So here I am at last with time to put some words down about our "made in Japan" baby! Our story is kind of unusual - I am Australian, my DH is Canadian and we have been living in Tokyo for approx eight years. We met here....neither of us had the intention of staying more than 1-2 years once our initial contracts were up but many years later, we are settled (for now!) with our first child on the way.
DH is completing his PhD here and I work for a US investment bank (just started maternity leave), we travel a lot every year both to see our families and to visit new & interesting parts of the world. We have made a home here, a community, a warm circle of friends and have a lifestyle that we love and celebrate every day.
And so to the story of our baby..... I wonder sometimes if men are ever ready? In our case, I think it was more so DH taking the lead on when I was ready....in reality I could have waited another 2, 3, 4 years and still been a busy, professional woman with different priorities but I think I reached a now-or-never point. At 31, I was ready to focus on family and put my career on hold. Luckily for us, we got pregnant the first cycle we tried and it has been smooth sailing ever since.
Our story continued .... we were shocked to find out how easily we got pregnant although I had read "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" so had a pretty good idea when to plan I didn't do the temperature charting thing, just tried to watch my cycle and look for the right signs - I guess it worked!!
From the start I was anxious about the onset of morning sickness given I commute into downtown Tokyo every day on a very busy train (yes all the stereotypes of the commuter nightmare in Tokyo are true!). I positioned myself every morning close to the door in case a quick escape was required, packed crackers in my bag etc - basically was boy-scout ready at every step of the way! Thankfully, I was one of those very lucky women who never experience a drop of nausea or morning sickness, I didn't crave any particular foods, didn't feel repulsed by certain smells or textures and generally just plodded along like my normal self except for this tiny creature growing inside me....
We got referred to a Japanese OB/GYN doctor at our local hospital who speaks excellent English (my husband's Japanese is fluent, mine certainly has room for improvement but this was an experience I couldn't face all in Japanese) - however I think my views on the health care system require a posting of it's own so will leave that for now.
I really didn't start showing till around 19-20 weeks when we went on our summer holidays to Paris. I had just enough belly to get us into museums & galleries ahead of the queue and to always have people give me a seat on the metro! It was a wonderful trip - I need to figure out how I can post some photos.
Japan has a national health insurance system somewhat similar to the systems in Australia and Canada where everyone has coverage – this is facilitated through people’s taxes. The way it works here is that whenever you go to the Dr/hospital you only have to pay 25-30% of the cost of your treatment, the rest is covered through your insurance. Your practioner and the govt work out the 70% between them so you don’t need to go chasing reimbursements.
Of course people have the option to take out private health insurance to cover the difference between 75 and 100% coverage but in my experience most just make do with the national plan. Having a baby here (natural delivery) is not considered a medical condition (c-section is however) so you do have to pay for that when you leave the hospital but this cost is reimbursed to you through a “special grant” paid through the health insurance system.
In terms of actual care and treatment during pregnancy (although I have nothing to compare it to in either Australia or Canada this being our first child), I feel my experience has been exceptionally positive. In the first tri-mester, I was asked to visit for check ups every 2-3 weeks and they were very careful to ensure that the foetus was developing on schedule with scans (the trans-vaginal kind – sorry if TMI). In the second tri-mester my check ups were monthly and now in the third tri-mester I am back on 2-weekly check ups. I have sometimes wondered whether having a scan at every check up (we have a whole album already!!) is safe for the baby, but the Dr assured me there is no medical data to suggest that a series of 2-3 min scans throughout the course of pregnancy has any negative effects on the baby.
All our questions have been answered and the OB/GYN pairs with a team of mid-wives who, from what I understand, do the majority of the work throughout your labour & delivery. Women are encouraged to stay in hospital for 5 days for a normal delivery and 7+ days for a c-section to ensure you are ready to be on your own with the baby at home.
Pain relief during labour is strongly discouraged and there is a lot of support for women to get through the process without drugs. E.g. a mid-wife will stay with you your entire labour if that’s what you want, helping you focus and concentrate on each contraction with different coping methods etc. Of course, if you have a strong preference for an epidural there is that option but the majority of women do not take it.
I guess my only criticism so far (my final perspective will be after the baby is born!) is that they approach things here a little more conservatively especially around the father’s involvement. My DH has come to every check up with me but he is usually the only guy there. Our hospital has been great at accommodating this but I know he feels a little awkward being the only guy hanging around! Also our hospital does not do cord-blood banking which is something we were considering….
Maternity Leave coverage is pretty good here in Japan; I get six weeks before the birth and eight weeks after the birth at 80% of my normal salary however my company tops it up to 100% so approx 3 months at full pay.
We can then take something called Child Care Leave up to the baby's first birthday and during this time we get a monthly grant through the health insurance system of approx US$1,300. It is nowhere near my monthly salary but it will help pay some bills. I am hoping to take the full 12 months off but may consider going back part time earlier than that depending on whether everything is going well with the baby and our financial needs.
Last Friday was my final day in the office however I am not officially starting my maternity leave until Nov 1st. In the meantime, I am working from home doing some special projects for my boss - really enjoying it so far, just being able to take my time in the mornings and not rush out the door, wear whatever I like and take a nap after lunch makes all the difference. Oh I think I forgot to mention my due date - our is due November 24th.
Day 3 of working from home....my boss is really keeping me on my toes with projects and ad hoc requests to get things done! I am not sure whether it's because I am in a quieter environment at home v's the office, but this week I can really feel the baby moving around. At our check up on Tues I had the Dr run the scan over my right side where I feel the most movement & we saw it is the baby's legs and feet there - explains all the prodding!
We have not found out the sex of our baby, I guess our philosophy has been that there are few such amazing surprises in life, why not wait until he or she arrives. So many women have criticized this decision - I don't take it personally, they all say "how could you NOT find out?!"....
Over the past week, as I really feel the shape of the baby poking me I have had moments where I've wondered "who are you?". If I knew the gender, maybe I would have a better sense of this individual life inside me. But we are only 6 weeks away from our due date and have waited this long....another few weeks will not be difficult.
Here is an abbreviated version ..... Fri evening we went to a steak and lobster dinner at the Canadian Embassy here in Tokyo, it was such a balmy evening we stood out on the balcony looking at the view of the city and socializing with friends. Made me kind of feel wistful about our approaching arrival - wondering when DH and I will be able to do these kinds of things again? How awfully selfish of me!
Today I started to think about packing my bag for the hospital, washed the new PJs I have purchased as well as the nursing bras. The list the midwife gave me was pretty minimal, I think they will provide almost everything we need there but I want to have some of my own stuff with me - might make me more relaxed!
I also cleaned up the stroller we were given....it's in excellent condition but I wanted to wipe it all down and wash the fabric parts. One of the managing directors at work gave it us as his son grew out of it. I never really thought I would be the type to put my baby in second hand stuff but why buy a brand new stroller when the one we received is in excellent shape. Besides, they are not cheap here in Tokyo!
Tokyo has been suffering from consistent rain over the last 4-5 days as a typhoon passes along the coast of Honshu (the main island) however unlike the usual summer typhoons, there is no period of steamy humidity following - a great relief to me in my heavily pregnant state!
I am not sure whether I am anxious about being a mother, worried about the changes to our lifestyle, my body preparing for the sleepness nights ahead or whether it's just the baby being active but I have been having trouble sleeping over the last few weeks. I have a couple of very restless nights followed by a night of sound sleep because I am so exhausted! I am trying not to take naps during the day so that when bedtime arrives, I am truly ready for sleep...
My cousin who was due on the same date as me has just given birth - 6 weeks early! A little girl after 2 boys which is wonderful. My Mum is now all anxious that I will go early too - I just can't see it happening myself.
It's now a long waiting game....I think this week I have started to experience Braxton Hicks contractions - it feels like bad period pain but goes away after a while. The baby has also been quite active but not in the same painful way that I have heard other women describe. I just get the occasional jab in my side - it's either a knee, hand or foot!
I wonder what I'm going to do from Nov 1st after I finish working from home....I don't think I am the stay-at-home as even this current schedule doesn't seem busy enough to me! DH says I need to detoxify myself after working so hard the last few years and that I will get used to the slower pace. I guess once the baby arrives, all the free time will suddenly disappear and I'll wish I had it back again!
Today DH had the morning off and went to train (he teaches a kind of martial arts called Aiki-Budo) and we then went out for a quick lunch of spicy Korean food before he went to work. I took my book to Starbucks and had a soy latte, relaxing with my novel. There were two Mums having coffee next to me with their babies and both of them looked so big - they were not newborns!