The last week is a blur, in part because while this was what we did on Friday, the 23rd of October:
That was just outside the ob/gyn office, where we’d just been told the baby had to come out by the due date… which was November 1st, incidentally. He must have been listening, since the little guy decided to show up a week early, on the evening of the 25th of October: As one friend noted, he’s already giving people the side-eye.
His name is Gordon Noeul (노을) Sellar. The first name, “Gordon,” is after my dad, but it makes him the fourth-generation firstborn son to be named Gordon, as far as I know. Noeul (which sounds a lot like the English name Noel, not that that was a factor) is a Korean name (not Sino-Korean: there’s no proper hanja for it) that means sunrise.
Noeul’s mom is doing well, and has mostly recovered from the delivery. The labour itself was relatively free of complications (and relatively fast—he was out within three hours of our arrival at the hospital, though of course the early stages of it began in the wee hours of Sunday morning) and he was born a little before 10:30pm last Sunday night, with the help of a great doctor, some very good nurses, and one nurse who probably should be fired. 1
Noeul was in fact precisely a week early, and somewhat small, so that made for a somewhat less difficult labour. Lucky for us: complications would have meant relocating to a bigger hospital, but we were able to stay at the smaller hospital in Cheongju we chose (and were told by many people) was the best in the region. Mrs. Jiwaku has mostly recovered, and had relatively few complications, thank goodness. She had no choice but to do a natural birth—no epidural, even—but pulled through like a champ. We spent a week in the postpartum recovery center, which is optional (the hospital releases new moms after a couple of days, routinely) but highly recommended, and very helpful: it was where we learned the mystic secrets of swaddling, diaper-changing, bathing infants, and more, and we found them to be a little more commonsensical (in most things) than the hospital staff.2
If there’s one thing that will drive home the fact you live immersed in a really, really different culture, it’s having a baby in a overseas. I’m sure it’s even more so for people with limited experience in a place, and for couples where both partners are from elsewhere, but even in our case, and even knowing some stuff beforehand, it was pretty overwhelming for me. From differing constructions of what are normative and expected behaviours and aspects of pregnancy (typical food cravings here are wholly unlike those in Canadian stereotypes), to rapid-fire doctor consultations that I might have understood (and Mrs. Jiwaku could have better processed) if they weren’t carried out as fast as possible, to stuff considered essential to postpartum recovery, to the role of the father in all this, there’s such a range of difference it’s hard to really encapsulate. Some of the differences were weird, some bafflingly backwards, and some frustrating, but others are just sort of amusing.
- The Oddest: Seaweed Soup. It’s a traditional postpartum food for women here. The hospital workshop stressed that one needn’t eat it everyday, though (if I remember right) in the old days Korean women were made to eat it for months at a time after a delivery. “You don’t have to eat it every day, we have vitamin and nutrient supplements now, so please eat a varied diet,” is wha we were told at the 8:00am workshop (the day after the 10:30pm delivery). Guess what was served with every meal at the postpartum recovery center? Yeah… seaweed soup. I only had it once a day (dads were on their own for lunch and dinner) but I still had enough seaweed soup to last a lifetime. But of course the food brought by relatives since we’ve gotten home is wonderful, and much appreciated… even the massive tub of seaweed soup in the fridge that I’m not touching.
- The Most Backwards: Well, despite our doctor being fairly progressive and great, some of the birthing room protocols were weird. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need to be sent out of the room multiple times, or told not to look when the baby comes out, or things like that. But it was better the experience of one guy I know at work, who tells me he wasn’t even allowed into the birthing room. (And only a few years ago!)3 Runner up would be the vast numbers of women who seemed to be going through the experience alone. Even the dads who get a little time off aren’t particularly participatory in the workshops and classes. 4
- The Most Frustrating: Doctors and nurses here know that many pregnant or recently postpartum women are in pain, and a bit muddled, and might have trouble remembering things. Somehow that didn’t stop them infodumping at a speed and rate that would turn hard SF fans’ heads. (And yeah, we missed some important things as a result.) I know it’s because doctors consult large numbers of patients every day, but still…
- The Most Amusing: The last few days in the recovery center, everyone working in the nursery was gaga over Noeul. Probably that’s partly due to the novelty of his mixed-race status—the European part of his heritage became more apparent a few days after he was born and he stopped being all waterlogged from the womb—but it was fun to have the nurses being charmed by the little guy. Probably it was his iron-grey eyes, as much as anything. Oh, that, and the fact that Noeul sneezes exactly like his mom: almost always three sneezes, and only occasionally four in row… but never less than three.
Anyway, the recovery center spoiled us: we’re still figuring out how to adapt to his needs and schedule now that he’s home with us, and the limitations of our smallish apartment are all the more apparent now. It’s stereotypical, I’m sure, to call this an adventure, and, well, I was nodding off just before my afternoon class today: the lack of sleep is going to be rough in the months to come, though at least we’ve figured out a somewhat workable schedule for tonight.
That’s it for now. I have lots more news but I’ll post that later. This deserves its own post.
She was, to put it simply, ridiculously rude to my wife anytime the doctor wasn’t around, to the point where at the end of the delivery, my wife was apologizing to the doctor for doing a “bad job” and the doctor had to tell her, “Why are you apologizing? You did great!”↩
In fact, Mrs. Jiwaku said she sensed a kind of tension between attitudes toward breastfeeding between the hospital nurses, who emphasize the importance of doing it to the point where Mrs. Jiwaku and some others seemed to feel pressured and to feel that giving any formula is basically to be a failure as a mother; the nursery’s nurses were more about keeping the kid and mom healthy, easing off some of the pressure, and keeping things together till the milk came in. Which it ultimately did, and he’s nursing well now.↩
I can’t help but notice the differences in attitude between parenting advice in English (which emphasizes the importance of skin-to-skin contact with the child early on) and parenting advice in Korean (which, from what we got, emphasizes swaddling the child as much as possible and minimizing skin-to-skin contact for fear of infection).↩
There were never more than one or two dads at any workshop attended, and I attended them all, even the ones Mrs. Jiwaku couldn’t make it to. It was just sort of sad.↩