So…you peed on the stick and it says you’re pregnant…now what?
I think for most women, their search starts with finding an obstetrician or midwife to look after them during pregnancy. In Japan, you have several options but definitely fewer than the US when it comes to caregivers. This is simply because of the language barrier that exists. If you want an English-speaking caregiver in Japan, you will have limited options (especially if you live outside Tokyo). However, it is very possible to find an excellent OB (like I did!) who is trusted throughout the English-speaking community. I’m going to now write a little bit about my experience so far with my OB, but of course this is only one way to have a baby in Japan. Many people choose out of hospital births at birth houses or maternity clinics, which sound excellent! If you want to learn more about other mama/baby friendly caregivers in and around Tokyo, check out this post!
How I Chose My OB
After doing some research about English-speaking OB’s in Japan, I came across Aiiku Clinic in the expat-friendly neighborhood of Hiro-o. The clinic houses an international ward where two English-speaking doctors practice, Dr. Sakamoto and Dr. Sen. The nurses and reception staff also speak English, which makes making appointments and doing paperwork extremely easy and stress free. Both doctors came recommended, so I chose to work with Dr. Sen because I felt more comfortable with a female doctor. After my positive at-home pregnancy test, I called the clinic and made an appointment as soon as possible. The receptionist asked me a few questions about when my last period was and if I had had a positive result on an at-home test. After confirming both of these, I was able to set up an appointment with Dr. Sen to get an ultrasound confirmation.
Note: Although this didn’t apply to me, many women choose Dr. Sen or Dr. Sakamoto and Aiiku because they are one of the few hospitals in Tokyo that provide 24/7 access to an epidural. If that is important to you, I think Aiiku would be a good choice!
If you are in the process of choosing an OB in Japan, I would also recommend reading this post for more specific information!
My First Appointment
As I headed to my first appointment, I was a little bit nervous because I knew I would need to complete some registration paperwork and I didn’t have my husband (who speaks Japanese) to help. Aiiku Clinic has both an international clinic and a regular clinic, so after getting a little lost on my way to the international part (take the elevator the 2nd floor and turn right!) I was able to check in. I needed to fill out some paperwork with my name, my husbands name, and our contact information such as our address and phone numbers. (P.S. The nurse was helpful in writing my address in kanji, so if you need help I am sure they will assist you) After I finished I was able to go into my appointment and meet Dr. Sen. She welcomed me and confirmed the last day of my last period and then had me go into the ultrasound room. Since the first ultrasound was an internal one, I had to put on an ultra-comfortable hospital gown but it was all worth it because the ultrasound confirmed my pregnancy! I changed back into my clothes and briefly spoke with Dr. Sen about my next appointment. At this point in the pregnancy, there really isn’t much to say or do except to wait for the baby to grow, so the whole process was fairly quick. I headed out and scheduled the next appointment with the receptionist for one month later. Then I headed downstairs to pay at the ground floor reception. I was given an ID card for the clinic as well. On the ground floor, I handed the receptionist my paperwork and then waited for them to call my name. When they did, I confirmed my registration information and paid for the ultrasound. One of the biggest differences between the US and Japan as far as maternity care goes is that your health insurance does not cover maternity care in Japan. You must pay out of pocket for your appointments but then your city ward office reimburses you for part of the expenses. In order to get these reimbursements, you simply register your pregnancy at the city ward office. They will give you a maternity and child handbook (which you should bring to every appointment) as well as vouchers to present to the hospital at each appointment.
All My Other Appointments
Generally, my subsequent appointments at Aiiku Clinic followed this process:
- Arrive about 15 minutes early to the appointment and go give a urine sample in the urine collection room on the ground floor before heading to the 2nd floor for my appointment.
- Check in with the receptionist on the 2nd floor and give her my maternity and child handbook, vouchers, and ID card.
- Head to the blood pressure machine and take my blood pressure, then weigh myself on the scale next to it and write the weight on the print out from the blood pressure reader. Tip: If you walked quickly to your appointment or are nervous, you may want to wait a few minutes before taking your blood pressure since it might be higher than normal. This happened to me and I had to take my blood pressure daily for a month to make sure I wasn’t developing high blood pressure!
- Hand the print out to the nurse or receptionist and wait to be called into the office. Chat with Dr. Sen for a few minutes about how things have been going since the last appointment, then move to the ultrasound room. After the ultrasound, Dr. Sen records all the information in the maternity and child handbook and gives times for you to ask questions.
- When you finish, you will schedule your next appointment with the receptionist and then head downstairs to pay. The receptionist will give you a folder with your voucher and any information you will need downstairs. Make sure to put your health insurance card in the folder before you turn it in. After your name is called you will pay and then you’re done!
In general, most of my appointments took a total of 30 minutes and I never had to wait more than 5 minutes to see Dr. Sen. The whole process is very efficient and everyone is super helpful!
My General Review of Dr. Sen and Aiiku Clinic (pre-birth)
Overall, Dr. Sen is a wonderful doctor! I have enjoyed having her look after me because she is extremely relaxed and makes you feel at ease. She never once mentioned my weight (a common concern of doctors in Japan) and was very relaxed about me continuing my normal level of exercise and eating most things (besides the obvious no-no’s, although those can be different in Japan as well). I noticed that the more appointments I had with her the more open and friendly she was, but I think that’s because in early pregnancy with zero complications there just isn’t much to talk about! All the nurses and staff in the international clinic are extremely helpful and friendly as well! Around month 6 I was having sciatic nerve pain and Dr. Sen suggested wearing a maternity belt. One of the nurses spent about 20 minutes letting me try on several styles and showing me how to put them on, so sweet! Also, after the 2nd appointment they recognized me and always made me feel welcome in the clinic!
One more note, if you are under the care of Dr. Sen or Dr. Sakamoto, you will not give birth at Aiiku Clinic but at Aiiku Hospital (it is a different location). You can read my birth story here to find out about my experience staying at the hospital and my experience giving birth with Dr. Sen!