All the pregnant wayguks I knew went to Dr. Kim (not his real name) at Jeil Lady’s hospital in Haeundae, Busan. He was a very mild-mannered, soft-spoken slim man, who was always there, whether I showed up on a Sunday with back pain, or for my regular check-up, with no appointment necessary. Sometimes his hair would be uncombed, and he would be bleary-eyed – but he would be there. Dr. Kim would sometimes receive a call in his office and flit away from his stream of regular office visits to be present for the final minutes of a delivery only a flight of stairs down. After each grand finale he would head back up to his office and see the next expecting woman for her pre-natal visit. It was a great system: each visit, he’d just tell me to come back in the required month or two weeks, depending on my progress. I’d show up at my convenience and wait no more than 30 minutes and he’d see me in his office. Coming from Canada, this system was a dream. I didn’t actually have to cancel a full day’s activities for a 10-minute check-up.
That particular night I hadn’t slept much and I walked into the clinic. Today was baby day! I had an appointment in the afternoon to be induced because my blood pressure was a little higher than normal, so Dr. Kim felt it would be best to schedule the birth a couple of weeks early rather than wait. So there I was, fully rotund, with an appointment to have a baby.
Nurse Kwon noticed the bags under my eyes and smiled knowingly. Who wouldn’t be nervous with an appointment like this? It turns out, that much of my afternoon was actually spent being given a tour of the hospital and my lovely private room. It had its own toilet, cable TV, and a double bed, and of course, floor heating throughout. As we stepped in the room I gasped at the temperature. The dial on the temperature gauge read above 31 degrees. It was stifling.
I had been warned about this. Friends of ours had had their baby boy there just a few months earlier and mentioned that they had gotten into trouble for turning on the air conditioner in their room during their stay. Having been in Korea for some time already, I understood that heat was closely associated with health, but as a Canadian who prefers a warm blanket over a warm room, I found it hard to breathe. Koreans definitely love their heat – soups come boiling at the table, stews are cooked at the table, other meat dishes come sizzling on hotplates, and much is laden with hot peppers, and if you’re in a restaurant where you are sitting on the floor, you can practically singe your posterior on the seething floor. A basic meal can be a rather sweaty experience.
So there I was in my comfortable but oppressively hot room. I was given a soft nightgown to wear, and shown where to find the nurse should I need anything. I was given something to encourage contractions, I was there for the night in my room to either sleep, or endure contractions – whichever dominated. In the end, I had about an hours’ worth of mild contractions – and nothing more. Realizing that baby was not showing up that night, I went to sleep – and I actually slept.
At about 10:30 the next morning, two nurses arrived to take me down to the delivery room. Other than what I had read in my “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book, I really had no idea what to expect. No one there had told me, or had been able to tell me what was going to happen that day. So I rolled with it and placed my trust in the people and the process. My husband was there with me and was far from worried or stressed.
After various preparations made by a team of nurses, I was put on the pitocin “drip” that would make me go into labour. Within just a few minutes, the anaesthesiologist came in to administer the epidural. “Already?” I asked, thinking I was going be there for hours on end before needing to control pain. Early on in the process I had managed to convey, my desire for pain killers – I made it clear that I held few noble beliefs about the need to endure extreme pain if not necessary. “It will be fast,” she said. I was surprised. “Call if you need more,” she said and then left us. Huh. Call…how? There was no phone or intercom – maybe they’re used to people just yelling. Then I started to feel the effects of the epidural and for about an hour or so I felt very good. “I haven’t felt this relaxed in a looong time,” I said to my husband. We hung out there for a while, Dr. Kim came in to check on me and said “Maybe 3 o’clock” – it was around 12:30 by then. I thought, okay, that works for me. At that time, my husband felt it would be okay to go wash up and use the bathroom, “I’ll be back in ten minutes,” he said. “Suuure, no problemo,” I replied.
Well, ten minutes is all it took. I went from “aaaah” to “AAAAH!” in no time. By the time my husband came back in the room I was in agony. His nose wasn’t even in the room when I said, “More drugs!” He was about to say something, but I cut him off, “NOW!” and he was off to find the drug lady. That’s the only time I think I have ever truly commanded anyone to do anything. The anaesthesiologist arrived promptly and gave me a little more and I felt a little better. Another nurse came in to check on me and she said I could push if I wanted to. What? Already? Then she left the room. After a few minutes of quiet bewilderment, things became rather chaotic and everyone showed up. Dr. Kim and nurses brought in a bunch of equipment on wheels, including a space heater. Another stood in the background ready with a camera.
Things progressed fast. “Ok! Ok! Ok!” said Dr. Kim with more enthusiasm than usual. I was glad everything was okay. my husband translated in French (being French-Canadian and all), and said: “Continue! Continue! Continue!” I had no idea what was going on. Continue what? I wasn’t doing anything. Then I finally realized, someone should have been saying, “Push! Push! Push!” Talk about getting lost in translation. Then suddenly everyone said, “STOP!” (which is not an easy thing to do if you’ve ever been in this situation) and then “OK!” At least I knew what “ok” meant this time. And our baby girl was born. This entire process, took four hours. Maybe we’d be home in time for supper.