Saturday, April 23, 2022

Two Weeks in a Korean Luxury Postnatal Spa

I'm so glad we decided to partake in the Korean practice of postponing taking our baby directly home from the hospital and staying at a sanhu joriwon (산후조리원), or postnatal luxury spa, also known as a postpartum care center, instead. Many middle-class Korean women opt for these accommodations for 1-3 weeks after birth or they hire a postpartum domestic worker called a doumi (도우미) to come to their home. Korea places a big emphasis on the recovery of the mother after childbirth, so the focus of these services is to allow the mother to have a bit of a break and for her body to heal while the new parents are learning to care for the latest addition to their family.

We stayed at a joriwon called Versailles (베르사유 산후조리원) in Gangnam for two weeks. Most women seemed to leave their husbands at home (or perhaps their husbands weren't able to take the time off of work), but I was so grateful M was able to stay with me the whole time. As I was recovering, I needed his help for a lot of things and I was relieved to have his constant care. Our room at the joriwon was like a comfortable hotel room equipped with a few postpartum-specific additions including a bassinet, an endless supply of diapers and postpartum gowns, and a sitz bath machine in the bathroom. Someone came to clean the room every day, and we had a lovely springtime view outside to a promenade by a lake.

The food at the joriwon was delicious and came very frequently. My food, three meals and two snacks per day, was included in our booking cost and we just added Marwan's meals to our tab for 10,000 Korean won (less than $10) a pop. Thank goodness I love Korean food and especially miyeokguk (미역국), the iron-rich seaweed soup traditionally given to mothers who have just given birth. It was so nice not to have to worry about any cooking and cleaning for those first few weeks so I could focus on feeding our baby.

Anyone who knows me also knows how much I love massages, and the joriwon did not disappoint in that respect. All the women staying at my joriwon received daily breast massages to stimulate milk production and prevent clogged ducts and mastitis. There was also this awesome leg sauna device I could use whenever I wanted. (One of my friends back home said this photo made it look like I was about to launch into space!) In addition, my package included three full-body postnatal massages that felt absolutely divine. Labor, childbirth, and recovery are no joke and I appreciated the extra attention to my aches and pains in the early days of motherhood. It took all of my self-control not to splurge for one of the many extremely expensive additional massage packages. They also had some "slimming treatment" packages available, but I'm honestly not sure exactly what those entailed and whether they were safe because I wasn't interested. After everything my body had been through with pregnancy and birth, I can tell you getting my pre-pregnancy body back as fast as possible was the last thing on my mind.

As part of the photo package we already purchased that included maternity photos, the same studio also sent a photographer to the joriwon to take newborn photos of baby S. They said we'll get to see the final versions of those photos when we come to the studio for our 50-day-old photos next month. He was so cute during the photo shoot but also very confused about what was happening. I can't wait to see them! We grabbed a few photos on my phone as they were taking the professional ones, so the first photo of this post is one of those.

The joriwon also included twice weekly visits by a pediatrician to examine all the babies there. Every time, the pediatrician said our baby seemed healthy and (to my relief) gaining weight and eating well once I was able to start breastfeeding. I heard some complaints from expat women that they felt joriwons were not supportive of exclusive breastfeeding, but I had the opposite experience. The nurses called me every time S was hungry so I could feed him and let me know if he hadn't eaten enough so I could keep going. They also taught me plenty of techniques for ensuring a good latch and waking him up when he was too sleepy to eat. I felt a little envy in the beginning for the formula feeding moms who were sleeping through the night every night while the nurses fed their babies, but at the end of the day I'm so thankful that breastfeeding seems to be working well for us. I am also so appreciative of formula, which helped us in the beginning as my milk was delayed and which is truly a miracle of modern science.

Having a team of nurses on call for help was probably the single best part about the joriwon experience. They taught us how to change a diaper, how to swaddle properly, how to discern different types of cries, how to bathe our baby safely, and more. Whenever we needed a break or just a nap, we could send S back to the nursery knowing they would call us for the next feeding and take care of any dirty diapers and fussiness in between. Every day that we spent at the joriwon, my body felt a little bit better and less in pain, and I don't think I would have healed as quickly if we'd been thrust out into the world on our own right away.

I will say I don't think our stay at the joriwon would have been nearly as comfortable without any Korean language skills. Almost nobody spoke English at the hospital or at the joriwon, so after three weeks of communicating extensively in Korean my brain was very tired. The owner of the joriwon did speak English and I spoke to at least one expat couple who stayed at our joriwon and didn't speak any Korean, but I personally have a hard time imagining how that would work between all the little daily interactions with people who didn't speak English.

It's wonderful to be home again, and thankfully S has adjusted well to the new environment so far. I'll miss having the team of nurses to call for help whenever I need them, but thanks to their training I feel much more prepared. They even gave us this awesome receiving blanket and rolled up cloth that we use multiple times a day to help make S more comfortable when he's feeding. We're so excited to start our new, real life on our own as a family of three now. I hope you enjoyed this little peek inside the joriwon experience!

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