On honoring (and breaking) Korean tradition
In stark contrast to the Korean tradition of keeping children indoors until 100 days old, Michal and I went for a walk along the Han River with Sophia napping in her stroller six days after giving birth.
With its flat terrain, paved path and scenic green areas, it was the perfect baby-friendly, relaxing outing we needed after being cooped up in the birthing center for five days.
The meaning behind the 100 days tradition dates back to when the infant mortality rate for the country was high. Those babies who lived to 100 days survived and thrived afterward. In a way, celebrating 100 days in Korea was more momentous than celebrating the first birthday.
So it’s understandable that my husband and I received quite a few surprised reactions and inquisitive responses while out and about with Sophia pre-100 days: How old is she? How are you feeling? Should you be walking? Shouldn’t you both be at home? Isn’t she cold?
The most memorable comments we have gotten in Korea with our little one were from an elderly couple at the Grand Hyatt. The couple had never seen a baby that small in person, let alone out in public, and exclaimed how she looked as tiny as a doll so they just had to take a photo. In fact, they asked to take several photos with Sophia and her father.
Furthermore, new mothers in Korea typically recover at home for the first few weeks after giving birth or stay in post-partum care centers, where they are able to receive a variety of support that could include lactation consultants, yoga instructors and massage therapists.
Michal and I decided to forego this option as my mother was coming into town shortly after Sophia’s arrival. Private nanny and cleaning services are also very affordable in Korea, at a going rate of 10,000 won (about $10) per hour, so we decided to invest in this option as additional support during those first crucial months.
In relation, I remember reading a blog post by a mother in the U.S. about what those first 100 days are like. She called them the “Dark Days” because of how difficult they were for the mother and father to have to adjust to a “new normal.” Those fragile, frantic first weeks of absolute sleeplessness and uncertainty paired with post-partum recovery are now past us.
Looking back at the past 100 days, I’ve seen Sophia grow stronger and more independent. She’s becoming her own little personality with preferences and dislikes. And with each day, Michal and I have grown more and more adventurous with our baby outings – pushing ourselves beyond expectations I originally had for our new family life.
In the era of B.B. (before baby), as a newly married couple five years ago, Michal and I thought to delay starting our family in favor of more travel, independence and leisure. After years of repeated interrogation, friends and family were excited to hear we decided to start trying. And the grandparents couldn’t have been happier for Sophia’s arrival (yet saddened as she is so far from them in the States).
Our wanderlust didn’t end since getting pregnant and having a baby. This shared desire to explore and experience new cultures is an integral part of the foundation of our relationship. So in the time that I was pregnant, we traveled around Korea, Vietnam and Japan.
In recent and coming months, Sophia will have been on a plane three times – jet setting to Jeju-do, Bali and Detroit, Mich. In Seoul, we started with those easy strolls along the Han and moved up to strapping her into a carrier or wrap while hiking around Namsan.
Ironically for us, as a recent Washington Post column states “The adventure doesn’t have to stop” with a baby.
Being at home with just us in the nursery is where Sophia sleeps the least soundly. She needs movement, white noise, body warmth (as recommended by Dr. Harvey Karp in his book Happiest Baby on the Block). Therefore, why not give her all of this in a natural environment? Sophia falls asleep quickly and sleeps the longest on walks and hikes. She even sleeps fairly well in a her car seat at a crowded restaurant.
I wholeheartedly agree with the WaPost column: At this early age, now is the time to venture out while baby and bags are lighter. She doesn’t need toys as she is entertained with the ambient noise and color of nature, nor does she need snacks as she is solely breastfeeding.
In addition, the majority of airlines either do not charge her fare or require a fraction of the original amount for a seat. Most resorts provide baby bassinets. In Korea specifically, we have found a number of nursing rooms in malls, on cruise ships and at nature centers.
The days when I would just stay indoors at home with her, I found myself going stir crazy as it was like I was living my own version of the film Groundhog’s Day. The routine of nurse-play-sleep on repeat every two hours became tiresome for both Sophia and me as she has gotten older and grown bored of what I could offer her as entertainment in our home.
Michal and I can’t help but notice how interested Sophia is in the world around her, with her alert and inquisitive eyes darting around the room and following any new face or brightly colored object. My mother-in-law, in particular, can have full length conversations with Sophia through cooing, mimicking pitch and tone. And our osteopath, along with friends and family who meet her, have witnessed her constant action – flipping from her tummy to her back, consistently kicking and wanting to stand (with assistance) instead of sit in our laps.
Sophia’s voracious curiosity, fluid activity and insatiable desire for noise and interaction have inspired Michal and I to keep going and moving with her by our side.
We have emerged from these past 100 days with a newfound motivation to keep up this expat lifestyle. Thank you Sophia for showing us another way to live our “new normal,” and congratulations on your 100 days!