Foreign mom, Korean norms

I could relate to what is written in the article from Korea Herald entitled “Forcing Korean norms puts pregnant immigrants at risk”. Here’s an excerpt:

Many immigrant wives are forced to follow Korean practices such as eating heavily scented local dishes including kimchi while struggling with morning sickness, which may lead to malnutrition during and after pregnancy, the city government said in a report released Wednesday.
The practices may also put the women’s marriages at risk, it added.
Read the full article from Korea Herald online.

Let me share with you some things I experienced as a first time mom in Korea.
I had a pregnancy dream, called 태몽 (tae-mong), before I learned I was pregnant. In my dream, I was walking up a hill and I had four buttons on my hand. When I reached the hill, I saw a small house and met an old lady who gave me a roll of thread. When I told my husband about that dream (that I particularly remembered), he told it to his mom who said that it was a pregnancy dream.

Korean norms
My son’s feet at 12 days

During my pregnancy, I hated the strong smell of 된장 or bean paste so I didn’t cook bean paste stew for my husband. My mother-in-law told me I should not be eating chicken because my child might have chicken skin! On the other hand, when I refused to eat raw fish they told me it was okay. Shocking but they never heard of listeria ~ my sister told me about it when I posted that I had raw oysters.
My mother-in-law kept on saying that I would have a hard time giving birth since I was too big! But I only had a one hour labor due to an induced birth ~ my blood pressure was too high on my 37th week check-up.
Having seaweed soup for days was not an issue for me. I love that soup!
I was stressed when my husband’s family learned that I took a shower two days after giving birth. In Korea, mothers are advised not to take a shower until after 21 days. It was so annoying listening to their insistence that I should not have taken a shower right away. Ohh ~ I take a shower every day and even just missing a day makes me feel so sticky and dirty.
It is also customary for a mother-in-law to assist her daughter-in-law after childbirth. My MIL stayed with us for three weeks and then she asked to go back home. We were both frustrated by my lack of fluency in Korean. She was always bored and we couldn’t communicate well. During that time, my husband was also in China most of the time. When she left, I learned how to use the phone and the internet to order groceries and diapers.
And speaking of language, the in-laws told me every time not to speak to my son in English because they think he will never learn Korean. That went on for about two years. And when he was four years old and could speak both languages, they told him how lucky he was that I am his mother 😀
It is not easy adjusting to a new culture while keeping your own. It is frustrating most of the time and I had to hold my ground not just once or twice. With patience and understanding, everything is fine now. So to those who might be experiencing the same, just hang on. Don’t fight fire with fire even if it was the most tempting thing to do.
So what’s your story?


  1. oh the elders and their post-pregnancy rituals 🙂 my mom did not tell me not to take a bath but advised to do it in the afternoon so that it’s not too cold. she’s afraid of “pasma” or “binat.” i didn’t listen 😛 surprisingly, the first time i had a massage after giving birth, the therapist asked whether i just gave birth because she felt a lot of tightness on my back — something she said that could have been the result of “binat.” weird but seems like the elders make sense haha 🙂

  2. Even for younger Koreans, it’s difficult to satisfy older Korean people’s beliefs (like no showers after giving birth) based on their superstitions. This is a good reason why most Korean couples do not live with their parents or their in-laws, or at least do not wish to.

  3. I remember at the 산후조리원 where I stayed before the caretaker there saw me refilling my waterbottle with cold water. She was told me not to drink cold water(I think she said something about heart attack hehehe). And she also noticed that I wasn’t wearing thick long socks, she told me to always wear socks and wrap my neck with a handkerchief. Gosh, it was already 29 degrees inside the 산후조리원! hahaha (feeling ko tuloy para akong tinapa non, hindi makaligo tapos init na init pa hehe)

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