What to Expect When You’re Expecting in Korea, Pt. 2
In part 1 of this series I discussed finding a doctor and enforcing English during consultations as well as not finding a Lamaze class and not having my belly rubbed by anyone surprisingly. Becoming pregnant while abroad can be fun and scary at the same time and while some things are standard across the board, not everything is.
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In part 2, I will talk about the signs that you may be pregnant, according to Korean culture, as well as continuing your daily routine while you stay here.
What was in your dream?
It’s pretty standard to wait until the 12 week mark in the west to let people know the news of a pregnancy and once the news was out, I got a lot of questions concerning my dreams or what I had dreamed that told me I was pregnant. In Korea, traditionally a woman, sister, mother or mother-in-law will have a dream that indicates that someone is pregnant and the symbolism in the dream will indicate the gender of the child to be. These conception dreams are known as taemong (태몽). I did not have a dream, not that I can remember anyway but, my sister-in-law called before we knew we were pregnant and asked my husband if we were. She did not know that we had decided to try and he did not want to tell her that we were. The dream had told her that someone in our family was pregnant and she was sure of it. Just days later, we tested positive and lo and behold her dream had come true.
Some Dream indicators:
For a boy: there will be a dream with a tiger, dragon, a fruit with a seed in it or a strong muscular animal.
For a girl: there will be a dream with a bird, snake, ring or a flower.
These are traditional symbolic indicators, but my sister-in-law dreamed of an outrageously large elephant and said because it was so large that was also an indicator.
In general, Koreans seem to be under the impression that a pregnant woman cannot work. Coming from the west where women continue working and my entire life hearing the story of how my mother worked up until the day of my birth, I naturally found this insulting. As a freelancer that takes odd jobs, I found it better not to mention that I was pregnant before I showed up for jobs. Once I got to the location and they saw my belly well of course management showed some hesitation but, I persisted and explained that westerners and Koreans have a different idea of what we can and can’t do during pregnancy and I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought I couldn’t fulfill the expectations of my employers. Of course maternity leave exists in the States but when I say that pregnant women don’t work in Korea, I mean from the start. Two of my pregnant Korean friends immediately took off from work as soon as they found out they were pregnant. This is not always the case, but it’s not uncommon either. My point, don’t be surprised when your Korean friends, family or co-workers express surprise or shock that you wish to continue working, if that is indeed what you wish to do.
Also on this note, though maternity leave exists under law here in Korea and you can get up to three months, you will most likely have to fight for it. Read up on your rights and know what they are going in to any meeting with your employer who will most likely not know what your rights are, due to women often quitting jobs when they become pregnant, or they will try to tell you you cannot get maternity leave, but you can. I would recommend knowing your rights concerning this and thinking about what you plan to do before you even bring up the topic of being pregnant at work. Be prepared.
Another difference I found after becoming pregnant was that multiple people told me I should stop exercising. I’m not a vigorous exerciser but I enjoy jogging, yoga, biking, hiking and just generally being outside and being active. I listen to my body and from what I had read, maintaining some sort of exercise while pregnant is healthy. That’s a western attitude toward being pregnant, however. Here, pre-natal yoga comes in the second trimester and walking in the third trimester, but before that you may hear people continuously tell you to sit down when all you want to do is get off your butt and take a walk. Even in my second trimester my doctor was telling me I should try to stop exercising and I insisted that I was fine. She was polite, but I know she would have preferred if I just wasn’t exercising at all. I didn’t look at it as exercising so much as the need for me to get some built up energy out of my system.
Because the birth rate is so low in Korea, the government is trying very hard to make it easier for families in any way that they can and one way that they are doing that is by providing some financial assistance. The Pretty Mom card (고운맘카드) is offered to all pregnant women, foreign and Korean alike, as long as they’re paying into the National Health Insurance system. The card is worth W500,000 and can be used at any hospital or clinic for pregnancy related visits. For more information, check out my post on how to get the card here.
Also, I hadn’t even known about our community healthcare center until just a week before I was due, but you should definitely head to yours early to see everything that they offer. Every district (gu) has one. Ours is the Mapo-gu Healthcare Center (마포구 보건소). To find yours, ask around for your -gu followed by “bogunso”. They can provide free iron and vitamin supplements as well as blood tests. All of these things you will have to pay for at a regular doctor. There are other tests, supplements and subsidies that are offered to different people depending on financial status of the wife or the couple and working condition. They also have classes covering different subjects from nutrition for a healthy mother to breastfeeding and so on as well that is all free. Head there to see what you qualify for early instead of paying for everything like we did!
The scheduled check-ups and tests are pretty similar to that of the US. The one thing that stands out during visits in Korea is the abundance of ultrasounds you’re granted. While my sister who was pregnant at the same time had just two ultrasounds and didn’t have anymore after her 20th week, in Korea you will have an ultrasound at just about every visit. Don’t fret about the cost, it’s just part of the deal. The doctors here convinced me it would do no harm and why wouldn’t you want to see how the baby is progressing? If you don’t want to have as many ultrasounds though, you can always opt out. They also have apps that you can download onto your phone and they will upload all of the ultrasound videos and photos there so you have everything at hand when you want to show off your growing baby to your friends and family. To know what app your hospital or clinic is using, just ask the nurses at the desk.
This is the second in a four part series on pregnancy related topics while in Korea. Be sure to read:
And if you plan on staying in a post-natal hotel, check out: