2013

Part III (final): Adventures in Cross-Cultural Maternity

Iban from flikr site cc

Miyeok guk or “Birthday soup”

Well we didn’t get to go home for supper immediately after having our baby. However, about an hour after giving birth at the hospital, back in my private room, I was presented with an amazing meal, traditional miyeok-kuk  – a seaweed soup or “birthday soup”, known for it’s regenerative properties and for high content of calcium and iodine – nutrients important for nursing mothers. It is also eaten on birthdays as a reminder of the first food one’s mother ate after your birth. I was starving and the miyeok guk and accompanying meal was one of the best ever. And the soup kept coming, and coming, and coming. After four meals of this type, I grew a little tired of it but didn’t want to leave the bowl full, I knew it was considered very important. So my husband started eating it. Just then, Dr. Kim came in our room, saw Rene eating my miyeok guk and his eyes widened with shock. He started laughing in an embarrassed sort of way and said, “That is for the mother.” Cultural faux-pas number fourty-two are we at?

I was to stay for a couple of nights. We could ask to see the baby any time we wanted. They insisted on keeping her for a few hours after birth to do tests and observe her health (standard) which also allowed me to sleep. Beyond that, we could have her with us any time, but they did encourage taking the baby at night so that I could sleep. Actually Korean women tend to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks, which I understand to some degree. You are exempt from all domestic chores if you stay in hospital. It’s like a little vacation from normal routine – and you have help! But the staff knew about our strange foreign ways and said we would be able to leave after two days.

Now that I have had a child in Canada as well, I have to say that the “rooming in” approach may be fine for some, but my experience in Canada was not great. The baby doesn’t sleep, you’ve just come off a sleepless night of labour, plus you’re sharing a room with two or more other new moms each with babies who don’t sleep. Then there are random nurses, and doctors coming in at all hours for various check-ups, blood pressure, weighing the baby, medication etc. Baby and I were literally woken up by staff every time we managed to get some shuteye, even at 3 a.m. There was little focus on recovery and I was simply dying to go home. Once we did get home that time, it took me days before I felt even a little bit okay. Oh, Canada.

In almost cruel contrast, in Korea, the day after I had my baby, some ladies came into my room and whisked me upstairs – for a facial. “Part of the package”, they said. Not a bad package! All in all, other than about $30 for each pre-natal visit, I paid about $500 for the “package”. Three nights, private room, unlimited seaweed soup, great service, a baby and a facial. They even sent us home with a lovely diaper bag filled with a baby bottle, formula, some starter diapers, a towel and a photo album (remember the nurse holding the camera?).

The entire experience was quite incredible – I knew it wasn’t this good at home, which is so unfortunate since it really should be a good

Baby girl

Baby girl

experience. I was perhaps lucky to be relatively complication-free, since anything that required more than basic Korean language skills  might have been a challenge. The entire time, I only had one scare: The morning after having my baby, a doctor and two nurses arrived in my room looking very serious. The nurses were presumably there for translation purposes since this was not my usual doctor. My heart was in my

throat as soon as I saw them. “What’s wrong?” I asked. The nurse spoke for the doctor: “It is too cold in here. You need to turn up the heat. It’s not good for baby.” That was it. I had turned it down during the night so I didn’t have to sleep in a pool of sweat and forgot to turn it back up again. They watched me turn the heat dial into the red again, and the medical crew seemed satisfied they conveyed the seriousness of the message. And with that they brought me my baby.

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