The Guiding Doula: Navigating The Cultural Differences in Pregnancy And Parenthood

Jul 1, 2017

Most of Kayoko Nakajima’s work takes place at night at the bedside of Japanese women giving birth. Nakajima, who operates out of Kenmore, is believed to be the only Japanese-speaking doula in the Seattle area. Many clients call her during the night—whether that’s 10 p.m. or 3 a.m.—and she sticks with the mothers and fathers until they meet their babies.

“Labor takes as long as it takes,” Nakajima said. “Once labor starts, there’s no day or night, for me, for the doula.”

At a birth, it’s important to have someone with the same background who speaks the same language as the mother, Nakajima said, especially because many don’t have a lot of friends or family in the area to rely on. She helps families understand and navigate through the American medical system, acting as their advocate.

Mothers in Japan can stay in the hospital for five days after giving birth, but Nakajima prepares mothers in the Seattle-area for quicker turnaround and continues to help them back at home, including cooking Japanese celebratory red beans and rice called “osekihan.”

Once the families return home from the hospital, babies might take a while to sleep through the night. When they struggle to stay asleep, Nakajima advises parents to take the baby outside, go for a walk, and give the baby some stimulation. Still, there’s no guarantee that will work, Nakajima said.

“Some babies wake up every two hours for years.”

This story originally aired on Jan. 14, 2017