Born on Okinawa, grown to be global

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Korea

After giving birth to two children, and becoming a certified doula in California, Amanda Dodson knew she had good reason to utilize her experience and expertise on Okinawa, where more than 100 babies are born each month in the U.S. military community. But what she was looking for was more than just building her own career as a doula, she wanted to help her fellow military mothers-to-be.

Along with a couple of doulas on the island, Dodson launched a discussion group called “Birth Talk” which set the stage for a birth support group called “Japan Birth Resource Network (JBRN)” in 2013. The JBRN is now a private organization and a chapter of the Military Birth Resource Network.

Giving birth can pose a big challenge to women even if they have support from families at hand. So the challenges that military spouses go through as they give birth during overseas deployment can be much bigger than one can imagine.

- Consistent Face
One of the things that the JBRN does is provide doulas to expectant mothers. Although doulas don’t give medical care, they can help mothers by being consultants and advising them on many issues. The “outside voice” especially matters in addressing one common problem that military spouses face in Okinawa: Lack of continuity in support.

“The continual care, often times in the military community, we don’t get, because we are being seen by a handful of different providers,” said Dodson, who is currently on her second Okinawa tour with her husband, following her first tour that lasted for seven years.

Christiana Golder, who joined the JBRN after finishing her training as a doula in Okinawa in September, had a similar experience.

“My husband with the Air Force, we stay at Kadena until 20 weeks. And at 20 weeks, they send you to Foster,” Golder said. “They basically cycle you through doctor. When you give birth, you are giving birth with whoever is on call. It’s not really like in the States.”

Both agree that a doula is someone who can fill in the lack of consistency, something they stress is needed even more so in overseas deployment.

“That is so important in our military community just because we come halfway across the world,” Dodson said. “We don’t have a lot of families that can afford to come and visit; it is expensive, if they do.

- Community
From the beginning, the JBRN was community oriented. The JBRN now does many things, including hosting various events.

“When the Japan Birth Resource Network officially got going, we called the group “Birthing in Okinawa”,” Dodson said. “Eventually we got too big in size. We would have different subjects, birth, pregnancy, baby wearing, breast feeding, to create that support in the community - a safe place to come. Dads too. Dads have a lot of questions.”

Among the events JBRN hosts are birth and baby fairs, baby wearing classes, breast feeding meetings, which are exactly an extension of its early days.

“It is something that you really felt needed to be brought to the community, have an event under one roof, that kind of exposes all the, kind of like the baby friendly,” said Dodson.

Being part of the community also helps mothers relieve their stress too.

“We are seeing pregnant women everywhere,” Dodson said. “Some people call the tour “Two Baby Tour.” Sometimes you can kind of get overlooked,” said Dodson.

Golder agreed: “When I gave birth, like I was a number. I was not a person. I told my husband all the time, I feel like if we would have a doula, we would have such a better experience, because somebody on the outside would be able say, ‘Hey, don’t you wanna do this?’ or ‘Hey, don’t you wanna do that?’ Just to remind you of what is it that you wanted and how you want it to be done.”

According to Dodson, the emotional aspect should not be taken lightly because it can affect how women view birth. The JBRN also has postpartum doulas who can help mothers dealing with problems such as postpartum depression.

- Future Goal
For Dodson and Golder, building a rapport with the Naval Hospital was no easy task, but the JBRN continued to press on despite the rejections. The team also was faced with the reality of many people coming and going, but they didn’t get discourage, and now have their sights set on bigger goals.

The JBRN is now trying to taking it to the global stage.

“Being back in Okinawa, the Japan Birth Resource has become a chapter with the Military Birth Resource Network, which is an established as nonprofit in the states. So we’re taking it and making it work globally,” said Dodson referring to new chapters in Hawaii, Indiana and Germany.

The JBRN founder also hopes to eventually get funding to assist their operation financially. She explained that the quality service that the JBRN offers is very hard to come by for free. Although the organization is willing to offer some discount if it helps some mothers, what they offer has professional quality, which doesn’t come without cost.

It may not be an easy job to keep the organization going and growing, but the passion of the president is certainly passed on to new members of the network, like Golder.

“I am going to take it back with me to the states - just my drive for doing this, because I don’t want anyone to experience what I experienced. And I’d love it to be easier,” Golder said.

- Military Birth Resource Network

- Japan Birth Resource Network

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