A Japanese MP has sparked a debate over the country's attitudes towards motherhood after giving birth to a baby boy through IVF at the age of 50. Seiko Noda, a member of parliament for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, sought an American egg donor after years of unsuccessful fertility treatment and several miscarriages.
'I thought about adopting a child, but I hit a wall', said Ms Noda in a recent interview with Vogue Japan. 'I was told that considering the future of the child, it wasn't possible to do that for a woman who is almost 50, like me. An egg donor was the last resort'.
Despite Japan being the home of many medical innovations, egg donation is not covered by the law. The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology forbids the use of surrogate mothers and Japanese law requires the mother to carry the baby during pregnancy.
'Couples really don't have a choice', said Yuki Sumi, head of the Information Centre for Surrogate Motherhood in Tokyo. 'There is no other way for them.'
The lack of legal options for couples with infertility problems in Japan has given rise to many agencies that provide advice and support to women looking to use egg donors or surrogate mothers in the US or India.
Ms Sumi said the majority of women receiving treatment abroad do not publicise their non-traditional pregnancies because of stigmas and strong traditional beliefs in the importance of blood ties. She said many women wear pillows or prosthetic 'bump' under their clothes to feign pregnancy so their neighbours and friends think they bore the child.
Even though the Japanese government, faced with one of the lowest birth rates in the developed world, is desperately trying to find ways to encourage couples to have children, non-traditional births are frowned upon. Critics say that the country's older, male-dominated parliament has stymied the passage of more progressive policies for women.
Seiko Noda has, however, been very public about her struggle to conceive and in 2004 she published a book entitled 'Watashi Wa Umitai' (I Want To Give Birth) detailing her unsuccessful treatments and the social stigma that accompanies infertile women in Japan.