Keeping the Miracles Coming: Suzunoki Yū’s Hit Manga “Kōnodori”Society Family Health Books
Until a woman experiences pregnancy and childbirth—in other words, not until she is in her teens at the earliest, she is unlikely to come in contact with an obstetrician or maternity nurse.
A woman may go once in a while to a hospital’s OB/GYN department for health checks, but it really only becomes a familiar place when she is pregnant. Throughout her pregnancy she will go regularly for prenatal check-ups, and from when she gives birth until she and the baby are released, she will spend more time with the staff in the maternity ward than with visiting family members.
The days spent at the hospital are intense and likely to make a strong impression on new mothers. This is, after all, where a woman shares her misgivings and excitement about childbirth, where she can find postpartum support as she makes her way through the unfamiliar territory of childcare.
All the more reason that the quality of the staff is so important.
Focus on Childbirth in Contemporary Japan
Kōnodori is set in the OB/GYN department of a hospital. From 2012 to 2020, the manga, by artist Suzunoki Yū, was serialized in a weekly magazine, and to date has sold more than 9 million copies. The manga was aired as a TV drama series in 2015 and again in 2017.
Based on the author’s personal experience attending to his wife in the delivery room and the wonder he felt at the “miracle of pregnancy and childbirth,” the manga takes up various themes related to these milestones in a woman’s life. The main characters are Kōnodori Sakura, a male doctor working in the obstetrics and gynecology department of a general hospital, and his fellow doctors and maternity nurses.
The series covers such major social issues in contemporary Japan as infertility treatments, advanced maternal age, postpartum depression, and plenary adoption, in which all parental rights are given over from the birth parents to the adoptive parents, as well as such universal issues of childbirth as miscarriage, chromosomal abnormalities, and neonatal intensive care. The women who consult Sakura come with a diverse range of concerns. Some are hesitant to ask for an epidural because of the deeply held belief among many Japanese that the pain of childbirth is a requisite for motherhood. Others simply seek help, like one pregnant junior high school girl accompanied by her mother.
Every day, Sakura and his staff give their all to dealing with each case, sometimes unsure of what they should do, at other times erupting into heated discussions. They are a superb team, professional and full of human warmth, to the extent that you will wish you could experience childbirth under their care.
Perhaps due to the manga medium, even the most serious and heavy content is presented in a light and yet conscientious manner.
Raised in an orphanage after his mother dies, Sakura is always serious and straightforward in his approach to every pregnancy and childbirth. But his seriousness is tempered with humorous scenes, such as when a veteran maternity nurse teases him, and the stories unfold with a momentum that keeps you turning the pages to find out what will happen in the next episode.
Another Day, Another Miracle
There are numerous social issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. To mention just a couple, the rate of fathers taking paternity leave from work remains low, and harassment of pregnant women in the workplace (referred to in Japan as matahara, or maternity harassment, when women are harassed or treated unfairly simply because they are pregnant or take maternity and childcare leave) is sadly all too common.
There are probably many more issues that you just cannot know unless they happen to you.
This manga vividly portrays the psychological and emotional toll on women going through pregnancy and childbirth, in addition to physical risks like premature birth, placental ablation, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
In Japan, 25% of mothers are diagnosed with possible postpartum depression within less than a year after giving birth, and sad to say, suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death. The effects are felt differently for every woman, even with a so-called normal birth. If readers come to understand this by reading this manga, maybe some things will change.
The Kōnodori series ended in 2020, but Sakura returns in a 2022 revival, this time to deal with COVID-19.
The special edition Kōnodori: Shingata koronauirusu (Kōnodori and the Novel Coronavirus) opens with a pregnant woman infected with COVID-19 being admitted to the hospital during the state of emergency declared in the spring of 2020. The story portrays Sakura and his medical team struggling to tackle problems they had never encountered before.
Discussions are tense, starting with whether or not all pregnant women with COVID-19 should have a C-section, the stress a new mother undergoes when she is separated from her child immediately after birth, and the spread of the infection observed by the maternity nurses working in the COVID-19 ward. The intensity conveyed is like a documentary.
At the end of this special edition, Sakura observes: “Today there will be another miracle. A mother becomes pregnant and gives birth. And her family welcomes the child. There can’t be any better, more cheerful news in this world.”
Yes, Kōnodori Sakura is always straightforward and positive. And his words reflect the author’s deep conviction.
Someday the COVID-19 pandemic will subside. What miracles will Sakura and his team witness in that new world?
Kōnodori (Volumes 1–32)
By Suzunoki Yū
Published by Kōdansha and serialized in Mōningu, 2012–20; special edition published in June 2022
Published by Kōdansha in English as Kounodori: Dr. Stork (volumes 1–29), 2019–22