What to expect when you’re expecting…

Like many mothers-to-be, I diligently read The Book cover to cover when I was expecting my first baby. My husband and I binged on an entire academic year’s worth of classes on childbirth and childcare. Despite all this, there were still many things I was not prepared for when I had my first child.

The daughter I was expecting turned out to be a son. When he was handed to me, I gasped, not in wonder and instantaneous love, but in horror to be perfectly honest. After 20 hours of labor, his head was alarmingly cone shaped. Jaundice had already started kicking in, and he was an unnatural shade of yellowish orange. Nursing, which I thought would be a piece of cake, turned out to be a sweaty, complicated affair that would leave both of us cranky and exhausted. It was so painful, I kept checking my babe’s toothless mouth to make sure there weren’t rows of razor sharp shark teeth hiding out in there. No one told me that I would be a walking spittoon for regurgitated milk and that I would consequently smell like rotten cheese for the first six months of my baby’s life. And in all of the many birth and parenting classes I took beforehand, not a single person told me about the mustard yellow projectile poop that would squirt all the way up the baby’s back to his neck.

Another thing I didn’t expect was that in these many classes I would make life-long friendships with other new mothers. I met the women in the photo at a prenatal exercise class. Our friendship has lasted through many joys and sorrows. Together we’ve celebrated the births of our first, second, and third babies, we’ve attended countless birthday parties, commiserated over illnesses and the inevitable issues that arise once babies become schoolchildren, and have consoled each other as other “baby friends” moved on to other cities. Last night we celebrated these thirteen years of friendship as we said goodbye (for now) to Christine, who is also moving away to continue her work as a developmental pediatrician in another city. In retrospect, I’m so grateful for all those classes I took. I met women who would teach me so much more than I could learn from a book or in any class…not only about the project of raising children, but about friendship. Until our next dinner date – “May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be ever at your back…” Thanks, Christine!

The First 100 Days

After the 21st day of life, the next important Korean milestone is the 100th day of life, or baek-il. This is a relic of the days when infant mortality rates were high, and it was truly an occasion to celebrate when a baby made it to 100 days. On that 100th day, a family would traditionally pray and give food offerings to thank Samshin Halmoni (Birth Grandmother), the Shaman spirit of childbirth. The legend goes that a fifteen year old girl was seduced by a monk and became pregnant. Her scandalized and sanctimonious brothers locked her in a box and left her to die. Fortunately, her mother was able to free her, and she gave birth to triplet sons. Because of this heroic feat, she became Samshin Halmoni: the patron spirit of babies.

A party and feast are traditionally held for a baby’s baek-il. Samshin Halmoni is honored with prayers and food offerings. Red bean cakes are placed at the four compass points around the house to bring good fortune to the baby. It is also the custom to share rice cakes with 100 people to ensure long life for the baby.

The first time I learned about baek-il was when my first son was born. My mother called to tell me we should have a party to celebrate. And so we did!

We had a party for my second son too:

I was looking for photos of my daughter’s 100 day party and sadly realized that we must not have done this for her. This is the fate of third children. I know. I’m a third child myself. I did manage to take pictures of her on her 100th day:

This is a girl who knows how to celebrate, party or no party!

Today I’m leaving for New York City to celebrate my son’s 13th birthday. We will be meeting up with one of his best buddies, who is also turning 13, and his mother, one of my best buddies. I’ll be back some time next week with more birthday stories and pictures to share!

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