Whenever people think of North Korea, they probably think of the terms secretive and mysterious. And, they probably get that feeling right there whenever they have looked at satellite images taken from astronauts of North and South Korea. South Korea is all lit up at night, and North Korea looks like night. That is quite mysterious, and thinking about life in North Korea can seem like a mystery.
That is because the country has done a great job to create that image to the outside world. Outsiders are not meant to know what really happens in that country and the stuff that is known either gets leaked out- or North Koreans have agreed to tell some outsiders a little bit about what happens in that country so they can stop being so curious.
However, the little bits that are known about North Korea are not enough to satisfy our curiosity. And you really have to wonder what happens to North Korean women and children! What happens to them while they are pregnant, and what kind of prenatal care do they receive? What are the hospitals there like?
Thanks to some reporters, the outside world is given a small glimpse of what goes on during situations that involve pregnancy and childbirth. Us outsiders are also given a glimpse of what happens generally in North Korea, and it is generally quite interesting. And, after doing some research of my own, I would like to share with you the 15 fascinating facts about being pregnant in North Korea.
If you ask your parents if your grandmothers ever told them the stories of their obstetrics check-ups, they would probably add in the fact that the only thing they knew was that there were no ultrasounds around. The obstetricians that treated your grandmothers were only able to check things with their bare hands!
They would be able to detect the position of the baby (which would have been your mom or your dad that is), as well as whether or not they were carrying multiples (yes, they were able to tell them that your aunts or uncles were your parents' twins)- but as far as any other kind of diagnoses goes, they couldn't give any due to the fact that they had to use their hands!
The same applies to the majority of North Korean obstetric clinics! According to The Guardian, with the exception of the excellent hospitals like Pyongyang Maternity Hospital- times have not changed as far as obstetric care. Just like your grandparents, most pregnant North Korean women don't have any ultrasounds and are only checked by their obstetrician's bare hands. Knowing that makes you quite grateful for the fact that the healthcare in North America and many other parts of the world are way beyond that even if it's still far from ideal!
There are no rules around North America and in other parts of the world when it comes to how a mom-to-be gives birth. Some women prefer to give birth on their backs, which is a painful thought to others. And, many others prefer to give birth in other positions, and there are also many water births happening as well.
However, according to Birth International, North Korean pregnant women are highly encouraged to give birth while they are in an upright position Though, it does not sound like this is a law- thank goodness for that! But, these women who gave birth in this position had no complications at all, and from the sounds of it, it really is an ideal way to give birth. That is opposed to giving birth on your back.
Women who gave birth in an upright position apparently have had very little blood loss as well. That said, maybe because this is a better position when it comes to giving birth is why North Korean women are highly encouraged to do so. According to the same site, this may be the case because it makes the job for the hospital staff easier whenever women give birth in an upright position. Though, whenever it comes to trying the North Korean mind and understanding why they do what they do, you simply can't.
Back in fourth or fifth grade when we were being taught education about intimacy, we were taught about what to expect when we get our first periods, and what to do in order to prevent getting pregnant- because young kids need to know about hormones and the birds and the bees, as well as what to do in order to prevent themselves from pregnancies as well as ending up with STDs and STIs. Young kids that are mature enough to understand that is!
During those sex-ed sessions, discussions about birth control options definitely came up. I remember personally in my grade four class when I was in that session, that is when I learned about the birth control pill. Later on, I learned about other birth control options as well.
However, North Korean kids (and adults for that matter) don't know about contraceptives.
That is because birth control of any sort is illegal there according to The Guardian- as information from the Daily NK, the North Korean news had been leaked to that source. The only contraceptive that is legal there is abstinence and that is it!
You'll find that pretty much every hospital except for maybe the ones in extremely rural areas in North America and in many other parts of the world have ultrasounds. And, they most definitely do in South Korea as well as the way of living there is considered to be quite westernized. However, according to the Guardian, you probably are not surprised to know that with the exception of large hospitals, local and smaller ones don't have modern ultrasound technology.
Though, according to a photographer and traveler named Qiuyun Song, she actually visited Pyongyang Maternity Hospital which is apparently the best or one of the best hospitals in North Korea.
That hospital certainly had ultrasounds and there was evidence of other modernized technology in it. She also mentioned that the maternity ward has nine floors but was only permitted to be on one. That is a clear indication that there is a lot there that no one is supposed to know about which is definitely expected in North Korea.
Additionally, Song had interviewed the head of the hospital to ask her a bunch of questions, and one of those was how that hospital was different from many of the others in the country. The response was that their great leader wanted to build the best one for the country to treat everyone- which was it without elaborating much.
Most places around the world have had the luxury of offering home pregnancy tests to women who suspect that they have a bun in the oven. All they have to do is go to the drug store or pharmacy and purchase a test, and that is it! These home pregnancy tests have been on the market since the late 1970's after the first Error Proof Test was created in 1976.
However, that cannot be said about North Korea, as North Korean women for the longest time never knew about the existence of these pregnancy tests- until recently. Many obstetricians there are quite modern-minded and are willing to take risks by doing against the tight rules. Therefore, these North Korean obstetricians have been getting these women home pregnancy tests over the last few years. The way they have done that is by going to smugglers that sell these pregnancy tests on the jangmadang, which is the market.
These pregnancy tests are from South Korean, and according to the Guardian, which retrieved the information from Daily NK that the Korean tests are more expensive than Chinese home pregnancy tests. However, the accuracy rates are higher. Since more and more North Korean obstetricians are obtaining home tests in questionable manners by the country's standards- it shows that many residents there are trying to find ways to become more modern.
The reason that premature babies that are born today have a much better chance at living healthier lives than the ones born decades ago is due to the fact that medical technology is constantly improving. If you think about it, Stevie Wonder was born at 34 weeks which has been indicated by many sources and his blindness is a result of that. Babies born at 34 weeks today, or even a few decades ago usually don't face that kind of complication because medical technology has improved drastically since the 1950's when Wonder was born.
According to the Washington Post, the reporters found that when they visited the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital that the incubators that premature babies were in were old. They also noticed that the other machines in the hospital were also old.
When the staff was asked about that, their response was that the exterior of the machines was old but the inner parts are always new since the electrodes are rebuilt.
The reporters were skeptical, as they knew that premature babies were in very old incubators meaning that they are getting the same amount of care as premature babies did when they were born decades ago because the medical technology used there is not the latest.
Whenever you hear of someone expecting twins, or whenever you find out that you are the one that is expecting twins- or multiples that is, it is very exciting news. Twins in North America may not be a sign of good luck per se, but multiple pregnancies are surprising, exciting, yet risky all at the same time.
However, according to the photographer and traveler, Qiuyun Song had found out when she interviewed the head of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital that twins are considered to be good luck in North Korea. It is possible that other cultures view twins as lucky as well.
The same goes for triplets, quadruplets and so on as far as being a sign of good luck. These babies receive special treatment as a result. Multiples go to a separate nursery to receive elite care, and the special treatment goes on past the time that they are babies as well. They go to special nursery schools and receive the top-notch education. That is all because they were part of multiple births.
Nothing was said about whether or not the mother or father receives the same elite care. However, if you are a twin, a triplet or so on and are living in North Korea- then you are fortunate!
Newborns are immediately swaddled right after they are born, and the swaddling is important because that makes them feel secure since it reminds them of being comfortable in the womb. However, all newborns need is a nice comfortable blanket to be wrapped in and that is it. Newborns are swaddled that way in North America, and many other parts of the world anyway.
Though, in North Korea, they swaddle their newborns differently. According to the Washington Post, several reporters had visited the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital and had noticed many babies there. They said that the newborns were wrapped in blankets and tied with string. The reporter probably wanted to ask the hospital staff questions about why the string had to be there- but could not. That is considering that they were told that they asked too many questions as it was.
The string may have been just a cultural thing, or maybe it did serve some kind of purpose- as we will never know since the reporters were kept in the dark.
The one thing that the reporters stated that they were stunned to see how still those babies at the hospital were but were relieved when they saw that their eyes were flickering.
In North America, pregnancy termination is obviously legal, though many areas of the US are challenging that. Though, in Canada it is legal and even highly recommended by doctors whenever it comes to the mother's health is severely compromised due to the pregnancy.
However, in North Korea, pregnancy termination is illegal, and according to The Guardian, there are many North Korean obstetricians who do the procedure in secret if the woman wants that to happen. However, the costs to do so are astronomical and patients are looking into obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in order to have the procedure secretly done.
Additionally, when the traveler and photographer Qiuyun Song asked the head of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital what they do for women who no longer want to keep their babies, she said that simply never happens.
When Song asked her what they do if the woman's health is in danger due to the pregnancy, the response was that nothing like that ever happens. Let's face the fact that it can and obviously women in this position in North Korea are not going to have good outcomes!
So now you know why North Korea is a lot more populated than anyone has imagined. It is already known that contraception is illegal, and pregnancy termination is also a big no-no.
As long as you live in the same area around the hospital where you delivered your first baby, you can always deliver your second or third one at the same hospital- as long as you were happy with the staff there. And if you decide to go to another hospital, that is your choice too. It is nice to know that the choice is up to you where you want to deliver your baby.
However, in North Korea, that is not apparently the case. When to the photographer and traveler, Qiuyun Song visited the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, she found some things out during her interview. According to the head of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, women who have delivered once there are encouraged to go to their regional hospitals for delivering their subsequent babies.
Song did not get an answer as to why there is such a rule in place, but that is the answer she got. If a North Korean woman delivered once at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, then from the sounds of it, she has to deliver elsewhere. The head of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital stated that the regional hospitals are just as good, but Song understandably doubted that considering that was one of the best hospitals in the area with technology that is needed!
Of all of the things to learn about being pregnant and living in North Korea, there is a lot of stigmas attached to unmarried pregnant North Korean women. The fact of the matter is, yes, unmarried pregnant North Korean women stick out like sore thumbs and are not treated very well if they go to the hospital to check to see if they are pregnant.
According to The Guardian, obstetricians always verify the patient’s' marital status before confirming a pregnancy. If the woman is not married and pregnant, she will still be treated accordingly but will receive negative treatment otherwise. According to the same source, it is extremely odd for an unmarried woman in North Korea to go in for a pregnancy test. But it does happen, and whenever it does, she will not be looked upon quite highly.
Chances are that in South Korea and it is a known fact that in North America that being unmarried and pregnant is not so unusual anymore. It was many decades ago but it is a known fact that North Korea has not and likely won't really catch up with the modern times. Therefore, there isn't a lot of hope for unmarried pregnant women there being accepted.
Whenever couples make the bold decision to start adding to kids into the picture and creating families for themselves, women begin to educate themselves about their own cycles and begin the chart to find out when they are most fertile. Their doctors tell them about the various methods to chart such as taking their basal body temperature each morning before moving much, let alone before getting out of bed.
What doctors also tell their patients who are trying to conceive in most areas of the world is to either buy a home pregnancy test that is available at pharmacies and drug stores and to test- or they can come directly to the doctor to have blood work to determine whether they are pregnant or not.
However, until recently when North Korean obstetricians started to buy home pregnancy tests from smugglers- North Korean women were always having to rely on their menstrual cycles in regards to suspecting pregnancies. They also could go to an obstetrician if they suspected the pregnancy as well according to the Guardian.
However, since modern technology is limited in North Korea, especially to the average clinic there, there is a lot of room for error.
That means the woman could be just skipping a period while thinking she is pregnant, or if she is pregnant, her actual due date won't be known. That said, if a North Korean woman went to an obstetrician who was not going to go behind the government's back to get a home pregnancy test- she had to rely on her menstrual cycle for a pregnancy confirmation.
You know that many women in North America are delaying to start families because they want to take the opportunity in their 20's to enjoy traveling, having the freedom to do what they want without anyone tying them down, as well as establishing themselves into their careers. That is why so many women are jumping at the egg freezing procedure where they can have their young and healthy eggs frozen, so they can use them later on at any age.
However, in North Korea, it is unusual to see a young woman pregnant over there. According to the Guardian, most North Korean women are delaying their childbearing years. That is because they are the primary breadwinners, and end up becoming the main household earners. They rely on selling goods on the black market for their income as it was stated in the same source.
That said, they can't even really think about having kids until they are financially able to afford it. And, one thing that I could not get any information on was what if she finds out that she is infertile since that is expected to happen when you delay having kids. It is not likely there is a heck of a lot of fertility treatments, so that means the poor woman would not end up having kids at all- unless she finds a way to access fertility treatments secretly.
Whenever women have their babies in North America or anywhere else in the world, the first thing that is encouraged is that the mom starts bonding with their babies. Even if there were complications during the birth, and the newborn needed to be in the NICU, bonding time is highly encouraged regardless of the situation.
However, according to the photographer and traveler, Qiuyun Song, when she visited the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, she noticed that the mothers that had given birth were distant from their babies. She said that they had no desire to cuddle with them and kept them at arm's length. They behaved as if their babies were not even theirs, and Song even noted that she uttered a quiet congratulations, and left the area quickly. I can only imagine how uncomfortable that made her feel.
Then you really have to wonder how these babies grow up if they are not bonding with their mothers at all. You really have to wonder what kind of relationships they end up having with them, and how the lack of bonding affects their development. It is very difficult to say because there is no information at all anywhere as far as the kind of relationships that North Korean children have with their mothers.
Whenever you are heading towards the end of your pregnancy, you are instructed whether by your OBGYN or your Lamaze instructor- or both to make sure you have your hospital bag packed up by the time you are 36 weeks along. And they also tell you what belongings to pack up as well, such as your own toiletries, books, snacks and so on.
However, according to the Washington Post, when the reporters visited the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital, they went into one of the rooms and were stunned to see that the mom did not have any belongings with her at all.
She had no clothing of her own, there was no soap or shampoo in the bathroom, there was nothing of hers at all. The fact that she did not have anything at all is a clear indicator that a rule is that women in the last days of their pregnancies are not to pack up any kind of hospital bag at all.
You would think that the hospital would provide toiletries and other necessities, however, the reporters did not find any at all. The room was bare. So you have to wonder, how do these new moms in North Korea stay clean and comfortable?