Yesterday my family and I went to Yonsei Severance Hospital in Seoul to visit a colleague who gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Their older son is about the same age as our son, and they are very good friends. Their first son wasn’t at the hospital when we visited, which was probably good because we would have spent most of our time watching over those two. They tend to get pretty rambunctious when they play together, which isn’t a good thing in the middle of a maternity ward!
Our visit to a maternity ward at a Korean hospital is an eye-opening experience. The hospital is gorgeous, completely remodeled and very modern. Many standard practices in Korean maternity ward appear to be far different than those found in a typical American hospital. Many Korean practices are reminiscent of what one experienced in the U.S. in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I’m not implying that Korea is behind the times–Korean hospitals have developed their own set of practices that they believe are best for both mother and child. It’s debatable whether Korean or American practices are preferrable, but it is true that they are different. For one, in Korea, newborn infants are immediately separated from their mothers and taken to centralized nurseries. Mothers check into their own rooms and visit their infants frequently for nursings. Fathers and other visitors must stand outside the nursery and visit the newborn child through a large visitation window. I was told that this is to prevent infection in the child. In addition, Korean fathers are typically not allowed into the birthing room to witness the birth of their child, although expatriate fathers can be in the birthing room during natural births. Fathers are not allowed in the operating room when the mother undergoes a C-section. Mother and child (or children) typically stay in the hospital for up to three days and are then transferred to a center where they spent up to three weeks together recuperating from the birth. Korean mothers and their infants often do not return home until three or four weeks after the child’s birth–family members come to visit them. This is based on the common Asian assumption that mothers and newborn infants need to remain stationary for one month in order to recuperate from birth trauma. In addition, because circumcision is not a common practice in Korea, many hospitals do not perform them.
Knowing this, I am glad that we will not give birth to our second child in Korea. As a father, I much prefer being with my wife and child during the birth and acting as midwife. I like being together in the same room and sharing the immediate joy of parenthood with both my wife and child, rather than being a spectator who’s wondering what’s happening behind Chinese walls. Being in the same room with our son put less strain on my wife when she needed to take care of his needs. We also checked out of the hospital after two days and returned home with our child. I appreciate the need to provide a clean environment for a newborn child and giving both mother and child enough time to recover from the birth, but I still prefer the intimacy and flexibility of the American system. Of course I would–I’m American. That said, I’m impressed with the professionalism and level of skill of the Korean hospital staff. The hospitals here are first rate. Korean doctors and nurses are among the best trained professionals in the world, and they take excellent care of their patients. In fact, they’re so good that many are moving to America and working in the medical field in order to ease the nurse shortage that exists in the United States. If you ever have to give birth in Korea, you may miss out on the intimacy of the birthing process in the U.S., but you will probably not be dissatisfied with the care you receive when giving birth.
Our first child was born in Taiwan, where this is also often the case. However, a long-time resident (a friend of our who ran an orphanage) told us that frequently the smaller clinics will allow husbands to accompany their wives during the delivery. It was a women-only clinic, but the doctor was willing to give up her lunch hour to ‘sneak’ me into the exam room for the sonograms and check-ups. During the three days we were there, we saw our son mostly during feedings, but we could ring down to have him brought up whenever we wished. Overall, it was a very positive experience in a country where husbands are frequently relegated to the waiting room. If you are going to have a child in Asia, do spend some time asking around about your options…you may be surprised!
Ah, circumcision was another matter altogether. Our smallish town (pop 100,000) had only one doctor who was willing to perform it, and he hadn’t done it often enough to be overly confident. No nurses, no assistance, no guarantees; I was tapped to be the restraining device. It was finally accomplished after two or three clumsy attempts and quite a bit of fumbling about with the equipment. 🙁