About the Author
View more articles by Kim Yoo-sung
Kim Yoo-sung is an Ask a North Korean contributor who left Gil-joo County of Hamkyungbuk-do, DPRK in 2005
Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week’s question is:
What’s the difference between having a baby in South Korea and in North Korea?
North Korea is divided into two Republics – the Pyongyang Republic and the Regional Republic. Residents in the Pyongyang Republic have access to obstetricians, pediatricians and facilities of higher quality while residents in the Regional Republic are denied access to all of these. My aunt moved to Pyongyang after marrying someone from there. Once she came to visit us in her hometown. She said she had her children at Pyongyang San Won and was absolutely pleased with this facility. When my aunt told me how much more comfortable it was to have a baby and raise it in Pyongyang, I realized that Pyongyang Republic was far superior to the Regional Republic I was living in. People in North Korea were saying that Kim Jong Il made sure that the medical service provided at Pyongyang San Won would be of satisfactory quality because he was heartbroken when he lost his mother due to gynecological disease.
In this column, I would like to talk about nursing and parenting in the so-called “Regional Republic” (rather than Pyongyang Republic) and my own experiences in raising my baby daughter in South Korea, since I had my child here.
In South Korea, women take a pregnancy test they purchase from a drug store. So, these women know to some extent that they could be pregnant before this is ultimately confirmed by an obstetrician. But it is uncommon for North Korean women to buy a pregnancy test from a drug store. They only go to see an obstetrician when they begin to get morning sickness or when they’re late.
… expecting mothers in North Korea go to get their ultrasounds several times. But they cannot benefit from the regular medical checkups South Korean women have easy access to
After a woman in South Korea finds out that she’s pregnant, she goes to see an obstetrician on a regular basis. All throughout every stage of their pregnancy, these women get ultrasounds and a regular medical checkup from a professional obstetrician – “a medical expert.” Ultrasounds do exist in North Korea and expecting mothers in North Korea go to get their ultrasounds several times. But they cannot benefit from the regular medical checkups South Korean women have easy access to.
Also, South Koreans are more considerate of expecting mothers. This is not true of North Korea, unfortunately – they puff cigarettes without caring whether a pregnant woman is nearby or not.
In South Korea, when a pregnant woman is in excruciating pain, they can choose to have epidural anesthesia when giving birth. In North Korea, many women these days deliver their babies at hospitals. However, there are still a few women in rural farming towns where they still give birth at home. This isn’t a preferable way for most women. Also, when a woman wishes to get an abortion in the Regional Republic, sometimes nurses perform the abortion, which is illegal, at these women’s homes. Even in my old hometown, there was a nurse who performed abortions near my house for some women in a desperate circumstance.
South Korean parents use disposable diapers for their babies. But North Koreans still use diapers made from pieces of cloth that you have to wash over and over. South Korean mothers who simply choose not to breastfeed have access to a wide variety of powdered baby formula that they can easily buy from a supermarket. But in North Korea, women who cannot breastfeed their babies have to resort to goat’s milk from the barns or any other edible food in order to feed their babies. But affluent North Koreans buy South Korean baby formula when they cannot breastfeed. Even in the Regional Republic, people with money can benefit from services provided at hospitals from pregnancy to delivery.
When babies become 12 months old, they stop being breastfed and begin to eat food grownups eat. Around this time, North Korean babies begin to be taken care of at a nursery. When the North Korean economy was better, almost everyone sent their babies to a nursery. But as the economy got worse and worse, people began to have their babies taken care of by grandparents instead.
Another major difference is that the South Korean government gives subsidies for parents with children aged birth to 7. But there aren’t such government subsidies provided by the North Korean government. In North Korea, rich people can benefit from various facilities and medical care. But people with less money have no choice but to raise their children in such unfortunate circumstances and environment.
However, it occurs to me that the medical care these rich North Korean people receive seemed inferior to average medical care average South Koreans receive here.
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Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld