Yukino Abo, aged 95, writes:
'I remember the event that made me want to become a midwife. I was six, and hadn't even started elementary school. The wife of our clan's eldest son had gone into labour, and my mother was summoned in the middle of the night to help boil water. Back then, all babies in Japan were born at home, and an important duty. of women was preparing the bath for the newborn. I went with my mother and got a shock when I saw the young wife suffering. They had her in a sling, suspended from the ceiling. It looked like a very painful position. It made me cry, but all my mother had to say was, "I told you not to come, didn't I?"
'It so happens this wasn't the first time I had seen childbirth. I had already watched a local midwife at work, and now I could see the gentleness she brought to it. I thought if it was up to me, I would put that sister to bed and rub her back to comfort her, as I'd seen the midwife do.
'I became a nurse at 20, worked for a time at a hospital, went back to my home town to get married and got my midwifery licence at age 32. First I delivered babies in people's homes. In 1948, when I was 39, I opened my own maternity home, where women can stay. Now at 95, I have either delivered or attended delivery of over 4,300 babies.
'Today the Abo Maternity Home averages 3-5 deliveries a month. Besides me, there is a staff of five--two regular midwives available for duty 24 hours a day, two more who come in part-time during the day and one who helps with deliveries.
'There are great forces at work during a delivery, flowing from the baby arriving and the mother working to make it happen. Midwives watch over it all, giving love, care and scrupulously checking for any warning sign of something amiss.
'The newborn baby is a divine being. The midwife's mission demands wholehearted love, respect and joy at being on hand to a miraculous event. That's the spirit I want to see in the hearts of young midwives.'
In the photo above, Yukina Abo shows midwifery students how to instruct clients in the use of the maternity belt. The belt is traditionally used from the middle term of pregnancy; it contributes support, warmth, and a sense for the user of taking charge of her own pregnancy. The dog symbol on the aprons is because dogs have lots of...