Pregnancy in Japan so far

As my pregnancy enters its final stages with just a week to go until my due date, I thought I would write a bit about all the experiences I have had so far with doctors etc, in the hopes of enlightening some people who have yet to go through the experience (here in Japan).

Obviously this is my first baby, and I have never been pregnant or given birth in any country except Japan, so forgive me for writing things that are normal in every country.

I don`t even remember why I thought I was pregnant to begin with, just `a feeling` I suppose. I peed on several sticks over the course of a week (with negative results), and finally got a positive result in the first week of August 2010 (in the loo at work!) Yoshi and I had gotten married just 3 weeks earlier, so this was all a bit of a surprise!

I took a picture of the pregnancy test and tried to stayed calm... I had always believed that it would take me ages to get pregnant since I was underweight after the wedding, have never had regular periods, and at one point in my late teens / early 20s was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) which makes it harder to fall pregnant.

Actually, the first person I told was Eve (my little sister) because I saw her first. She and I were walking through Chayamachi (in Umeda, Osaka) and she screamed! What a reaction... people stopped and stared as though we were crazy (more than usual).

That same night, at a family BBQ for Yoshi`s nephew`s birthday, I told Yoshi, but told him to keep it quiet. If the pregnancy test was accurate, I would only be about 5 weeks along, far too early to spread the news.

The next Monday I went to a Ladies Clinic in Namba, Osaka (Oak Clinic) where the doctors speak English and they are quite happy to accept non-Japanese patients. The doctor confirmed my pregnancy with a urine test and then did an internal exam. She showed me a picture of the tiny fetus on the screen, but it was only 5 weeks along, and there was no heartbeat to be found. She told me to come back in 3 weeks (it is much easier to see a heartbeat on a fetus at 7-8weeks).

The next few weeks were unbearable... I am not the most patient of people, but when I went back 3 weeks later, and saw the tiny heartbeat, I finally realised `I am gonna be a mum!`

The Oak Clinic only deals with pregnancies (and pregnant patients) until the 12th week (as they do not have any facilities for delivering babies), and recommended I find a hospital asap. She said that most hospitals and clinics accept a limited number of patients (to avoid overcrowding) and with an expected due date in early April, a lot of hospitals might already be full! The doctor also told me to go to my local city/ward office and register the pregnancy.

I went to the Higashi Osaka City office (in Aramoto, Higashi Osaka) and talked to the lady in the International Plaza (one corner of one floor of the building with some very limited information about life in Japan, all written in English!). I asked her if she knew of any ob/gyn in the area who could speak English, to which she replied `no` and then she placed a call to the `birth registration` desk who sent a very nervous young man to see me, and record my information, and give me a 母子手帳 = boshi techo (The Mother and Child Health Handbook) and some other documents. The boshi techo is a very important book here in Japan which you MUST take to each and every doctor`s appointment. It contains spaces for the nurses and doctors to record your weight, height, blood pressure, and the development of the fetus (and later the child). In the back of the book, there are also coupons (the most valuable is 10,000yen, another for 6,000yen, and several worth 3,000yen) which can be used to help pay for the tests (which must be administered throughout the course of pregnancy - an HIV test, glucose test, non-stress test, etc).

* One funny thing about the boshi techo, like everything in Japan, is that it is never brought to appointments as is. There are online stores which specialise in decorating and accessorising the boshi techo, and lots of mother/baby shops which sell special cases for them!

After asking around, and having Yoshi`s sister place some calls to local ob/gyn clinics to ask if there were any staff who could speak English, I finally decided to go to the Osaka Red Cross hospital located in Ue-Honmachi, Osaka. My doctor can speak a lot of medical english (which is very technical and sometimes I have no idea what he is talking about) and a wee bit of conversational english, which is much better than nothing. Although my pregnancy has been problem free, I would have hated to had to clarify everything that was being said with Yoshi (who has come with me to most of the appointments).

Each time I go to the hospital, the same thing happens... here is a sample time-line;

11:00am - arrive at the hospital and swipe my ID card in the check-in machine which prints out a receipt with a number on it (that`s my number in the queue).
11:05am - go up to the 3rd floor and swipe my ID card in another machine. This machine very cleverly spits out a paper cup with my name on it (in which I pee and leave on a cooled shelf in the ladies bathroom).
11:10am - go to the ob/gyn corner of the hospital (on the 2nd floor) and check my own weight (the scales print out a record of my weight so I can`t cheat), and blood pressure (the machine prints out a record of this too). I put the two small pieces of paper (weight and blood pressure) into the front of my boshi techo and hand it to the girls wearing pink uniforms.
11:15am - one of the girls wearing a pink uniform asks me to lie on the bed and she checks the fetal heartbeat, and measures my stomach with a tape measure. Then she tells me to go back out the front and wait...
12:00pm - after waiting between 45mins and 1hr30mins (even when I have made an appointment), the doctor calls my number and I go into his office. There are 3 ob/gyns on duty each time I have been to the hospital, and there are usually about 30 people waiting at any time. The doctor looks at the recorded weight and blood pressure and gives his opinion about that, asks me if I have had any pain or bleeding, and then tells me to go into the next room for my exam.
12:05pm - wearing nothing but whatever I have on above the waist (oh, and some sexy red plastic slippers), I sit on a chair (like a reclining dentist`s chair with stirrups) behind a curtain (to maintain whatever modesty still remains), and wait for the doctor. Sometimes he is having another short consultation in the next room, which means he is delayed a few minutes, while I am sitting there, legs splayed for anyone (nurses or doctors) who walks past to see...
12:10pm - the doctor performs an internal exam (using his hands, and a long tool of some kind - which I cannot see because there is a curtain between my face and whatever is going on on the other side). He then opens the curtain and performs an external exam (like a sonogram on my belly) and I can look at the monitor and see the baby. He points out the baby`s head and heart and other body parts and makes a weight estimation based on various measurements of the baby`s head, legs etc.
12:15pm - I get dressed and go back into the next room, where the doctor hands me a photograph that was printed from the sonogram, tells me everything is fine, and schedules the next appointment.
12:20pm - go to the front `accounting` desk and hand in my account, and receive another piece of paper (with my number in the payment queue on it).
12:50pm - after waiting around 30 minutes for my account to be processed, my number is called, and I can go to the payment machine, insert my ID card and then pay my bill.

Until week 27/28 of the pregnancy, I went to the hospital once a month, until week 36 I went to the hospital once a fortnight, after that, I have been going once a week.

I have been given some information about the birthing suite and mother/baby room at the hospital, but will wait until after I have actually seen / experienced it until I tell you about that...

Until next time :)

p.s. here are some links to other websites which also talk about pregnancy in Japan, just in case...


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