This is a translation of a conversation with my mom about “Sanhu-jori” which can vaguely be translated to postpartum care. My mom is identified as M, and I am identified as IC.
IC: Can you tell me about sanhujori? What is it?
M: After you give birth, your body is weak and tired so it is a traditional custom that new mothers should rest and recover. You should be careful and take care of yourself for about three weeks to a month.
IC: What do you have to do to take care of yourself? Are there any precautions you need to take?
M: Yes, typically you don’t eat hard, spicy or cold foods. You also have to stay warm with the baby so it’s harder in the summer since it’s hot. I think the precautions have become laxer now but when I had you and your brother, I wore socks to keep my feet warm and didn’t do any physical labour.
IC: If you can’t have hard, spicy or cold foods, what are you supposed to eat?
M: Traditionally you have mi-yeok-gook, which is Korean traditional seaweed soup. It’s warm, nutritious and easy to eat and I had it for all three meals, every day for three weeks.
IC: Wait, in Korea we eat seaweed soup on our birthday, does this tradition of sanhujori have anything to do with that?
M: Yes, it’s because the mother had it when the baby was born so it just keeps that tradition.
IC: Why is taking care of yourself after birth so important in Korea?
M: It is believed that if you didn’t take care of yourself, you have a higher risk of getting sick later. Like your bones would be weaker so you would have more pain in those areas.
IC: You had me in the US. What do you think are the differences between post-birth procedures and traditions in Korea and the US?
M: It’s very different. I don’t think the US has specific procedures of postpartum care. After you were born, I wasn’t feeling very well, and the nurse came in and asked if I wanted ice cubes to suck on. This was very surprising to me and I didn’t understand why. The first meal they gave me was like bread, orange juice and yogurt and it was very hard for me to stomach it. So, I asked your dad to make seaweed soup at home and bring it for me.
IC: Why do you think it’s so different?
M: I think it has to do with strength, bone structure and physique. When we were bringing you home, we had to put you in a car-seat and bring that to the car. It was very heavy for me and I had to ask your dad to help me but there was this woman who gave birth around the same time I did, and she lifted up the car-seat without any problems.
IC: So, how did you take care of yourself after I was born, since you had to rest?
M: When I was in Korea and had your brother, there was a sanhujori helper we hired to help around the house. And when you were born, my mother—so your grandmother—contacted her and asked if she could go to the US to help care for her daughter who had just given birth. She agreed, and my grandmother paid for the travel expenses and she came and helped me.
I vaguely knew about sanhujori but didn’t know the details of it since I’ve never experienced it myself. I thought it would be interesting to ask my mom about it and knew that she would have a unique insight into the differences of Asian and Western cultures and traditions since she had me in the US and my brother in Korea.
This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting. I asked her about specific procedures that a new mom has to follow to take care of her body.
As this is something, I haven’t experienced myself, I thought it was interesting to hear about the traditions of Korea. It was also fascinating to hear the diffrences between Asian and Western cultures from my mom who has experienced both cultures. The difference really shows the variation of tradition, which is something we’ve talked about in this class. Just as fairytales and myths have variation from country to country and sometimes household to household, even something as simple as post-birth procedures are different. I think if I decide to have kids in the future, I will also try to do sanhujori if I can.