Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 06 – The Childbirth Guru (Louise ROY, Ferguson Women's Health)

Oscar Fuchs
Childbirth and breastfeeding should be things that are universally understood around the world. But guess what... they're not.
Oscar Fuchs

Childbirth and breastfeeding should be things that are universally understood around the world. But guess what... they're not. We discuss these issues with labor doula and lactation counselor, Louise Roy.

Original Date of Release: January 19, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 06 – The Childbirth Guru (Louise ROY, Ferguson Women's Health)


OF: Boobies. Boobies, boobies. OK, already I'm blushing.

LR: It's a little much.


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.

Today's episode features another new guest without a connection to Season 01, it's Louise Roy, who is a women's health practitioner in Shanghai. That might make some people immediately reach for the off switch, but believe me when I say this, and I don't care who you are - Chinese, non-Chinese, male, female, parent, non-parent - you will learn something in this episode that will make you think differently. Oh, and stay to the end for a catch up with Astrid Poghosyan, the Armenian violinist from Episode 04 of Season 01.

If you want to follow the images that accompany the show, please follow the @mosaicofchina_* account on Instagram or @mosaicofchina on Facebook, or add me on WeChat using the ID: mosaicofchina, and I'll add you to the group there myself. Are you ready? Are you looking at the images? OK, then we'll begin the show.

[Part 1]

OF: Thank you so much for coming, Louise.

LR: You're very welcome, I'm very happy to be here.

OF: And let me get your title right, because it's quite a long one, right? "Director of Patient Support, Prenatal Educator, Lactation Counsellor…

LR: I'm also the Director of Operations. So…

OF: Oh, that's easier.

LR: Yeah. Maybe we just go with that.


LR: Yeah.

OF: Director of Operations, and it's Ferguson Health

LR: Ferguson Health, exactly.

OF: Lovely. Well, we will find out more about what that means. But before we do, tell me what is the object that you have brought that in some way represents your life in China?

LR: I have brought my cervix.

OF: Wow.

LR: I would like to say, it's not the one actually inside of me.

OF: Oh gosh, OK.

LR: It is a rainbow model cervix made out of my children's Playfoam. And this is how I know that they will be in therapy pretty quickly, because they look at me and say, "Mum, what do you making?" And I said "Well, I'm making a rainbow cervix in various degrees of dilation and effacement, darling", and they say "Oh, okay" and they just keep playing.

OF: So explain what that is.

LR: So this is a teaching tool. I have to show what happens to the cervix in the process of labour.

OF: Right.

LR: And it goes from long and closed, to very, very, very thin and 10-centimetres dilated, big enough for baby's head to get through.

OF: Yes. That is such a strong visual aid for what you're discussing, right?

LR: It very much is, yeah. So I teach prenatal classes - labour and delivery classes - to expecting parents, and they're coming to learn about birth, and what birth is, because we're so far removed from it. We don't even see animals giving birth anymore, let alone our mothers and our siblings having babies, and our neighbours having babies, we don't see it anymore.

OF: OK, so what, in short, does your job entail?

LR: Bellies, Babies and Boobies, is the shortest I can make it. Because it's bellies, it's babies. It's boobies, because I'm a lactation consultant. But on top of that, there's also a layer of everything else that we do for women's health. So it can be contraception, it can be conception counselling, it can be pregnancy loss and helping someone through the worst days of their life.

OF: Hmm. Well, we've crashed through a bunch of taboos there in the first sentence, haven't we? Boobies. Boobies, boobies. OK, already. I'm blushing.

LR: It's a little much.

OF: Well, where shall we even start? So, childbirth seems to be one of those things which is so imbued with tradition.

LR: Sure.

OF: Because in China, from what I know, there are many traditions about childbirth, which people do adhere to still.

LR: Yeah, and tradition is a hard thing to fight against. And I personally don't fight against tradition, but I fight for my clients to have the most up-to-date, evidence-based information and understanding. If they're doing something, it's because they want to.

OF: OK, so what are the traditions then, here in China?

LR: The confinement period traditions, the timeframe after having a baby where it's considered an appropriate amount of time to rest and recover from the birth.

OF: Right.

LR: So in China, the first month is the most important. And they will restrict bathing in general, going out, certain foods - there's whole menus designed around what shouldn't be eaten - the list goes on, actually, if you really look into it, it's quite complex.

OF: Hmm. I've heard of these traditions, and I do not know where it comes from. Do you know?

LR: Yeah, you know, and a lot of the times it seems crazy when you look at it on the surface, and someone says "What, she doesn't bathe for a month?" I always say "Context is everything". So if we look at somebody having a baby 500 years ago - even 100 years ago - typically they didn't have access to clean, safe water. Water would have had so much bacteria in it for bathing, and that was fine in their everyday life. But when a woman is postpartum - she's just had a baby, her body's a little run down, you know, she's tired, she may have a tear - having a bath sitting in dirty water, you know, that's gonna be a bad thing.

OF: That's gonna be an infection, which is death.

LR: Exactly. It's gonna be an infection. And that means death. So if you don't understand what bacteria is, you're just going to correlate, women who bathed after birth got sick and died; women who didn't survived. So don't bathe after birth. Once you see that context, it makes a lot of sense.

OF: It does. In fact, it makes me think, why don't we in the West have the same correlation?

LR: I guess we're just dumber.

OF: Yeah, OK. Well, then let's go back to another one then, you were saying that there are certain foods that you don't eat?

LR: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, so there are certain foods that will be more prescribed, but it's a lot about the 'format' of the food, if I could say that as much. As you can tell I'm not a foodie… "I'd like the 'Format Menu' please." I mean, soup.

OF: Ah.

LR: So, soup is a huge one in the confinement period. Chicken and fish soup, particularly, are really recommended. Why chicken and fish? Well, it makes sense, again. Chicken and fish are small, and you know, you finish consuming it before it could go off, in a time before refrigeration. If you were to eat beef or pork, it's a big animal, that the meat may not be so fresh.

OF: Of course.

LR: So context, again. The soups, you're drinking a lot of water when you have soup. And that's good because you're losing…

OF: Hydration.

LR: Yeah, you need a lot of water after you have a baby. And the water for drinking might not have been so clean in the old times. But if it's made into a soup, it's boiled. And boiled water is much cleaner.

OF: It's all falling into place.

LR: Yeah.

OF: OK. And now that we are in the modern age, we don't necessarily need to worry about water being clean or not…

LR: Yeah, our water is clean, our homes are heated, we have safe food and drinking water.

OF: But these traditions persist.

LR: The traditions persist. So I just like people to know, if they're making choices, they're informed choices. They can choose to follow this diet. They can choose to eat a sandwich. They can do what they want, so long as they have the information to know why they're doing one way or another.

OF: So will there be a case where there is a younger mother, she's more modern, and she is trying to sneakily eat a sandwich, but her more traditional mother will whack it out of her hand?

LR: All the time.

OF: Oh right.

LR: All the time. Or she waits until her mum goes outside, of she tells her mom "Can you go do this" and then she sneaks into the shower to have a shower. So it is a battle between families. The generational gaps can be really overwhelming.

OF: Yes. And I'm guessing it's just the same as everywhere else, because the mother has gone through it when she gave birth, so she knows all about it. So you can't really negotiate with her, can you?

LR: Well, you'd think so. But actually, the mother herself didn't take care of her own baby, her mother did. So traditionally the baby's grandmother will take care of the baby. So the mother herself is focusing on resting and recovering. So when her child has a baby, now it's her job to take care of her grandchild. For the first time ever she's taking care of a baby.

OF: Because she didn't take care of her own baby.

LR: She didn't take care of her own baby, her mother did. So we have also a lot of, you know, it's hard to tell your mum "No", in any country, in any culture. But it's also a lot of education from our part, where we're talking to whole families "This is how you bathe the baby, this is how you burp the baby, this is how you breastfeed". Then we have… potentially they also have a 阿姨 [āyí], a 月嫂 [yuèsǎo] actually is a baby nanny for the confinement period. It's a particular job. And they go one month to one month to one month, to different families…

OF: A 月嫂 [yuèsǎo]?

LR: 月嫂 [Yuèsǎo], yeah.

OF: OK. Are they in the room when you're giving the advice?

LR: Yes. So they're called as soon as the baby's born, because they help take care of the baby in the hospital. It's actually not necessary in the private hospitals for them to be there, because we have nurses day and night to help with that. But in public hospital, yeah your family takes care of you in the hospital. In an international healthcare setting, we do have that flexibility to choose what works from different cultures, and we have families from all over the world. It gives us that that luxury, to the point where I'm not sure how I could ever leave.

OF: Yes, that's a good point, because you could then go back to Australia, and then you'd have a similar kind of entrenched mindset of how they do things there.

LR: Mmm-hmm.

OF: Interesting. Yeah. And so, talking about this interface between the international people that you see and the local system, at what other points do you interact with the local system?

LR: So that's a really good question, it's a question that people ask us when they're choosing a healthcare system. There are occasionally situations where the licensing of a private hospital isn't comprehensive enough to cover very, very extreme medical conditions. We haven't actually had to have anyone deliver outside of our setting. We've had, occasionally, babies have to transfer to the high high level public hospitals. Medically it's very sound, the NICU - neonatal intensive care - in China is very, very good, well, in Shanghai, is where my experience is. But the culture of care is very different. And again, that's context, right? So it's common in other countries that if your baby is in the NICU, you would still have access to the baby, you would still visit the baby, you would be very much involved.

OF: Of course, right?

LR: Right, it makes sense. And this is what we come into thinking is 'normal'. We think that is the right way to run a NICU. And in the context of a NICU where you have lower numbers, it's easily feasible. However, in Shanghai, we're talking about hundreds of babies.

OF: Oh I see.

LR: Hundreds of babies that can be as young as 24/25 weeks of gestation. So they're very, very vulnerable. If you have people coming from all over surrounding districts, selling everything, spending everything they have, to get treatment for their babies, living in the hospitals, living in streets around the hospital.

OF: Oh, because they don't go back to their hometowns. Yes, right,

LR: No, because they're near to the baby to talk with the baby's doctors. They don't have money for Shanghai hotels.

OF: Right.

LR: They're not working while they're doing this. If everyone came into the NICU, it would be a public health disaster.

OF: Right. Which is so interesting, because pre-COVID, I may not have understood that. But now it's such an obvious petri dish for spreading viruses and bacteria.

LR: Uh-huh. To the most vulnerable babies.

OF: Yes.

LR: In an ideal world, we would have five times more NICUs in Shanghai, five times more staff, a system set up that allowed for more contact.

OF: Right.

LR: But that's not happening now.

OF: Yeah. But the way China is going, I mean, you can imagine that they will invest, and it will improve day by day here.

LR: Yeah. I think that even when we look at the changes in the NICU in the last 10 years, they have been huge. They now have breast milk donation banks, you do see the babies, you do get to talk to the doctor at least.

OF: So you did just mention breastfeeding.

LR: Uh-huh.

OF: So this is one of your other areas of expertise.

LR: Yeah, the boobies. Boob juice.

OF: OK, I'm still giggling, I promise…

LR: You can't stop, you can't help yourself. Boob juice.

OF: 'Boob juice'! Let's talk boob juice. What are the issues around lactation? Because this is another thing where we seem to have got so far away from what is natural, haven't we?

LR: Gosh, yeah. We have this concept that breastfeeding is so complicated, but nobody ever thinks that the baby pig - and his mother - has a complicated breastfeeding journey. But for humans, we have societal expectations on women and babies that are inaccurate. And 90% of the time, when somebody comes to me, I have to explain to them how the situation was normal, not something that needed intervening on. It's about going back to "What is normal? What is evolutionarily sound? How did we get here?"

OF: How did we get here?

LR: How did we get here?

OF: Like, where… What happened that we are so disassociated with the suckling pig?

LR: It's such a big topic. It truly is such a big topic, but so many things all kinda converged at the same time. Technology made formula…

OF: Yes, the obsession with milk formula here in China, that's a weird one.

LR: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah, and for a long time, China hadn't signed an agreement that would prevent the marketing and advertising of baby formula.

OF: Oh that's the reason.

LR: Yeah. So most countries around the world have signed this particular code - it's called 'The Code' in breastfeeding circles - limiting direct marketing to parents, and limiting what can be said about baby formula. Prior to that, marketers could say "This is better for your baby". Doctors could say "This is better for your baby. Forget breast milk, that's old news". It's not legal here anymore. And it is really, really, very much frowned upon,

OF: Right. But it used to be something which was more de rigueur a few years ago.

LR: Exactly. A whole generation who skipped the normal experience. In the rest of the world, breastfeeding is no easier. Because we've had years of mothers told "Don't coddle your children". And it changed the way people parented. And breastfeeding was a part of that.

OF: Right. So you're now on a mission to re-educate us about breastfeeding, right?

LR: I'm on a mission that people have all the support and information they need, to make the best choices for them and their babies. That's my goal. I don't really care if you breastfeed or not - which sounds strange as a lactation consultant to say that - I care that you had the information, and it was correct. You weren't derailed, misguidedly or deliberately.

OF: Interesting. And then, how do you translate that sort of advocacy - that sort of advice-giving and consulting - to the actual birth process? Are you there during the process, continuing to give advice, like, as it's happening?

LR: So that's actually what a doula is?

OF: Oh, wait a minute, 'doula'?

LR: So when you went through my titles earlier, you missed one, and that's I'm a certified labour doula.

OF: You're a labour doula.

LR: A doula. A companion through the process of birth. The doula will not direct your care, they will say "Here's the situation; here are your options; the pros and cons of each of those options are…" and then the couple themselves make the decision. It should be like that in medical care, but it's often… you go somewhere, and the doctor says "Take this pill".

OF: Yeah.

LR: They don't say "Hey, here are the three different pills we could use". They're going on the track of "I know this one to be the best for you. So I'm going to use this one for you".

OF: So you jump in there at that point, and then give the options?

LR: Well, our doctors tend to be more in the role of…

OF: Already on that way

LR: Already on that way.

OF: Yeah.

LR: But if I were… and I used to have a childbirth support company. And I would go into hospital settings all over Shanghai. And they could be everything from local to the fanciest hospitals. And it would be that the client had hired me to attend their delivery, not that I was hired by the hospital to help the client. So I very much was there as somebody who was there for my client. But not just throwing everything at this client, at the risk of alienating the staff of the hospital. It's a diplomacy between them. Otherwise, you'd never get to go back for the next client.

OF: Give me an example then.

LR: Well, a classic example would be if a doctor were to be about to do something that's irreversible. It might be a good choice. But it's something that the client - the patient - should be involved in the decision making. So in the past, I would see that this is about to happen - because I have the vantage point of seeing, knowing the anatomy, knowing birth, knowing what happens, knowing how it's done, knowing which tool is going to do what thing - see it about to happen to say "Excuse me, just a minute doctor", and then turn to the client and say, "The doctor's about to break the water. Do you have any questions for them?"

OF: "Oh, wow. Why is it specifically for this procedure? Why not for all operations, in that case?

LR: It is a really good question, and informed consent is something that is a golden rule and a gold standard in medical care, but it's not always practised to the point where it could be.

OF: Right. And I guess because this is a moment, which is so unique, I'm guessing that's why this unique role of a doula has emerged.

LR: Yeah, and I think that you can't have that many staff around for other things, and people wouldn't be motivated for it. But for birth, it's such a huge moment in your life.

OF: Yeah. In my mind, I'm picturing, then, there is the doctor, there is the midwife, there is a doula, like, it's a whole party.

LR: It is.

OF: And then there's the father as well?

LR: Yeah.

OF: And so, is it always a joyous occasion, or you know, when are the situations where it's less joyous?

LR: So, you know, birth has its highs and it's lows. So you have the birth that's beautifully normal, everything's fine, baby's healthy, mother's healthy. And then you have times where it's not so. You also have expectations. Traditionally, in China, a boy was desired.

OF: Oh, of course.

LR: So sometimes you do see the "It's a girl!" and, kind of, people go "Ah".

OF: Oh right. How funny, I didn't even think about that. But of course it still happens.

LR: It does, it's much less in Shanghai.

OF: Yes. Interesting. But I'm a bit confused. Like, you literally do the "It's a girl!" thing. But nowadays, like, at scans you… Wait a minute, you're looking at me like I'm an idiot.

LR: In China, you're not supposed to find the sex of the baby before the birth. The reveal parties that people have in other countries, that's not supposed to be happening in China.

OF: Of course.

LR: Because there's a long history in China of selecting which baby you'll take to full term, based on the sex.

OF: Yes. That's interesting, it of course makes sense that you wouldn't tell the parents about the gender of their child. But I'm looking into your eyes, because your clients would be a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese, right? But you still have to abide by the same rules.

LR: The hospitals are bound to follow these rules. We have signs all over the hospital, you don't ask the sex of the baby.

OF: Oh, that's there, is it?

LR: Mmm-hmm.

OF: And we're on to the subject of less-than-happy situations. So you know, at the beginning, when you did introduce the list of things that you do, dealing with an outcome that is not expected, that wouldn't just be about gender, of course. That would be about the feasibility of the baby itself.

LR: Yeah, exactly, so there… Miscarriage is the first thing that most people think about. Miscarriage is one in four. This is primarily during the first trimester, this is why people traditionally don't announce they're pregnant until after the first trimester. Which is kind of sad, actually, to me, because this is a time when you do need help and support, and it's incredibly taboo still to this day. You know, we say most of those miscarriages are happening in the first trimester, then we have… sometimes this happens later in the pregnancy. And of course, that's… it's heartbreaking at any time, but it's particularly sad when you've felt a baby grow inside of you, and felt the movements, and had plans and hopes, and this baby doesn't make it.

OF: And this is part of the role of the doula, is it? To manage the situation when this does happen.

LR: Not every doula does this, but I have done grief support training for parents with perinatal grief situations. And it is something that for someone, it's the worst day of their life. But if you can make it less 'worse', then you've done something that's profound and lasting. In China, it's if the baby doesn't make it at any point, the family aren't encouraged to have photos or clothes or hold the baby, it's just whisked away as medical waste.

OF: Medical waste.

LR: Yeah. So even the concept of "This family wants to cremate this baby, and they want the ashes back". It's little things, it doesn't sound like much, but it changes everything. I'm thankful that I can be a person who can make this situation better.

OF: Wow. And how does that affect you?

LR: In a huge way, I will find myself, for quite a while, being very impacted emotionally. And I don't think you can do it without being impacted emotionally. I will talk to a therapist, and I think anybody should in that situation. You know, I find myself 'go, go, go, go go', and all of a sudden, something happens and I will burst into tears, and it all comes out. Like, you can't push it away. You can push it down, but you can't push it away. And it's good to get it out. Because you're very much in a very, very, very raw situation. It's hard.

OF: And in the same way, I can see why it's such a privilege to share that with someone who is going through something so similar. Like, you must have a bond with the mother and the father at that time.

LR: Forever. And you may not be a person they ever want to see again.

OF: No.

LR: Actually. But I find most of the time that people really do take you into their family. These babies and these families live in my heart forever, they really do. And it's very special.

OF: Well, I am looking at the object you brought. It is a colourful spiral of circles here. And it's making me think, yes, we did end that conversation on a very real but sad note. But the colourful circles in front of me are reminding me that it's also happy.

LR: It's thankfully, very few situations that are so sad and so tragic. It's mostly, the highs are high and they're fantastic. And to be able to have the privilege and the honour of joining families in this, on an almost daily basis, is hard work, it's exhausting, and it's fantastic.

OF: Louise, this was not hard work or exhausting. But it was fantastic. Thank you so much.

LR: Thank you very much, it was really fun.

OF: We now go on to Part 2.

LR: Ah!

[Part 2]

OF: I think we're gonna run a little bit long in the first half, because what you said was so special. So let's try and quick-fire our way through these there questions.

LR: Quick fire. I'm Australian, I can't say anything quickly. But let's try.

OF: Question 1. What is your favourite China-related fact?

LR: Do you know what, my favourite China-related fact comes from my now eight year old son who told me that male pandas can do a handstand and then pee. So that they can mark trees higher. Can you imagine a panda doing a handstand at all, and then peeing, just so they can mark a tree higher?

OF: Oh, wow.

LR: That's not in the guidebooks, is it?

OF: No. Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

LR: I think that actually 舒服 [shūfú] is one of my favourite words.

OF: Oh yeah.

LR: 舒服 [Shūfú] is just.. it sounds 舒服 [shūfú]. 舒服 [Shūfú] sounds 舒服 [shūfú]. And 不舒服 [búshūfú], when I feel 不舒服 [búshūfú] it perfectly explains… like, I don't have to diagnose exactly what I'm feeling right now, I just feel 不舒服 [búshūfú].

OF: Can you explain what it means?

LR: It feels uncomfortable. And 舒服 [shūfú] feels, you know, it just feels soft and nice and comfortable and relaxing.

OF: Yes. That's so… It does sound cosy, 舒服 [shūfú].

LR: It does, doesn't it?

OF: Yeah. What's your favourite destination within China?

LR: I don't get to travel much - I think you probably hear that from a lot of people in healthcare, I don't travel a lot because babies, babies, babies, they're just born all the time - but I really enjoyed visiting, years back, 峨眉山 [Éméishān] and 乐山 [Lèshān]. I liked 峨眉山 [Éméishān] particularly because it just… I come from the Blue Mountains in Australia…

OF: Nice.

LR: …And it felt like that laid-back mountain-y kind of thing.

OF: Yes.

LR: It was nice.

OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

LR: Taobao.

OF: Is that 'least' or 'most'?

LR: It's 'most' but I think my wallet would miss it the least. I love Taobao, I've bought so much on Taobao over the years, I've had some spectacular wins and fails on it. I love, just the concept of you can get anything.

OF: Yeah

LR: Anything.

OF: I'm not sure I could buy what I'm seeing in front of me right now.

LR: Well, you can't actually, that's why I had to make it myself out of Playfoam

OF: Playfoam cervix, I'm going to do a little search for "Playfoam cervix".

LR: You're not gonna find it.

OF: No.

LR: What would I miss the least? Actually, I think what I would miss the least is when people, kind of like, 'Chinasplain' to me.

OF: Oh god.

LR: You know, like the 'Chinasplaining.' And then if I have a difference of opinion - that's, you know, gleaned from 15 years of experience - I've been brainwashed.

OF: Hmm, yes. Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?

LR: I was surprised the other day to learn - from a bunch of nurses that I was talking to - that you can get condoms on 饿了么 [Èleme] arrive at your door in 20 minutes. And then if it breaks, you can get the morning-after pill 20 minutes after that. And I was like "Maybe you should just stop buying condoms on 饿了么 [Èleme]".

OF: Just dial up the 饿了么 [Èleme].

LR: It makes a lot of sense.

OF: What is your favourite place to go out, to eat, or drink, or just hang out?

LR: Honestly, it's… I love my sofa.

OF: Yeah

LR: I just want to be home. I spend all day with people, and talking to people, and I just love Netflix. I really… it's a really boring.

OF: No, having been through the conversation we've just had, all the things that you deal with, I can imagine the sofa being the place you want to go.

LR: Yeah. I mean, I do… I love going out with my close friends - my friends who are my family here - who I can talk about the good and the bad with. And so it's not a place, it's a people.

OF: What is your favourite WeChat sticker?

LR: My favourite WeChat sticker is actually one that says 'Google it, you lazy ****'. I don't use it very often, because it's rarely the context where I can. There is a safer version of it, which just says "Google it".

OF: Yes, you need to do a "Bing it" too.

LR: Yeah, 'Bing it, you lazy ****'.

OF: It doesn't have the same ring, does it? What is your go to song to sing at KTV?

LR: Look, KTV is an art. You've got to choose wisely, for the right time in the evening, and the right moment of the room and everything. But I think probably my favourite just, like, kick-things-off songs would be something like 'Sweet Child o' Mine' or like Cher's 'Turn Back Time', or something just that you could belt out and get things going.

OF: Yes. These are belting rocks.

LR: Just belt it, just belt it. And, like, graphic 80s actions.

OF: Oh, if only there was a video recorder in this room right now. Anyone listening, if you can imagine that Kiss photo with the tongue sticking out, there were elements of that.

LR: Yeah, that's about it.

OF: And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?

LR: Oscar, only you.

OF: Oh, baby. You're lying!

LR: I am lying, but I'm terrible. I really just pick from whatever I get my hands on. I don't have a set favourite source.

OF: Louise, it's been a real pleasure. I only have one regret, and that is we spent so much time talking about your work, we know very little about you.

LR: There is nothing about me.

OF: That's nonsense. You've opened my eyes, this is something which I am not an expert on at all. But it's fascinating.

LR: You're welcome. It's definitely a huge topic because it spans an entire life.

OF: Yeah. Well, before you leave, the final thing I ask everyone in that chair is, out of everyone you know in China who would you recommend that I interview for the next series of Mosaic of China?

LR: I am going to recommend Barbara Poppell. She is in child development, and has an amazing perspective on how parents can help kids becoming their best little peoples that they are.

OF: Wow, that's such an apt person to hand off the baton to

LR: Yeah, I just pass it over. I've done the babies and the bellies and the boob juice, now you take them on for life. I'm done.

OF: I can't wait to meet Barbara, and thank you again.

LR: You're very welcome.


OF: Well as I mentioned just before the end right there, we only scratched the surface of getting to know Louise in this episode. But just to give you a taste of who she is, she's an Aussie who's married to a Canadian, who has worked in places like East Timor and Nepal before moving to China. So in case you were wondering where her accent from, it's a mixture of all the above. And as for some of her other talents, I have also posted images online of the boobies that she crochets while on her sofa, some artwork that she has made, and even an example of the crazy cakes she bakes. So she doesn't just spend her time messing around with Playfoam making cervixes, she does other things too. Or should that be 'cervices'.

Speaking of cervices, not only will you have noticed that Louise's object is the perfect counterpoint to Cocosanti's object from last week's episode - shout out to Kevin - in fact, January happens to be Cervical Health Awareness month, so if that's applicable to you, please consider this a nudge for you to go out and get a cervical cancer screen. And one final update since we recorded the episode is that the NICU where Louise sends intensive care babies has just opened a new section where you can pay extra to visit your baby every morning in a smaller room, and get updates from the doctors without endangering other vulnerable babies. So, as predicted, things are continuing to improve.

Since you're listening to the REGULAR version of the podcast, now is the time for me to tease you with some snippets from the PREMIUM version. Please head to and follow the link there to subscribe.

[Clip 1]

LR: But then you look like crazy religious freaks, as everyone walks down the street, bowed in prayer.

[Clip 2]

LR: The woman who's having the baby herself has, kind of, taken me aside and said "You need to get these people out of here".

OF: Yeah, right.

[Clip 3]

LR: The first drugs for pain-free birth was chloroform.

OF: Woah.

[Clip 4]

LR: You see women, as soon as they get pregnant, they're encouraged not to have sex.

[Clip 5]

LR: And the doctors will file across and speak to you. You maybe have a baby wheeled past there as well, that you could catch a glimpse of as it goes by.

OF: Yeah.

[Clip 6]

LR: We have sometimes some very busy rooms.

OF: Right.

LR: We have people with GoPros, we have…

OF: Oh my god.

LR: Yeah, we have, like, everything.

[End of Audio Clips]

There's also a bunch of other images that I've posted on social media, so please check them out as always. And if anyone out there is listening out for connections with the answers from other episode, the bizarre one from today's conversation is that the KTV song Louise mentioned, Sweet Child of Mine, is exactly the same as the one mentioned by the Pain Management expert, Lissanthea Taylor, from Episode 28 of Season 01. I can't believe these two Aussie women, both of whom are supposed in the business of improving health, would inflict that kind of pain on other people.

Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. My catch-up chat with Astrid from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra follows after this, and I'll be back with the next full episode the same time next week.

[Catch-Up Interview]

OF: Astrid, hello.

Astrid Poghosyan: Hi, Oscar.

OF: It's so nice to see you again.

AP: Me too, it's very nice to see you too. It's been a while.

OF: It has been a while. But here we are. And it's been an interesting year since our recording, right?

AP: Indeed, it was very unexpected.

OF: Where were you then, let's just talk about when Coronavirus hit. Were you in China at the time.

AP: I was. I was in Shanghai, and it was actually the last days of our operating. And then as I already had planned to go to LA, I was like "OK, never mind, I'm just, you know, I'm just gonna follow the plan. So I went there, and then that was the time when… it only took me, like, seven days there to realise that it seems like things are getting pretty tricky. So basically, when I locked my door in Shanghai, I was like "I'm gonna be back in two weeks". And I locked the door for an entire nine months

OF: Nine months.

AP: Yes. Because at the last minute, I decided that… because back then, you know, all the airlines started to shut down. So I bought a ticket to Armenia.

OF: You're a violinist, of course. Did you have your violin when you left China?

AP: No, that's the first time I left the country without my violin. This was a moral to be learned in the future, you never leave your instrument, even for two weeks. And that was the most shocking thing ever in my life as well, because I've never been separated from my violin for even two days. And this time, it was nine months. And I felt like, you know, I abandoned my child somewhere, god knows where, and nobody's taking care of it. Even though some people will say it's just a piece of wood. But it's not, it's a life. So it was really stressful from that side as well. So I had to find a replacement.

OF: Oh so at least you could play some violin, right.

AP: I could, but you know, it's just a little bit… you feel like cheating. Because you found a replacement somewhere else, in a different country.

OF: Totally.

AP: And then you have your own one waiting for you at the place of origin. So the moment I came back, the first thing I did was check up on my violin. But I didn't pick it up. I needed time to just, you know, feel it, that it's there I'm back, it's around me. And then after a while, I just took it and I started playing on it a little bit, you know.

OF: Wow, that's nice. Let's talk about, then, when you did come back. So what was that situation when you finally returned to China?

AP: Luckily the embassy in Armenia of China was so nice. And they opened the whole building for my application to, you know, turn on the computer after eight months. That moment, the whole energy felt like the entire country is working on my return back to China. So I had these applications, and I had like a 48+ hour trip here, transferring through four different countries. So I eventually arrived and, you know… But that's the human being, you know, once you arrive, whatever you experienced before, gone! It's just like, all the difficulties, all the tiredness or whatever, just the idea that you're back home. Ah, just this feeling.

OF: Yeah. I'm so glad that you are back. Unfortunately, the person who you recommended, she is still stuck in Taiwan.

AP: Unfortunately.

OF: Yeah, so we can't include her in the next season, the one coming up now, but I did find a nice replacement. So I hope that you will enjoy that.

AP: Thank you, Oscar, looking forward to catch up more. Thanks for having me, as usual.

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