중앙데일리

Activist mother lauds hospital care in North

Nov 06,2005

Hwang Sun, 31, while she was confined at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in the North Korean capital last month. Her daughter, Gyeore, is the first known South Korean baby born in the North. Provided by Hwang Sun

“If I talk about my feelings about North Korea’s medical system frankly, it probably would break the National Security Law ― the articles that ban praising or sympathizing with North Korea,” Hwang Sun, told the Joong-Ang Daily at her home in eastern Seoul on Friday. She is a well-known South Korean activist and a mother of two children.
Ms. Hwang gave birth to her second daughter on Oct. 10 during her tour to the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang ― the first known South Korean baby to be born on the other side of the inter-Korean border. She was in the North as a tourist to watch the Arirang Festival performance there. While she was watching the performance at the May 1 Stadium, Ms. Hwang said she felt the first labor pains.
“I looked at my watch so often to time how frequently the contractions were coming that the North Korean medical team at the stadium with me suspected that the baby was coming soon,” Ms. Hwang said. “I thought I would be all right, but they hurriedly moved me to the hospital.”
Ms. Hwang delivered a 3.36-kilogram (7.4 pounds) healthy baby girl, whom she named Gyeore, by Caesarean section at North Korea’s Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.
After 15 days of recovery at the hospital, she and her daughter returned to South Korea on Oct. 25.
“North Korea is very proud that it began a state policy of special attention to maternity issues from the 1970s,” Ms. Hwang said. Pyongyang Maternity Hospital is located in the Taedonggang district of the North’s capital city, and has 2,000 patient rooms. Built in 1979, it is the largest women’s hospital in North Korea.
Ms. Hwang said she felt no fear about giving birth in the communist country, which heavily relies on foreign assistance for food and drugs. “When the moment comes, you just don’t think about it,” she said.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital often appears in articles by the North’s Korea Central News Agency, the government’s news arm. Many of those reports highlight the delivery of triplets, and Ms. Hwang said she learned why North Koreans are so fascinated by triple births.
“When I asked doctors why it is such a big story in North Korean media, they said it was because a woman has only two breasts to feed two babies at once,” Ms. Hwang said. “The doctors said a third baby needed extra care, and the government of North Korea, therefore, paid special attention to mothers with triplets.”
She said a North Korean mother of triplets is required to stay in the hospital until the smallest baby weighs six kilograms. Normally, other mothers are discharged 10 days after giving birth or 15 days if the delivery was by Caesarean section.
Ms. Hwang also said all mothers in Pyongyang are admitted to Pyongyang Maternity Hospital for their first deliveries. She said she was not able to meet or talk to other expectant or newly-delivered mothers in their rooms because she had a special one-person room. She was able, she said, to chat with other women in the hallways of the hospital.
“I guess I was receiving extra special treatment, but things at Pyongyang Maternity Hospital were surprisingly well maintained,” she said. “The doctors and nurses were very skillful, and they used both Oriental and Western medicine to treat patients.”
She said North Korean doctors and nurses seemed aghast when she told them that in South Korea, women paid the equivalent of $1,200 to deliver a baby. North Koreans profess pride in their socialized medical system of free care, although medical professionals from the outside world note that the quality of that care drops precipitously outside of Pyongyang.
Ms. Hwang said the North Koreans allowed her to stay with her newborn baby in the same room one day after she gave birth. She said she ate well at the hospital, but was not allowed to bathe even after her surgical incision had healed enough that bathing would not have been an issue in a Western hospital. That is a traditional Korean way of handling a mother immediately after delivery. “I also ate a lot of steamed rice and seaweed soup,” she said. Those two dishes have been Korean women’s first meal after giving birth for ages, a tradition that continues on both sides of the divided nation.
Ms. Hwang, 31, was also a left-wing activist in her student days. She visited Pyongyang in August 1998 as a representative of Hanchongryon, a legally proscribed student activist group in South Korea. After that visit, she was convicted of violating the National Security Law. Ms. Hwang is now a spokeswoman for Tongil Yeondae, a South Korean civic group.
In February of last year, she married Yoon Gi-jin, also a pro-North Korea activist and a fugitive from police here.
“My husband has not seen our new daughter yet,” Ms. Hwang said. “I hope we can be together soon.”
Political conservatives here complain that Ms. Hwang’s decision to go to North Korea despite the advanced state of her pregnancy suggested ulterior motives on her part, perhaps to promote reunification by personalizing it in the form of a newborn.
Ms. Hwang disputed those allegations. She said only her parents-in-law were originally scheduled to go to the festival in Pyongyang three days before she actually traveled there, but that travel permission from the North Korean authorities was delayed. When the new trip was arranged, she was offered a chance to go. Further, she said, she asked for and received her doctor’s assent to making the trip.


by Ser Myo-ja


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