(Yonhap Feature) Doulas assist women giving birth far from home
By Mark Ratto
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- Having a baby in your hometown is stressful enough for new mothers. Add in a cultural divide, language barrier and potentially scarce support system, and expectant expat mothers can easily get overwhelmed.
Each year in Korea, a tiny percentage of expectant mothers are expats attempting to bridge that cross-cultural divide in the very sophisticated, modern and pushy hospitals in Korea.
Lisa Fincaryk, a 29-year-old expat living in Seoul, experienced those hospitals first hand in 2007 while giving birth to her first child, Evan.
"It was just really stressful," she says. "I look back and it wasn't fun. It was your typical, dramatic birth."
Now, roughly four years and 125 births later, Fincaryk is a certified doula, a job she likens to a wedding planner. Her company, Birthing in Korea, helps expectant expat mothers have positive birthing experiences in their adopted country.
Lisa Fincaryk (Courtesy of Mark Ratto)
"A doula, essentially, is a mother helper," she says. "We are there the entire time. To help with every contraction."
Unlike a mid-wife, who is medically responsible throughout pregnancy and during labor, a doula does not have to make rounds at the hospital or consult charts and monitors to make decisions. Their primary duty is to support the best interests of the parents, maintain a positive birthing experience, and promote the birthing plan previously established.
But Birthing in Korea attempts to provide services beyond these basic duties.
"Being an expat and having a baby can be daunting. So, we are transitory coaches," Fincaryk said. "Our relationships are a lot longer than most other doulas. We are there post partum and we spend a lot of time with the parents helping with all of those newborn questions, instead of them just rushing off to the hospital."
Fincaryk lacked this type of support in 2007 when she had Evan. The stressful experience made her want to help a close friend with her labor six months later. After giving birth, the friend was so grateful for the support that it led Fincaryk to look into helping other mothers. She soon discovered Childbirth International, an organization that certifies doulas, and completed her certification thereafter. On Oct. 22, 2009, she founded Birthing in Korea.
Lisa Fincaryk with Jon and Soyon and their newborn baby, Judah
A typical misconception about doulas is that they only assist in natural births, or births that refrain from medically inducing the mother. Birthing in Korea's main goal is to develop a birthing plan that suits the mother's needs and supports them according to that plan. Plans may vary from a Caesarean section to a natural birth at home.
"Even in London, I wouldn't be able to get the experience I had," says Sejal Ponnusamy, 30, one of Birthing in Korea's success stories. "Being an expat, there is no family around and it is important to have someone like Lisa. Getting the necessary information helped me really prepare for labor."
Ponnusamy gave birth to her first child, Kay, two months ago and admits that doing a drug-free birth in South Korea was a bit disconcerting. But she attests to the fact that through the classes and techniques she learned, her experience was calm and enjoyable. Birthing in Korea has pregnancy preparation classes and is well informed about a number of clinics, hospitals and birthing centers.
"I was so comfortable at the birthing center," says Ponnusamy. "It was like being in your own room at home."
The facilities and technology are one major benefit of having a child in Korea. Another major benefit is the cost in comparison to other countries with high healthcare costs like the United States.
According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research, the average cost of a natural childbirth without complications was estimated at US$9,600 in 2009. According to Fincaryk, a birth in Korea today that includes a doula's services can be about half that price with the country's National Health Insurance.
However, cost benefits fall short of the culture gap that can add stress to a pregnancy.
"What is important to me is informed choice," Fincaryk says. "I like to call it 'conscious birth,' or making conscious decisions while in labor. In Korea, they can come up to you with a tray and without fully communicating with you, put some stuff in your arm."
Birthing in Korea bridges that communication gap between patient and physician by asking questions in Korean, and expressing to the mother what her options are. After nine years in Korea, Fincaryk speaks Korean fluently and is able to help calm any tension caused by miscommunication.
Fincaryk now has one other full-time doula on staff and is training two others. She not only caters to expats, but also takes on about one Korean couple a month.
"The mothers and fathers are always well informed about every step of the process," she says.
Lisa Fincaryk (C)) with certified Birthing in Korea doulas, Kim Mi-yeon (L) and Michelle Rodley