My wife and I have been trying for a baby for a year, and were beginning to face up to the possibility that we needed to get ourselves checked to find out if there was a problem. I was facing up to the question of what life would be like if that problem was with me - it would have been bad enough in my own country, but to live in Korea and be the one responsible for a childless marriage was a burden I didn't know how to bear; my paranoia focused on all those deeply held suspicions that a certain section of society here wants to believe about foreigners. My state of mind not helped by the revelation that our newly-wed friend had become pregnant on their first attempt. If the worst was confirmed, my wife wanted to take the hit for me - recognising how intolerable life might be for me otherwise in this family oriented and foreigner suspicious culture - but to my mind there comes a point where the truth is what it is, and we disagreed, even though I didn't relish the prospect of facing up to Korean Father - or the rest of Korean society - in the worst case.
My wife began to feel unwell a month ago, and the family dog suddenly became very protective of her, biting me twice quite badly. Something was amiss. Was it too much to hope for? Psychic Aunt had proclaimed some time ago that my wife would become pregnant in the Chinese Year of the Ox - she had two months left and we were threatening to picket outside of her home proclaiming her as a bad fortune teller. She came around to the apartment one evening, touched my wife's hand accidentally, and her demeanour changed immediately - "you're pregnant" she said.
One of the problems of being in a foreign country is knowing whether over-the-counter pregnancy tests can be relied upon or not. The first was negative but later turned positive in the bin, and in the coming days the next two went positive straight away. We went to a nearby maternity hospital, where ultrasound scans confirmed a possible pregnancy, but one with complications. So while there was an enormous sense of relief that we weren't necessarily destined to remain childless, there was little happiness to be had in the situation either. While I sat in the waiting room, a woman emerged from her examination distraught, and cried while she fumbled with her phone to make a call. The horror of it all made me feel ill.
All we could do was wait and count off the days on the calendar to the next scheduled scan, but there were complications and we had to rush to the hospital unscheduled. We got through it. Our friends had already named their nascent baby - it being too early to know the sex, the gender-neutral temporary name 'bada' (meaning ocean) was chosen. It's a common practice here to assign names like this but we avoided it.
I was beginning to feel used to sitting around in the maternity hospital, surrounded by rather fatigued looking expectant mothers, young children and the occasional father, but nobody seemed to hold my potentially polluting the gene pool against me. The small children would sometimes walk unsteadily towards me to stare though, one even pointing and screaming. Perhaps they'll grow up to be a Chosun Ilbo journalist. Generally though, I felt isolated, and was glad when we reached a more normal, rather than emergency appointment, where I could go into the doctor's office with my wife. She was still ushered into a small side room though, leaving me left staring at the weighty Korean and English anatomical tomes in the bookcase against the far wall. It was at this point I noticed the screen on the wall to my left was not showing some generic image but was streaming my wife's latest ultrasound from within the room. But it wasn't so much what I saw as what I heard which left me rooted to the spot - a tiny heart beating rapidly. For all I wanted to be cautious and unemotional about what we were going through, hearing that heartbeat made it suddenly seem very real, and I don't think anything prepared me for it.
My wife had been unhappy because she'd seen other women at her stage of pregnancy getting their 'pregnancy diaries' and 'pregnancy certification' from the hospital, the latter of which makes things official with the government, and allows her to obtain a special bank card which provides discounts on medical bills. We were suspicious that mindful of the potential complications, the hospital had tactfully avoided issuing any such documentation to my wife. This week though, she finally got official recognition, and we gradually began telling people.
Korean Father returned from Namhae with a huge arrangement of flowers which now sits in our room, and later he returned from a hospital appointment with a large book - ironically translated from a British original - entitled 'Your Pregnancy Bible'. Curiously, it's full of pictures of a naked British woman showing Korean women what to expect their bodies to look like. My own father had not reacted well to the news that he was going to become a grandfather many years ago, but Korean Father was embracing the idea enthusiastically. I think he was secretly relieved, as we all are, but there is a long road ahead, and the nature of my life in Korea seems destined to change with it.