Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birth Around the World: Birth at a midwife clinic in Japan

Sarah of Delightful Pregnancy gave me permission to repost Jamie's birth story. Jamie (who blogs at High Countries) gave birth in Japan to her second baby at her midwife's house. Sarah wrote to me in an email: "Not mentioned in my post are other tidbits from Jamie about her experience, including that during her stay at the midwifes home for several days postpartum, the midwife made her 3 home-made meals every day! Love that personal nurturing...every woman should receive this kind of care. Jamie even sent me some pictures of her meals, which I didn't post because of space, but they looked delicious."

Jamie's Birth Story

Sarah's words in black; Jamie's words in purple.

Jamie is one of those people that I can’t believe I’ve never met in person. We used to live in the same city, we have oodles of friends in common and both my husband and I have met her husband, Bryan. Jamie and her family moved from Nebraska to Japan a few years ago, which is where her second son, little Ezra, was born last fall. I always love to read birth stories, of course, but I also love to learn about birth in other cultures (because we Americans have so much to gain!). Jamie shared these details about her experiences having a midwife-attended birth:
  • The midwife experience in japan is rather rare — only about 10% of births happen in midwife clinics, so my experience wasn’t the norm.  Many of my japanese friends were surprised and interested in giving birth at a midwife clinic (josanin).  All of the births in hospitals and birthing centers, however, are attended by midwives, and the dr. comes in to catch the baby.
  • The midwife’s clinic is in her home.  She and her family live on the first level, where her office is also located, and there are three birth rooms upstairs.  She provided a few things (the baby’s clothes, blankets and diapers, and pads for me), but i had to bring my own pajamas, toiletries, and pain meds. 
  • I gave birth and stayed in the same room.  Ezra slept in the bed with me, and if you have other co-sleeping kids, they are welcome to stay and sleep with you. (in japan, they co-sleep until age five or six.)
  • She came and took the baby every day for a bath and to weigh him, and i took a shower while she did that.  Then she weighed me and “wrapped” me — she did a traditional japanese wrap around my waist and hips to help my hips close after giving birth.  It felt amazing!  After giving birth, you kind of walk around for a while feeling like your insides are going to fall out, but with that hip wrap, I felt totally normal.
**Renowned anthropologist/childbirth author Sheila Kitzinger said this about the practice of post-partum binding in Rediscovering Birth:  
My mother, who was a midwife in the years after First World War, described to me how she bound the new mother’s body firmly with wide strips of cloth from below the breasts to the top of the legs. Each time the midwife visited in the days following the birth she unwound the cloth strips, gave the mother a bed-bath, patted her dry, and then rebound her. She offered the intimate and nurturing touch which was considered an important part of postnatal care. In modern hospitals new mothers are rarely touched except to examine them, to check that the uterus is firm and…to examine the perineum. (p. 221)
This is the story of Ezra Dean’s birth:

on a rainy night in october, with less than 20 minutes left in the day, you came.  you were pink and slimy and quiet as you drew your first breath, and i was so happy to be done.  we leaned over you, your daddy and i both with our hands under your body, taking in our first looks of your nose, your mouth, your fingers and your toes.  you were beautiful.

i was certain that you would come late, as your brother was late, and your nana said i was late, and so was your uncle — it was the way of birth in our family, and you were no exception.  twice, i thought you were coming.  twice, i woke up in the middle of the night, experiencing the sensations and pains of your arrival.  once, i called our friend to come be with your big brother at 3am.  once, your father and i walked to pick up gum at the 24-hour convenience store at 4am.  twice, i fell back asleep after contractions stopped and my tears were dried, convinced that you were not coming like i thought you were.

five days after your due date, i woke early in the morning at 5:30a, once again feeling those pains.  they were slightly different, so this time, i was sure. we made the calls.  we packed the bags.  i took my time getting ready, not knowing how long it would be.  i did laundry and washed dishes.  i straightened my hair and put in my contacts.  i brushed my teeth and ate tiny snacks.  at 9am, your dad and brother and i went to a park to play.  i was having contractions 10 to 15 minutes apart, and they were getting stronger.  yes, i thought, this is it.  today, we would meet you — ezra dean.

around 11am, after about five hours of here and there contractions that weren’t too bothersome, we went to get checked at the midwife’s.  i was 4cm dilated. and the contractions had stopped.  so we went for a walk.

your papa and i drove to kendai university and spent a few hours walking its hills, taking in the fall scenery, talking and musing and dreaming.  i even cried a little, which is normal for me these days.  it was a lovely time, but things had completely subsided.  it was 3pm.  perhaps you would not come.

we went home and i talked with a friend on the phone.  i ate a snack and fell asleep, sadness and frustration seeping over my heart.  am i doing something wrong?  why will he not come? at 5pm, i woke up and cried and prayed with your papa.  you would come when the time was right and determined, i wanted to believe it.  i would wait for that time.  God knew when it was, and things were safe in His hands.  i breathed a sigh of relief, knowing it wasn’t my will that made things happen.  our spirits lightened, we set out to fully enjoy the evening.  and we did.

at 6:30p, as we were on our way to eat, i started getting contractions again, only every half-hour.  the midwife wanted us to come after dinner so she could see how things were progressing. by 7:30, they were every 15 minutes, and more intense, and i was beginning to feel very ‘serious,’ as they say.  no more small talk. no more laughter. no more playing around.

at 8p, we arrived at the midwife’s, and she checked me — dilated to 6/7cm, and she told me you may come fast, so it would be better to come and stay at her house now.  we dropped off your big brother and our friend at home and returned to the midwife’s, excitement in your papa’s eyes and seriousness in mine, so very ready to meet you.

we listened to music.  we read.  i stopped everything to breathe and survive the contractions.  by 10pm, they were coming every 5 minutes and i could have no noise or distraction in the midst of them.  your papa gently stroked my back and did what he could to encourage me.  you were coming.  you were finally coming.
at 10:45, the contractions were one on top of the other, and i started to make a lot of noise.  the midwife rushed upstairs to help, and at 11:15, with a squeal of pain, my water broke.  i was ready.  i was so ready.
i had been laboring on my hands and knees and was too tired to move, so i started pushing from there and making more noises that sounded strange to my own ears.  i wanted this over.  i wanted to be done.  i wanted you here.  the midwife let your head crown just a little, and would gently push you back inside to help me stretch.  it was painful, and i kept asking your papa, “is he out yet? is his head out?”  finally, she let you make your way, and it was nothing but bliss to finally leave my hands and knees and sit with you in front of me on that october night.
you slid out into your father’s hands, and as i said, we both hovered over you, taking you in.  you were so distinctly you to my eyes.  not like your brother.  you had your own eyes, your own nose, your own hair.  just you.  your papa cut the cord and i took it all in. i could hardly believe the blonde haired, blue eyed babe in my hands was you, and you were mine.
and i was so glad the wait was over.  and you had finally made your way.
welcome, ezra dean, to this life of ours.
ezra dean o’donnell
6lbs 12oz
born in shizuoka, japan, october 22, 2009

Bryan, Jones, Jamie and Baby Ezra


  1. The writer did such a lovely job describing her birth.

    I had a birth in Japan with a traditional midwife in her Josanin (birth clinic). They treated me so kindly. After the birth they put out the futon beds on the tatami mat floor, and got me comfortable. They got out beds for my children (4 older siblings) and my husband as well, but by 4:30 am, with all the adrenaline, they just couldn't settle down and rest, so dad took them home, all but my oldest who stayed with me to 'help'. I went home after 6 hours (my request), and they came to me daily for three or four days to check on us and bathe and care for my baby... They were shocked that I didn't have the 'binding' and had never in my 4 previous births done that! They got out some bindig cloths and bound my belly.

    I had a wonderful water birth. That baby just turned 9 yrs old last week.

    Thank you for posting this story to bring back my own sweet memories of my baby's birth as well.

  2. I was actually born in Japan in 1986. I had to be born in a clinic (a mini-hospital, really) because the hospitals would not let women delivering a third child give birth in hospitals. Japan had an unofficial birth quota back then.

    And I was delivered by a midwife. However, that wasn't necessarily the plan. My mom went to an OB, but the midwife who delivered me did care for her a few times and was in attendance at my older brother's birth.

    The only reason why the midwife delivered me was because the doctor didn't get there in time. I was born in 45 minutes without drugs. The no-drug part wasn't part of the plan either ;)

    Something else that people here might find interesting is that in Japan, if you want an epidural, you have to pay for it out of pocket.

  3. This is such a lovely story.I'm leaving in south Africa but I'm a Ugandan and the binding is done a lot in Uganda after birth> people don't do it in hospitals but its done when one has returned home. In south Africa however its not a known practice esp among the white community> i explained it o a friend of mine who gave birth a while ago and was complaining about pain and she was surprised something like that is done. thank you for the story.

  4. What a beautiful family! I'm loving this series!

  5. Thank you so much for re-posting this from my blog, Rixa! I knew somethin' was up when my blog stats suddenly sky-rocketed. ;) I told Jamie she is officially a celebrity in the birth world now! She has such a beautiful story to tell and, like another commenter said, she tells it which such poignancy and grace.

  6. I loved this one :) I love japanese traditional culture so it's nice to read about a birth in Japan, even if it isn't the norm. Since so many women are cared for by midwives, I wonder what the c-section rate is like in Japan?

  7. I love the photo of mom, dad, and midwife all kneeling around the baby. So evocative and empowering! You can tell all three played an active role in the birth, instead of the typical American post-birth photo where mom is on her back in the bed with baby plopped on top of her and dad is hovering awkwardly to the side with one arm over the bed.

  8. woo hoo, that's ME! :)
    such a privilege to have my story posted here, thanks so much! i'm enjoying it immensely. ;) i LOVED this birth experience and hope to have more babies with this midwife.

    sara: the c-section rate here is very low. not sure of the actual percentage, but it's low. also, the infant mortality rate is among the lowest in the world (lowest three maybe?) needless to say, i was pretty excited to give birth here!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...