I’ve written about home birth before (see here and here) but I thought it was time to write about it again as I currently have a couple of clients I’m supporting who’ll be having home births here in the near future.
First of all, it is an option! Not many non-Japanese women here know that home birth is a possibility. Secondly, it’s possible to have an English-speaking midwife to support you (particularly if you’re in Tokyo). Shoko So san of Matsugaoka Birth Center is one such midwife. She runs a midwife birth house in Tokyo’s Nakano-ku (another option for birth here) and also supports women with home birth in their own homes, too. She speaks English and is a very open and calming presence. Pregnancies of course need to be low risk to even be possible for home birth (which means that women with various “complications” including those who have rhesus negative blood are not able to have a home birth here, even if everything else is normal) which means that it’s not possible for everyone, but the best person to talk to about it to find out would be So san herself.
With home birth, throughout pregnancy women have check ups regularly with So san (or one of her other midwives) at Matsugaoka, at home, and also a check up 2-3 times during pregnancy at one of her associated clinics/hospitals (for blood tests, detailed ultrasounds and so on). Essentially, the doctor will need to give the official go ahead for home birth and So san is associated with supportive doctors this way.
If you have a check up at Matsugaoka, it really is like being in someone’s home. There is “bone therapist” who helps to adjust your body to have a hopefully smoother birth experience, and also reflexology and aromatherapy are options. There are also classes related to nutrition (they advocate for a more macrobiotic way of eating, avoiding wheat & gluten, dairy and so forth to minimize inflammation in the body), birthing exercises, and breastfeeding.
If you have check ups at your home, you have the luxury of not needing to go anywhere, being relaxed in your own environment, and okyu treatment (moxibustion) and massage with aromatherapy oils are a wonderful addition that you never get at hospitals here. The midwives will also check your home layout for home birth and if you are hoping to use a birthing pool they will see if it’s a viable possibility.
At all of these check ups, they also discuss other interesting cultural aspects related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as keeping your ankles and abdomen warm (to help your circulation, encourage baby into a head down position, and reduce the risk of post-partum hemorrhage) that we don’t hear so much about in the west. These points may sometimes be met with curious/questioning looks but these kind of alternative/more eastern medicine philosophies around childbirth come with hundreds (or thousands) of years of history behind them and can be quite ingrained culturally.
When it actually comes to the labour itself, once things seem to be getting established 2 midwives (with possibly a trainee midwife) will head over to you. From that point on, you’ll labour entirely according to what feels instinctively right for you physically. There are no restrictions, not continuous monitoring or other inhibiting measures, and not having to worry about when to go a hospital is a huge plus. Being in your own environment, surrounded by everything that is personal and meaningful to you can really make a big difference with labour – it can definitely help you to relax. There is also no separation of mother and baby after birth – baby is immediately placed on you, checked on you, and the important connection is left unbroken (this doesn’t often happen in hospitals). Together with experienced midwives (and a doula for the emotional, physical and motivational support), it can be a very empowering birth experience. You are not “one of a number” of women and everything is all about you and what works for you.
When I was pregnant with my own first child, the idea of a home birth never crossed my mind. But after seeing and supporting some women in home births over the past few years, I’ve come to really appreciate it as an option. So if anyone is considering the idea of a home birth, please get in touch!