• Diaspora Japan

Rivonne (pt. 3)


So the trip to Detroit was a huge chapter. If you don’t mind shifting gears, just because Indigo is here with us now, could you tell me a bit about how decided that you wanted to start a family here in Japan?

You know, full disclosure, five years ago we were pregnant. It was a surprise—yes you can have surprise pregnancies in marriages, OK, just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re trying—and we lost the pregnancy. And it was really hard, especially for me because I actually said I didn’t want to be pregnant. It was one of those things where you say it and laugh it off, but when it happens… Alright universe, Big Woman, you got me. You gave me exactly what I asked for. And maybe I could have done. Maybe I could have rocked being a mother at that point.

There’s a lot of pressure placed on women to go through with pregnancies even when it might not have be the right time or place for them. I’m really sorry you went through that.

Exactly. So, it was after that happened, it took a long time for me to even say that I was open to the idea of having a kid.

When we finally did talk about it, we were saying how we’re getting older, our parents are getting older, I’d already lost all of my grandparents, so she wouldn’t get a chance to meet her great grandparents—which is really saddening because they would have loved her. And I just didn’t want that to be the case with my parents. I want my kids to have grandparent time. And we knew we wanted to be parents.

So, what the heck. Let’s just hope for the best.

I see. Was there any discussion to go back to the states to have a baby?

Well, actually we knew we didn’t want to have the baby in the states. I guess because of the climate? Insurance-wise, money, it’s so expensive to have a kid there.

It was a few things that kind of came together and it just made sense to have a child, and have children here.


Honestly, just to get right into being pregnant and having a baby here. Japan is probably one of the best places to be pregnant. And one of the best places to give birth. I say that with all honesty.

I wouldn’t want to give birth in the states. They don’t give enough care after birth. You know that women of color are the at the highest risk of dying after birth.

And Japan just has this mentality that “They’re a baby, you’re a mom. We’re in this together.” I would encourage anyone at nine months pregnant to hop on a plane and have their baby over here. Come get this great care.

That’s high praise.

Yeah, and I will say this, the only thing I didn’t like about being pregnant and giving birth over here is that they tend to overemphasize your weight.

My doctor was this amazing woman, but the one time I had a male doctor, and he tried to say that I was gaining too much weight. I had to tell him, “Look, if everything is healthy with my baby. Don’t ever talk about my weight again.”

In the States, you can give birth and be back home in a day. Here, if you give birth you have to stay in the hospital for five days. And if you have a cesarean, like I did, seven.

They really made sure that I knew what I was doing. I’m not going to make a generalization about black women knowing how to take care of babies, but I know a lot of black women who’ve been babysitting, taking care of cousins, many of us know how to take care of a baby etcetera. But they wanted to make sure I knew how to change a diaper, that I knew how to swaddle a baby, that I knew how to give her a bath.

They made sure that I knew what I was doing.

Is it typical to get this type of service in the US?

No, that would be extra. It’s not mandatory. Here, I had a whole class on breastfeeding. Everytime that she ate, they wanted me to call them so they could come and make sure that she was feeding correctly.

I said, “Oh, she’s fine.” But they said they wanted to check me, too. They touched my breasts to make sure that they were emptying, checked that she was weighing properly. I was in complete shock.

In the States, they expect you to just know these things. But they’re not innate, you need help with a lot of these things!

And then, just to have someone say “Hey, you know what you’re doing. You’re doing that well.”

Sounds like they didn’t just take care of Indigo, they were taking care of you, too.

That’s the thing. The care was on mothers. If Indigo was sleeping, they didn’t really check on her. They turned to me and said “How are you doing? How are your incisions? Let’s check your blood pressure. Let’s make sure you’re feeling alright.”

I thought it was weird that they always asked me “Are you OK?” but looking back, I realized they’re asking me “How do you feel? Are you feeling light-headed?” because that could be a blood clot. They were always trying to make sure that I was OK.

I know that they don’t do that in the States.

I’m sure you’ve talked to mothers in the states who can attest to it.

You know, you hear the stories about women who say “Oh, my stomach hurts after a C-section” but when they talk to the doctor, the doctors and the nurses tell them it’s normal. But you come to find out that a stitch has popped, or there’s internal bleeding, but they weren’t believed by the health professionals. That’s a problem. That’s a huge problem.

I would definitely have all of my children here and then move back to the states.

Is that just for pediatric care or…?

Everything is great about child care here. There’s no copay for her until she’s like, 16. Usually you go to the doctor and you have to pay your 30%, but for her: nothing. It’s all covered by our insurance.

The same with medicine. They give us our medicine and we walk out.

They also did a wellness check at two months. A midwife came to our house and checked on Indigo to make sure she was alright.

I don’t think we get it now, but for the first year, we were getting $100 a month to help with expenses. And 100 bucks a month, it really does help. That’s for clothes, that’s for milk, that’s for anything.

What’s it like now that she’s getting older?

Well now she’s in preschool. They do a lottery system here, you have to apply. It’s based on need, and then you find out whether or not you can get a spot.

So when I applied I was straight-up with them. I told them about my work situation, the regular work that I do in Shinjuku is 4 hours four days a week, and told them about the to get to work it’s 1 hour each way door-to-door. I said, “I need you to take this into account.” I also told them I need them to take into account that we have no support system here. It’s just me and my husband. And that’s it.

But you were able to get in through the lottery system?

Well, we didn’t get any of our first choices, which is fine, but they ended up calling us—funnily enough when we were at Disneyland.

At least it wasn’t your wedding day!

RIGHT. And so Indigo got placed in a school, and they told us, “It’s a little bit far from your house.” I said, “It’s 11 minutes on the train, OK, keep going.” So they told me when the school day ends a little bit earlier, but I have the option of leaving her there until 8:30 with after school care. So, she’s there from 9:00 until about 5:00.

And it’s $160 a month. And it’s a sliding scale based on your income. You could be paying as low as $50 if that’s all you’ve got.

Anyway, I was a little bit nervous about leaving her there for so long, so I offered to drop her off a little bit later, but one of the teachers there who speaks English said to me, “I want you to trust us. This is just fine. We do this. If she cries, we’ll pick her up. No problem. We’ll feed her dinner. You’re OK.”

And at this point, I’m tearing up! So I said, “OK, I trust you. I trust you.”

I’m tearing up just thinking about it. So when she’s there they have her speaking Japanese?

I’ve asked them to speak to her only in Japanese when she’s there unless she absolutely can’t understand. And there’s only one teacher who speaks English. So if she’s not there, it’s all English all day.

She’s going to be codeswitching like a pro, just you wait.

And I can tell she’s starting to understand! She’s going to know Japanese better than me. And that’s a shame. [laughs]

Editor's note:

In the US the death rate of mothers is worse now than it was 25 years ago, and Black women in the US are in fact three times more likely to die in child birth than their white counterparts.

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