Japan’s Baby Hatch Hospital offers mothers ‘last resort’

Inside Koichi Miyatsu’s blue child’s backpack are neatly folded cartoon print sweatshirts and a pair of white sneakers – all he has before being left at the only ‘baby hatch’ ” from Japan.

He was just a toddler when he was placed in the trapdoor of a hospital in Kumamoto, southern Japan, where children can be left anonymously by a desperate family.

“These are some of the clothes I was wearing when they left me there,” 18-year-old Miyatsu said.

“Those are the earliest memories I have of my childhood…so I’ve treasured them ever since.”

This year, Miyatsu became the first person to speak publicly in Japan about his abandonment in the hatch, which opened in 2007, modeled after a German program.

“The day I left there was the day a new chapter in my life began,” Miyatsu says.

His remarks rekindled debate over a device described by supporters as a last resort for marginalized women but criticized by opponents as encouraging child abandonment.

For Miyatsu, however, there is no doubt about it.

“The day I left there was the day a new chapter in my life started,” the freshman said.

“I owe what I am today to the hatching of the baby.”

Jikei Catholic Hospital in Kumamoto started the program to provide an alternative for those struggling to become parents and unable or unwilling to seek formal solutions such as childcare.

They claim it can prevent child abuse and even death, and in 15 years 161 babies and toddlers have been left with them.

“I was there once”

Shortly after Miyatsu was found sitting clueless in the hatch, he was picked up by Yoshimitsu and Midori Miyatsu in rural Kumamoto.

Parents of five biological children, the couple also welcomed more than 30 others and did not hesitate to welcome Miyatsu.

Midori (right) and Yoshimitsu, Miyatsu's adoptive parents. Midori (right) and Yoshimitsu, Miyatsu’s adoptive parents.

“I thought an angel had been sent to us,” said Yoshimitsu, 65, remembering Miyatsu’s arrival.

The couple have long supported Jikei’s program, having witnessed first-hand the troubled circumstances of other foster children, including broken families, delinquency, homelessness and unexpected pregnancies.

“Once a heavily pregnant girl with virtually no money asked for our help on a freezing December day…so we knew there were children who would need this kind of place,” said Midori, 63 years old.

Miyatsu was among the first children left at the hatch, and he was found with nothing to indicate his name, age, or birthplace.

“I have no memory of when I was dropped off…but the image of the hatch door is etched in a corner of my brain,” he said.

About a year after he left, he saw a photo of the hatch in a newspaper, Midori said.

“He told us, ‘I went there once.’ That’s when we knew he remembered it.”

Staff working in a baby room at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto. Staff working in a baby room at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto.

Complicated feelings’

A local official gave him a name and his age was established through DNA testing. Her first days of care were difficult, with regular nightmares and constant finger sucking.

But the couple never hid their backstory, and over time the trauma faded.

Years later, he learns more about his origins, including the fact that his birth mother was killed in a car accident five months after he was born.

He keeps a framed photo of her, with curly hair like his, and says he feels like she’s “watching over me from heaven.”

“I would tell her that I grew up to be 18 and want to live the life that was cut short for her.”

Every month, Miyatsu provides free meals to underprivileged children at a local church, and he wants to work with children in the future, and maybe become a foster parent as well.

He hopes telling his story “will pave the way for other kids (left in the box) to come forward and get their messages across”, describing his experience overcoming “complicated feelings about me”.

“But even if there are a few pieces missing, it doesn’t fundamentally change who I am today. I don’t think my identity should be dictated by the early years of my life,” he said.

“Life after the baby’s hatch is much more important.” – AFP/Relax news