When we found out that we were moving to Japan in the middle of this pregnancy, I was convinced it would be an adventure… what could be cooler than our baby starting out life as a little traveler! And while I still agree with that, I realize now that I underestimated the struggles that I would face. From the lack of shopping (and FPO shipping size limits) to the medical care options, it has given a bit of a different meaning to the word adventure! For what it’s worth, every person and every pregnancy is different – different levels of expectations, needs, wants, etc. so as a disclaimer, this is 100% just my personal experience!
One of the biggest challenges of having a baby in Japan is specific to living in Iwakuni. The hospital on base here is actually just a clinic so they do not deliver babies. They are building a larger clinic which eventually will have the capacity for OBGYN/labor and delivery but currently, if you are pregnant and stationed in Iwakuni, you are given three options:
1. Have your prenatal care then labor and deliver at Dr. Shoji’s, a Japanese clinic out in town.
2. Have your appointments at the clinic on base but deliver at the bigger traditional Japanese hospital, Iwakuni Clinical Care, out in town.
3. Have your appointments at the clinic on base until 34-38 weeks, and then travel 6 hours by bullet train to a different military base, Yokosuka, in Tokyo, to live at the Stork’s Nest until you deliver at the American hospital there on base.
I was scheduled for a meeting with the nurse on base to discuss my delivery options. There were so many things I had not even thought to consider when comparing the different options: Western vs Japanese meals, options for private rooms, required length of stay after delivery, even cultural things like whether or not circumcision was an option or if the dad would be allowed to hold the baby while in the hospital! While different people have different preferences and each option clearly has its own pros/cons, delivering at the American hospital in Tokyo was the clear answer for *me*.
Even though that was my chosen route, the clinic on base does not have the technology to do level 2 ultrasounds so instead of sending you all the way to Tokyo just for an anatomy scan, they send you out in town with a translator to the Japanese doctor, Dr. Shoji.
Back in Beaufort, we had the most amazing prenatal care (shout out to Riverside Womens Clinic). They were so sweet to us and even tried to tell the gender early at my last appointment before we left. Unfortunately, our little babe was uncooperative and we left without a clear answer. This meant anxiously counting the days until the 20 week anatomy scan! When the day finally rolled around, Rob took off work, we met our translator, and excitedly headed to the appointment. Anyone moving to Iwakuni with any thought of having a baby has probably heard of Dr. Shoji – he is 78 years old and has been delivering babies here for almost 50 years! After reading a million articles about him, it almost felt like we would be meeting a local celebrity. I even said to Rob on the drive over, “what if I end up loving this experience and want to deliver here?!” (haha!) The drive to his office itself is TERRIFYING – you have to cross a tiny bridge and then travel down an even tighter road that you are convinced cannot possibly be two way traffic (but it is!). When we arrived, the translator handled all of the check in process/paperwork for us.
We were taken back to the exam room and this is when expectations vs reality started to set in. I had talked with so many friends about what to expect from the anatomy scan and everyone pretty much told me the same things: get excited to see the baby actually looking like a baby, the doctor will show/measure/explain all the parts and carefully analyze everything to make sure it is all progressing correctly, it will be much longer than your past ultrasounds, you will get a bunch of great pictures/find out the gender/it will be one of your most exciting appointment. I couldn’t wait! As it turned out, my ultrasound was a total of about five minutes and maybe ten words. “Size okay. Weight okay. Any questions?” were the only things that the doctor had the translator tell me. Not a single detail or smile. Shocked, I asked (through the translator) “Is it a boy or a girl?” to which he replied firmly “I do not know. Any other questions?”. I was stunned…too stunned to even think clearly. He handed Rob one single picture from the ultrasound, we walked to the car, and I immediately burst into tears. That was my chance. I was already having a baby in a foreign country; I had no interest in the gender being a surprise. I was devastated. While I read tons of people who loved this sweet old man and had great experiences, I found the entire experience so cold and so far from what I had envisioned. I kept telling myself that this would make a funny story one day but it was hard to keep that perspective while feeling so disappointed at the time. Maybe he just did not like my brightly colored outfit or big personality HAHA 😉 While I love living here and experiencing the different culture, this appointment confirmed that embracing it to the point of medical care and having my first baby out in town is not the best fit for me.