Postpartum in Japan

My 2nd child, Malachi, was born in May, 2012. I wrote this soon after that, mainly about the hospital stay. When people find out I had 3 of my babies in Japan, the main question I get is “Is it very different?”. Well…here’s the answer. 😉

It’s the last day of my maternity leave! I better write a blog while I have a chance.

In Japan, it’s really common for a pregnant wife to go home to her mother about a month before her due date, have her baby there, and then stay for another month or two before coming home to her husband. Her husband may or may not visit during that time. There are several different reasons for this, an obvious one being that when they come home, there’s work to be done! A husband and kid/kids to take care of…why not stay with Mom where they’re taken care of and can rest?

Since that is so common, it wasn’t too surprising that so many of our Japanese friends asked if I was going to go home to America to have the baby, or if my mom or family was coming to help me. My usual answer was that no, I would be having the baby in Japan. And my sisters would be coming for a couple weeks around the time the baby is due (they got here 2 weeks after…perfect timing!), but after that, I’m on my own! It really is a difference in cultures; I think it has been quite shocking to some of my friends.

My postpartum independence may be shocking to them, but some things about my postpartum 5-day hospital stay were quite shocking to me! Here are some things that may be different from hospital stays after having a baby in the States:

  • The length of stay. If Evangeline had been born a week later, I could have had her at the Birth Center as planned. In that case, my total stay would have been less than 12 hours after the birth! Here, it is common to stay up to a week for a natural delivery, or more than 10 days for a C-section.
  • The food. There were several days when I had fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And of course rice with almost every meal. It was very healthy, and actually quite tasty as well. However, I did crave a big cheeseburger and some fried chicken, not to mention a huge slice of chocolate cake and some ice cream. These are apparently not part of the hospital’s menu, though. 😦
  • Still on the food topic…I found out a little late that I was expected to bring my own hashi (chopsticks)!! I had to ask for some form of utensil with almost every meal until Adam finally brought me some chopsticks. I have no idea why that is the case. I was never given water to drink. If I wanted tea, I could go get it myself. Otherwise, I had to buy from the vending machine or bring my water bottle and keep it filled, which is what I did. We were also given only a limited supply of diapers and other things for me and the baby and were told there was a vending machine downstairs where we could buy more.
  • Every time a nurse or doctor entered my room, they said “Shitsureishimasu”, which basically means “I’m sorry I’m about to be rude”.
  • Visiting hours were from 1-9pm, even for family. We never tested how lenient they would be, but I think it was a pretty strict rule. In the States, Adam stayed with me for my entire hospital stay. It wouldn’t have been possible here anyway because someone needed to be with Evangeline, but still…different! The hours for NICU were even more limited. 12:30-4:30pm and 6-9pm. Those were also the only times I was allowed to breastfeed him, which was pretty disappointing.
  • **Shitsureishimasu** The Japanese have absolutely no problem talking about “oppai” (breasts) in front of mixed company. Our friend found this out the hard way when he translated for a nurse. 🙂
  • The language barrier. Obviously, this was the biggest difference, and the most difficult one, especially when trying to understand what was going on with Malachi while he was in NICU, and then why he had to stay an extra day after I was released. For the most part, we were able to understand and communicate enough, but when it came to the technical stuff it was pretty frustrating.
  • Paying. We have international insurance, but the hospital we were at only accepted the national insurance or cash. We paid in cash and will get reimbursed by our insurance, but the fact that we couldn’t pay by credit or debit card meant Adam was carrying around some pretty hefty amounts of cash. It was also supposed to be paid in full by the time we were released.

Overall my hospital stay wasn’t bad. The worst part was not fully understanding why I had to leave my baby there and why I couldn’t breastfeed him when I wanted. But mostly it was good. It stretched my language skills and taught me new things about this culture we’re living in. And, they took care of me and my sweet son and got us home healthy. 🙂

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