I was eight months pregnant when I first spoke to Boram Nam, and I was nervous. My husband and I – both Brits – were about to have our first child (well, I was about to have him; my husband was about to stand beside me, clutching my hand and trying not to faint while bodily fluids covered the bed, the walls, and, at one point, his face.)
We were living in New York City, our nearest relatives 4,000 miles away. We’d been to a tranche of “birth preparation” classes. We’d filled out forms about epidurals, contractions and C-sections. We’d learned terms like “fundus” and “placental abruption”. Our health insurance had delivered a scary-looking electric breast pump and a pre-emptive hospital bill for $1,000. But we still didn’t have a clear picture of what the immediate days after the birth of our son would look like. Once the fentanyl pump was taken out of my spine and we’d been wheeled out of the recovery room, what were we supposed to actually do?
Luckily, there’s a place in New York designed specifically to answer these questions: Boram Care, a “postnatal retreat” in the center of Manhattan, just steps away from Central Park. In just a few weeks, I would be checking into the facility. There, we would supposedly learn how to deal with the screaming, confusing little burrito who had come out of my body.
“We’re here to educate you, train you – we’re going to have you go through a baby bootcamp so that you and your husband are more confident, more knowledgeable,” Nam told me over Zoom, as I perched on a yoga ball at eight months pregnant. I hoped she was right.
The check-in process at Boram Care is complicated by the fact that most people don’t know exactly when they’re going to give birth. The facility will take you any time during your first month after having a baby, but they recommend — and most people take them up on this — that you come straight from the hospital.
That means Boram Care employees are always engaged in a balancing act, trying to make sure there’s enough space to take the soon-to-be parents on their books at all times. A couple of weeks out from your due date, a Boram Care employee schedules a call, during which you discuss your birth plan – Are you waiting to go into labour naturally? Do you have an induction or a C-section scheduled? Has your doctor said you shouldn’t wait beyond 40 weeks? Are you planning to spend two or three nights in the hospital after giving birth, or would you rather leave as quickly as possible? – so they can predict things as best as they can. Then, they give you a phone number to text, and ask that you keep them updated as much as possible if the baby makes an unscheduled early arrival.
Needless to say, my baby did make an unscheduled early arrival. A week before my due date, my water broke dramatically at midnight, just like it happens in the movies and just like they tell you it won’t happen. My husband and I called my OB-GYN in shock. “Pick up the car seat and get in a cab to the hospital now,” the nurse on call told us. Bleary-eyed and on my very first day of maternity leave, I responded: “But why do we need the car seat?” First babies are supposed to be late! We had plans for the next couple of weeks! I wasn’t supposed to be having him tonight!
And yet, of course, I did have him that night. Once the baby was in my arms and my husband ordered my promised post-birth meal of Sugarfish sushi, we texted Boram Care’s number. The baby is here! Can we come in the next two days? The reply came: There wasn’t room for four days. We’d have to go home on our own for 24 hours before turning around. “Everyone in New York went into labour last night,” the nurse at our hospital told us. “This always happens around the full moon.”
Three days later, we arrived at Boram Care as shell-shocked as any other set of new parents. My husband carried a car seat with our sleeping newborn in it and I staggered out of the taxi, 20 stitches richer than I’d been a few days before. Boram Care had asked us to text when we were 10 minutes away; we duly did, and there was a representative waiting for us in the lobby of the four-star Hyatt Thompson Central Park Hotel when we arrived. We took the elevator up together and discussed what I wanted our stay to look like: Did I want staff to check in with me regularly, by knocking on the door every few hours and actively offering services or help? Did I want to be left alone completely unless I asked? Did I want a combination of the two? I chose the first option because, quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing and I needed all the help I could get.
Boram Care takes up the top floor of the hotel, where standard hotel rooms are repurposed into a family-friendly environment. We arrived to an extra-large bed with a wheeled bassinet beside it, complete with a newborn swaddle and a pile of high-end diapers, wipes, and maternity pads. The bathroom, like all of those at Boram, have large walk-in showers (they used to have a mix of bathtubs and showers in Boram Care’s previous incarnation at another Manhattan hotel, but they changed to an all-shower layout at their new location after feedback from post-C-section moms who sometimes struggled to get into the baths.)
Security is taken seriously: my husband, our baby, and I were all immediately issued wristbands that gave us access to the floor. No one without a wristband is allowed in or out. This makes sense when you consider there’s a nursery a few steps outside of your room where you can send your baby overnight, or for a few hours to catch up on sleep. And if you need extra reassurance (I did), the nursery is also equipped with 24/7 cameras over every crib accessible from your phone.
Almost everything you need for the first month of a baby’s life is provided at Boram Care, which is deeply reassuring. What we did bring included clothes for ourselves, one extra outfit for our baby, a baby carrier, and my Spectra breastpump. During our pre-arrival phone call, I’d been asked what kind of breastpump I had so that the staff could prepare to show me how to use it. And once I’d settled in, a postnatal doula and a lactation consultant both visited my room to teach me and my husband how to set up the machine and the flanges; to teach us about sterilisation; and to assess the damage already done to my boobs by my poorly-latching baby.
This kind of situation is where Boram Care really comes into its own. At the hospital, a lactation consultant did visit me – for 10 minutes, during which she told me to feed every two hours, “and the two hours begin when he starts feeding”. At that point, my baby was latching poorly, I was bleeding, my milk hadn’t fully come in, and my baby was taking an hour and a half to feed—when he did feed. That would’ve meant starting to feed again 30 minutes after he finished — all day, all night, every day, every night.
I probably would’ve given up on breastfeeding before I began if it weren’t for the combination of supportive staff at Boram. While one consultant focused on the baby and the latch, a doula provided saline for my gnashed nipples and drew up a sitz bath. I was reassured that it was okay if I took the baby off the boob for a couple of days and instead pumped milk into a bottle for my husband to feed him. I was shown how. I was told that all the pump parts could be washed and sterilised for me, 24 hours a day, and returned within an hour. And then, for the next three days, I texted the Boram number every few hours and someone promptly turned up, took away the parts, sterilised them, returned them on a tray, and helped me put them back together. At three or four in the morning, these professionals came straight to my bed, where I was propped up, topless, in bed with a screaming baby, and talked to me like everything was completely normal. (Crucially, Boram also has newborn formula on hand for parents who have chosen to formula-feed or combination-feed, or for those whose milk supply is low. My supply was initially delayed, and we took advantage of both formula and lactation consultants at that time.)
At one point, I turned to the baby nurse and asked: “Can you just rock him to sleep? I can’t work out how to get him into the bassinet.” She swaddled him, turned on a Spotify track of shushing noises, and rocked my baby until he went down. My husband and I then slept in a bed together for the first time since I’d given birth. And when we woke up, I was offered a foot bath or a massage.
When you have a newborn, everything is on “baby time”, and “baby time” is never normal time. So, while Boram runs a number of sessions in the large family room a few doors down from your hotel room, they understand you might miss them. When we realised we’d slept through a baby-wearing consult, someone came to our room to give us a personalised walk-through of how to use the baby carrier we’d brought. We took a short walk three blocks down to Central Park on the third day to try it out. Did we panic halfway through that the baby might’ve stopped breathing, stop on the street, take it off, tear him out, reassure ourselves that he was in fact alive, and then put it all back on again? Yes. Would we have known how to do that without someone teaching us how to secure the thing step-by-step? No.
Probably the most Instagrammed feature of Boram Care is the food. The family room, which is open 24 hours, has a fridge full of healthy snacks, a coffee machine, and a good selection of teas – but pick up the phone on your bedside table and you have access to a specially prepared three-course meal, three times a day. Prepared by chefs in consultation with medical professionals, the meals offer a balance of nutrients you need in the immediate postpartum period (and can easily be made pescatarian, vegetarian, or allergy-friendly.) They’re delivered to your bedside by discreet staff members who don’t bat an eyelid at the fact that you don’t make much sense and probably aren’t wearing any clothes. On my first day, my breakfast was oatmeal with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with sausages, toast, bacon and tomatoes, a bagel with cream cheese, a pint of orange juice, and a thermos of hot (decaffeinated) coffee. Yes, all of that. Later on, my lunch included a hearty soup and medium-rare steak with vegetables, plus dessert. It was nothing short of incredible. Oh, and you have a three-hour period in which to order any of those meals. Again, baby time.
One disadvantage – or some might say advantage – of the Boram Care offering is that food is only included for the birthing mother. The other parent? Well, they’re on their own. Does this seem fair enough when you’ve just pushed a baby out of your body? Yes. Might you feel a little bad watching your partner order Shake Shack while you prop yourself up on four plush cushions and feed yourself steak? Perhaps. (Your partner can sign up for the same meals as you, but it’ll cost you dearly. My husband stuck with ordered-in hotdogs.)
Perinatal care facilities like Boram Care are common in South Korea: Boram Nam told me that, in the same way American families will come together to buy products for a baby shower, Koreans will often chip in together to pay for a pregnant friend or relative’s stay in a Boram Care-type hotel. The idea of resting for 30 days after giving birth is central to Korean culture, she explained, and when people began to move away from their hometowns and gravitate toward cities for work, such facilities started to replace what would have traditionally been provided in the mother’s parents’ house. These days, she told me, “more than 80 per cent” of Koreans who give birth take advantage of them: “The moment you find out you’re pregnant, you’re going to look for the resources and you’re going to secure the financial commitment to go to [one of those] highly sought-after postpartum care facilities.”
Nam was shocked to find that such attitudes toward post-birth care didn’t exist in American culture. She herself has two children: a 13-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son (she joined her Zoom interview with me from her daughter’s room, complete with posters of K-pop stars above the bed.) And she admits she could’ve been kinder to herself during her own postpartum periods. Both times, she and her husband were working on startups – they’ve worked together now for 14 years – so maternity leave wasn’t on her radar. “Especially with my second, who was a planned C-section… the recovery was really challenging,” she said. “I was working about an hour after I came back to the recovery room in the hospital.”
Nam’s parents were in Korea. She had a nanny for her older child, but no support from any postpartum specialists. “And I was working at the same time. So I was basically microwaving a wet towel and giving myself a boob massage, leaning against a mirror in a bathroom, just massaging my engorged boobs [while working],” she said. “It was really challenging.”
At one point, she found herself pushing her toddler in a stroller and holding her newborn in her arms while visiting the office at midnight to collect documents. “It took me about two years to finally feel better physically and mentally,” she said. “Both times, I had mild postpartum depression and honestly, I didn’t know how to label that.”
Nam believes that Boram Care is “preventative care”, in the way that it provides multiple experts who can prevent postnatal depression from setting in due to overwhelm and undersleep, and prevent infections like mastitis from happening because parents don’t have on-demand breastfeeding support in the early days.
The research is on her side: studies show that sleep deprivation is the biggest contributing factor to worsening postpartum depressive symptoms. She is now working with US health insurance companies to get the facility recognised as a necessary part of the post-birth process. At $1,000 a night, such preventative care doesn’t come cheap – how can it, when it necessitates so many highly-trained staff, 24 hours a day? – but Nam hopes that one day soon, new mothers will be able to recoup at least some of those costs from their insurance.
“We are really trying to shift the paradigm in terms of seeing this as a luxury,” she said, “to seeing this as essential.” And as for what Boram Care costs, she reminded me: “In the hospital, the rooms cost between $850 and $2,500 a night.” She laughed. “And the food sucks!”