Saving newborns: A doctor quit her job to meet a greater need

by Leslie Zhang

In the past two years, Gao Jingxiang has gone from obstetrician to an entrepreneur. The 33-year-old doctor and expert on fertility studies created “Happy Mom Pregnancy” after seeing too many cases where lack of information led to the deaths of Chinese infants.

“I do this, because I have witnessed the lamented loss of newborns,” she said in an interview. When Gao graduated in 2006, she started her first job as a surgeon. Later she became an obstetrician in a hospital in Shenyang in Northeast China. She fell in love with that new job soon. “Every day, I witnessed new lives coming to this world. I was really happy about that,” she said. But after one particularly horrific night, she could not bear to work in the delivery room any more.
Now, instead of starting her day in a hospital, she is in front of a computer in a rental apartment in Beijing. 

Ms. Wang: “@Gao, My baby was born ten days ago. Now his umbilical cord is bleeding, what’s the problem?”

Gao: “Don’t worry, first what you need to do is disinfect his umbilical cord carefully, then check if there is a wound on it.”

Ms. Zhang: “@Gao, please take a look at this photo. My baby is 4 months old. His chin turned red and he keeps scratching it. What’s wrong with him?”

Gao: “It might be drool rash caused by uncleanness. Try to swipe his mouth slightly with tissue.”

These are typical conversations picked from a WeChat group called Happy Pregnancy Mom. Between 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on May 6, more than 350 messages appeared.

Dr. Gao had never thought of this identity until two years ago. In 2015, she set up Happy Pregnancy Mom (乐孕妈咪工作室), a company offering online obstetrics lectures and services. She operates two WeChat groups composed of one thousand members, most of them pregnant women from all over China.

Speaking of the reason of changing her job, she said, “I’ve never talked about this to anyone before because I feel bad every time I think of it.” Her face suddenly became serious and looked mournful.
One night in 2007, from 6 p.m. to 8 the next morning, Gao witnessed the deaths of seven newborns when she was on her night shift with four colleagues. Ten babies were born that night, only three survived.
The first baby died of trisomy 21 syndrome, also named Down Syndrome. When the child was born, it was only as large as the palm of a hand. “When the mother asked whether she could have a look at her baby, I said, “you’d better not…, it’s too hard,” Gao said as she sobbed.
In another case, the baby had already been dead for three days when the woman brought him to the hospital. After an examination by the doctor, the mom was diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus. “When the baby was put in my arms, I couldn’t stop crying when I looked at him,” she said.

From that single night, Gao reached a life-changing conclusion. “Such tragedies could be avoided if these mothers were aware of the significance of prenatal examination,” said Gao.
She quit her job and went to Beijing to find employment as an obstetrics teacher. “There’s little help that I can offer in the operating theater,” she said. “But through education, I can teach mothers how to give birth to their children and thus save more lives.”

After eight years working as an obstetrics teacher in hospitals, Gao is now a senior expert at the Beijing Maternal And Child Services Association. Her lecture videos are displayed on the official website of National Center for Women and Children’s Health. The manager of Happy Pregnancy Center, an institute providing training for pregnant woman, calls Gao “one of the top ten teachers of obstetrics in Beijing.”

 In 2015, Gao decided to start her entrepreneurial journey by establishing Happy Pregnancy Mom, an online education company. “At that time, I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur and didn’t realize that I was having my own ‘company,’” she said.

The start-up cost of her venture was about 10,000 yuan (about US$1,450), most of it used to purchase equipment for broadcasting online. Every day, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., she delivers lectures and answers questions online.

“On the one hand, doing online business is a good choice because it doesn’t need much capital to start up. But on the other hand, the competition is pretty fierce,” she said, forcing a smile. “It’s like a double-edged sword.”

The original price for one of Gao’s online classes was 199 yuan (US$29), but her personal website shows that it’s only 9.9 yuan (US$1.40) now.
Indeed, managing her own business is not easy. Taking a day off is a luxury. Because of financial constraints, she has to work for Beijing Baoheyuan Pregnancy Center on the side, giving childbirth classes in several pregnancy institutions on weekends.

“Now I know that being an entrepreneur means your business is your life,” she said. “I am ready to answer questions online all the time when I’m awake.”

At the end of each class, she advises her online company. “I would like to recommend you my personal WeChat account,” she says. “You can follow me online and ask any questions.”

So far, Gao has finished more than a hundred online courses and is running two WeChat groups.

Choosing to start up her business has meant less time for her family. “For my little girl, I can’t stay by her side when she needs me most,” she said. “I owe her too much.”
Siya, Gao’s 2-year-old daughter, stays in Hebei, a province three hours away from Beijing, and is looked after by Gao’s parents. Gao usually works seven days a week, so she doesn’t have any time to take care of her daughter. Sending her child to her parents is her only choice.

Each day when she gets off work at 5 p.m., Gao calls her father to listen to her daughter’s voice. “I talk to her all the way from my office to the bus stop,” she said. “When I get off bus, I will call them again until I get home. At about half past 7, we make online video calls. In spite of all these efforts, I still miss her so much.”
Like many new entrepreneurs, Gao is willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of a dream. “My business or my daughter, I can only choose one of them,” she said. “If I choose Siya, I can take care of only one child. However, there are so many children waiting for me, there are so many expectant mothers who need me.”
Gao’s husband, Mr. Wang fully supports his wife’s career. “In the beginning, I told her it was not worth working so hard,” he said. “But after she told me about the unforgettable night in the operation room many years ago, I realized that nothing could stop her doing this.”

Gao’s mother also gives full support to her daughter. “The umbilical cord can never be cut off,” she explained. “When a mother is pregnant, the umbilical cord is tangible. When the baby is born, the intangible umbilical cord is still there.”
Speaking of her business, Gao said even though she doesn’t earn much in profit, it’s enough to pay for the daily expenses.

“I don’t regard my job as a pure means of making a living,” she said. “It is my pursuit all through my life.”

Gao’s husband’s income and her mother’s child care make it possible for her venture to survive. Unlike other young entrepreneurs, she is doing the work for the good of society, not in search of profit.

“She is doing what she really loves and it is also beneficial for the society,” her husband said. “Even if she earns nothing, it doesn’t matter. I can support our family.”

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