Giving Birth in Japan

It’s been a while since I’ve last written. Last February, I gave birth to my son and have since been very busy with his care. However, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we have finally settled into some kind of a schedule and so today, I get to sit down and write another post in relation to my pregnancy in Japan.

First thing, I chose to deliver using epidural which, if you are also a pregnant woman in Japan, you may have realized by now, is not a very common procedure. Only about 7% of deliveries in Japan use epidurals.

I can’t say for sure if this is true in other hospitals, but where I gave birth at least, because it is not a common procedure, personnel who can apply the epidural are quite limited and so, I had no choice but to also adjust to their availability and have a scheduled, induced pregnancy.

If you are in the same situation, in the weeks leading up to your due date, the doctor is going to regularly check the status of your body – how dilated you are, effacement, if your mucus plug is still there etc and then decide on the best date to schedule the induction.

In my case, I was scheduled very close to my due date. My due date was Feb 21 and I was scheduled to have a Feb 18 delivery.

Another thing you have to know if you are having an induced, epidural delivery is that you will be checking into the hospital the day before the delivery. This has to do with the induction procedure. I am from the Philippines and I’m not an expert about the topic but those I know from home say that the main method of inducing labor is ‘breaking your waters’. But what I experienced was more of a slow process of starting labor.

At around 2:00 pm, with my hospital bag(s) packed, we headed out to the hospital as we were supposed to check-in at 3:00 pm. Upon arriving, I was quickly brought to my room and told to change into the pink hospital-provided birthing gown – which by the way I will be living in for 3 days. Once I was settled, they started conducting a Non-Stress Test.

Around 5 pm, they start inducing labor by inserting a balloon catheter. What it is is a rubber tube inserted into your cervix. That tube is then inflated with saline. It will stay for up to 15 hours and the idea is for it to put enough pressure on your cervix to open it up. They can be of different sizes – they first inserted one meant to open up my cervix to about 3 cm.

On the first night, you still get a full meal. I had a delicious dinner of pork, salad, side dishes and soup. After which though, I experienced painful contractions for about 30 mins brought on by the balloon catheter. Somehow, I decided that night would be a good time to read up ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and fell asleep at around midnight. If only I’d known that that would be my last chance to have uninterrupted sleep for a very long time – I would have tucked myself in earlier.

The second day started with an internal exam. If the balloon catheter successfully aided in the dilation, it’s supposed to just fall out by itself. Alas, the midwife discovered that mine was still intact – meaning, it did not really help much. We had to move on and add other methods of inducing labor. They started by giving me an oral medication that would help out with the effacement. I had to take this by the hour starting at 6:00 am.

In Japan, the labor room is different from your private room as well as the delivery room. By 8 am, I was moved to the labor room where mine and the baby’s condition were continuously monitored with a Non-Stress Test. Another thing that probably differs from the experience of those from other countries, I still got to eat a full breakfast.

At about 10 am, the medication and balloon catheter finally opened up my cervix to 4 cm and the hospital staff started me on oxytocin which would induce the contractions. By that point, I could ask for the epidural to be started but I decided to hold out until I could no longer bear the pain. I see a lot of videos about births abroad where the woman can control the amount being used up to a certain point. In Japan, that is not the case at all. The doctor has complete control of the dosage and similar to my case, he is likely to give the minimum amount possible so you still have sensation to know when to push. Also, it is not going to be dripping continuously, depending on your body, the doctor would have to reinject it every 1.5 to 2 hours. I was scared that the drug would wear out on me during the crucial stages (i.e. in the middle of pushing LOL) so I decided to wait. This all means that yes, at times, some pain will still be felt.

I asked for the epidural to be started at around lunch time and had a generally pleasant labor from that point onwards. When I was already 6 cm dilated (which happened past 3:00 pm, the doctor decided to ‘break my water’ – the last step he did to hasten my birth.

At about 4 pm, I felt a lump moving down my cervix and after being moved by the midwife, was moved to the delivery room and told to start pushing whenever I felt like it. My husband was also allowed inside since I requested for a Tachiai delivery – one where your partner can accompany you.

Births involving epidurals usually take longer than those that don’t (2 hours or more) since the mother has lesser sensation to push. In my case, however, I just kept huffing and puffing – not even waiting for the doctor’s instructions. Because of this, my baby was out in less than an hour.

At exactly 4:24 pm, my healthy baby boy was born.

My placenta was delivered soon after and the doctor promptly did my stitches. Before being brought back to my private room, we were allowed to stay in the delivery room for about an hour more to rest and bond with the baby. They also helped me out in breastfeeding the baby for the first time just a few minutes after the delivery.

That night, our baby stayed at the nursery for monitoring but for the rest of our 6-day stay at the hospital, he stayed with me in my room. 

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