For as long as I've lived in Okinawa I should be fluent in Japanese now. Sadly, I am not. Over the years I've learned to understand and pick up on what most conversations are about. But don't ask me to speak it back. So far I have been able to maintain with my version of "Janglish", a terrible combination of broken English mixed with small phrases in Japanese. I'd like to think that most locals appreciate the effort. Or perhaps they really think, "Why is this 6'2" American keep saying "Daijobu desu" or "Dou itashi mashite" religiously. I believe I'll stick with my dear friend Kyoko who's been an amazing translator and colleague. So when my jokes and humor don't make sense to the staff, she can explain why I sound like an ding dong.
Back on track. I am feeling quite nostalgic today and have some time on my hands. I figured I might as well sit down and share with you some of my experiences in Okinawa.
I feel very fortunate to build relationships with providers in the Japanese community. We even found a home birth midwife a few years ago! There is so much to learn about this amazing culture. When Yui Clinic was scoped out, it was through a couple of expecting friends looking for options off base. For many, the thought of giving birth off base was daunting and scary. Then being told that your baby will not be an American citizen and it costs thousands of dollars turns many people away. (Which this is absolutely NOT true, unless you have Japanese blood pulsing through your veins, you are not going to be a Japanese citizen. Financially, delivering out in town can cost around five thousand dollars but it's almost completely reimbursed by Tricare). The only time I've heard things being a problem is when a baby decided to come quickly and no medical professional was there to witness. Then the paperwork and insurance can be a bit of a headache.
What we found was a place that was not like many other places in Okinawa. I loved learning more about the birth culture of the country I lived in.
The majority of my doula work has been on base. To which I am pleased to say the base hospital has been very open to supporting families in their births, doulas and birth plans. It surely does take teamwork. However, there are aspects of the Japanese culture I would love to see incorporated into our more American way of practicing.
One major one would be warmth. Keeping a mother warm that is. I was always taught that if a mom is shaking after delivery, it's the hormones. Completely normal right? In time of going to the births at Yui, I've never witnessed moms shake or shiver. When the woman is in labor, there's a fan and one can turn on the AC, but close to delivery it gets turned off. Yes, it may heighten the smell of birth and arm pits but its quite amazing to see the outcome. I've also been told that staying warm helps a mother's body recover quicker and is good for circulation. Perhaps, it's the environment this takes place too. The rooms is often dark. Just an overhead light or the small lamp putting out just enough energy to facilitate whats taking place.
The quietness. I swear the doctor and midwives are like silent ninjas. Even if special circumstances arise, the needs are met very quickly. While there's much commotion going on, people aren't yelling and orders coming from a million different directions. The atmosphere brings a sense of peace and calm to the life changing moment that's about to take place.
The postpartum care. All I can say is WOW! Again, I can only speak for my experiences and other places may vary, but it is a common practice to stay in the hospital for about a week after delivery. This is something that I feel is so beneficial. A new mother is allowed to bond with her baby while having continued support with breastfeeding, fully prepared, nutritious meals and baby care. They also receive postpartum massages, cranial sacral sessions and breast massages if needed.
In my time here, I've also witnessed a cesarean off base, which many would be floored to hear what it was like, so I'll save that for another time. Let's just say it can be common to practice a very family centered/gentle cesarean. In the absence of a medical emergency of course.
I know my families season is up here in Okinawa, but I have learned so much. Some of these places didn't have to open their doors to the American community. I have found that mostly they are very willing to helping. I may be leaving but I will have friends for life here in Okinawa. I wished we could build more of a bridge between our cultures because there is so much available to us. I personally drawn to Chinese Medicine, body work, homeopathy and have even acclimated to the warmth of the rooms. So get your socks on mommas!