Korea: The First International HUG!

After much planning, much packing and much "sitting" fatigue, my husband, Jim, and I arrived in Seoul, Korea and into the care of Dr. Heasook Kim. Heasook is a nursing professor, and the owner of La Belle Mere, a beautiful postpartum care facility in this modern city.

Barbara Hotelling, my friend and colleague from the States, has taught childbirth education and doula trainings in Korea several times. I was invited to join her this year with my HUG Your Baby program.

With an interest in learning more about how to support new fathers, Jim joined Barbara’s doula training for the day. I sat next door, in Heasook’s office, and worked to finish a Korean translation of the “Roadmap to Breastfeeding Success” and to complete my teaching materials for both Korea and Japan.

Thursday morning I was face to face with 25 lovely Korean nurses and one doctor, all eager to learn more about newborn care.
Min-Sung, a young Korean who just completed her masters in nursing in Australia, was my enthusiastic and conscientious translator. (CLICK HERE to see my YouTube about Min’s research on postpartum depression.)

Right away I realized that I like the pace of teaching in a foreign land. I would say a few sentences and wait a moment to hear those ideas translated. That moment gave me time to think what I would say next. There was no awkward silence, as I sometimes experience when I speak in English and am searching for the next idea!

Min had warned me that Koreans do not like to contribute ideas in a group, and the deafening silences I received when I asked the group for feedback confirmed this reality. However, I had come prepared. I asked participants to write a few thoughts about the subject at hand and then to share them for one minute with their “neighbor.” The conversations were quiet but appeared friendly and focused. With some trepidation, I later broke the students into groups for role-playing.

I could not believe my eyes and ears! These Korean professionals jumped into their role-plays with GREAT gusto—and much more ease than Americans usually bring. Their speech was animated, their arms where flying, their faces were expressive, and their laughter was continuous. (Though I did confess to Jim later that they might have been sharing family recipes for all I knew!)

At the end of the day I asked the group to “tell me one thing you learned today and may use next week in your work with new mothers.” Expecting only a word or phrase from each participant, I was surprised when each individual stood and gave a rather lengthy explanation of the day’s learning:
“I was surprised that babies could really look at that ball . . . (and more)”; “I realize now that I need not only to understand the baby but also to understand the feelings of the mother . . . (and more)”; “I never knew about two kinds of sleep . . . (and more)”; “I never thought about how a baby’s temperament might impact a family . . .(and more).” One nurse’s story triggered a magical teaching experience. (CLICK HERE to see my new YouTube, “A Teachable Moment.”)

With only 8 participants, Day Two was more workshop than lecture. In a smaller circle, I began with the question I want to ask as we travel from country to country: “Think of a mother and newborn who you think are doing very well. What are the characteristics of the mother, and what are the characteristics of the baby?” Mother-focused is how I would characterize their answers: the mother’s ability to care for her baby, her ability to understand her baby. Interestingly, no one mentioned any particular temperament or style of the baby.

In this smaller group there was a bit more group sharing of ideas, but, like yesterday, learning seemed most effective in the one-on-one. Since being a rock star is not part of my repertoire, I was surprised when every nurse or duo lined up for a photo with me! Go figure!

Finally, last night I held a class for 4 new mothers, their babies and one father from La Belle Mere. (CLICK HERE to see this class in action!)

I moved from baby to baby, broadcasting the newborn behaviors I observed. One two-week-old baby cried, so we were able to watch calming techniques in action. Then this same baby was eager to demonstrate her remarkable ability to follow her father’s moving face and even turn to his voice.  Another baby moved to the “Ready Zone,” allowing us to watch her slowly follow her mother’s face before exhibiting a “Spacing Out” SOS. A third baby, initially “excused” to breastfeed, returned in time to look intently at her mother’s face and to imitate Mom’s sticking out her tongue. 

The final baby persisted in the “Resting (deep sleep) Zone,” giving us ample time to discuss the signs of deep versus active sleep. However, this mother insisted that we wake up her daughter so that she could see her play with the toy as the other babies had. Crossing my fingers that we might see an easy transition to the “Ready Zone,” I was delighted to observe this full-term, robust little girl arouse nicely when un-swaddled. She went on to demonstrate mature muscle movement without tremors or over-shooting.

Jim (as videographer), Heasook (as translator), and me (as roaming baby nurse) all experienced both the magical, universal language of a newborn’s emerging sense of the world and the quiet, tender and easily-accessible passion of new parents.