100 Days of Emrys: An Ancient Celebration Thanks to Modern Medicine
After nine years of infertility, photographer Sally Pinera reflects on her new party of three as she hosts a sweet celebration for her son Emry's Baek Il – the Korean Ceremony held to mark the 100 days after a baby's birth.
- Photographer Sally Pinera
- Written By
- Sally Pinera
Most Korean families invite close friends and family to the Baek Il, the 100 Day Ceremony held to mark the physical, emotional, and mental milestone of reaching this moment, 100 days after a baby’s birth. The ritual started back when infant mortality was high in Korea; it celebrated the survival of the baby and signified a long, healthy life ahead. In recent generations, it’s turned into a party. But because my son, Emrys, was born during the lingering Covid era, my husband, Robert, and I decided to have an intimate celebration for just for the three of us.
We still included the significant customs: creating a ceremonial table with traditional desserts such as song pyeons, and silk décor like bojagi; dressing Emrys in a Korean hanbok; and feeding him the most stunning rice cake. The sharing of cake is a traditional way to bring good fortune to the child—so we ate a lot of it! It was such a special day, because we were able to solely focus all our emotion and our intention on each other. And it was a milestone we wanted to truly, beautifully, and aggressively celebrate, because for us, it was also a huge sigh of relief. Most, if not all, new parents face doubt as they try to juggle a very delicate infant, postpartum, and the new role of parenthood. But it took us nine years to get pregnant, so all that anxiety was amplified.
Robert and I married young, and starting a family was a top priority. I would daydream about being a young, hip, city mom, latte in one hand, a chunky baby hanging off of my hip. We were running a successful photography business, traveling the world, deeply in love…but infertility will drive you mad. Even drive each other mad. My entire 20s and early 30s were spent agonizing over our unexplained infertility—reading complex reproductive clinical studies, endlessly researching new diets, meditations, supplements, treatments, holistic procedures. There were so many superfoods and supplements, so much tracking of when I was ovulating (sexy, right?). I tried acupuncture, Mayan abdominal massage, Clomid. All of this went on for nine years, from one negative pregnancy test to the next. It was devastating, traumatic. Finally, we tried IVF. And failed.
The failure hit me like a truck. I was sure there was something wrong with me, with my body, given that I couldn’t get pregnant, even with the help of modern medicine. I mourned, lamented, wrapped up the fail in a box and put it aside. Then I immediately started trying to figure out why this hadn’t worked. I came to understand that with IVF, many times there is no answer. But I did find articles that showed higher success rates in frozen transfers. We had implanted a fresh embryo, but still had five frozen ones. And so I jumped straight to my next transfer. Ten days later…success.
I would like to say that was the happy ending. Or the happy beginning. But because of those nine years of struggle, I questioned my body’s ability to do something as “natural” as carrying a baby. I had a lot of insecurities, fears, doubts. Despite having an easy pregnancy medically, I was emotionally and mentally holding my breath the entire 41 weeks. When Emrys was born, and we were slammed into newborn life, those feelings bled into my first three months postpartum, as I tried to figure out how to take care of a newborn, breastfeed, soothe a crying baby. The emotional and mental turmoil the infertility journey left us was dark and heavy, even after our rainbow baby was born.
That’s why the 100 Days Ceremony meant so much. Like my parents and grandparents, and all the generations before us, Robert and I were expressing our hope for Emrys' future. But we were also celebrating the fact that we made it this far. I’ve finally exhaled. I’m moving forward, trying to be the best working mom I can while raising Emrys to be healthy, happy, and thriving. He’s figuring out the world around him, becoming an independent little being whose work is to grow, be intrigued, laugh, love, imagine, and play.
The 100 Days Ceremony gave us an excuse to stop and take it all in, but it’s also a reminder to cherish not just this day but every day. Parenting is hard work. But the long struggle to have Emrys makes me appreciate every moment with him, even the most difficult ones in the newborn phase. It’s not easy, but the reward is infinitely sweet, like the rice cake itself.