I've had all three of my kids in Japanese maternity hospitals, so honestly, I don't know much about having a baby in America. But my American friends have taught me a lot, so today I am going to write about several differences regarding pregnancy and childbirth in Japan and the U.S. I know things are different in different areas of Japan, but here I will write of my experiences living in the country in Fukuoka Prefecture. 


1. 超音波の数アメリカでは、殆どの問題がない妊娠の場合、超音波は2回しかしてくれない。大体、妊娠がわかった時と、5ヶ月の時だけだ。妊婦検診のある度に、機械で赤ちゃんの心拍を聞いたり、お母ちゃんの健康状態を見たりするけど、超音波はしない。何で?と聞きたかろう?アメリカの医療制度は何でも、保険と繋がっている。保険会社は、2回以上の超音波代は出してくれないケースが多い。だから、親になる二人にとって、赤ちゃんを見ることは、相当楽しみにしていることだ。旦那さんは、妊婦検診のために仕事を休んで、二人で、性別は何やろう?とわくわく予想する。終わったら、必ずFacebookに超音波の写真をアップする。超音波の専門家になっている私は(98回くらい見た)、こういう写真を見たら、「ああ、可愛いね、アメリカの夫婦!」と思う。


1. Number of Ultrasounds. FIrst of all, the amount of ultrasounds performed on pregnant women in Japan is unbelievable. In America, in most cases, if a pregnancy is proceeding normally, there are only two ultrasounds done. One will be done at the beginning of pregancy, and another in the middle. At each checkup, the doctor will listen to the baby's heartbeat, and check on the mother's health as well, but he won't do an ultrasound every time. Why do you think that is? Well, like everything else regarding America's health care system, it has to do with the insurance system. In most cases, the insurance company won't pay for more than two ultrasounds. So, it is a real treat when the parents-to-be get to see their little bundle of joy at the doctor. The soon-to-be father will take a day off from work to accompany his wife to the doctor, and they talk excitedly about the sex of the baby. When the check-up is finished, they will put up pictures of the ultrasound on Facebook for sure. I guess I have been a little numbed to the joy of seeing those ultrasounds, since I have had like 98 or so. I look at those cute American parents-to-be and think they are just pretty darn cute.




Japan is exactly the opposite. The number of ultrasounds is crazy. For sure, you will get one every check up. But in the middle of those checkups, say, you catch a cold or something and you need medicine, well, they will do an ultrasound then, too. When I was pregnant with my second daughter Abby, I caught and cold and went in for some meds. The doctor said to me, "So, you wanna look at the baby?" Well, since I had just seen her four days earlier, I didnt really see the need, but hey, what the heck? How many mothers will turn down a chance to look at the little life growing inside?

So, I said "Sure!" I doubt that Abby had gained more than an ounce or two since the last look at her, but she was cutie. 




I was a punk even as a pregnant woman.


When you get this many ultrasounds, you kinda turn into an amateur ultrasound expert. Ahh..there are my ovaries. And that is the baby's tummy. There's the legs! Wait! It's a boy!! And yep, there is the gas that has been torturing me for days. "Man, that is a lot of gas there, Mama!" say the doc. Um, yeah. I have been constipated for a few days now. And now you know, too. I have no idea how many copies of the ultrasounds that I have gotten over the course of three pregancies, but it's gotta be more than 90. Seriously? 90? Maybe it is a little extreme, but if it doesn't hurt the baby, why not? I can't helped but be moved every time I see that little life in there.




2. Hospitalization Period. One other area of childbirth related to pregancy is the period of hospitalization after childbirth. Compared to Japan, it is crazy short. In Japan, women are usually in the hospital for between four and six days after the baby is born. The thinking is, postpartum bodies of the new mommies is weak, and they need to take it easy for as long as possible. In America, the norm is to be discharged the day following the birth. You may think it is crazy, but most women desire that. They want to get out of the hospital as soon as they can. I wonder if one reason is the infamous disguisting hospital food. Anyway, it is short. I can't understand that at all. I loved all the postpartum help I got so much, that I wanted to stay in my cozy Japanese hospital forever. 



Anyway, in extreme cases, some woman in the U.S. may give birth in the morning, be discharged in the afternoon, take the baby shopping on the way home from the hospital, and cook dinner when she gets home. If women are healthy, many insurance companies will not pay for longer hospitalization periods. In addition, the cost of having a baby in America is much higher than in Japan. In a normal, problem-free birth, the cost will start from 500,000 yen or so. But if you need a C-section, the cost will go through the roof. How high will it go? Probably more than 2 million yen. The amount of the hospital charges that is covered by insurance will differ from company to company, so it is really hard to pin down an exact amount when talking about the cost of childbirth in America. Just remember that is a crazy expensive. If you have That's all. If you have good insurance, you may pay nothing. If not, it may cause a nervous breakdown. And there is very little financial support from the government like in Japan, where in many places having a baby is almost free. 




3. Weight gain. In Japan, the ideal weight gain is 8 kilograms. At the clinic where I had all three of my girls, they recommened keeping weight gain under 12 kilos, but if you went over that, they didn't really give you a hard time as long as you and the baby were healthy. I mean, my midwife friend gained more than 20 kilos during all three of her pregnancies, and she was totally fine. So, why not? I mean if everyone is healthy, eat away! Of course, the mom gets gestational diabetes, or if the baby isn't thriving because of excessive weight gain, that is not good. I think many Japanese women think way to much about their weight during pregnancy.



Kid #2 Abby. Her birth was a piece of cake. Thanks, Abby!




My friend was told by her clinic if she gained more than 8 kilos durinig pregnancy that they wouldn't see her anymore--she had to find a new doctor. They made her weigh herself three times a day. What a lousy hospital. I am sure if anyone is struggle with any kind of eating disorder, that it will just get worse during pregnancy at a hospital like that. I was reading some pregnancy magazines, and there were moms in there boasting of their pregnancy dieting tactics. "I only gained 2 kilos!! Go me!!" What a terrible idea. 




On the other hand, American moms gain way too much weight. In general, up to 16 kilograms is acceptable, although many moms gain way more than that. They think, "Hey, I am eating for two, so I gotta eat twice as much!" Well, not really...I mean, think abou it. After the baby is born, the new mom only loses three to four kilos, so the leftover 15 kilos or so is....FAT!! I am constantly reminded as I blog that both America and Japan are extreme, and the best thing is somewhere in the middle of both countries.





 4. Attitudes towards pain. Man, I could write about this forever. This is the only thing that I don't really like about having babies in Japan. I only wonder how Japanese women can stand such excruciating pain like they do. Doesn't it hurt? I mean, I think it hurts way more than trying to push a watermelon out of your nose. Still, most women don't even consider the option of having an epidural. Yeah, the Japanese are a people who love gaman (bearing pain). I am a crazy weak American woman. I totally can't stand the pain of childbirth. For all three of my pregnancies, I begged for an epidural, but all three were born too quickly for the doctor to administer it. 




In America, about 60% of women choose to have an epidural during childbirth. In Japan, it is only 6%. Here, you can clearly see cultural differences. One reason epidurals aren't widely used is the conception in Japan that having one is risky. That same caution led to the birth control pill being banned in Japan until 1999. I get the impression that American women don't think about the risk all that much. Is having an epidural more dangerous here? Or is it just the Japanese tendency to be cautious? 





Childbirth about killed me, but at least I got to stay in a snazzy room after.


Another reason is that, for the Japanese, pain in childbirth is just part of the natural process of becoming a mother--it is supposed to hurt. And then, after they overcome the terrible pain, they can say, "I am a MOTHER!!" They also really want a natural childbirth. But in America, the goal of childbirth is a healthy baby. It that can happen with minimal pain, that is awesome. Having a baby in the U.S. is really expensive, but epidurals are covered by insurance. In Japan, they aren't. You have to pay more than 50,000 yen for an epidural here. I would have gladly paid for it, but like I said, I didn't have to. So I took the money I saved and paid for a private room. Childbirth about killed me, but I really enjoyed the wireless internet and luxurious shower in my private room. I SOO deserved it.







5. Postpartum Life. Most new Japanese mothers return to their parents' home for about a month after the birth of the baby. During that time, they are expected to only take care of the baby. My friend's mom is particulary strict. She doesn't even let her use her phone or read, primarily because she thinks that the body of the postpartum woman is extremely weak. Of course, mothers with older children can't take it that easy, but they do way more than most new American moms do. This really surprised me. I mean, I was super energetic after all my kids were born. So, I was chasing after them at the park in no time. My Mom only took three days of maternity leave after having my brother. He was born on Friday, and she was back to work on Monday. 


私は、何よりも運動したかった。残念ながら、アンちゃんは、日本のママ達との体質が違う。授乳で全然痩せんかった。バリ運動して、めっちゃくちゃヘルシーなものを食べた。それでも、痩せるペースは超遅かった。友達は、「私は、何を食べても太らん!一日中食べよるけん、どんどん痩せて行きよる!1ヶ月検診に、授乳だけで7キロも減っていた!」その喜びが溢れていた友達を殴りたくなった。(笑) どんだけ、私は運動しよるってわかっとると?って叫びたかった。はは。本当に体質が違うね。アメリカでは、おっぱいをあげることだけで痩せることは、あまり聞かない。


More than anything, I wanted to exercise. Much to my chagrin, I don't have the calorie-burning super body of most of my Japanese friends. I didn't lose any weight at all from nursing. I exercised like a crazy women, and ate healthily, so the weight came off very, very, very slowly. My friends would say, "I can eat whatever I want and I don't get fat! I eat all day long, and I still lose weight! In fact, I lost 7 kilos this month from just nursing!!" I wanted to punch my happy friend in the face. Did she have any idea how much I sweated my butt off to lose that weight?? Haha. Body types are seriously different, right? I rarely hear about people losing a ton of weight from just nursing in the U.S.



I only gained 7 kg during my third pregnancy. Yeah, I am becoming Japanese!




After my kids were born, I stayed at home, for oh, maybe 13 days. Once I took that newborn bundle of joy to the supermarket, and this old Japanese lady said to me, "Man, what a cutie! How old is she?" So I said, "Ummm. About a month?" Why not? I mean, she would be a month old in a mere 18 days, right? Japanese moms will usually not take the baby out for a least a month, but most American moms will venture out after a week or two. I doubt there are many who stay home for an entire month like Japanese moms. They would go nuts with cabin fever.





My mom came to help after all three girls were born.


My mom came from America to visit after all three of my girls were born. Of course, it would be impossible for me to go home to America soon after the kids were born. But even if America weren't so far away, I still wouldn't want to go home. I would hate being apart from my Honey that long. We wanted to enjoy our new bundle of joy together.




There is so much more I could write, but I have the annoying tendency of writing blogs that are way too long. The thing I most want you to remember is this:  there are many things you may be taking for granted in Japan because you think they are normal. But they aren't. You are very blessed in Japan, especially regarding healthcare. I mean, you can feel at peace for the most part from the beginning of pregnancy to the end, because they level of care is great. And, it is almost free in most places. I am totally done with having babies, but if I were to have another one, you can be sure I'd be screaming at the top of my lungs for an epidural. I am a such a wimp when it comes to pain...

My family is complete.