Stranger Things: My Japanese Birth Experience Part 1

Some husbands are very supportive and hands-on during their wife’s delivery. Not mine. Mine sits back in the shadows taking notes so he can remind me later of how much I cried. He is very loving in that way (hopefully you can read the sarcasm). You may recall his “smell log” from our first child’s birth. Well, he did not disappoint with his thorough account of the events leading up to our son’s birth in the local Japanese hospital.

Taking notes while I receive an IV of antibiotics

 6:32PM

We arrive at the hospital several miles out of town in a run down area. It is Saturday night yet there are few signs of the local population, save those hurrying back to their homes. We wander out of the gravel parking lot down the street until we see a dimly lit alleyway, now to select the correct door. Unable to read kanji we continue checking each door until one pulls open. With it comes the yellow glow of old GE light bulbs and the smell of Florida. Not the salt sea air of spring break but the musky oder of a retirement barely keeping the tenant afloat. There are racks of shoes to the left just inside the entryway, someone has been using the facility.

6:37PM

We step hesitantly, quietly, inching down the hall, the only sounds our own footsteps. The exit signs tell us we’ve gone the wrong way as we explore the first floor. A set of stairs eventually appears, but was it there the first time we passed down the corridor? As we climb up the stairwell there is a faint unidentifiable sound ahead. Cresting the top we look left, then right. The second floor much like the first appeared vacant of any life, only the old cream tile floors, walls of peeling paper and medical equipment long abandoned. We continued our search past the check-in hub, which was devoid of life. Then the noise again, this time closer. As I turned to confront it I only catch a glimpse of a white spectre scurry, or did it float? across the hall from one doorway to another. It was too quick to make out its true form. I rushed to follow, hoping for answers to this mysterious haven. But as I made the turn into the room with the strange bed, giant clock with its gliding hands, and foreign machines I am confronted head on with the creature, “Morris!” it exclaimed bursting from the shadows. Her…Her! accent, was thick…

6:45PM

She was no ghoul, but the on call nurse. Her actions were quick and severe. I was quickly backed into a corner, isolated, as she dashed off, quickly returning with a larger male. Still in disbelief at our discovery I am unable to protest as they tear away my wife to strap her to that strange bed. It is obvious the medical equipment still functions, though archaic it may be. While they focus on her I am able to visually investigate my surroundings. Every item in the room unmistakably has a place, though there are so many instruments in such a small space, that the look is very chaotic. The most disturbing, however, are the three metal pots, each about the size of a human head, with lids that have been locked shut.

7:25PM

After strapping my wife to the bed they leave and shut the door. It is very hot in here and we brought no water and there does not appear to be a tap in our confines. I don’t understand why one of us should be restrained, yet I am free to move about. How would they react if they found I had loosed her bonds? I don’t know how many others are here with us, either as “guests” or those who are holding us here. All I can hear now is the female milling about outside of our room, there has been no indication of the male for sometime. What do they want from us? And why are they heating our room? It is so hot!

8:05PM

They must have gotten what they wanted, they are moving us to another space. The first room must have been some sort of processing facility. This place looks more permanent, there is a bed, and an unusual looking stool. Neither are comfortable, however, when I lie on the bed exhaustion takes hold.

I labored in a Tatami room until I was in active labor

9:00PM

My wife wakes me frantically, they will begin the extraction on her now. We groggily move back to the original room, they’ve brought more of their people. All of them wearing pink smocks circa 1960s America, and masks to hide their identities, though I wonder how many have made it out the exit and back to safety. They are frantically chittering away like a swarm of insects working on a hive, strapping my wife back down to the table.

9:30PM

After half an hour of prodding and examining my wife their elder appeared before us. At this point, through tears and gasps for breath she begs him to end her pain no matter the cost. With a grin he speaks in his guttural language, in what I can only assume was a pleasant surprise that his subject broke so quickly. The chittering from the elder’s subordinates picks up in a deafening crescendo as three of the pink clad females grab my wife by the arms and legs. They contorted her until her spine was exposed and vulnerable. The elder then brought out an immense needle, plunging menacingly as her pain intensifies. I don’t know if that’s when they planted the darkness in her, but it certainly was the beginning of our hell to come.

We had quite the experience. It would be generous to call the place I delivered at a hospital. It was as empty and sweltering hot as my husband described. The OB has been in practice there for nearly 50 years and it definitely showed. Their methods were effective, but they were also very crude.

One of the main reasons I chose this particular place was that they offered an epidural, which is not common in Japan. I am not ashamed to admit that I do not handle pain well. Once I was taken to the delivery room the 200-year old doctor arrived to administer the epidural. He had lots of trouble placing the line, which resulted in several painful punctures along my spine and tenderness around the site for several weeks. It was all for nothing because the dosage was so low it had zero effect on me.

That birth was the most painful experience of my entire life. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. I was crying, kicking, and begging for it to be over. I thought at one point that I might actually die, especially when the attendant had clearly also had enough and gave me a quick episiotomy, then went elbow-deep inside of me to pull the baby out. There was one nurse beside me the whole time whose only job was to shush me when I got too loud. And not in a kind or nurturing way either. I couldn’t believe it. We were absolutely the only people in this “hospital,” why did I have to be quiet? First, they botch giving me an epidural and then they tell me I’m being too loud as I writhe in pain. WTF?

I have since learned that the Japanese do not believe in pain-relieving drugs during childbirth, or after for that matter. This explains the doctor’s inexperience administering epidurals. It is believed that a mother’s ability to endure the pain demonstrates her strength and responsibility and not experiencing pain hinders the bond between mother and child. Japanese women are also expected to experience labor and birth quietly, explaining why the nurse kept trying to silence me. I have a whole new respect for these women, but I absolutely do not believe that my inability to suffer silently has any bearing on my capabilities as a mother.

 

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