by Kiyo Ito
I cannot believe that it has already been two weeks since I returned to my home in NYC from my home country Japan. I am still filled with oxytocin and love from the amazing experience I had there- An experience of organizing the first ever Birth Doula workshop in Japan featuring Debra!
I participated in Debra’s birth doula training at the Birth Day Presence (NYC, New York) more than two years ago. It opened my eyes to a whole new world and changed my life forever. I totally fell in love with the idea of supporting women through pregnancy and birth as a Doula. During the first day of that life-changing training, I already knew that I was going to become a Doula. I also knew that I was going to encourage women- not only those who want to become Doula, but any woman who wants to learn about the wonders and power of pregnancy and birth- to take part in Debra’s workshop. By the end of the training, I knew that I want to one day organize Debra’s Doula workshop in Japan.
After the Birth Day Presence workshop, I quickly got busy with the daily juggling of work and life- starting a doula career, working on short-term overseas consultancy stints for an international development agency and finding time to spend with my husband, family and friends. I quickly forgot my dream of one day organizing a Doula workshop in Japan.
Then it happened. I was taking Khalsa Way Prenatal Yoga teachers training in 2015 when I met Debra again- she was one of the speakers of the training at Khalsa Way. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed her Doula workshop and how I wanted women in Japan to experience what I had experienced. It was a sign- it was time for me to get into action.
I quickly contacted my friend Rieko, who is most likely the only Japanese professor researching doula. I convinced her to work with me on organizing the Doula workshop in Japan. We made a plan, assembled a team of energetic volunteers, started fund raising, and started a search of the perfect location to hold the workshop.
It took close to one year of preparation, but we were finally able to secure the funding, sorted out the logistics, and welcomed Debra in Japan to conduct the workshop in a quiet and peaceful Japanese traditional house.
In the morning of September 6th, 20 enthusiastic participants- including 3 midwives and surprisingly two men- gathered at a traditional house in Tokyo to begin what will be a life changing experience for them.
I knew that Debra will do her magic at the workshop, but at the same time I was worried about the reaction of my Japanese participants, especially medical personnel as birth doula is a totally new concept in Japan. There are few postpartum doulas working in Japan, but birth doula is still unheard of to the Japanese public and pregnancy/birth is considered something for medical professionals to engage in. Japanese, myself included, are also on the shy side and it usually takes some time for us to open up and BAGANAGOMU.
But, it took no time for Debra to draw them into her world and the world of Doula. I could see all the participants getting drawn into her and her message and enjoying learning to be a Doula. It was a great opportunity for all of us, including me, to think about birth in Japan- how they were done in the past, how they are being done now, and how we can do them better for both the mother and the baby.
I sensed that the participants were enjoying the workshop, but I wasn’t certain to what extent. So when I started reviewing the participant’s comments and survey that they had filled out, I couldn’t stop crying from joy. All the participants had many positive things to say and appreciated the workshop. I was so happy to be part of this successful birth doula workshop, which I believe is the beginning of the birth doula movement in Japan.
In addition to the workshop, together with Debra, I visited a birth house, birth clinic and hospitals in Nagoya and Tokyo. It was a great experience to see the reality of birth settings and beautiful efforts of Japanese birth workers. It gave me a lot of ideas on how doula can work together with other birth workers in Japan to enhance the quality of birth in Japan. I also saw the challenges, obstacles and long road ahead before Doulas are accepted and fully embraced by mothers, medical practitioners and hospitals. But, all Doulas are optimistic and I am proud to be one of them. This is just the beginning of a revolution. I am confident that doula will be mainstreamed into Japanese society and spread oxytocin and love. Who knows, availability of Doula services may become the ultimate solution to young Japanese’ reluctance to having babies resulting in quickly aging society and shrinking populations.
Thank you Debra, you planted the seeds for wonderful birth in Japan. You have trained twenty professional and caring birth doulas in Japan. I will do my part to see them blossom and grow. One day, we will see many Doulas in Japan providing options for women to have the best pregnancy/birth experience that they truly desire and deserve.