Doulas provide additional support for expats birthing in Korea
By Kelly Frances
Lisa Fincaryk was teaching English in Seoul when she learned she was pregnant with her first child. Like any expectant, first-time mom, she was faced with choices, the biggest being whether or not to stay in Korea to deliver her baby.
“Korea had become our home, and I felt confident that I could do it here,” she said. “We chose one of the big four hospitals in Seoul, partly due to a friend’s advice and to ensure we’d have an English speaking doctor.”
Fincaryk recalls the big day as being “very stressful, unsatisfactory and dampened by the rigorous policies which are common at any women’s and children hospital.”
“It seemed to me that there was a clear need for better services to educate and support couples, especially foreigners,” she said.
The stressful experience led her to help a close friend with her labor six months later.“I told her I would go to her birth and do what I wish someone had done for me.”
From that endeavor came Birthing in Korea, a doula service provider. Four years and 130 births later, Fincaryk and her team are dedicated to spreading a simple message to foreigners in Korea: You don’t have to go home to have a great birth experience. You don’t need to be afraid.
“Most expats are faced with a choice,” she continued. “They either fly home during pregnancy or they stay in Korea, where they don’t know their options and they’re scared. We’re committed to helping parents get the kind of birth experience they want.”
“A doula is trained to support a woman and her partner during pregnancy, birth, and the early weeks of parenting,” explains Fincaryk, who noted that the media often portrays doulas as “birth zealots,” a stereotype she is keen to diminish.
“We’re depicted as hippies, or as being pushy towards natural birth. What we do here is about informed support. Plans may vary from a Caesarian section to a water birth, or a natural birth at home.”
Fincaryk notes that it’s important to distinguish between the roles of healthcare professionals.
“The support a doula provides fits together with, but does not replace, the care of your doctor, midwife, nurses, or your significant other.”
Doulas differ from midwives in that they are highly centered on emotional support and reassurance, giving information and guidance on topics such as breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning. Doulas do not perform clinical tasks, such as vaginal exams or fetal heart rate monitoring.
Obstetrician Choi Gyu-yeon of Soonchanghyang University hospital regularly refers patients to Fincaryk. She believes that doulas and midwives work well together as their philosophy and practice is complementary, though their strengths differ.
“In the case of foreigners, there is a deep fear of delivery,” she said. “A midwife can perform medical tasks, but a doula is very helpful in relieving fear, and reducing pain.
A doula gives mental and emotional support in the delivery room. This is one reason someone like (Fincaryk) is so valuable to me.”
Christine Moore, who gave birth with Fincaryk at her side, agrees.
“If it had not been for Lisa, we would have felt alone and isolated through the whole experience. With my very difficult labor and surprise C-section, I can’t imagine how we could have survived without the incredible care, support, and communication Lisa provided for us,” she said.
“At times, midwives may find themselves over-stretched because of the demanding nature of the labor process, which makes the doula-midwife team a good option,” added Fincaryk.
Doula training typically involves certification from an institution such as Childbirth International, which Fincaryk attended.
Critics of the use of doulas note the lack of government regulation for practitioners, something Fincaryk finds frustrating, and would like to see change as the use of doulas is on the rise in the west.
“I follow a strict code of personal ethics, working closely with reputable gynecologists, hospitals, and therapists. I don’t advocate to parents. The first question we ask is, what kind of birth do you want? We create a plan and make it happen.”
The program at Birthing in Korea begins with a free consultation and includes a contract outlining the role and responsibilities of the doula.
Being one of a handful expat-centered services of its kind, the company currently has a waiting list of six months.
“We usually begin working with parents at about 20 weeks into pregnancy,” says Fincaryk. “We limit ourselves to four families per month and are available 24 hours a day.”
Birthing in Korea provides classes such as Hypnobirthing (a childbirth education method), prenatal yoga, infant massage, and breast feeding, as well as serving as a frequent emotional support system and companion for prenatal visits.
Fees range from 1.2-3.5 million won, and vary with program choices. A free “pregnancy and new mom support group” is offered on the first Thursday of every month, and a free breast feeding support group is held on the third Thursday of the month.
To learn more about doulas, visit www.birthinginkorea.com.