The Draconian Midwife

Before I got pregnant, I’d heard from my Western friends in Osaka that Japanese midwives and doctors are very strict about weight-gain for expectant mothers. Pregnant women in America are told that “normal weight gain” falls between 25 – 35 pounds. In Japan, it tops out at 10kg, or 22 pounds.

At 5’5″ and 118lbs when I conceived, I figured weight-gain in pregnancy wouldn’t be a big concern for me. After-all, I’ll be 46 next month and had gotten pregnant naturally at 45 and 1/2, against all expectations. Weight gain, when I learned I was actually knocked up and not sick with the stomach flu, was the last thing on my mind.

Apparently, the midwife at my maternity hospital here would like to disabuse me of my laissez-faire attitude towards my growing belly.

At my last appointment, I was about 1.5 kg over target. In addition, the baby’s heart was still beating and the chromosomal screenings came back all-clear. I couldn’t have been happier. Until that draconian midwife beckoned my husband and me into her office.

In Japanese with my husband translating, she informed us that I was already entirely too fat. She admonished that Americans like juice, and I needed to stop drinking juice right away. Although I asked my husband to explain that I don’t drink juice, she remained unmoved. She encouraged me to weigh myself every night and every morning, so I could remember how fat I was getting. Then, despite it still being late summer, she brought up the holidays. December was around the corner, she warned, and then she switched into broken English, seemingly for emphasis: “So please don’t enjoy!”

In my own broken Japanese, I tried to explain that I didn’t celebrate the holidays. “Why not?” she wanted to know.

I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for Jewish, so I asked my husband to translate again. A brief conversation between the two of them ensued about what “Jewish” meant, and it seemed to distract her for a moment. Veering off course from my apparently egregiously ample belly, she inquired about what I celebrated in December, if not Christmas.Β  Next followed a rough explanation of Chanukah, although, I explained, adults don’t usually celebrate it, since it’s mostly a holiday for kids.

She mulled this information over for a few moments, uncharacteristically silent. “Well,” she finally told me in Japanese, “You’ll still probably be too fat in December!”

After my husband translated this last bit for me, we both couldn’t help but giggle. And I still can’t get worked up about her distress. If I end up becoming much more than 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target, if I develop high-blood pressure or gestational diabetes, if I stop being able to eat healthily and start scarfing down sweets, then I’ll start taking her diatribes more seriously. As I said, I’m still in shock over my luck that, if all continues to go well, I’ll turn 46 in about 3 weeks and be 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t have any room in my psyche for distress over 1.5 extra kilos. In fact, as I reach the 21-week mark now, I think I’ll celebrate with a fresh glass of juice.

18 thoughts on “The Draconian Midwife

  1. I love your attitude! That midwife shouldn’t say those things to pregnant women. I gained 40-45 pounds with each pregnancy and always ended up back to my pre-pregnancy weight, if not lighter. I’m the same height and-ahem-weight (maybe 2-3 pounds heavier) as you and never worried about pregnancy weight gain. I’m so happy everything is going well!!


    1. Thanks, Susan! I just added a little paragraph addendum stressing that I’m really not stressed at all about her reaction. Mostly, my husband and I found it funny. But now that the m/s is finally waning and a hematoma (sp?) I had has cleared up, so the Dr says I can now start exercising just a little (all exercise was off limits for the 1st 16 weeks). Now I’ve been able to start gentle yoga and walking again and it feels great. Anyway, thanks for your support and encouragement! Wonder if you had any of your little ones in China, and if so, if you found any of their customs surprising.


      1. Oh, I’m glad you found humor in her warning! You did sound calm in your post, which shows that you aren’t taking her seriously! I didn’t deliver in Asia, but my oldest was born in San Francisco (where we lived in a Chinese neighborhood) and I was blown away by the strict post-delivery customs that I was expected to follow. I write about that in my memoir, which really does take up pages and pages! I think things are calmer in Japan, especially because you live in such a big city. It could be different out in the countryside.


  2. Last weekend we had dinner at our place with another couple. The woman is pregnant too, and when I offered her some peppermint tea she refused because her doctor said there was too much water in her stomach and she shouldn’t drink too much. Not even water!


  3. I thought those were just gossips, Jesus Christ – I would run away from that kind of doctor. Being obsessed by weight and counting every single day how much someone’s gaining can cause some mental problems and it’s not really healthy for mom and a child. of course being size of 2-3 pregnant kim kardashian it’s not healthy either, but let’s be rational πŸ™‚ so happy for you πŸ™‚


    1. Tx! Actually, the doctor hasn’t said anything to me at all about my weight; so far, all he’s said is that everything is progressing well and “shinpai shinaide,” meaning there’s nothing to worry about. But maybe they are playing good-cop/bad-cop!


  4. Whoa Tracy, that is just…insane! How could she say that? I mean, your pregnancy is going so well and that’s something you wanted for so long…and she’s telling you you’re too heavy?!? Decidedly draconian!

    I am just so excited that your pregnancy is going smoothly. Go Tracy!


    1. Thanks, Jocelyn. As I wrote above, I’m still in shock. I used to wake up every morning and think, “I can’t believe I ended up in Japan!” Now I wake up every morning and think, “I can’t believe I ended up pregnant!”


  5. Im so happy to hear you are pregnant tracy!!!!!

    However, please be careful about the weight gain thing. I know they are mega strict, and I know its a pain in the butt. I have Japanese friends who gained too much weight, and they were forced to give birth by C-section, (as in not even allowed to TRY naturally) because the doctor said their weight gain made natural delivery dangerous.

    For me its absurd, but its better to keep them on your side in this. Speak with your doctor next time, completely bypass the midwife. And stay healthy πŸ˜€


    1. Thanks, Fiona! I have to admit, I actually kind of find the mean midwife charming. Every time she tells me how I’m gaining too much, she has this delighted smile on her face, like there is nothing she likes better than berating foreign women about their weight. So I’m not sure I have her on my side, but I definitely don’t get snippy or rude with her. Although I think she’d prefer if my husband and I took her more seriously, rather than reacting like we usually do, which is to laugh and giggle every time she says something really kibishi! Anyway, thanks again for your kind wishes, and hoping all is great w/you.


  6. Tracy, I’m in China and pregnant with my second at 39. Age lectures related to conceiving a child in China aside, during my first pregnancy here two years ago, I gained 56lbs and never heard the end of it from the Chinese nurses and doctors, as though I’d repeatedly failed the “pregnancy weight exam” and should be ashamed of myself. I lost it all and returned to my pre-pregnancy weight after my daughter was born, and I’m not a big person (120lbs, 5’8”). Actually, I’m going back to Canada to birth this second child (Due Dec 25th), gratefully working with a midwife who has told me to avoid the scale, and wrote about the “fat” issue in my recent blog: In this piece, you sound grounded and happy, but don’t let it get to you EVEN MINUTELY, because I know facing this attitude from so-called professional healthcare providers can prey on one’s usually robust self-esteem during such a sensitive time! Oh, and HUGE congratulations!!!


    1. Thanks, Ember! Excited to check out your blog now. I just added a little bit to the post above b/c I think in the original version I gave people the impression that I was more upset about the midwife’s reaction than I actually was. Anyway, huge congratulations to you too!


  7. Although I’m not pregnant, but wow…thanks for the warning, although I probably have a higher chance of ending up with either a Chinese or a Korean guy, if at all. I also have to explain a lot about myself to just about anyone… my family is Russian-Jewish, we weren’t allowed to celebrate any Jewish holidays, although we treat New Years like the world treats Christmas. We’re not religious at all, although I am trying to be a little religious. Explaining that to just about almost everyone I meet is pretty annoying.


  8. No wonder East Asians are smaller in general compared to other races, even with better diets than most. Because the entire medical profession is obsessed with pregnant women keeping light, at a time when what the mother eats is crucual to the baby – and their future’s – development. It’s a disaster really.


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