This week we go to Japan as part of the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making to hear Erica’s story. She talks about the cultural differences between her native country Canada and her current home, Japan. A fascinating story about language barriers, keeping small babies inside and never putting socks or shoes on your baby. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are your from? How old is your daughter, and where did you have her?
I’m a mother to one-year-old Stella who was born in Japan, a wife to a wonderful Swiss man, a blogger, a freelancer and a trailing spouse. I was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, but I’ve lived in seven different countries, countless cities, and a few tiny backwaters.
We are currently calling Japan “home”, and dreaming of our next adventure.
Why did you have your daughter abroad?
We had my daughter abroad because I wanted my husband to be present at the birth. He has a demanding job, and so returning to Canada, or Switzerland, or the US for the birth wouldn’t be practical.
As an expectant mother abroad, how did you feel?
Like many expectant mothers, I felt a mix of emotions: I was excited, impatient and thrilled to become a mother. But I was also incredibly anxious about having a baby abroad.
I got pregnant the week we moved to Japan, so in addition to culture shock, homesickness, and pregnancy crazysauce, I had to find and furnishing an apartment, and figure out prenatal care while dealing with a massive language barrier. Hence the anxiety.
I wanted everything to be perfect and I wasted considerable effort worrying that things wouldn’t be done “the right way”. Finally, two weeks before my daughter was due, I decided to just relax and trust the doctors. That was the best thing that I could have done.
My daughter’s birth was not perfect. Medical interventions were made that probably wouldn’t have been had we been in North America and Stella was rushed to the NICU in a different hospital where she stayed for her first four days. Still, I feel really positive about the experience. My doctor was so helpful, the midwives, despite our language barrier were incredibly kind and patient and more than willing to accommodate my strange, foreign wishes.
What do you feel are the benefits of having a child abroad?
There are many. In Asia there it is normal to take a long period of rest after the birth of a child. I stayed in the birth center for five days recovering from a normal, uncomplicated (for me) delivery. Most women stay at least a week. People were shocked that I took my daughter out for a walk seven days after she was born!
Having a child abroad has taught me to be a more flexible parent. I was fairly dogmatic about my attachment parenting crunchy granola beliefs, but circumstances have forced me to compromise on some of these principles. Seeing so many happy, healthy, well adjusted children who are not raised “by the book” tells me that there are as many ways to parent a child as there are children to be parented, and the best thing you can do is relax, do what works in your family and be kind to yourself.
Prenatal care is also more cautious in Japan. For example, even uncomplicated pregnancies get an ultra-sound at each and every OB visit, and Non Stress Tests are administered routinely in the final three or four weeks of pregnancy. Also, I was instructed to come to the birth center as soon as contractions started and not permitted to labour at home.
In some ways, parenting in Japan is very similar to my attachment parenting style. Co-sleeping is the norm here; breastfeeding is encouraged; most mothers give birth without pain medication; and baby wearing is common. In other ways it is quite different; babies are held less, and are allowed to cry longer. Parents are liberal with television and sweets, and I get the feeling that mothers are less uptight about parenting in general.
The Japanese approach to baby sleep is quite different. Babies are put to bed much later, at about 9 PM and it is accepted that babies wake frequently during the night. I once mentioned that I wanted to try to night ween my very wakeful 10 month-old, and the other mothers looked at me like I was a crazy person.
Also, babies never wear shoes. And rarely wear socks. Even in winter. I still don’t know why.
I love observing and cataloging these differences in child rearing. It is so interesting to see that much of the baby rearing wisdom we hold as fact is actually culturally based.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
My best advice is to relax. Find a doctor who most closely shares your approach to prenatal care and birth (you won’t find someone who thinks exactly like you do, but close enough is good enough) and then trust your doctor. Don’t get caught up in the minutia of baby prep, birth plans or small details of baby rearing. Relax an enjoy the process of becoming a parent. You and your baby will be happier for it.
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