy for the people to process documents. I also can’t say if there are some special transactions they can’t process but I’ve used them in the past for securing things from Juminhyos (住民票) to tax certificates and of course, for the birth registration.
I’ve heard most people report that after confirmation of pregnancy, the doctor gave them the 妊娠届 (Hiragana: にんしんけんとどけ / Romaji: Ninshin Todoke). This is a form that you have to fill out in order to notify the government of your pregnancy. If you don’t receive one from the clinic/hospital, don’t fret. That’s what happened to me as well and I was able to directly ask for it right at the city hall. The form will be in Japanese so it would be helpful to have someone fluent in the language if you are not. Also have your Zairyu Card handy as they might ask for it.
Upon registration, you will receive a bag of ‘pregnancy goodies’. Yey! It will come with useful maternity booklets and product samples among other things. A few of the stuff you would want to keep an eye out for are:
- 母子健康手帳（Hiragana: ぼしけんこうてちょう/ Romaji: Boshi Kenkou Techou)
Medical staff will use this handbook to record your and your child’s medical information. You will need to bring it to all of your prenatal check-ups. In the future, it would also contain information about your child’s vaccinations, health check-ups and milestones. In addition, it is needed for securing your child’s birth certificate.
I was also given an English version of the handbook but was instructed to use it only as a reference.
- 妊娠健康診査受診票（Hiragana: にんしんけんこうしんさじゅしんひょう/ Romaji: Ninshin Kenkou Shinsa Jushin Hyou)
Japan’s National Health Insurance does not cover prenatal care. However, pregnant women are entitled to these ‘discount’ coupons. The amount of assistance depends on the ward’s policy. In my case, for regular prenatal check-ups (weight, blood pressure, ultrasound, consultation with the doctor) , with the discount applied, I paid close to ¥2,000. There are also subsidy coupons for dental check-ups.
- マタニティマーク(Romaji: Mataniti Maaku)
This pregnancy badge which says “There is a baby in my belly” provides access to priority seating in public transport.
With all of the things above out of the way, the next thing you’re going to want to do is make a hospital reservation. Be sure to do this quick – most hospitals are already fully booked beyond the 8-week mark.
Check out my guide for choosing a maternity hospital.