This post is split into three sections so that you can read the section that is of interest to you if you are giving birth here in Tokyo. Friends, family and curious readers might want to read the whole thing and hear all the details!
1. Labour and Delivery
I had been struggling to sleep during my third trimester and woke up after one of the best night’s sleep I had had in ages. At 9.20am on Thursday morning, my waters broke. I called the clinic and they asked me if I was having contractions but I wasn’t so the nurse asked me to come in and see them as I still had 3 weeks to go until my due date. Fortunately, I live very close to the clinic so I walked over there straight away. When the midwife examined me, I was 3 cm dilated and she said “You’d better go straight to the hospital. You’re going to have a baby today!” We set off for the hospital full of nerves and excitement. Typically, our car had gone in for the annual MOT so we had to take a taxi!
We spent many hours that day walking up and down the corridors of Aiiku hospital trying to bring on my contractions. I reached 5cm and still felt nothing more than mild menstrual cramps. At 9pm that night, almost twelve hours after my waters broke, the obstetrician explained that we would have to start considering medical intervention as I still had no contractions and was leaking fluid. I was reluctant to take pitocin so he gave us another hour to keep trying without medication. We continued walking, I did some squats, I chanted “om” and we even massaged my nipples as I had read that it can help! After another hour, we agreed to start a low dose of pitocin. Almost immediately, the contractions began and in less than three hours our baby girl came flying out! Christina Mary weighed in at 7lb 3oz (3272g) which was a very healthy weight considering she was three weeks early. If she had gone the full 40 weeks, she would have been a whopper!
Even though I was disappointed about the pitocin as I had hoped for a fully natural birth, I feel very lucky that I was able to experience a vaginal birth and that I managed to do it without painkillers or gas and air. Pitocin is often described as “love juice” as it mimics the love hormone and who doesn’t need a little extra love hey?
During the final stages of labour, I truly discovered the importance of breath and how to use it properly. My pranayama practice really helped! The obstetrician was excellent at talking me through when to breathe deeply versus when to hold my inhale and push. I had a wonderful midwife who I felt very comfortable with and last, but certainly not least, my husband was a fantastic birthing partner!
I later discovered that I had given birth on the auspicious night of Maha Shivaratri, a Hindu celebration of the union of Shiva and Shakti – and a nod to our time spent in India! As the male and female energies came together, my daughter was birthed by a balanced birthing team of two men and two women. On the feminine side was the midwife and me, whilst the male energy was held by my husband and the obstetrician. It was truly a night of superconsciousness!
2. Jaundice Treatment
On Sunday night, we went to the breastfeeding lounge for her feed. During that time, the midwife mentioned to me that she thought we should get Christina tested for jaundice as her skin was looking quite yellow. The paediatrician came straight down and I stayed with my baby while they did a blood test. It was confirmed that she needed treatment for jaundice and they moved her up to the ward on the 4th floor straight away for treatment on the light box.
It was day 3 post-delivery and I was exhausted and emotional. Visiting hours had finished for the day so my husband had already gone home. Even though I knew that jaundice is very common, I still found it hard to get through that night! To help heal her jaundice, we needed to give her as much fluid as possible and so we started a strict feeding schedule. Over the next 24 hours, I expressed breast milk every 3 hours so that she could be fed every 3 hours. This meant that every 90 minutes I was either sitting in the feeding lounge expressing my milk or up on the ward feeding her. It was exhausting!
The staff on the ward were all lovely and very considerate. It was quite humbling to see all the tiny poorly babies in the NICU and it made me realise how lucky we were to only be there for jaundice. However, each time I went back down to my room on the floor below I felt a pang for my baby being apart from me.
When Christina came back down to my bedside the following night, it was such a relief. I was glad that I had decided to stay in the hospital for the full 5 days post-delivery as it meant that I was able to be in the hospital with her while she had her jaundice treatment. If I had gone home on day 2 or 3, the jaundice might not have been discovered so early and it would not have been so easy to keep going up to the ward to deliver my breast milk and feed her every 3 hours. Christina was tested again on day 4 and then we were able to come home on day 5!
3. Aiiku Hospital Experience
It is quite common in Japan to stay in hospital for five days post-delivery and I decided to stay the full five days. For first-time mothers, I think this is an excellent choice. With my family being overseas, I needed as much local support as I could get. Even just having three meals a day prepared for you is such a great help in those first few days and the food in Aiiku hospital was great! You can choose between a Western meal and a Japanese meal. I tried both and I thought the Japanese meals were the best so I would recommend that you request those if you are planning to stay at Aiiku. I was in hospital for the annual girls day celebration and they served a special meal on that day which was wonderful!
One of the challenges of Aiiku hospital was that English was not as widely spoken as I expected. It really depends who is on shift. Some midwives speak English and some don’t. During labour, my midwife was speaking to me in Japanese and, although I could keep up in the beginning, once the pain started to intensify I just couldn’t focus my brain on what she was saying! It was also a challenge post-birth in my sleep deprived state to try and learn about feeding in a second language.
Post-labour, my feet and ankles swelled up so the midwife suggested that I go for an aromatherapy massage. There is a treatment room in the hospital (yes, really!) and I highly recommend that you make the most of it! The nurses will look after your baby for an hour while you go down and have an aroma treatment. I did this the day before I left hospital and it was heaven! If I had discovered it earlier I would have gone every day!
The midwives are excellent at teaching you how to feed and care for your baby. There is a breastfeeding lounge that is open 24 hours a day and you can go there to receive support. We did almost all our feeds in there, mainly for the company of others and the shared wisdom. We also had a lesson with one of the midwives about how to bathe our baby and my husband was able to participate in that which was great.
By the time we left the hospital we felt confident in how to care for our baby (well, as confident as any first-time parent can be!) and I was glad we had stayed in for five days. For me, active labour was like a sprint as it was short and intense but feeding has been a marathon! I was totally unprepared for feeding every two to three hours during those first few weeks. People talk a lot about preparing for childbirth but nobody ever really prepares you for the feeding!