It starts with the dream. You had your suspicions but no proof. But even before you take the tests, you have that dream. You know, that dream: a sudden dream where fish jump into arms or bright berries are consumed with relish, dreams so far from the ordinary they can’t be anything but taemong (태몽, birth dream), the dream that foretells the destiny of your future child. So you wake up and realize: you’re pregnant. Well, congratulations!
So you had the dream but now what comes next? (After the medical confirmation, of course.) Full preparations ahead!
Training the father-to-be
Training the husband is particularly important in the early months of pregnancy, when many Korean women have a tendency of losing the baby. Many precautions are taken to ensure the well-being of both mother and child, and it is during this crucial period when the husbands are at their best behavior.
The future father. Or for the time being, you can call him the “snack shuttle”. Who can help those pregnancy cravings? Who cares if they come at 2 o’ clock in the morning? Korea is a country that never sleeps, remember? Many stores are open 24/7 and if that store doesn’t deliver, well, it’s your husband’s responsibility to shuttle down and bring back what his future child is craving, right? (Because of course it’s the baby who wants watermelon in the dead of winter and roasted sweet potatoes in the heat of summer.)
It’s also the optimum moment to get the husband to do some housework which he normally wouldn’t do otherwise; let him deal with washing his smelly socks!
It’s not only the future father; your baby needs training, too. It’s never too early to start your child’s education. Never mind the child is at the fetus stage. Brain cells are developing and you have to do everything to aid your child to be the best, don’t you?
All kidding aside, taegyo (태교, prenatal education) has been in Korean culture for centuries and is taken very seriously. Future mothers enrich their bodies and soul with meditation, looking at art, reading inspirational literature, listening to music to both soothe themselves and stimulate the baby’s development.
The baby should have a taemyeong (태명, birth name) by now, a temporary name to call it before the actual birth. It would usually be something very simple but significant in meaning, for example: geongangi (건강이, Healthy), chukbogi (축복이, Blessing), sarang (사랑, Love), or a mishmash of the syllables of the parents’ names. Talking to the baby is important, something which is especially reminded to the fathers, who obviously have less time for prenatal care than the mothers. Many parents opt to read folk tales or fables, or simply talk to the baby with words of tenderness. (Not only the future parents, it’s all those around them who are sure to be careful with their words; it wouldn’t be right to upset the mother-to-be.)
There are many parents-to-be education centers as well, where both future mothers and fathers learn all about birth and child-rearing (well, maybe not all) to prepare themselves for parenthood.
The importance of post-natal care
Preparations for post-natal care have to be done before the child is born. In Korea, post-natal care is as vital as prenatal education; it is an absolute must. Korean women are bound home after birth to fully recuperate, both physically and mentally; this is called sanhujori (산후조리, post-natal care). Usually you would head to your mother’s house after a few days in the hospital where she would feed you endless bowls of miyeok-guk (미역국, seaweed soup) to get your strength back and give you child-rearing advice at the same time.
But in this day and age, many mothers lead as busy lives as the daughters giving birth and are not as patient to dote on their daughters hand and foot; and many daughters also do not want their mothers to go through that ordeal and do not have the patience to deal with their mothers either, so many women are checking themselves into a post-natal care center (산후조리원).
Finding a proper post-natal care center is as important as finding the proper doctor. These days, the centers offer various services for the mothers from medical care to psychological care: medical care, therapy sessions to deal with post-partum depression, workouts to get back in shape, skincare treatments, and all the extras to make the mother feel better physically and mentally.
Naturally, the care centers would also be serving endless bowls of miyeok-guk which are rich in iron and iodine; nutrients badly needed to replenish the mother’s body after birth. Because the soup is mild and the texture of the seaweed is soft and easy to digest, it is the principal dish in a new mother’s meal and fortunately, like rice, a dish which is difficult to get tired of.
The latest trend for Korean mothers-to-be are taking pregnancy photos, some take selcas (셀카, “self-camera”, i.e. self portraits) of their progression, some go to professional studios, sometimes with their husbands.
What to do with the baby’s umbilical cord also has to be decided before birth. Umbilical cords are being kept by many mothers and specialized cases are sold for their preservation. Many parents are also opting to save the cord blood stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta in medical facilities for future medical emergencies, although the efficiency of this is constantly being debated.
In addition to the physical and mental preparations, there is the practical. The Korean government offers many benefits and aid to would be parents, in an effort to encourage childbirth. There is financial aid for those having problems conceiving, those who need assistance in hospital fees, young underage mothers and others who might be in need. For those who cannot afford post-natal care, there are services in that area as well.
There are so many things to do before a child is born; whatever country you may be in. Some things aren’t particularly Korean, some things are. Obviously, in this great scheme of life, no amount of reading would truly prepare you for the actual event. But this is just a look into what Korean mothers-to-be would generally be doing.
For those of you who are expecting; hope you’re filled with bliss and happiness, hope you have those future fathers fully trained. Congrats!