Noda’s most coveted post: motherhood

by Mizuho Aoki

At age 50, Seiko Noda’s ardent wish to become a mother looks on track to come true.

After nearly a decade of struggling with infertility, Noda became pregnant in May through artificial insemination using donated eggs of a 20-something American woman.

The baby is due in February.

“It was like the H-IIA rocket took off,” Noda said during an interview with The Japan Times last week, recalling the moment she found out about her pregnancy.

“It’s a mystery (to carry a child). The universe is here (in my belly),” Noda said, rubbing her slightly rounded tummy.

Noda, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker once considered a possibility as Japan’s first female prime minister, went public about her pregnancy in late August in the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho.

To keep the media from snooping around and serving up endless speculation, which could be harmful to her political career, about how she had conceived a child, she decided to be proactive about it.

“Also, it’s better to make it open for developing an honest relationship between my child and me in the future,” Noda said.

Treatment via assisted reproductive technology using donated ova remains controversial in Japan. And because the country still lacks any law governing the use of such technology, most patients head to the United States or, more recently, to India to receive the treatment and give birth back home, hiding the way they conceived their children, experts say.

Noda estimates that about 90 percent of the public reaction has been positive, but there’s no denying it also raised a few eyebrows and she has drawn some criticism over the way she got pregnant.

Pregnancy at her age comes with all sorts of risks, including higher rates of miscarriage, pregnancy-induced hypertension and birth defects, experts say. In Noda’s case, there will be no stable, midterm stage of pregnancy.

But after examining and considering the potential problems, Noda still wanted a child. She said she is determined to accept all of the difficulties, and after going through a long struggle with infertility she is now ready to face anything regarding her child.

“My ego is gone. I was obsessed with passing my blood to a child (before). But after going through all the pain (of fertility treatments), the obsession is gone,” Noda said. “I want to become a mother through child-rearing.”

Born into a political family, Noda entered the world of politics at age 26 in the Gifu Prefectural Assembly. She won a Lower House seat in 1993 and five years later was appointed minister of posts and telecommunications minister. At 37, she was the youngest minister in the Cabinet of Keizo Obuchi.

Although she was expelled from the LDP when she opposed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform in 2005, she returned to the party a year later.

After devoting most of her time to politics for more than a decade, Noda entered a common-law marriage with LDP lawmaker Yosuke Tsuruho at age 40, believing she would soon get pregnant.

But because aging affects egg quality and because she had a Fallopian tube blockage, she couldn’t conceive a child naturally.

Until Noda separated from Tsuruho in 2006, she underwent 14 artificial reproductive treatments, and the physical and psychological pain was as bad as “vomiting up blood.” One of the attempts resulted in pregnancy but ended with a miscarriage. It is believed most people give up after about three attempts.

Noda acknowledged that she was obsessed.

“But I don’t consider it a bad thing,” she said. “The feeling can be only understood by people who went through the treatment. Those who can have a child naturally or who aren’t willing to have one can’t understand.”

According to Noda, her doctor never said she had zero chance of conceiving a child.

“So I clung to that 1 percent, hoping that I could have a baby even if I had to try (fertility treatments) 100 times. I was that desperate for a child,” Noda explained.

The fertility treatment ended when her relationship with Tsuruho soured. When she met her current partner, whom she only refers to as a restaurant owner from the Kansai region seven years younger than her, the once-abandoned hope of having a child returned.

The couple first applied to adopt a child with several adoption agencies, but were rejected for being too old and because Noda had a full-time job. The only choice left for them was to receive artificial insemination using her partner’s sperm and donated eggs from a third party.

Because fertility treatment remains a gray area in Japan, Noda headed for the United States earlier this year and got pregnant on the second attempt there in May.

Although most Japanese couples who receive treatment with assisted reproductive technology using donated eggs select Japanese donors, Noda didn’t ask for any conditions, except that the donor’s blood type be the same as her husband’s in case the child should ever need a transfusion.

Noda said she doesn’t know much about the egg donor except that she is an American in her 20s with type O blood and is Christian.

“My doctor advised me to choose an Asian donor, because it’s less shocking for public eyes. But there was no need for me to impose such conditions. All I wanted was to have an environment in which to bring up my child,” Noda said.

“My child will not resemble me and thus may face discrimination. . . . But I have an unflinching determination to protect the child. I made up my mind to embark on the treatments after considering all of these things.”

The government flirted for a while with pursuing a law governing the use of assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including donated ova. In 2003, an advisory panel at the health ministry released a report recommending the allowance of ART using donated ova under certain conditions.

But the report was never made into a bill because of conflicting opinions, according to the ministry.

“I was the one who declined the draft. In the report, the use of donated ova was limited (to certain people) and it banned the use of surrogate mothers,” Noda explained.

She believes all components of ART, including surrogate motherhood and donated eggs, should be legalized.

“The decision should be left in the hands of each person. . . . Laws should regulate such things as, for example, once an agreement is made between patients and doctors, patients will not sue doctors,” she said.

When her child grows old enough to understand, Noda plans to explain the way her offspring was born.

Meanwhile, Noda’s plan to end her political career in her late 50s hasn’t changed. But before exiting, she wants to become prime minister.

“I’m more confident now,” she said. “Being pregnant and carrying someone who I really must protect, I now understand real responsibility.

“Being a mother, I feel that I can be the mother of this country,” she said.