Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part One: Becoming a Gaijin Daddy in Your Home Away From Home

I'm a pregnant Dad!I’ve got something in common with Leslie Nielsen. While I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t look as good as him in a full nude photograph, the photo does give you a hint. I, too, am pregnant (well.. actually, my wife is!).

Getting pregnant with our first baby was a huge change for our household. Only a few months into our marriage, and just learning the ins and outs of what it means to have an international marriage, a whole new perspective showed its face when we found out that my wife was pregnant. Marriage is all about finding common ground when you both have differing opinions and there is no topic better than children to bring out the best (and worst) of your compromising skills (see our Kokusai Kekkon Article). While I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise given the huge number of wives tales that we have back at home surrounding the topic, Japan is host to its own long list of theories about what should or shouldn’t be done during child birth.

In addition to reading about the growth of my as yet unborn child in various books each week, I’ve found the entire experience to be an eye-opening one in terms of Japanese culture. Who would have thought that best practices about pregnancy could be so different from one country to another. The enjoyable part of the process has been that generally no one theory about childbirth is universally right or wrong and so finding “common ground” between our “theories” has become a hobby.

Throughout the process so far, my wife and I have gone to our utmost to refer to several sources in both English and Japanese to come to our own conclusions of what we want to do. The hope is that through this article/series, I can shed some light on the potential grey areas that future gaijin parents might also encounter. As a gaijin father to be, most of my comments will be directed towards the Gaijin Daddy/Nihonjin Mummy pattern but there is no reason why many of the realizations shouldn’t be relevant to couples of the opposite combination.

Was yours a dekichatta baby too?The odds that you (or your wife) are pregnant right now are probably pretty slim(*) , but bookmark the page as one day you might find it comes in handy. Personally, I’ve been amazed by how much information I should have already known way before I started to think about children (dedicated future mothers these days spend as much as a year in advance preparing their bodies and lifestyles for pregnancy!). If you have already gone through parenthood in Japan then please stop by, leave a comment and share your advice with me and other readers.

(*) unless you are a newly wed in Japan and then the odds are over 25% that yours was a “MAMArriage“!

For any couple’s first pregnancy, the most logical place to look for advice is at home. Most people form their views on what it means to be a good parent from looking at how they were brought up. Generally that is a mix of good, bad and controversial pointers, but it gives you a lot of material to work with. Because the world of pregnancy is one that is uncharted for most of us, it is probably the one time in our lives that we are most likely to turn to our parents for help. While sometimes you can turn to friends for advice, more often than not couples keep their pregnancy a secret for the first three months until they are certain that there won’t be a miscarriage (one in 6 conceptions end up as a miscarriage!) What do you do if you’re like me and your parents are back home? What do you do if your Japanese partner is living in a different city from his/her “home town” too?

It isn’t easy getting pregnant in a foreign country. I’m still going through the process so would love to hear words of advice from any stippy readers who have “been there, done that”. On the same token, if there is a particular contentious point in your pregnancy that you’d like more advice on, I’d be over the moon to look into it for a future episode. It’s about time there was a resource out there on the internet especially for bi-cultural couples, having their first baby in Japan.

This article is the first of a new series, “Getting Pregnant in Japan”. I am already writing the new instalments madly, but as I mentioned, give me some neta for research, or just some simple comments, and Ill try my best to include some clarification in the upcoming parts!

Update: Part Two of this series now available.

28 thoughts on “Getting Pregnant in Japan – Part One: Becoming a Gaijin Daddy in Your Home Away From Home”

  1. I am a gaijin dad in Japan also. I also went through a real whirlwind of emotions when having our child in Japan, but none of it really was due to the physical or logistical aspects of childbirth in Japan. Rather, for me, growing up in a western culture, where I expected that the father would also play an important part in the pregnancy proceedings. Unfortunately (or fortunately!?) I was sorely mistaken.

    I would like to know if it is the same for other dads (married to Japanese women who give berth in Japan).

    Basically, the first time I visited the sanfujinka (Ob&Gyn), I was excited, and ready to see the little pip in my wife’s tummy that was to become my legacy.

    First thing I noticed, was that most of the other Japanese dads were also waiting in the reception area. “Great”, I thought, “Japanese people are taking an interest in their kids from day 1″.

    When my wife’s name was called I jumped up, and was keen to see the ultrasound machine scanning my childs features, and checking if all was ok. The wondering joy soon turned to shock though, when one of the nurses stopped me, and said 「男性の方にご遠慮いただいていますが。。」 (“Sorry, no men in the doctors room please”). I thought she was mistaken, until I took a good look around to see that the other men who’s wives were being seen were also not going in to see the doc.

    Well, that was just the first of many rude awakenings that I had during my 10 months of banishment from taking part in my wife’s pregnancy. It gets worse, but Ill save that for “Papa’s comment – Part Two” :)

  2. One of the hospitals my wife went to before our daughter was born (we moved during the pregnancy so changed halfway through) would not let men inside because you could see into the cubicle next door where another mum is in that awkward position.
    The fact I remember that probably means I barged in the first time and then got kicked out, but my memory is a little vague. For the sake of the reputation of gaijin dads in general, I hope I learned about it by my wife explaining it and it wasn’t an inconsiderate gaffe on my part.

  3. Wow, Papa. That is not easy. I respect you surviving the ordeal. Here in the States it is the exact opposite. If the Daddy is not in the room looking at the screen with the Mummy then you’re thought to be a reject. Our O&G Dr. was extremely blunt about the fact that I was expected to be there every time and in the theatre for the whole “performance.” In fact, I’m pretty sure that I got a better view of the ultrasound than my wife.

    It is a bit strange that you have lots of women all opening their legs up in the same room though, is that an issue with the average size/capacity of Japanese hospitals?

  4. Well then, you are all lucky. Oh bloody look at me, I am not Black, Japanese girls beg me to inseminate them and when the child is born they are not disowned by their parents.

    Japanese girls will not give Blacks the time of day (romantically). If you are lucky, some will give you the literal time of day, or even friendship. If you are Black, expect no romance from japanese girls. I have spoken. I am thy truth.

  5. Welcome to fatherhood, Red. It is the end of your life as you knew it, or at least will be if you want to be a decent dad.

    I went through the miscarriage probation period, which makes sense.

    I didn’t have the problems of others here. I was invited in for all the ultrasounds. The doctor and my wife would excitedly point to a blob on a screen, and ask if I saw our baby. Of course, I said “yes.” They pointed to one part of the gray blob and told me that was the head, another was some other appendage. The heart was easy, because that was the only part of the blob that was throbbing. But I’m a sensitive guy, so I uttered my oohs and aahs at the right time.

    The whole thing is a bit trying, at least partly because the baby represents 20 years of undying commitment. But in my experience, babies do have a way of charming you out of everything you might hold dear, even such sacrosanct things as cheap beer and easy sex.

    There are slews of difference between the West and Japan in the area of babies and child-rearing. My wife and I disagreed on quite a lot. But, I would always head of and investigate my side of the story only to learn most of the time that I was not so right after all. In fact, if pressed, I would have to say that nobody knows a frigging thing about how to raise children. All the experts disagree, and they change their minds every 10 years on top of it.

    The only thing I can say with certainty is that breast-feeding is absolutely essential. Take a firm stand against bottle feeding now. That way, when the little darling wakes up crying in the middle of the night, there is only one parent who needs to wake up.

    I have had two kids here, and both clinics were very inclusive of the fathers, who are generally the most useless person in the delivery room.

    Good luck!

  6. ViolentAJ, I told you at another article (can’t find it now) that I like black men, and many japanese girls do. But, I think I don’t like the guy who calls himself “ViolentAJ”. Maybe u are better to rethink that one. Nobody wants to have baby with you because of that, not cause u’re black.

  7. First of all – relax. As long as you eat well, follow the doctor’s advice and take care of yourself, you’ll be fine.

    What to buy. Take cues from your wife’s friends who have young kids. We read too much on what we “needed” and ended up with a lot of extra crap. A chain store called “Akachan Honpo” is real good.

    Eat well. Fortunately Japanese food is pretty healthy. Mother-in-law’s are great help in this area.

    Water/Liquids. Japanese seem to have this funky aversion to plain water, like it’s not as good as juice or tea. Have her drink lots of water in addition to normal drinks, as it’s, duh, the best way to keep hydrated.

    As a hubby you don’t have to worry about anything until they come home from the hospital/clinic. Follow along, go to all the visits together that you can, but let the system take it’s course. They got it all wired for zero husband participation – you being involved is just icing on the cake.

    Fortunately Japanese dads are getting more involved in pre-natal times, so check with the clinic or hospital about that. I had no problem looking at the ultra-sounds, or being in on Q&A sessions. In fact the clinic we went to actually invited me in without me asking.

    Gaijin Papa’s most important job. Keep your wife happy. You thought she could be bad while on the rag. She’s going to be a bundle of emotions. From sunshine happy to pissed off to moody to crying – occasionally all at the same time. Expect this to happen and that it’s just the process, not you – so don’t take it personally. Be loving, understanding, patient and supportive in spite of the fact that she’s being a whiny demanding bitch. She’ll love you for it.

    Let your wife do stuff. Be supportive, but don’t over-dote. Japanese society is great for being active with proper servings of fresh air and exercise built right in. Let her walk to the store for some milk. It’s good for her mental well-being and body too. You’ll know when it’s time to start taking it easy a little more. Heck, I hear those pre-natal pool exercise classes are good too.

    Midwives are very prevalent here to do deliveries. We had our kids at a big hospital too. Doctors are on-hand in case there are any complications, but do not be surprised if the person delivering your kid will be a midwife. Great experience too, btw.

    I wasn’t allowed in the delivery room, but I was ok with that. I think they’re worried about you passing out.

    They have this saying like after giving birth ‘don’t touch water’ for the first month or something. A good majority of Japanese wives will go back to their parents place for awhile. Mostly to let mother-in-law do all the work and teach how to care for the baby. This normally doesn’t include you unless you’re taking them there. If you don’t like that idea, you might consider making room for her mom to come stay for a week or two. Trust me, it helps – a lot. Not only for the cooking/cleaning help, but also for the moral support and experience. Every little cry or weird movement from the baby seems like an emergency to a new mother/father. Mom’s there to tell you “it’s ok”. Listen, she knows what she’s talking about.

  8. We had our first child in my home country and our second in Japan.

    Back home I was very involved with the birth and enjoyed the excitement, thuogh we had a complicated delivery, which was extremely scary it was great to be part of the rollercoaster ride.

    In Japan, our second child was born in the sanfijinka down the street and the process was very detached. I really had little to do with it but then again, I was busier and life was different. Also I was looking after the first child. However, unlike Papa above, I was allowed to enter the doctors rooms when we had our early stage scans.

    What struck me about the doc was that he was a crusty old guy who, like most other Japanese doctors, was hardly emotive and reassuring. He certainly did not help ease any tension like our doctors did back home. He just got down, put the camera in and did the explanation. In and out in 3-4 minutes. Back home we had a midwife who really took pains to have us enjoy and get an education from the experience.

  9. Simeon, that’s a lot of great general advice!

    And a big amen to the water aversion! I’ve been here two years now and can’t believe the ignorance about hydration. All my coworkers think I’m absolutely insane for keeping a water bottle on my desk, even during summer. And every gaijin has the shock of the thimble cup sized water glasses from their first meal in Japan. I always ask for a pitcher which they often refuse but they usually crack after filling my glass ten times. (^_^)

    Papa, would love to hear more. Lay it out.

  10. Dudes,

    I just met our local obi-gyn today, the man who will be delivering our baby, and he straightforwardly offered me a place in the delivery room. I didn’t even ask to participate because I figured I’d be shut out. I think my wife told him I’d delivered foals and goats in the US when I was a kid.

    At any rate, for anyone who feels left out of the process and resents it, I can recommend an obi-gyn who is accepting of male participation in childbirth between Funabashi and Makuhari.

  11. Well, I was pregant in Japan. A wonderful experience with a fantastic Obstetrician. Just ask your doctor to draw back the curtains do you can see everything!
    I was well cared for and received so much more medical care and scans than I would have in NZ. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the drug free birth so I flew home at 6 months. In hospital 2 days – a real difference from the 10 days or so in Japan – but 10 would have been good. Being sent out of hospital so early with the total responsibility of a new born infant was terrifying, so it was good to have my Mum teach me what to do and take a few of the night time feeds as I wasn’t able to breastfeed.

  12. I guess congratulations are probably in order about now (going by the date of the original post). Hope everything went well and that we get some updates.

  13. Thanks for remembering me majimeaussie. Yes, you are quite spot on. I am now the proud Father or a bouncing baby boy. If you thought that the cross-cultural lessons to be learnt about being pregnant were interesting, boy, wait until you hear about bringing up a baby! With a bit of luck, one day I’ll be able to escape from the huge pile of nappies that I’m stuck under at the moment and write a little about it…

  14. For those of you following the series, I’ve just published part six of
    the series which I think is most likely to be the final installment.
    It’s been an eye opening experience for me and I hope that these
    columns live on to provide a bit of a data bank for Gaijin parents of
    the future. I had originally expected this series to continue for
    quite a few more installments but it’s amazing how just “being a Dad”
    can eat away at both your time and your concentration span.

    Here are links to the other articles in the series:

    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-1/
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-2/
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-3/
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-4/
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-5/
    http://www.stippy.com/japan-life/getting-pregnant-in-japan-6/

    and keep those weird and wonderful stories coming through in the
    comments section!!!

  15. I got married to a Japanese man quite a few years ago now. When I found out I was pregnant…he told me quite bluntly that japanese men really aren’t involved in their wives pregnancies. I just looked at him and said that I’m not Japanese so that idea doesn’t flow with me. I didn’t let him get away with not being involved. :)

    I did things my way. I don’t care what the japanese doctor’s say. I know they were trying to be nice. But somethings were just so opposite from what I already knew so.

    My husband, Torru would get annoyed when I wouldn’t listen to my japanese doctors, “That’s not how japanese do it!” He’d complain. My usual reply would be something like, “Well you didn’t marry a japanese woman, you married a mexican one,”.

    Try to find a middle ground people….

    Or baby was born at 9 lbs 13 oz….

  16. Hi.

    My girlfriend has just got pregnant. Unfortunatly I’m ab Irish citizen who must wait 2 more years before divorce from my 1st wife can be finalised.
    I CAN NOT MARRY MY JAPANESE GIRLFRIEND.

    Can anyone tell me what to expect in terms of the legal side of things. Will I be legally recognised as the father. Will my name be on the birth cert etc etc

    BK

  17. BK.
    Whats your job? how free are you for travel? is the two year waiting period a legal matter or can the process be hurried depending on circumstances? Do you have a work visa in Japan already?

    If you are the biological father of the child, and the mother ackowledges it or you take a DNA test, your name will be on the birth certificate. However, Japan can be rather harsh on foreign parents if they are not there at time of birth or if the mother does not have your name put on the birth certificate. BUT being that she is Japanese and the whole single mother thing isnt the best option for a woman, she will probably have you on there regardless.

    if you can legally be in japan or she can legally be in ireland, just wait for the divorce to go through and enjoy your time with your new family.

    ————————

    Aside from that… i have a comment. I travel japan and the rest of asia in sports competition (snowboarding) but i have known the japanese language for many many years and use japan as like a home base really. ive been basically stationed here for years but am always on a kankou visa. This makes certain things for me kinda difficult. Since i spend most of my time in Japan, obviously I have grown close to someone. We’re going to have a child and what is most important to me is family. This child is mine, I will be there for it until the day i die. 今から、先も、ずっと。i will always take care of that child the best i possibly can.

    What i have to look at now is marriage. where to do it, where to raise the child, how to raise the child. i am looking forward to being a gaijin dad here though, especially cause i live in tohoku haha, im inaka’ed out up here. nanimo nai yo… gaijin ga zenzen inai.

    I want to say thanks for writing all this, its good for me to read when i get nervous or scared. I can honestly say its definitely calmed me down a bit or brightened my outlook on this whole concept and situation. oh god and where to work… eeeesh, i gotta make good money to support a family! Thanks again though, and keep on writing!

  18. Papa-san,
    I can relate somewhat to your story. My wife gave birth last week. We chose a respected hospital in our local area which was famous for being a great place to give birth. I guess my wife only asked females what their opinion was. I wouldn’t know. After our lovely little daughter came out into the big wide world I was allowed to hug her once and then she was taken into the new bubbies room. Only Mum’s are allowed into the room where the new babies are kept and babies aren’t brought outside of that room for a week. What does that mean? The only way I could see my baby was from the other side of the big glass window of the room. I felt like a stranger looking at my own little girl.

  19. Can anyone tell me about the drug Utemerin and how safe it is for my wife to take?
    She’s in her third trimester and her Doctor suddenly told her that she has the risk of giving birth prematurely and so has been given a prescription of 5mg Utemerin (ウテメリン) and told not to exert herself.
    My wife tells me that it is a very common medicine to be issued in Japan because many people are at risk of a premature delivery. (Just because it is common in Japan isn’t enough to convince me.) I know that her sister was also told to stay at home for nearly two months in her final trimester and given some sort of drug to supposedly hold the baby in for longer. She claims that many of her friends from maternity classes were also taking medicine for the same reason. Just to add another data point, the wife of a colleague at work was forced to lie down in a hospital bed for the last 3-4 months of her pregnancy because she was supposedly at risk (meaning she even had to attend her wedding with a drip and a doctor). Is it really that common? Or is it just something that Japanese doctors are paranoid about?
    Worse yet, is it just a drug that is easy to prescribe and has a high rebate fee? How many pregnant mothers are going to take the risk and not take medicine when their doctor tells them that they might give birth to a premature baby. My wife’s doctor was apparently quite vague about the whole thing and how he had come to his conclusion. (I would go along too if I was welcome at the clinic – like the guy who wrote the first comment above).

  20. I’ve done some more research but I still don’t know the answer to the question “is it safe for my wife to take.” Let me share with you what I found just in case there is someone else out there wondering the same thing.

    Some interesting blog entries in Japanese about Utemerin:

    http://ameblo.jp/obgyn0331/entry-10000356951.html
    http://demidemico.blog100.fc2.com/blog-entry-193.html
    http://www.e-pharma.jp/dirbook/contents/data/prt/2590004F1192.html

    Apparently the main ingredient is ritodrine hydrochloride (塩酸リトドリン). Here are a few English links that talk about how effective it isn’t in halting pre-term pregnancies:

    http://www.drugs.com/mmx/ritodrine-hydrochloride.html
    http://www.faqs.org/abstracts/Health/The-national-impact-of-ritodrine-hydrochloride-for-inhibition-of-preterm-labor.html
    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=18257754

    The general message seems to be that Utemerin is used as an intravenous drug in 50 countries around the world for serious cases but Japan is the only country who administers it as an oral drug for less serious cases. Main reason seems to be that the jury seems to be
    out on its efficiacy and the side effects are pretty awful for the Mother. Food for thought.

    Kissei Pharma has been selling it in Japan since 1986: “UTEMERIN, a drug for threatened premature labor and threatened abortion”

    They sell about $50 million worth of it every year and it is their third biggest selling drug although back in 2001 they were selling 70% (in yen terms) more than they expect to sell this year. Sounds a bit fishy to me…
    2001 8.4 bln JPY
    2002 7.5 bln JPY
    2003 7.3 bln JPY
    2004 6.4 bln JPY
    2005 6.2 bln JPY
    2006 5.7 bln JPY
    2007 5.5 bln JPY
    2008 5.5 bln JPY
    2009 4.9 bln JPY (estimate)

  21. Premature,
    I know this may sound too obvious, but have you asked your doctor what he thinks about the drugs risks and why it is only prescribed in Japan?

  22. Well that’s part of the problem, hills zoku.
    For a start it is hard to get into the room with my wife at the OB/GYN because men aren’t allowed to participate in most processes. Then when I finally got in, he was clearly not used to dealing with people with questions as he suddenly got defensive and was pretty useless. At the end of the day he admitted that there was research out there suggesting that previous research supporting the use of Utemerin in stopping premature births may not have been statistically significant. He quickly followed up with the usual scare tactics. If there is even a small chance that Utemerin is the difference between a premature baby and a term birth then why take the risk? That is why he regularly prescribes it.
    In the end my wife decided to stop taking it after a week. She didn’t notice any benefits from it while she was taking it (ie contractions continued). Ironically, she decided to just take it easy the next week and not exert herself very much instead of taking the medicine. The doctor (not realizing she wasn’t taking the medicine) was thrilled at how effective the “medicine” had been as her risk of being premature suddenly dropped that week.
    Oh, and all of that was a month ago and she still hasn’t given birth yet! Everyone has to make these decisions for themselves but I am happy with the decision that we made this time.

  23. Premature I’, in a similar shoes and ‘ve been searching to see anybody delibrately not taking utemerin and still fine. I noted that even with the medicine my uterus still contracted, so i stopped. It’s been 10 days since I stopped and I’m a bit scared, although there’s very few contracts now and then.
    My situation is more severe than your wife I guess because I had very painful contraction on 23/12 and had to hospitalized for 2 days.
    Please keep me updated with how you’re doing and how many weeks you’ve reached till now. I’m just 27 weeks. my email is gettinginfo161@gmail.com so please get me updated if anything goes with you.

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