Pregnant in Korea: The Birth Story

July 27, 2019

Weeks 39-40

The final weeks of my pregnancy were relatively uneventful. We had what would be our last ultrasound during which we also had fetal movements monitored. This involved having sensors placed on my stomach and a button I had to press whenever I felt bébé kick.

And I finally finished and put up the mobile that I made. I don't know about Minjoon but the cats are particularly set on tearing it to shreds.

Birth Story 

June 9, 5:30am: Our punctual baby started his journey in the wee hours of his due date on June 9. At 5:30am, I became more suspicious of menstrual cramp-like pain which somewhat radiated to my hips and a bit to my back. Contractions remained this way for much of the morning. I laid down, exhausted, at around 4pm which slowed the process down immensely, so I decided to get up and bake banana chocolate chip muffins. I didn’t have time for the muffins to cool before my contractions started occurring more regularly so we decided to head to the hospital to be checked out. At this point my contractions were about 5 minutes apart and the pain was quite manageable.

June 9 @ 6:02pm - First time to the hospital. Things are happening! Feeling optimistic. 

June 9 @ 6:32pm - Fetal monitoring
June 9, 6:00pm: Arriving at the hospital around 6pm, we had the fetal movements and contractions monitored first and then an internal exam which indicated I was 1cm dilated and 50% effaced so we went back home. Labour was slowed down again due to being at the hospital for about an hour and having to lie down the whole time.

Once back home, my contractions eventually became closer together again and we decided to head to the hospital at 2am when they were about 3-4 minutes apart.

June 10 @ 1:49am - Second time to the hospital. Hooked up again for fetal monitoring - Less bright-eyed.

June 10, 2:00am: At our second visit, more fetal and contraction monitoring followed by an internal exam indicated I was still only 1cm dilated but 80% effaced (despite being a full 8 hours later). The nurse said first time moms typically efface to 100% first and then dilation begins. I'm not sure whether or not that’s true but it was discouraging because the pain was becoming pretty intense at this point. And while I'm thankful for nurses and all they do, being told that my contractions "weren't painful enough yet" really boiled my blood. We were told that progress was slow and if we wanted any sort of intervention, we would have to wait for our doctor to come in at 9am... so for the next seven hours we could either wait at the hospital or go home. I opted for the former. This meant waiting while lying down because we still had the fetal and contraction monitor hooked up most of the time. No doctor also meant no pain meds.

I asked PH what he remembers most from this time. He said that although he's an athlete he's never felt the strength he did when I was squeezing his hand during contractions. Also that he was talking to me throughout but I wasn't listening/responding. I have absolutely no recollection of ignoring him nor squeezing his hand 🙃 

June 10 @ 7:32am - 26th hour of labour. Admitted to the hospital with my cute, pink garb.
I had one last internal exam at around 8am before my doctor was to arrive, at which time I was still 1cm dilated and was given the option of induction or c-section. I had heard of women who labour for days, but in my 26th hour of labour I didn't want to endure the pain anymore and opted for a c-section. My doctor showed up at 9am, did his rounds, I had my epidural at 9:45ish, went into the operating room just after 10, and Minjoon was born at 10:42am weighing 3.31kg (which I think is about 7lbs 3oz).

The c-section was very quick and mostly a blur due to the drugs and being exhausted. PH wasn't able to be with me so I parted with him at the entrance of the operating room and he went to wait and sweat it out in the lobby. I remember the doctor and anesthesiologist being super kind and joking around during the whole process, but let's be real -- I was a huge fan of anyone involved in bringing this *~magical~* process to an end. I remember being anxious and nervous lying on the table (Korean hospitals strap your arms down which didn't help) but it did help to think that we'd have a baby by the end of it all. During the procedure I was completely awake, obviously not able to feel pain, but could feel the pushes and tugs happening down below (sorry). The moment I remember most is looking over to my left and seeing this little bug being washed up and checked over. They wouldn't properly bring him to me until an hour later.

June 10 @ 10:46am - Photo taken by PH 4 minutes after Minjoon was born

June 10 @ 11:41am in recovery

After the procedure was finished, I was rolled to recovery where I stayed for about an hour while the nurses kept an eye on me. During this time, a nurse brought Minjoon over to us. We weren't able to hold him quite yet (I wasn't allowed to lift my head because of the epidural), but the nurse held him close to me, let us take pictures, and let us know that despite a few spots of  harmless redness our baby was perfectly healthy. After the hour passed, I was wheeled up to my hospital room. 

Hospital Stay

Because I delivered via c-section, I had to be in the hospital for 6 days (rather than my anticipated 3). Recovery wasn't too bad. I was bedridden for the rest of the first day until my epidural wore off but from the second day I was expected to "exercise" aka walk around. Walking wasn't as much of a struggle as getting in and out of bed were.

The hospital room was pretty standard: bed, fridge, bathroom, tv. Nurses would come day and night to check my temperature and blood pressure. I was also hooked to IV fluids and I still had my epidural line in which now pumped me with pain meds. I had the epidural line in for most of the hospital stay and required a refill halfway through -- $10! I couldn't refuse.

Photo © 초코마들렌

Photo © 초코마들렌
Rather than rooming-in, Korean hospitals keep babies in a separate nursery for the duration of the hospital stay. For those wanting to breastfeed, the nurses call your room when the baby wakes for feedings. So, during those six days, I would have to go from my room on the 7th floor to the nursery on the 3rd floor to feed Minjoon even if it was the middle of the night. This also meant that I was the only one who had the chance to hold him. There were specific visiting hours during which people (including dads) could come and view the babies behind the glass like a little baby zoo.

June 10 @ 7:53pm at the baby zoo

Having the separate nursery also meant that, in theory, moms didn't have to feed their babies themselves. Nurses would deal with the feedings and diapers while babies were in the nursery. Every night the nurses would ask the breastfeeding moms "do you want to be called for his next feeding or not until morning?" and more often than not I would hear the moms say that they would come again in the morning. I came to love going down to the nursery at 3am because it was the only time I was alone.

I was first able to hold Minjoon two days after he was born when I went to feed him. They didn't kid around with sanitization: In order to go into the nursery I had to be buzzed in, wash my hands with a 45 second timer, use hand sanitizer, wear plastic gloves and an apron, and spray my clothes with alcohol.

June 13 @ 10:06am

So I moved to my hospital room at about noon on June 10th. I wasn't able to have a sip of water until 11pm that night and it wasn't until the next day at noon that I was able to eat -- which particularly sucked since I hadn't eaten since lunch the day before... but it was ok because hospital food wasn't anything to look forward to. 

Recovery Centre

After spending six days in the hospital, I moved to the recovery centre (산후조리원/san-hoo jo-ri-won) where I would be for another six days. Despite being only a few floors up from the hospital, the vibe at the recovery centre was very different. The rooms and food, however, were exactly the same. 

The recovery centre was quieter as only dads were allowed to enter and nurses basically stayed in the nursery. Grandparents were allowed to come to the common room and see the babies through the "baby zoo" glass but only twice a day at 10am and 4pm. 

There was also a lot more freedom and less restrictions when it came to spending time with our baby. Babies stayed in the nursery by default but we brought Minjoon to our room as often as possible and returned him to the nursery to stay overnight and the nurses would call me for feedings. It was at the recovery centre that PH was finally able to hold Minjoon for the first time.

June 16 @ 2:20pm - PH's first time to hold Minjoon!

June 20 @ 8:01pm

June 21 @ 9:23am

The recovery centre had a variety of different machines (infrared lamp, leg/foot massager, sitz bath), services (facials, postpartum massage, paraffin wax treatment), and programs (newborn photo session, mobile making class, baby food education session). The focus here really was for moms to rest and recover.

Photo © 셋째맘모래

Photo © 셋째맘모래

I was hesitant about whether or not to stay at the recovery centre because I was nervous about having to spend so much time cooped up, but in the end I'm glad that I did. Rather than being thrown into parenthood, we were able to take baby steps (pun intended) and had the immediate support of the nurses if we had any questions or concerns. The nurses were so kind and so helpful and it really allowed me to recuperate without having the weight of my baby's wellbeing entirely on my shoulders all at once. 

Going Home

Twelve days after being admitted, it was finally time for our lil family to go home. We got a short debriefing on "how to keep a baby alive and happy" before packing Minjoon into his carseat and hitting the road. Adjusting to a new routine at home was a very different story... and perhaps a blog post on its own.

Finally, a huge thank you to everyone for your support and for all of the love you have given to Minjoon. He is one lucky (and cute) kid!

1 comment

  1. I hear you on being ready for those meds after 26 hrs! It all feels so manageable at first and then it's...less so...I screamed at Dr. Baek once not to touch me haha.

    I was able to room in with Charlie after my c-sec, but maybe they changed that policy. Or they just really don't want people to do it. I also refused to wear gloves. I washed my hands!...In hindsight, I probably wasn't their favorite patient, but since Char was with me they didn't have to see me much. ^^

    I am glad you had a safe and happy birth. I cannot believe it's been nearly 2 months! Time flies. <3


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