Pregnancy different here – and that’s a great thing

by Gina Treat, The Birth Education Center of Okinawa
Stripes Korea

As an expecting mom living overseas, I was very surprised at how different the birth experience could be the second time around.

Four years ago in Northern Virginia, where our first daughter was born, I was thinking that as a working mom, my employer and the American culture thought more highly of pregnancy than they did. For both pregnancies, I was a classified as `high risk’. I was a working mom during both pregnancies. I had a pretty good support system set up in our Northern Virginia area, doctors I had seen for several years, a job I loved and wanted to go back to, and a military husband who was always. In Japan, my pregnancy came as a later-in-life blessing. I had a support system through my work, friends I had made years ago that we were lucky enough to have with us in Japan, and doctors that I did not know much about, but grew to trust.

I thought during my first pregnancy that being a teacher in America, there would be a pretty good system set up regarding time off, leave, help with doctor appointments, etc. I was wrong. I used personal leave for maternity leave and doctor visits. Like most women I knew, I also worked up until the day before I was due. When I became pregnant again, I did not think things would be any different when I went to talk to my employer in Japan, a local Japanese elementary school. I was very wrong in all of the best ways possible.

In Japan, pregnancy and childbirth get the kind of respect that I always thought it should. Pregnant women are helped. People go out of their way to make sure you are cared for and comfortable. It is second nature to take care of an expecting mother, as if they were an elder. In Japanese hospitals, mothers are cared for days after the baby is born. During the first month at home with a newborn, every need a mother could have is met so she can focus on the baby.

But I digress. I was in the middle of my meeting with my administration at my school in Japan, not listening as well as I should have been, when I handed over my paperwork to my friend, the school recruiter. He looked it over and shook his head, sort of in disbelief. He knew at this point in our friendship that my American sensibilities needed him to be very direct with me. He asked me my due date again. He looked confused because I had written down the day before my due date as my last day of work, just like in America. Here is the thing – in Japan, new mothers not only get a year of paid maternity leave, but they also get time before the baby is born, in my case six weeks before my due date, as paid leave as well. Employers give expecting moms time to take doctors appointments, they give you a money gift for having your baby, and even catalog to choose a new toy for your new arrival. Once you return to work, you can receive extra time during the work day to breastfeed if your child is still nursing. This is all included. It is part of life. It is one of the truly remarkable things I have found living in a different culture.

As a working mother, this time around I am taking comfort in knowing that I did not have to rush back to work. I have had time to bond with our second daughter. I have had time to make sense of the changes for our first daughter, who has special needs. I have had time to work through postpartum depression. I have been able to take time for myself and rediscover yoga and God. I have had time to build the village you need when raising a family in the military, especially when your family is on the other side of the world. It has been ten months with more ups than downs. I am happily still breastfeeding. I have a healthy, somewhat chaotic family that enjoys every day we get to spend living overseas growing in our love for each other.

Connect with local Okinawa moms on Facebook in “Pregnancy & Birth Talk Okinawa”
- Japan Birth Resource Network (A chapter of the Military Birth Resource Network) provides evidence based information and mother friendly support throughout Japan.
- To learn more visit:

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