This is the second installment (find the first here) in a series about my personal experience of being pregnant in Japan (or perhaps I should say, of my wife being pregnant). Although I hope that some of the observations have value for gaijin of both sexes, I’m intentionally writing this series from my own perspective – a Gaijin Father / Japanese Mother. There is no topic better than pregnancy for old wives tales to prevail, and I’ve been amazed by the seemingly endless views about pregnancy that differ between Japan and the West (where I’m from). While it is hard to argue that either view is right or wrong, I personally would have loved to have had a resource that taught me about both sides of the fence – hopes, expectations, taboo, you name it. That is the purpose of this series. (You can find the introduction here)
For first time parents (like me) absolutely everything is new and while you thought you knew a lot about pregnancy from seeing your friends/relatives go through it, most of us want to double check the stories we’ve heard. After all this time it is your kid – and you wouldn’t want to get anything wrong that you could have prevented. While people back home probably turn to Mum and Dad and other relatives, there isn’t always someone to turn to when you’re living overseas.
In Tokyo, the most obvious place to look for advice is in your local Kinokuniya bookstore. I’ve read at least half a dozen books (in two languages) on pregnancy in the last few months and can confidently tell you that you don’t need to read lots of books to learn the key concepts. Don’t repeat my mistake and buy half a dozen different books about the same topic as you’ll end up wasting good money that could be put towards a dummy and rattle or some nappies. Buy one large and comprehensive book which deals with not only the various stages of pregnancy but also the various potential complications of pregnancy. You know what Stippy.com thinks about the Japanese health system. You want to make sure that you have one good reference book so that even if your Doctor doesn’t explain it, you can research what is happening to your baby and understand what it really means. The best news it that you can’t really go wrong. All of the books that I read were helpful and covered the bare basics in some way, shape or form.
It seems in the world of pregnancy there are two kinds of expecting Mothers (and Fathers). The kind that just wants some moral support, someone to hold her/his hand and say that everything will be alright. Then there is the kind that wants to know absolutely everything, regardless of how unlikely certain situations mate be, so that he/she can “always be prepared”. Make sure you know which you are before you buy a book. If you fall in the former category then the last thing you want is a detailed description of every single thing you can go wrong as it will just make you even more stressed out. I’d recommend buying one of the many Japanese language magazines that are available about there. For some strange reason, most of the Japanese magazines out there are designed more to be a form of entertainment and much less to be a source of reference. In fact most of them are written by professional editors as opposed to Doctors and are filled with fascinating stories and episodes from other pregnant Mothers and lots of colorful photos and cartoons. On the other hand, if you fall into the former category (I did, so some of my observations in this series are likely to be a touch biased), then I recommend that you stick with one of the popular English reference books on sale. While some English books verge on scare tactics, there are a few very well balanced books out there which tell you both the risks and the benefits of many things (foods, tests, practices) and leaves the ultimate decision up to you. Not great if you are 優柔不断 (yujufudan, a poor decision maker) but great if you want to know just why you are being advised something.
Let me introduce what I found to be the best in each of those categories below:
As I am a soon to be Daddy, I spent a lot of time looking at books for expecting Dads. By far and away the best is “The Expectant Father” (Link to the book on amazon.co.jp). It goes into significant levels of detail (often more than the books designed for expecting Mothers) but better yet it explains the world to you from the eyes of a Dad. It seems as though the Author has done a lot of research into the psychological impact of a pregnancy/birth on Father’s as he makes many interesting references to recent research (Did you know that when a man becomes a Father he – like his partner – experiences an increase in the amount of female hormones in his body??). Although the book is written from the perspective of a US Dad where there are much greater expectations regarding your participation in the pregnancy, having it down on writing does give you confidence as to what is “fair” to ask for if you are in a Japanese (please stand outside, Sir) pregnancy.
For Japanese readers, the most popular domestic option is something from Bennese’s TamaHiyo Club. (just in case you don’t have it yet click here). But there is no point me recommending it to you as your Japanese partner (or Mother in law) will have already bought it for you. It is filled with lots of stories from readers and real-life examples of problems that people have had and how they got over them so it is interesting but not as “helpful” as I would have hoped. Instead I’d like to recommend a less well-known book called はじめてでも安心!妊娠・出産 (link to it here on amazon.co.jp) The title loosely translates to “Nothing to worry about for your first birth/pregnancy”. So many so called “reference” books that are published in Japanese seem to have been hijacked by the editor (or the artistic director) and lack detailed research and references. As far as our experience goes, both my wife and I think that this book has not only had the most reliable information, it has done a great job of answering our questions in a balanced way (because too often there is never one “right answer” in the world of pregnancy.)
If you haven’t already, I seriously recommend that you compare the Japanese reference magazines in your home with your English books. It is amazing how different they are (both the contents and the visual presentation). Whereas English books often tend to be close to a text book in presentation, half the time you could be excused for assuming that the Japanese version isn’t a mix between a fashion magazine and a manga (漫画, comic book)! My favorite pages to compare are the “your body month by month” pages. Just like you saw back in High School, the American books that you’re likely to order from Amazon are filled with full body photos of a naked Mother showing how her stomach and breasts change in size. Now turn to your partner’s Japanese book and note how there isn’t a single photo of a naked mother in the whole book. I personally find it ironic that it’s okay to show photos of scantily clad women all over the subway station walls but its somehow seen as taboo to publish a picture of a pregnant woman in a reference book.
My wife pointed out interestingly that her Japanese books are much more feminine than our English ones. Her point was that it might be because Japanese men are still not that involved in their wives’ pregnancies and so authors are more than happy designing the book 100% for women. whereas in the West, you wouldn’t be able to get away with that due to the higher participation of husbands in pregnancy. What do you think?
The list of differences between our reference books is much longer than just what I’ve referred to here, but I’ll save some of the rest for a later installment.