Luca’s Story – Part 1 – Pregnancy in Japan

Overall, this past week has been a good one.  I am overwhelmed by the positive and compassionate responses I received from my first blog post. Thank you! Knowing that we have that continuous support from so many people really helps me to keep moving forward and I appreciate it so much.

My mom sent me this picture too and it made me so happy to know that Luca is being taken care of and that he is ready for fall!  I love his fall decor!

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Our mothers and other family members have been great, visiting him when they can, and making sure his gravesite is always looking beautiful.

But there are moments that are still so hard.  Last night, I was watching TV and someone found out their mother had died on the show.  The woman was screaming and crying.  That scene reminded me of the moment that a doctor told me that Luca would not live… the worst moment of my life.  There will always be those triggers for me, but I get through them, especially thanks to my husband.  Thinking about that moment made me want to tell Luca’s story from the beginning, which I will do over the course of the next several posts.

We decided we wanted to start trying for a baby when my husband returned from his deployment in the fall of 2014.  I got pregnant right away and felt so fortunate for that.  Being my first pregnancy, everything was new to me.  I was used to feeling great and staying super active, but those first 12 weeks I had NEVER felt so tired in my entire life!  Overall though, it started out as a fairly uneventful pregnancy.  I felt sick, but not terribly sick, and managed to keep up my gym routine and eating relatively healthy – goals of mine.  We busied ourselves with planning how to tell our families the happy news, finding the perfect doula, and deciding where to have our baby.  I worried about all the little things like stretch marks, taking the right vitamins, eating the right foods, gaining only the proper amount of weight, and getting past that 12-week mark when everything would be magically fine and our baby would be deemed safe and healthy.

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Baby Luca at 9 weeks!

For our first two appointments (9 and 12 weeks), we went to the U.S. Naval Hospital here on Okinawa.  We saw our little nugget for the first time and it was absolutely incredible!  I cried and couldn’t believe a tiny little human was growing inside of me.  After that, we decided to switch to a Japanese birth center outside of the military healthcare system.  Japan is known to have some of the very best maternal and infant care and we had heard amazing things about Yui Clinic.  Living in Japan is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we want to take advantage of everything this country has to offer. It was a goal of mine to try my very best for an all natural birth and Yui Clinic is most supportive of that.  I could spend many blog posts talking about my experiences going to a Japanese doctor, but for now, I will share some of the highlights.

We quickly learned that these doctor appointments would be much different than going to an OBGYN in the U.S.!  I would say each appointment was two to three hours.  We brought either Kyoko-San or Asako-San with us to translate.  My doctor at Yui spoke great English and it wasn’t mandatory to have a translator, but it was nice to have Kyoko-San or Asako-San with us, just in case we had any communication problems (most of the midwives and other staff spoke little or no English).

Yui Clinic also gives every mom their own pregnancy guidebook.  Now, I got a pregnancy guide book from the military hospital, but this Japanese one was SO much better and more interesting!  It talks about everything from nutrition to breastfeeding to kick counts, and even includes some cute little cartoon tutorials, poetry for meditation, and more. 🙂

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After checking in and taking my vitals, we would first see a midwife.  During that portion of the appointment, she would assess my overall health and we would talk about how I was feeling and any questions that we had.  Here are some of the highlights of the appointments with my midwives:

  • Diet – Japanese doctors are MUCH more concerned with weight gain and the quality of what you are eating.  They had me keep a food log for a week or so and we discussed how to have a balanced diet according to their recommendations.  Their guidelines included eating seasonal food, tofu, cooked beans, fish, lots of seaweed, and consuming warm liquids like warm/hot water, soups, etc. to keep my body warm, which is good for baby.  Since Japanese people do not traditionally have a lot of dairy, they get their calcium from soy bean products, small fishes, dried shrimp, and other traditional sources (I stuck with the yogurt and cheese!).  The guidebook that they gave me actually says “white sugar is poison” – they really say it like it is when it comes to health here in Japan!  The guide also agreed with the no raw meat rule we Americans have, but that did not include fish or eggs.
  • Exercise – I was worried that maybe they would think I exercise too much, but my doctor and midwives were always thrilled to hear that I worked out regularly and encouraged that.
  • Communicating with Baby – One appointment, they spent over 30 minutes talking to us about the importance of talking to our baby, and in particular, my husband talking to our baby.  They suggested that if he was uncomfortable or didn’t know how to start, then he should read books to our baby.  How awesome!  Here is a page from my Japanese pregnancy guide with suggestions: IMG_0774
  • Staying Warm – They would feel my legs, ankles, and belly to determine if my body temperature was adequate (they were never happy with me on that one – saying I was always too cold and should wear a neck warmer and ankle warmers, because “you must keep baby warm!”).  This was probably the thing I failed at the most since in Okinawa it’s ALWAYS HOT and no, I will NOT wear a neck warmer when it’s already so humid and I’m having prego lady hot flashes!  They were not so thrilled when I would arrive in my flip flops, exposing my feet and ankles all the time.

The midwives were so friendly, warm, and maternal – always smiling and so welcoming (just like any Okinawan).  Another super cool thing about being pregnant in Japan is this other awesome little book all expectant moms receive called the Maternal and Child Health Handbook.  Yui gave me this book, which I brought to each appointment, and that was used to keep track of my entire pregnancy.

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After discussing my overall health with a midwife, we would go back into the waiting area, then be called in to see my doctor.  Dr. Fumi is the OBGYN at Yui and her husband is the pediatrician. They are the only two doctors at the clinic and were wonderful.  She was always very serious when doing her job, focusing intently on the ultrasound, and looking at every angle very intensely and thoroughly.  One big difference with pregnancy appointments in Japan is that they offer an ultrasound nearly every appointment. Usually they are not long ultrasounds, but the doctor always likes to check on the baby.  Dr. Fumi realized that Americans are not used to this, so she would let us decide if we wanted an ultrasound each appointment, except for certain appointments when they were mandatory.

Besides the ultrasounds, here are some other notable differences between Yui Clinic and an American hospital:

  • If you are a first time mom, Yui keeps you for at least five days after the birth.  Five days!
  • Where do you give birth?  On a tatami mat!
  • Mom can eat while laboring and they will make you smoothies or snacks as needed.
  • After your baby is born, they will cook you a whole Okinawan fish as a celebration meal along with Okinawan seasonal foods and ingredients– yum!  For your meals during your hospital stay, there is a community dining room where you can eat and chat with other parents with new babies.
  • I’ve heard that they will also give mom a massage and wash her hair after the birth (sounds amazing to me).
  • Their midwives and nurses are trained in breastfeeding support and help moms achieve successful breastfeeding during their stay, so that they are prepared when they go home.
  • Our appointments cost between 5,000¥ and 8,000¥ (about $41-$66) each visit (and were reimbursed by our insurance).  Can you believe that?  Anyone who has ever received a medical bill in the U.S. knows that is ridiculously cheap!

While I was pregnant, I taught English at a preschool near Yui.  It was fun to chat with the other Okinawan moms about my pregnancy in my broken Japanese.  Many of them had their babies at Yui and they were so surprised and happy that I would have my baby their too.  My preschool students would rub and kiss my belly and say “Hi, baby!” – it was the best.

People often ask me if I wish I knew about Luca’s condition sooner, and the answer is no.  I miss those days of ignorant bliss. Of having my big pregnant belly and believing that everything was happy and wonderful.  I’m so glad that the majority of the time that I had Luca in my belly I was stress free, focusing my attention on just taking care of us and loving him.  By the time I found out what was wrong, my bond was already so strong with my son.  In some ways that probably made it much harder and more painful to say goodbye, but I also know that the bond we had ensured that he felt so much love from his mom and dad.  That is something that makes me smile every day.

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9 thoughts on “Luca’s Story – Part 1 – Pregnancy in Japan

  1. Hi Jess,
    I went to Yui clinic for a check up on an ovarian cyst I have a few weeks ago, and the clinic was so lovely. I remember thinking about how lovely it would be to have a baby there as all the staff seemed great and the atmosphere was so calm and inviting. I’m so sorry for your loss.

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story with all of us. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I think this is such a great informative post for people here in Okinawa (or even Japan) that aren’t quite sure of what alternatives are out there; I hear nothing but positive stories from people who have used local facilities (whether it be antenatal or dentistry!) I would love to know more about Kyoko-San & Asako-San too (how you met them etc)

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    • I think I will do a follow up post on this topic in the future, because I do think not a lot of American women know their options here. Thank you for those suggestions and for your support! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Luca’s Story – Part 3 – A Broken Heart | Living for Luca

  4. Pingback: Luca’s Story – Part 5 – Mother’s Day | Living for Luca

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