Secrets of the Korean Post-Natal Hotel, Pt. 1
One of the decisions to be made by Korean women after they have their baby is whether or not they will stay in a post-natal hotel (referred to as a ‘PNH’ in the rest of this article).
Commonly women will attend such a place for two to three weeks after the baby comes in order to recuperate and learn how to care for the new addition to their family. If they will not attend one of these places it is generally assumed that they will be staying with their mother or mother-in-law or the elder woman will come to the new mother’s home to help for a fairly good duration of time. A PNH is not something we have in the west, or if they do exist, they are not prevalent. Most American women head home within a few days after delivery and begin caring for their child by themselves with a bit of help from nearby friends and family. When I was prompted with this PNH option I was skeptical to say the least.
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As I don’t come from a culture where we use these places, I wasn’t quite sure what the benefit would be. Why is a post-natal hotel necessary? Why should we spend money on such a place when I could just go home and care for myself with the help of my doting husband? Is it really that difficult to change a diaper? How much does it cost and is it worth it? My husband, coming from the Korean culture perspective, was very much pushing for me to head to a PNH. His reasons included the fact that my immediate family does not live here and wouldn’t be here to help immediately following the arrival of the baby, the fact that we had no idea how much recuperation would be necessary and if there were a place to recuperate a PNH would be it and so on. Ultimately, I agreed to stay for one week, shorter than the norm, but longer than I wanted to be out of my house as it was following labor.
If you’re having a baby in Korea and you’re looking for information on a PNH, here are some basic ideas about what you’ll face while staying in one.
Seaweed Soup All Day Every Day
Koreans believe that seaweed soup (miyukgook or 미역국), a food high in calcium, fiber and iron among other very beneficial vitamins and minerals, is the best food and a very necessary food for pregnant and new mothers. As seaweed soup is regarded as the foremost dish in stimulating milk production, it will be the main course at every meal from breakfast to dinner inside the dining room of the PNH. There will be plenty of other side dishes and two other vegetable or fruit snacks throughout the day, but the main dish will always be seaweed soup.
Touch my Breasts, Please?
From arrival to departure there will be no keeping track of how many hands will be on your breasts and there will be no, “can I?”, “may I?” or “shall I?” before the hands land on them. From nursing staff to masseuses and beyond, all female if that helps, they will touch without being prompted or prompting in order to help you find your way. In the first week, every woman is trying to learn to breastfeed, get their baby to latch, start producing milk and so on and these women are here to help. From getting you into correct positions with good posture and helping the breasts when they are engorged or not producing, these women are all over it… literally. They have an answer for every query and can immediately tell from a touch of the boob, what sort of issues you may be facing. There’s no time to be modest in a PNH.
No Visitors Allowed!
You can have people visit you but, most likely they will not be able to enter the inner sanctum or your room. The inner area is only for the new mothers and their husbands. Husbands can come and go as they please and sleep over as well, though it was humorous to watch as they came and went. All of the men had blinders on immediately after they entered the doors. They would head straight for their room and not glance around once because there is almost never a moment when the common room doesn’t have at least one woman with a breast hanging out. This is also a reason that visitors can’t meander and wander around. The PNH is for recuperating mothers in all state of repair and trying to maintain any sort of modesty is out of the question when the main priority is quelling the pain and learning to breastfeed among other things.
Not having visitors is also a part of the Korean idea of “ssam (three)- chil (seven) – il (days)” or “삼칠일”. The first three weeks are for recuperation so having visitors is prohibited, which is also helpful for that shy new mother that doesn’t want to say “no” to in-laws or friends that want to rush right over, this is her way out in other words.
Korean Korean Korean
Foreigners are always welcome to stay in a PNH, but you will most likely be the one and only. At my PNH, they had had some foreigners in the past from a couple Japanese women to some Filipinos and all of them, like me, were married to Korean men. You will be surrounded by the Korean language 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This isn’t something that seems worth noting as obviously we are living in Korea where the national language is Korean but, I had never actually been immersed in the language as much as I was in the PNH. There was no break from the language except for when I spoke with my husband. Being in such an immersed and new situation can add stress to an already nerve wracking postpartum time. I won’t lie, already on edge with hormones rushing through my body following the coming of our sweet baby, I bawled two times that were directly related to the stress I encountered being immersed in the culture and language so heavily. Neither time was all that serious. The first time I was stressed about being in such a new situation and feeling alone and the second time I just wanted someone to explain something in a less blunt and more appeasing manner. Luckily, our PNH was just around the corner from our house so, not only did my husband spend the nights with me, he spent most the mornings until noon everyday as well and came and went as I needed him. In the end, my husband said I should have stayed another week because my Korean skills were given a massive level boost during my week there and by the end, I had made friends in the other new mothers and quite enjoyed the support we were able to receive.
Not only was I full of seaweed and being fondled almost hourly, I was meeting other women and taking advantage of all of the massages that I could. So far my experience at the PNH was turning out well.
Have you experienced a post-natal hotel in Korea? What did you think? Was your experience similar to mine so far?
For more information on pregnancy related topics while in Korea, check out:
Also, check out part two of Secrets of the Korean Post-Natal Hotel.