Midwifery practice seen finding renewed favor

More women are returning to the traditional way of giving birth in Japan — under the care of midwives — and becoming less reliant on invasive medical procedures and drugs.

At the Mejiro Birth House in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, a 34-year-old woman delivered a 3.36 kg boy in a Japanese-style room. Her husband and daughter were present during her eight hours of labor.

“If you are mentally comfortable, the delivery is much easier,” the mother said. “I could trust the midwife, and it was a luxury for me to be able to be relaxed.”

But she had a starkly different experience when she gave birth to her daughter three years ago at a hospital.

“Without explanation, I underwent an episiotomy for the delivery,” she said. “I was scared and lonely. I never want to enter a delivery room like an operating room again. For this pregnancy, I had looked for a midwifery clinic where I could deliver a baby with no anxiety.”

Midwife Yuko Konno, 47, opened the clinic in 1998 after working for a hospital for many years where she claimed she witnessed episiotomies being carried out unnecessarily even though the deliveries were proceeding normally.

“Labor ends with a delivery, but episiotomy scars remain a long time,” she said. “I thought it somewhat strange to give unnecessary pain to women in labor.”

Konno said a woman’s mental state has a serious impact on her body and the delivery. “In many deliveries, medicines and scalpels are used. Women feel great stress regarding episiotomies.”

She said taking enough time with pregnant women during checkups and carefully listening to what they say can do much to ease their concerns about deliveries.

She also attends home births. When she opened the clinic, there were only two home births in the first year, but by last year there were 69.

Until the 1960s, most Japanese women gave birth at home with the help of midwives. But this started to change with the trend toward nuclear families and advances in medicine.

According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 98 percent of pregnant women currently give birth in hospitals.

But in the 1990s, the number midwifery clinics began to slowly increase, and by 2001 the number was 5 percent higher than its lowest point in 1992. The number of home births jumped by 92 percent.

The biggest problem is the small numbers of midwifery clinics and midwives. There are only about 300 clinics and 350 midwives nationwide.

The Japan Midwives Association in Tokyo said it is going to meet growing demand for midwives by selling its nationwide list, and creating a training and education system.

“Deliveries are enjoyable, and we want to deliver more babies,” said Konno, who has brought more than 300 babies into the world.