Joys of Birthing Off Base (Okinawa)
Guest Contributor- Brandy Hawley
Moving overseas by itself can seem daunting. And doing it while you are pregnant, even more so! However, there are options and in my case I chose to give birth off base at Yui Clinic. The experience was all I could have hoped for, and though there are additional steps for taking care of your child’s citizenship and other identifying documents, even that was a smooth process.
I was about 24 weeks pregnant when we moved to Okinawa. Thanks to social media, I had heard a lot beforehand about other military families having birthed at Yui Clinic, and I knew their care based on a midwifery model was what I was seeking for myself.
Even here in Okinawa, Yui Clinic is unlike a traditional hospital setting. Its standalone clinic has a home-like feel and offers services by an OB/GYN doctor as well as many midwives. One of the things I liked most about my experience was how they make their patients accountable for their own health. I was given a passbook that I brought to each appointment and they’d fill out the details and results of each visit, which I took home with me.
At each appointment, I saw the doctor as well as chatted with a midwife about nutrition and any pregnancy-related concerns. Though some of the staff do speak excellent English, you are well advised to bring a translator with you. In addition, I was asked to attend a minimum of 3 classes at Yui, ranging in topics from what to expect in active labor, childbirth and postpartum care to breastfeeding.
Having given birth once before in a hospital, I was extremely pleased with the care I received. Though epidurals are not an option for pain management, alternatives in the form of freedom of movement in labor and delivery positions are allowed. The midwives and other helpers also provided massages and counter pressure to ease the pain, and once active labor began, they were constantly at my side providing calm energy and gentle reassurance. The entire system there is one built on the mother being an active participant, minimizing unnecessary medical interventions and maximizing mother and baby bonding by providing immediate skin-to-skin, full-time rooming in after the birth, and direct encouragement and support for breastfeeding. One of the best postpartum care services they offered was a full body aromatherapy massage!
New moms are encouraged to stay at the clinic for 5 days following birth to ensure mom gets enough rest and bonding time with the new baby. My family was free to come and go, and even stay the night. The meals were healthy and nutritious and the staff tried to maximize mother and baby bonding time by limiting their visits and performing all checks in the room so that my baby was never once separated from me.
Giving birth off base however means you will have to prepare your child’s citizenship papers. This includes getting a Japanese birth certificate from the city hall office in the town that you preside and then taking that as well as other forms to the U.S. Consulate. But I was impressed with the speed at which my daughter’s birth certificate and passport reached us.
For those of you expecting or wishing to give birth here, and seeking an experience akin to what a birth center in the States would provide, I highly recommend giving Yui Clinic a visit.
Know the customs
“Choosing to birth locally in Japan can be an exciting journey. Practices may vary from hospital to hospital but generally the Japanese function around natural birth. Non-medicated births and breastfeeding are considered the “norm.”
So if you decide to have a baby other than on base here in Okinawa, getting familiar with some of the customs can be beneficial. As with any place you go, being able to discuss your beliefs, wishes, and hopes for your birth is important as well as finding a provider who will be supportive of your desires.
It is always suggested to follow up with your insurance company to make sure you will be covered. You may be required to switch from your current status, for example Prime to Standard. If you are interested in going to Yui or any other off base facility, it’s highly recommended to check with the clinic to make sure they are able to accept you before making any commitments.
Some places have different practices and are not able to accept VBAC’s or women special circumstances
President - Military Birth Resource Network
A special thank you to Stars and Stripes Okinawa for allowing us to publish these stories in the weekly column Pregnancy and Birth Talk Okinawa.