Heather is a certified postpartum doula and mother of two boys, ages 7 and 11 months, and a girl, age 4. Her passion is to support families through the challenging transition of adding a newborn (or two!) by offering classes, consultations, support groups, and in-home care. She was born and grew up in Massachusetts and is currently living on the North Shore.
Fresh out of college, my husband and I traveled to South Korea as English teachers. Less than two months later, we discovered we were expecting a baby. Everyone told me I was brave for choosing to stay and have the baby overseas, but really, I was just naive. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew the basic “roadmap” of gestation, childbirth, and caring for an infant, but I had no clue what an intense and transformational experience it would be.
The South Korean hospital clinic where I received my prenatal care gave us a booklet to record information from each check-up… in Korean. The clinic’s address was listed on the back cover of the booklet, which we kept handy to show the cab driver who would be transporting us when labor started, since we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to direct him.
In many ways, my labor was different than it would have been in America. In the labor ward at the hospital, I was put to bed and left with no support other than my husband. I was interested in laboring without drugs but eventually accepted an epidural as the only pain relief offered. My husband was allowed to stay, except during the internal exams when he was instructed to wait in another room. As my labor became more intense, the nurses would shush me if my vocalizations got too loud, and they tried to distract me by practicing their high school English.
Contrary to many American hospitals, where women labor and deliver in the same room, in a bed, with an unobstructed view of what’s happening, I was moved via a wheelchair from the labor ward to the delivery room when it was time for me to push. I lay on a table with a drape hiding my lower half from sight. I was concerned that my husband would miss the birth until I finally recognized his brown eyes above the surgical mask of the person standing next to me. Unlike me, he could see over the drape and later told me that his first glimpse of our son was of our baby with blue skin and arms flung wide. They showed my son to me briefly after he was wiped and swaddled, but he was quickly whisked away to the nursery while I was wheeled to a recovery room. The longest hour of my life was waiting for someone to reconnect me with my son.
My story may resonate with readers who have had a cesarean section or who have delivered babies in need of immediate medical attention. But that wasn’t me. It took years for me to fully realize how unnecessarily medicalized the whole situation was for the uncomplicated vaginal birth that it was.
Life in South Korea with my son during the next three months before we moved back to the States was uncomplicated as far as physical recovery and newborn health are concerned. But emotionally, I was thrown for a loop. In Korea, new mothers are cared for by their mother and other women in their family, and the fathers are not expected to be involved much. Living abroad without our extended families left me with very little support during those first weeks. My husband got a total of one full day and two half days off from work after the birth.
Like many first-time moms, I had barely thought through what it would be like to be so completely responsible for another human being while also coping with sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and the shift in my personal identity. The bright spot post-birth was a three-week visit from my own mother, during which I was able to relax, feel less isolated and more stable, and enjoy my baby more fully.
Becoming a new mother in a foreign country was one of the hardest yet most transformational experiences of my life.
Journey to Parenting is brought to you by Stork Ready. Stork Ready is conveniently located 15 miles north of Boston at 325 Main Street in North Reading. Stork Ready offers a wide range of classes and support groups in a relaxed, home-like atmosphere, including childbirth education, breastfeeding, infant CPR, newborn essentials, mommy and baby groups, and lactation and postpartum adjustment support groups. Their experienced staff members are certified in many fields and work on labor and delivery and maternity units. Visit Stork Ready’s website to see all that they offer.
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