My wife and I are born to South Korean immigrants. One of the challenges of being Korean American is that many of our parents don’t tell us about cultural stuff until we have violated them. When my wife brought our first child into the world we entered into a reality that we had no clue existed. You see, Koreans have a very very strong view of how a woman is to recover after delivery. Below are some of the rules that were thrown at us…
No Contact With Cold
Apparently Korean women are not permitted to come into contact with anything cold. This has many implications. First, no air conditioning under any circumstances. #1 was born in the summer so it was miserable staying at my in-laws place. My wife had to wear long pants, wool socks, and a sweater in 90 degree weather. No AC! Second, she was not allowed to drink or eat anything cold. No ice, no ice cream, no cold water. I asked why and the explanation given to me was that cold keeps the joints from healing or something. Very unscientific but they were the rules. The “no cold” rule is probably one of the most rigid of all the rules. In some families, women are not permitted to shower for up to three months!!! Even though the shower is hot or warm, the idea is that when they step out the temperature outside the shower is colder than the shower and thus a violation. Another no-no is opening a fridge or being near a fridge.
Another strong belief is that women must eat seaweed soup and seaweed soup only for at least one month. Every meal, seaweed soup. Again, I asked why this rule exists…has something to do with loss of blood and giving women iron. The doctors said that women need to eat protein especially if they are breast feeding but I found out the hard way that meat is not permitted. I asked again, why. The reason I was given is that eating foods hard to chew is a serious offense because a woman’s teeth have not set yet. Doctors said one thing…Korean culture had something else to say.
My wife loves food so this one really frustrated her. Her and her mom fought a lot about this. None of the books prepared me for the cold war that would ensue after birth. I hated the recovery period. My mother in law would insist on complete obedience. My wife would fight for her right to eat different types of food. My mother in law would then turn to me to get my wife to obey her. I would just leave the house and come back to sleep. But this made things worse because my wife missed me and wanted me there for support. For me, it was too crazy being there.
One time my wife got so sick of the seaweed soup she begged me to get her some Taco Bell. I felt torn. Not only was her mom home, but her grandmother was on duty as well. I did what any loving husband would do. I devised a plan that I called Operation Junk Food. I left the house pretending to get some diapers and stuff. I stop by taco bell and snuck it into the house. Watching her eat was the most nervous I had been in a long time because she wanted crunchy tacos. Man those were loud. I tried coughing every time she bit into a taco so we wouldn’t get caught.
No Public Appearances
As I am writing this entry I realize that this rule is not only held in high esteem, this is the one rule that every family observes. In other words, the two rules above have some variances from family to family. The “no public appearance” rule is universal. If you break this rule, not only will you get an earful from the wife’s mom, the Korean people will give you a hard time too.
The rule is that a woman cannot leave the house for at least a month. This one shocked us both. My wife was not allowed out of the house for any reason other than visiting the doctor. The funny thing is that the hospital is really cold because they crank up the AC. Anyways…this one really got to my wife because she wanted to get out.
One day my mother in law left for church. My wife saw this as an opportunity. Her grandmother always took a nap in the late morning. So while she was on morning watch, I snuck my wife out to a local church where we would not bump into anyone who knew my mother in law. We went to church and rushed back before Moses returned from the mountain top. I never felt so dirty going to church. All the sneaking around was getting to me.
Don’t Hold Your Baby Too Much
This rule was the toughest. Koreans believe that you shouldn’t hold your baby too much while recovering. Every time #1 needed to be fed, the mother in law would try to feed her formula. My wife really didn’t like this one because her milk wasn’t coming in, in part because she wasn’t feeding enough. More tension. More stress. We were trying to figure out how to take care of our baby girl and it was incredibly difficult trying to accommodate all the grandparents and their opinions.
Being a first time parent is extremely difficult because you don’t know what you are doing. The stress builds by a hundred fold when you have to navigate cultural nuances you were not taught before having kids. My wife and I felt guilty because we knew our parents only had the best intentions. We also knew they have experience raising kids and that our standing firm was an act of disrespect.
Nevertheless, my wife and I came to realization that this is our lesson to learn and that we are ultimately responsible for raising our kids. It was a trying season because on the one hand we need our extended family and their input and love. On the other hand we needed time to process, make our own mistakes, and learn to care for this child. No matter how much we read or watched, nothing prepared us for what we faced. We had to learn by just living life.
Some of you may be wondering if we believe in this stuff or not. I will say this…I don’t believe it, but I am scared of it so I asked my wife to follow her mother’s advice because I didn’t want to feel the guilt if we were wrong and she suffered later in life for it. Haha. After typing this entry, I am glad we are finished having babies and now get to raise them.