When my partner and I first considered getting pregnant again in Japan, I knew that finding a clinic that would meet my requirements would be tricky. After a challenging experience in Canada, I really wanted to create a peaceful environment for my second experience of giving birth. One of my top requests was that I have my partner present at all times during the labor—as well as with me after the birth for the extended hospital stay of five days. I also hoped to have my older daughter be able to stay or visit the baby soon after as well. And, I strongly preferred to have a private room and bathing area; although I know that many people have great bonding experiences with other new mothers, privacy is very important for me in the early postnatal period.
When I started my original research, I was alarmed to see that many ladies’ clinics and hospitals in Japan did not allow for tachiai bunben (delivery with the father/birth partner present). But, with some searching, I found two clinics, not disastrously far, which met my criteria. Then, COVID appeared.
Giving birth in the age of COVID
Ecstatic to see the two lines on my pregnancy test, I checked the home pages of the two clinics to see where they stood. Unfortunately, one had completely barred partners for the birth and hospital stay, as well as all of the ultrasounds and check-ups. The other was more unclear and so I went in person to check it out. I liked the vibe of the place and so I stayed, despite the fact that every appointment I had to go alone, even when doctors were concerned about the baby. And, in the few months before her birth, I obsessively checked the website for updates.
Luckily for me, when my baby girl was born, her father was allowed in the birthing room the whole time—after submitting to an on-the-spot PCR test in the middle of the night when we arrived. For the record, they also gave me a PCR test as I waddled into the labor ward, but I was more focused on my contractions than the swab up my nose. As for staying after, we were told officially no, but unofficially he was allowed to come and go almost as much as we wanted. My older daughter, however, had to wait five days to see her mother and new sister.
Undoubtedly, I lucked out in the age of COVID and many mothers-to-be are finding themselves alone while giving birth in Japan. And, although the nursing and midwifery staff are ostensibly around, stories from around me and in women’s magazines paint a picture of a far more lonely experience. For foreign women in Japan who are already undergoing giving birth in a different culture and having to speak a different language, being deprived of a birth partner both during and after, is a serious issue. Without the proper emotional and linguistic support, it’s harder to advocate for yourself and your baby.
The importance of a birthing partner
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My wife gave birth in August 2020 in Tokyo. The staff were really nice, but I wasn't allowed at the birth due to COVID rules. I could visit a few hours later, and for an hour a day after that.
I'm confused. Is it typical in Japan to not allow partners, parents, doulas etc. in the birthing room?!!
No, doctors do not want you to be in the birthing room. Let me tell you this is a very good change, because it will keep doctors and nurses both on their toes.
Some nearly 20 years ago, I was there for the birth of my son in Japan.
If my wife wanted it, nothing would have prevented me from staying with her.
Glad to hear this! It's 26 years too late for me, but I'm happy for couples who are having babies now.
Susan Elizabeth-Marsh Tanabe
This is shocking and disappointing. When preparing for the arrival of our first born in 1984, we spoke with a few hospitals. It was not easy, however my Japanese husband was allowed to be in the birthing room. He was also with me during contractions and afterward, with our son. This has been the norm in many nations for decades. Only NOW is this becoming an acceptable step? Astounding! I suppose I congratulate Japan on finally doing the right thing, however I am concerned this might be limited to Tokyo. Truly disappointing.