By Tamela Hatcher, MEd
I am thrilled to have been asked to share my story regarding my experience teaching ICEA Professional Childbirth Education (PCBE) and Birth Doula workshops in China. This journey reminds me of the Penny Simkin Roadmap to labor. I have traveled the scenic route, in which I have experienced the expected and normal things. I have traveled some bumpy roads that posed great challenges. On other occasions, my foreign travels and teaching have moved forward so fast that I felt like I was on a super highway.
The Super Highway: In October of 2015, I facilitated a concurrent session at the ICEA/Lamaze joint conference. Three ladies from China attended this conference. I remember looking at one lady during the 90- minute session and wondering how effective my presentation was for someone that spoke a different language and was thankful for the pictures I had added. However, I made a mental note for future presentations to be more aware of ICEA as an international organization. It is the first word in our name, and yet I had never put myself in the role of the international member.
Shortly after the conference, I received an email from China requesting that I facilitate a workshop with a grassroots birth organization called YANMA, a trustworthy and honorable organization.
In January of 2016, I had my visa, passport, plane ticket for this 14-17 hour flight, and enough vacation time from my job to embark on this journey. I was excited, scared, anxious and happy all at the same time. I reminded myself that this was similar to how many families feel at birth.
Our ICEA birth work and collaboration in China has been very productive. More than 500 ladies and 1 gentleman have attended the workshops. Many have gone on to certify, and some have started successful and thriving birth businesses.
The Bumpy times: We had some communication issues and misunderstandings along the way, which required some difficult conversations. These bumps in the road taught us some valuable lessons.
We realized some things were extremely difficult or impossible to achieve in other countries, such as observing three births. Some of these were simple to fix, like our ICEA required reading list of books that were not available in China. The authors, Amis and Green, were quick to come to our aid. They gave us permission and helped to develop a plan to translate this popular book into Chinese. It is projected to be available to our students in July of 2017.
The ICEA organization has made concerted efforts to become more global-friendly. We have moved the exam to an online format that can be taken in English, Chinese, or Spanish. We have updated our website. We are collaborating with members from other countries to develop key documents in other languages. Most importantly, we are working on providing alternatives to observing births in the hospital settings and streamlining our certification programs.
Most women in China are required to labor in bed without the assistance of husbands or birth doulas. Some midwives communicated the trials and frustration of caring for as many as 17 moms in a day. Shared rooms, overcrowding, and the lifting of the one-baby policy all posed new challenges for health care facilities. The cesarean rates are very high, and everyone seemed committed to finding solutions. We all want safe, kind, compassionate and empowering births. How we achieve this and what it looks like varies.
The scenic route: This part of the journey has been amazing! I have met some incredible and passionate birth workers. I have learned so much about this beautiful and gentle culture. During 2016, my husband and I were elated to reciprocate the hospitality that has been extended to our family by hosting five of my birth colleagues in our home as they learned first-hand about birth in the United States.
Indeed, this has been a rewarding and beautiful journey. The people are so appreciative of the ICEA education and workshops. We have found creative work-arounds for our language barriers and have enjoyed learning about and celebrating our differences. I have had the privilege of touring new birth businesses, hospital birthing facilities, and confinement centers for postpartum women, meeting many talented and committed birth doulas, aspiring professional childbirth educators, doctors, midwives and hospital administrators. I have enjoyed sharing many meals, experiencing Chinese traditions, Chinese medicine, massage, yoga, bath houses, temples, train rides, Uber transportation, the circus, We Chat and many new APPS, and climbing a mountain where I enjoyed tea with one of my new friends.
I have embraced the two hour lunch/nap times that are taken daily. I must admit, the first time I was given a mat and pillow, I spent the time feeling anxious about all of the things that I should be doing. Now, I look very forward to this quiet time to reflect, embrace and recharge.
Is teaching hard work? You bet it is! Is it worth it? Absolutely. During this short time, I have been able to witness a shift in healthy birth practices. Some fathers are now allowed to participate in the birth of their children. Some hospitals have welcomed birth doulas. One lady from our first ICEA workshop recently shared with me that she had the birth of her dreams. She was supported by two other students from that first class. One was a doctor and the other a midwife, who served as her birth doula. She wore her own fun clothing, had her husband with her, enjoyed food, drinks, friends, and literally danced her adorable baby into this world.
I am so thankful for the great teachers and maternity workers that have paved the road for me to do this work. Because of them, I am living my dream.