A tale of two hospitals: part two

I can’t believe our baby girl is already just over 5 weeks old! Time has been flying, and we’re starting to really get into the swing of newborn parenting. One thing’s for sure: we definitely would have had a much rougher start if Chad’s mom hadn’t come out to visit for a couple of weeks. She was especially a life saver when Lillian and I had our one month checkup. Without a car or a stroller or anyone else to help (Chad had to work) I don’t know how I would’ve survived without her! Chad’s mom held Lillian, lugged her diaper bag around, and was super supportive.

Now that the one month check is finished, we are officially done with going to Aiiku Hospital and will be switching to a Pediatric Clinic. Before the Aiiku chapter in our lives is closed, however, it’s time for part two of my experience with the hospital just before and after Lillian’s birth.

Above you can see photos of the shared rooms at Aiiku Hospital. The private rooms were a little bigger, but much more expensive and (in my opinion) not really worth the extra cost.

Once we switched to Aiiku Hospital, I wanted a maternity ward tour as soon as possible. At St Luke’s International Hospital, they schedule a private tour for you with an interpreter and a midwife. At Aiiku, however, there are group tours scheduled twice a month, and if you can’t attend them, well, you’re out of luck. I’ve since learned that there is an English tour available, but no one told me that at the time, so I was left to do my best with my limited Japanese. This was a little stressful, but not nearly as stressful as trying to make phone calls to the hospital in English.

I had three really rough experiences with calling the hospital. First, a few days before I went into labor, Lillian was putting pressure on some nerves that gave me such horrible leg cramps I couldn’t walk. I was in a lot of pain, and I read online that some women experience contractions through their legs. After several hours, I decided it would be best to call the hospital, but when I called and asked for someone who spoke English, the person speaking just said she would “try her best.”

After about ten minutes of trying to explain my concern without any comprehension on the other end of the line, I started to get really upset and negative (I asked myself why I had to be giving birth in Japan, was getting really frustrated with my Japanese skills, and had started to get scared because I had no idea what I was experiencing as a soon-to-be mommy). With a shaky voice I finally said, “I know you’re trying your best to understand me, but are you sure there is no one else who might be able to speak more English that I could talk to?” And seconds after a “chotto matte” (just a moment), a fluent English speaker hopped on the line. Why she wasn’t put on immediately is beyond me, but it would have really saved me a lot of stress!

The next day I had to call again to make sure of my appointment time for the day after that. Once again I was greeted with mediocre English, and was told that I didn’t seem to have an appointment anymore. I asked if they could please make one as I was already 40 weeks pregnant. The woman said yes, and that I could see the same doctor I saw last time but that he couldn’t speak English. I responded, “Um, I saw a female doctor last time, and she could speak English.” I was then put on hold before she came back on the line and said, “Okay, you can see the doctor you saw last time who can speak English. Is 11:30 okay?” I said yes and then asked if I should come at 10:30 for the NST that Aiiku requires for all pregnancies after 37 weeks.

She said, “Why do you need an NST? You are 14 weeks pregnant, right?”

“No! I’m FORTY WEEKS. Do you know which patient I am?” I was starting to get pretty frustrated, not to mention surprised and concerned. I had already given my ID number, name, birthday etc., so how were all of these issues arising? She said she knew who I was and that she was sorry because it was her first day (not particularly encouraging…). Then I was told to come early for the NST.

The last difficult phone call was when I was in labor. Long story short, there wasn’t anyone around who spoke even basic English when I called to report my contractions (the woman on the phone didn’t even seem to understand the word “contraction!”), and I ended up having Chad take over because it was too hard to talk anyway. One thing that would have been tremendously helpful to know about is the Himawari Translation Service free for medical interpretation. I think using Himawari could have saved me a lot of headaches (though I still would have been concerned about the mix-ups when I called to confirm that appointment!).

After your baby is born, you stroll them around in little mobile cots when going from your room to the nursery, etc.. Mine was labeled “Dykehouse Caitlyn baby.”

Having difficulty communicating was probably one of the hardest parts of pregnancy in Japan, but in the end we got our beautiful girl so it’s been easy to let go a bit with time. After Lillian was born we were able to spend time recovering in the LDR, and I was brought lunch. I heard some hospitals bring a meal for the husband, too, but Chad was left to run up to the hospital restaurant, which was closed for some reason. Sadly, all he could really scrape together was a granola bar and some canned coffee.

Our sweet girl at the hospital in one of the super cute robes they provide during your stay. She has already changed so much!

My meals at Aiiku were overall really tasty, and were always healthy and balanced. Unless you choose the most expensive private room option (I believe it’s about the equivalent of $700 per day), even your spouse has to adhere to the 1:00-8:00 visiting hours, so I usually was only able to eat with Chad at dinner time. The visiting hours were one of the toughest parts of being at the hospital after Lillian was born.

Spaghetti dinner with tea, soup, yogurt, kiwi, salad and a sweet/savory cheese bread.

The other tough parts of my hospital stay were mostly related to being a new mommy than to anything to do with the hospital, though I did have a couple encounters that were unique to foreigners, I think. For example, when breastfeeding, Lillian liked one side better than the other, so I asked if I could pump on one side and dump the milk out (I didn’t want her to be bottle fed before the first month). The midwife looked at me like I was foolish and said, “In Japan we don’t care how the babies get the milk as long as they get their food, but foreigners just want to breastfeed.” Of course ultimately that’s what foreigners want, too, but many mommies value exclusive breastfeeding and don’t want to interfere with that in the first month. I just did what I thought was right, and ignored her comment.

Chicken, tomato, okra and mushroom dinner plate with tea, rolls, crackers, salad and apple slices.

Overall the nurses/midwives were helpful, but they weren’t always friendly. Sometimes I wondered if their lack of warmth was from the language barrier, or perhaps because they were just tired like me. (Or…perhaps I was just tired and I was imagining their coolness.) I did think it was strange that staff at Aiiku frequently insisted on having tests I didn’t feel were necessary, like doing NST’s before I was overdue even though everything in my pregnancy was fine, doing all my blood tests again (even though they had gotten the results for the exact same tests a week prior from St. Luke’s), and telling me I should get checked for diabetes a month after birth because Lillian was bigger than Japanese babies tend to be (even though my entire pregnancy I was completely normal–at a healthy weight with healthy blood pressure, urine samples, etc.).

Breakfast of yogurt, tea, warm bread slices, salad, milk and orange slices.

One nice thing about Aiiku is that the hospital is very up-front about pricing, unlike St. Luke’s where no pricing information was given to me in English. At Aiiku, you are given thorough information in English that breaks down the cost of giving birth and the fees for hospital stay. The strange thing is that since pregnancy isn’t covered by insurance in Japan, the fee for giving birth actually decreases if you have any emergency procedures like an episiotomy or a C-section (because those are covered by insurance). So a completely natural birth is cheaper than one that requires more medical attention!

This was one of my favorites: a lunch of potato soup, tea, pizza toasts, mixed nuts, a savory/sweet cheese waffle, yogurt, milk, salad and pineapple. Since we never ended up getting an oven this time around in Japan, we’ve taken to making these pizza toasts in our broiler ūüôā

In the end I am glad we were able to transfer to Aiiku. Language barriers happen all over the place in Japan, even in Tokyo, so we’re still dealing with that, but on the bright side now that I’ve gone through pregnancy in Japan I know I can really handle a lot. Often in life you’re tougher than you think, and in my case I ended up with the best gift I could ever ask for: our darling daughter.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone searching for information on giving birth in Japan, or at least of interest to anyone in general! To those of you who commented on Facebook, etc., that you were waiting for the second half of this hospital tale, thank you for your patience! I would love to hear what you thought, or about your experiences with cultural differences, pregnancy, and so on in the comments!




Lillian’s Birth Story

We are so happy to announce the birth of our sweet Lillian Marie Dykehouse!
Lillian's Birth StoryBy my weekly checkup on Thursday, January 28th, it was¬†3 days past Lillian’s expected due date, and doctors guessed we would have to begin the process of inducing labor on Monday. This would start with me coming to the hospital that day to receive something called lamaria, a seaweed native to Japan used to dilate the cervix. I really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of using lamaria, but the doctors insisted that unless I had dilated naturally at that point, that was my only option. I was a little frustrated about the lack of negotiation on this point, so I just hoped Lily would come on her own or that I would be dilated enough not to have to get the lamaria. Either way, on Tuesday I would be given meds¬†to further progress induced labor if necessary to officially get things started.
On Friday the 29th, I was still feeling a little anxious about the possibility of induced labor, but I was happy to know that either way we’d have our sweet baby soon. My pregnancy experience overall was really good–I was thankful that Lillian was always healthy and that I was, too. However, by the last couple of weeks she was resting on nerves that gave me continual leg cramps in my thighs every time I walked, I was very achy and sore, and I was quite tired overall. I was so ready to have Lillian!
Chad and I decided to go out for dinner to get some okonomiyaki, and¬†had a really nice time despite the gloomy weather. It was very rainy and cold, and I told Chad I hoped the rain wouldn’t turn to ice over night in case I did go into labor and we needed to get to the hospital. After dinner I also said–just in case–that we should get out some money for a taxi. I don’t know if something in me knew what was coming, but around 9 or 10 o’clock I started to feel contractions. Now, to be honest, I thought maybe the contractions were really bad gas pains at first. After all, the previous day we had eaten something called Calico Beans and I thought it had just been killing my stomach. (Side note: because of this association with Calico Beans and contractions, I really don’t want that for dinner any time soon!) When the contractions started coming about every ten minutes from about 2 in the morning, I¬†knew for sure¬†Calico Beans weren’t the cause of the pain and we called the hospital.
As I will explain in a future post, we had to switch hospitals about three weeks earlier, and one of the downsides was that our new hospital, Aikku Hospital, didn’t seem to have as many fluent English speakers as our previous hospital. So when I called at about 3 or 4 am to tell the hospital about my contractions, I was shocked to be told there was no one who spoke English there at the moment, but that the¬†nurse I was speaking to¬†would try her best if I spoke slowly. Despite an experience earlier in the week with terrible communication issues over the phone, I was still incredulous that there was no one I could talk to. After several minutes of painful attempts to communicate (both painful in the mental sense from the language barrier struggle and the physical sense from having contractions at the same time), the nurse told me to call back once the contractions were occurring 5-6 minutes apart.
Around 6 am, the contractions suddenly went from coming 10 minutes apart to between 2 and 3. We didn’t waste any time and called a cab before dealing with another phone call to explain to the hospital we were coming. At this point, I was able to practice a few techniques I had learned in a prenatal yoga for birth preparation video I had been doing for a month or so. I would stand leaning against¬†a wall or the top of something shoulder-height, put one foot back a ways and the other forward, and sway while breathing: in 5 seconds, out 5 seconds. Once we were in the taxi, I continued¬†breathing in the same manner.
The taxi ride to the hospital was about 30 minutes. We used a taxi service called Nihon Kotsu, a service you sign up for in advance online. The service is wonderful because they knew my due date, our address, and the address of the hospital. They also have English speakers available on the phone 24 hours a day. When we got to the hospital, I was ready to have our baby already, though tougher contractions were on their way and I still had hours to go. First, I changed into a hospital gown, and after only a half an hour or so went to take a bath. I was brought breakfast but could only drink the milk box (poor Chad, who was starving, ate a couple bites at my insistence and was probably so sad to see them take the tray away mostly uneaten soon after).
Whenever I walked anywhere, I would still¬†stop and sway with each contraction. I slid into the tub and let out a deep sigh of relief, only to have¬†the strength of the contractions suddenly¬†go up a¬†notch. At this point I began¬†to hum through pursed lips on my exhales, really focusing on the sound of my¬†voice. It wasn’t long before the contractions got so strong that I started feeling the urge to push, and I was out of the tub, back in the LDR (labor, delivery & recovery room).¬†A nurse checked my cervix and¬†said, “Wow!¬†You’re already dilated to 6¬†cm!”¬†To this I replied, “That’s it!?” I remember thinking to myself, I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. No, I can. I have to. And I will. Don’t say can’t.
At this point, the nurses told me that if I felt the urge to push, I should resist, but my body took over and I felt as if I had no control over the pushing. I briefly wondered if I should (or could) change my mind about getting an epidural or other pain medicine, but before I could even really consider it another contraction came and my focus was solely on giving birth. Another nurse came to check my dilation only a while later and said, “Good! I think you will be able to meet your baby sometime this afternoon!” Tired, hopeful, and overwhelmed, I looked to Chad beseechingly and asked, “Is that soon?” He said yes, and though he really didn’t seem confident I just had to hope he was telling the truth. (I found out later that it was about 10:00 am at that point, but I’m glad no one told me that!)
Things continued to progress, and I was able to see the image of her head emerging reflected in the nurse’s protective glasses. Every time I pushed I tried to look and see if she was any closer to coming, but it never looked that way. Soon a team of 3 nurses came with a doctor, and they helped to “open things up” with each push because her head was a bit big for my body. I remember feeling like the whole experience was so painful and bizarre and new, and like I was almost outside of myself watching the whole thing. I had a hard time relaxing in between contractions, so much so that the nurses kept trying to remind me to relax and breathe, and that I told them, “I can’t!” They said, “You can!” but then I had another contraction and couldn’t listen to them anyway.
Finally, I had a contraction¬†where everyone started shouting, “Yes! Go, go, go! One more!” And I just pushed like it was nobody’s business! I thought this had to be the one to get her out because I was finished! And then, at 11:29 am, only about 4 hours after arriving at the hospital, I saw my beautiful baby girl being held up and I felt so much relief and joy. I watched¬†nurses and midwives¬†take her to be cleaned up while the doctor worked on cleaning me up and giving me stitches (in the end I had an episiotomy in addition to the help of the “pulling” doctors, but received¬†no pain meds whatsoever other than anesthesia for the episiotomy stitches afterwards) and felt like it would be an eternity until I could hold her. Chad went over by her and I watched her daddy look at his sweet girl. It was only a few minutes later before I got to hold our Lillian, and my heart felt so full. I laughed and cried and just felt so tired and sore ohmygoodness. Lillian was about 3.7 kg (around 8.1 pounds) and 52.5 cm long (around 20.5 inches). The nurses and midwives kept saying what a good pusher I was, and how my labor was relatively short for a first child. (I was like, was it? Because that felt like it took an eternity.)
Lillian's Birth Story 2Technically after delivery you can stay in the LDR for a couple of hours, but I think we ended up staying a little longer.¬†I didn’t question our extra time¬†because I was very glad for it. I had a little lunch and Chad snacked on a granola bar and canned coffee (the hospital restaurant was strangely closed), and after a while¬†we made the transition to what would be my room for the next five days. Then, our journey as parents begun!
I’ve always had a respect for other mothers, but after experiencing childbirth myself I am even more blown away by the awesomeness of the human body.¬†I have had some¬†medical hurdles to overcome before, but nothing compares to the challenge of childbirth (and of course, nothing has come with such a sweet reward!).
Photo 2-4-16, 4 10 25 PM¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Lillian’s first day at home from the hospital
I hope you’ve enjoyed the story of Lily’s birth, and that if you’re pregnant¬†(especially in Japan!)¬†it has helped you or encouraged¬†you in some way.¬†More to come soon about my hospital experiences before and after birth!
xx Caitlyn
P.S. Lillian was born on National Croissant Day! Who would’ve thought after my last post¬† that I’d be given yet another reason to love croissants?