I’ll start by briefly talking about the birth of my first son. Everything is fine, he was born healthy, but in hindsight I realized there were things I wish had gone differently. I went into my pregnancy and birth with the mindset, “Women do this everyday, so why do I need to take classes or read books about it?” I wanted to try to do things naturally, but didn’t take issue with possible interventions. I would do what the doctor recommended. I ended up with pitocin, an epidural, and an episiotomy.
Afterwards, I started to have some questions about my birth experience. I remember thinking while my doctor was giving me the episiotomy, “I haven’t done much research but I’m pretty sure these aren’t a ‘thing’ anymore….” But I was crowning, so I wasn’t exactly in a position to bring it up for discussion.
Also, why did the pitocin make the baby’s heart rate drop? Was it totally necessary in the first place?
Why was the nurse so eager for me to get an epidural? She repeatedly told me while I was mid-contraction, “You don’t get a medal for having the baby naturally.”
These questions and more continued to swirl in my head in the months following my birth. I realized maybe I did have preferences and desires. Deep down, I knew I was capable of a natural birth. I knew it. It felt like something I needed to do for myself.
We weren’t sure we were having a second child, so I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to try again.
A couple years later we moved to Okinawa, Japan. A friend of mine was already living there, and gave birth to her second son shortly after we arrived. She posted a picture similar to this one after he was born:
One of the meals you receive during your postpartum stay at the Yui Clinic.
At that moment I knew: I was going to get pregnant and have the baby at Yui. (Those of you who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that food was the main deciding factor!)
It took a little convincing to get my husband on board with baby #2, but convincing him to have the baby at Yui was a piece of cake. He‘s very logical and safety was his top concern, so if he felt Yui was at all more “risky” than a hospital birth he would have said so. But after touring the facility, he was sold.
As soon as I switched from the Naval Hospital to Yui for my prenatal care, I began to notice all the differences in how women receive care in the US versus at Yui:
The facility itself is calming from the moment you walk in. From the decor to the lighting to the music, the place is designed to make you feel relaxed. They even have a leg massage chair in the waiting area! At almost every prenatal appointment, I spent 20-30 minutes talking to a midwife about my stage in pregnancy and how to be prepared for the postpartum period. Extensive lab work was done to determine my blood nutrient levels, and I received detailed counseling about the results and how to improve them with the foods I ate. The staff was there to serve me and made sure every procedure was done respectfully and with care.
My labor was abrupt and fast, but this time I had completed a hypnobirthing class and was ready. My water broke a few hours after my 38 week appointment and I was already having regular contractions when I showed up at the birth center. My mom hadn’t yet arrived from the States, so my 4 year old came along. His presence wasn’t part of the plan although Yui encourages you to bring siblings and make it a family event. In the end, I was glad he was there.
After 30 minutes on the fetal monitor, I was disconnected and left to labor wherever and however I wanted. I remember messaging my doula that it was time for her to come because my contractions were making me “bitchy,” then walking from the postpartum room where we were back into the delivery room, throwing my headphones, getting down on all fours, and yelling for the midwife. Next thing I know, I’m being lifted on to a futon with the upper half of my body elevated on a big black beanbag chair type thing. I tell the midwives I have to pee and then hear Dr. Fumi (the OB) telling me I can’t because the baby’s head is here. I let my body tell me when to push and when to rest. My husband held my hands and whispered encouragement in my ear. It didn’t take much (although that “ring of fire” is no joke). My baby was born!
I got my natural birth. My doula missed the whole thing.
The next four days were like heaven (I could have stayed longer...now I wish I had!). I was served three of those incredible, aforementioned meals each day. Unlimited carafes of hot rooibos tea. A midwife would come hold the baby when I wanted to take a shower. My husband and son would visit once or twice everyday. Baby and I napped together on our futon. I listened to audio books or just looked out at the street below from the balcony attached to my room. On my last night, I was served a special, celebratory meal.
Before heading home, I enjoyed my second postnatal massage.
The entire time I was there, I couldn’t believe it was real life. “How did I get so lucky? Why am I being treated to all of this? What if ALL women got to have an experience like this one when they had a baby…?”
And then it hit me. All women SHOULD have this experience. All women deserve to have this experience. We need to start expecting more from our prenatal and postpartum options.
The Yui Clinic is a magical place, but it shouldn’t be so unique. I look forward to the day when all mothers can think back on their birth stories with the love, joy, and fulfillment that I do.
Julie Kalmar currently lives in Okinawa, Japan with her Marine husband and two sons (ages 5 and 8 months). She enjoys coffee dates with other moms, traveling the world with her family, and eating peanut butter with a spoon. Her work involves serving others in their health and wellness and reducing our impact on the environment.