It has been twenty-one years since I have gone through the experience of birthing. Although unplanned, I made sure that I knew what it took to undergo pregnancy and to give birth. I read a lot about health and wellness as well as articles on what to do once I have given birth. Dr. Spock’s book became my everyday guide to this experience.
How can I keep myself healthy? I was nauseous for four months. I could hardly eat anything. My already sensitive nerves to smell were aggravated by pregnancy. I threw up each time an undesirable scent reached my nostrils. However, at the back of my mind, I knew I need some nutrition to nourish not only myself, but also my baby. I lived on milk and plain rice for the first four months, but I caught up once my taste for food got back. I went to the doctor monthly, and this increased more frequently as I was getting too close to my due date. I took the vitamins that the physician prescribed without fail.
What would be good for the baby aside from proper nutrition? My friend who was a music teacher told me that playing classical Music stimulates brain development of children. I bought CDs of Mozart so I can let my child “listen” to it.
Feeling of happiness, how can I maintain this emotion? Knowing that my emotions could also affect the development of my child, I tried to manage my emotions even though I noticed that I was more sensitive than usual.
The day has come. My bag of water broke! I was rushed to the hospital. Dilation did not progress steadily. My contraction was irregular. I was sent back home. The whole day, I was walking back and forth as I wait for the contractions to come at a regular pace. I was in pain, and the bleeding did not stop. I was brought back to the hospital. I was in the labor room where other expectant mothers were put together. Nurses kept on checking every mother in the room to see signs of readiness for delivery. I could hear cries of pain, here and there. I started to feel scared as I hear those noises. Almost 24 hours since my bag broke. My attending doctor decided to perform a C- section as the baby was already in distress. They asked for my choice of anesthesia – I chose to be put to sleep, forgetting that I won’t be able to see my baby. Fear enveloped me. As soon as I became conscious, I asked for my baby. Her eyes were wide open. I suddenly feel warmth all over me. Hungry, the nurses asked me to feed her with my milk. She cried, very frustrated that there’s not enough milk to suck. She was given a bottle. Days passed; I am realizing I am not able to do the things that can draw us together. I failed to hold her the minute she came into the world. I did not have enough milk to feed her. I must do something! I was in charge of her from day one that I have recovered from my surgery. That something are MANY THINGS that drew us very close together from birth until now that she is a young adult. She is my daughter, my friend, my critique, my coach, my ALL!
Childbirth in South Korea
Having lived in South Korea for at least one fourth of my life, I have witnessed many important events in the lives of the people I knew. Birthing is one of the milestones that they achieve after marriage. I heard stories about how they manage during and after pregnancy. There are many beliefs and practices in their culture that guide them with how to go about pregnancy and childbirth. Examples of these are not engaging in unclean activities and killing anything in order to have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Some foods such as crabs, peaches and squids must be avoided as they are deemed harmful for the pregnant woman. Fixing of holes on paper doors and fireplaces were avoided as they are considered to bring in bad luck. After birth, women stay in care or nursing facilities for many days to rest so that the body can recover from the physical transitions. To keep the mother healthy, the seaweed soup is served every meal for at least a month or longer. In addition, the mother only drinks warm water even in the summer. Being exposed to cold is believed to be harmful and can cause illnesses to the mother who just gave birth. In the nursing facility, the mother and the baby stay for a particular period. Visitors, even relatives are not allowed to give time and space for both mother and baby to rest. By the time the mother and child are ready to go home, they stay with the parent of the new mother so she can look after her. For mothers who eventually go back to work after months or years, the grandparents continued to care for the grandchild.
Southeast Asia vs. East Asia
Although there are many commonalities amongst countries when it comes to birthing experience, cultural contexts present differences in the way it is observed.
I will compare my personal experience with my personal encounters with Korean mothers as well as some pieces of information I gathered from the internet.
As soon as I learned about my pregnancy, I assessed my emotional, physical and cognitive aptitudes to understand what it takes to prepare myself for the pregnancy and the impact of my predisposition to the development of my child. I used my personal perspective on how to go about my pregnancy instead of following the beliefs of our old folks. Examples of these beliefs are not eating twin bananas, or you will have twins when you give birth. Also, part of the belief system was not to walk across a black cat as it can bring bad luck. In the Korean context, although this may not be a general practice, there seems to be a significant thrust of the belief system in preparing for the birth. They want to ensure that it will be a healthy pregnancy. Foods such as peaches, crabs, squid, and eggs must be avoided as they can bring in bad luck. They are also careful about engaging in activities so they will not come across situations that may be harmful to pregnancy. For example, they must not fix the holes in the doors neither witness a fire accident. Modern day Koreans, however, prepare themselves by attending classes about pregnancy. They seek information and resources that will guide them in the process.
Both Asian countries seem to have a set of beliefs that were handed down from generations by their ancestors. However, the modern day mothers appear to follow their personal thinking regarding birthing.
Birthing in Process
Both countries offer different ways when giving birth. Some go to big hospitals while others choose to go to maternity clinics. In the Philippines, most of the information about pregnancy are provided by doctors and midwives. However, in Korea, apart form doctors, they have ‘doulas’ who can support mothers during and after pregnancy.
Post Birth Experience
After birth, it was a celebration of having a new member of the family. My siblings and mother although far from the city where I lived traveled to see me especially that it was my first (and only) child. The hospital room was never emptied with people coming and going. Even extended families and friends came to visit me and my daughter. A month later, although I have the choice to stay home for three months, I went back to work to augment the income. I needed to raise enough resources with the addition of the needs of the child. During the day, my child was looked after the nanny (this is very affordable in my home country) and made sure that all my time was given to her by the time I get back from work. On the other hand, in Korea, the time after birth is a quiet time for the mother and child to rest and recover from the physical pressures of the experience. Even immediate families are discouraged from visiting the caring facility to allow for the mother and child to recover. The mother is continuously nourished to regain strength and get ready for the awaiting responsibilities of motherhood. She will be a full-time mother who will be assisted by her mother. She can think of work again when the child reaches school age.
In these two countries, both scientific and cultural contexts in child development are important. In both cultures, there are support systems available for the expectant mother. Although I commit my time to do things for and with my child, being a working mother limits this interaction. I entrust my child to the care of another person in my absence. The Korean child, on the other hand, has the support, time and attention of the mother and the grandparent until he or she goes to school. Economically, my country has limited support for childbirth mainly that our population is bursting at its seams. Thus, I have to work immediately. In the Korean perspective, where they allow families to have more children, a lot of support are put in place such as the option to have maternal leave for a year. Apart from this, the Korean government provides support so families can afford to find caretakers for their children.
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Korea Times. (2013). Korean Postpartum care is special. Retrieved from
Ministry of Government Legislation. The Act on the promotion of the economic activities of career – women. (1997 – 2015). Retrieved from