There are some things that Japan does really well. So, while I'm not in what I would consider an ideal location (for me) to deliver babies or raise kids, I have been very impressed by the public health community here. Nathan's one month check up was back at the clinic where he was born, but the two month check-up took place in our apartment. A woman from the city office called and made an appointment with me, and then came, weighed Nathan, and sat with me for a long time answering all my questions about vaccines and services and the next steps. Parents are given a book at this two month appointment that lists local day cares, mama circles and play groups, obstetrician's offices, and even things like emergency drop off places where you can bring your kid without notice in an emergency and they will receive care. She sat for a long time and explained what was in the book so that I didn't have to fumble around with my dictionary and figure it out for myself. Very helpful!
Of course, there are still many things I don't get. I showed up at a local doctor's office a couple months ago trying to figure out where I do our "three month" appointment. I don't know where I got the idea in my head that there was an appointment every month. But we were all confused, and the polite staff finally managed to communicate that I should go to them for vaccines, but that there were no more official appointments until 4 months, and that one was done by the city.
So, I was a little apprehensive about a health check done "by the city". My image before going was that we would kind of be marched like cattle through a gymnasium...military style shots in the butt as you walk in a line past the person giving the shots...and while I was being apprehensive about this, Nathan's fourth month kind of came and went without me figuring out where and when we could have this city check. We got a postcard right about when he turned five months giving the dates for the next month that it was available. So, yesterday, I got up my courage and we went to the appointment.
You know what? Japan does a few things really well. We were in a large room, but they had intentionally sorted us into small groups so that we had a group of other moms to go through the various processes with and to talk to while we were waiting. I wasn't able to make the best use of this time, because I spent about the entire half an hour we were waiting getting help filling out detailed medical forms that I could only partially read. Three cute young volunteers were assigned to us for this task, and we struggled through words like diabetes and tuberculosis and pre-eclampsia until I could figure out my answers to everything.
After that, we went in where we sat down to talk with a person one on one. The public health lady very simply asked how I was doing physically and how I was doing emotionally and we had a very comfortable and personal feeling conversation about postpartum recovery and adjusting to new motherhood. We went from there to height and weight checks, then for a simple medical exam. Nathan decided he wanted to show off, and when the doctor flipped him over to his belly, he popped up on his hands and knees. We were all in shock. He has been rolling and creeping around, and he does a lot of the pushing up to his hands. But I've never seen him actually on his knees before. Our days of only partial childproofing are coming to an end, I think! Then we sat down as a group with a nutritionist who gave us the low down on solid foods. At the end, they sat us down one-on-one again and went over anything they thought was important and made sure none of our questions had been missed. There were a lot of individualized recommendations...one woman was lectured about vaccines, and I wondered if we would be since we're a little behind schedule...but they just reminded us that we should have checked out his hips by now, and helped us find a doctor close to home where we could make sure they're okay. We ran in and out of that doctor in about 15 minutes on the way home.
It's a little crazy trying to navigate the medical system with a baby for the first time when you're mostly illiterate! And it's a little different here to figure out where to ask questions. I find that there is usually zero time with the actual doctor to ask questions unless you ask for it. So I'm finally learning that, rather than saving my questions for the doctor, to make sure to ask the nurses up front, or to take time with these wonderful public health people to figure out what's up.