December 4, 2005

"Taking a shower, washing your hair, drinking cold water, opening the window, watching television and even reading a book."

Things not to do after having a baby.
For my part, I refused to be a prisoner to tradition and blithely ignored these taboos. And Dong Ayi did not exactly complain when I took a shower or opened the window or drank iced water.

She would just fix me with a baleful glare... a silent warning of the error of my ways....

Food was another small battleground over which we skirmished.

The Chinese firmly believe that certain foods are beneficial after childbirth, particularly purple rice porridge with dates, pig trotter soup and black chicken broth.

On one memorable occasion, my in-laws even produced deep-fried pork-fat soup, which was surprisingly good.

The problem was that Dong Ayi firmly opposed my favourite foods: namely coffee, chocolate and bananas.

"Not for breastfeeding mothers," she said, banning them from my diet, "they're bad for Daniel's health."

I took the route of least resistance and meekly agreed, though I would visit friends' houses for clandestine coffee and secret bananas.
Even if the rules seem absurd, they do serve many purposes. Look at how these rules intricately connected the new mother to her traditional culture, enforced elaborate special care for the mother, and guaranteed an extended celebration of the arrival of the baby. Of course, the modern new mother can resist and make fun, but at the same time, she appreciates the beauty and function of the traditional ways.


AllenS said...

That's nothing, she should be glad that she isn't a Scientologist.
Practitioners of Scientology are against drugs to relieve the pain of childbirth but insist on "silent birth" because they believe it's traumatic for babies to hear their mothers groan or cry. Women are better off with a Chinese mother, than a Scientologist husband/father.

digital mule 2 said...

If we look at James's Lileks’ Mommy Knows Worst we can see that the western mind has its own quaint amusing superstitions about birth. Chinese health practices are primarily based in empirically tested approaches. The fact that they are explained within culturally mediated theoretical frameworks that don't match our own doesn't lessen their value.

Joan said...

This quote jumped out at me: That is because in China, new mothers are not expected to leave their beds for a month after giving birth.

Obviously this is an upper-class or regional custom. Who can afford to have a mother who stays in bed for a month? I remember reading all of Pearl Buck's wonderful China works, and while the birth of children was always celebrated, the mom was usually back on her feet very quickly in the peasant families. I realize those stories are set about 100 years ago or more, but this article is discussing customs that certainly go back at least that far.

The author's baby certainly is beautiful!

oldgranny said...

Interesting about bananas. They used to be one of the first foods introduced to babies. I wonder if that's been changed?

wildaboutharrie said...

Oldgranny, most mothers I know do have bananas early in the lineup. We just started cereal with our newish addition - bananas are around the corner.

I would think a month in bed would put you at risk for a blood clot. And no shower for a month???

But there's a lot of wisdom here. After my first I was up and about the next day, trying to "be normal" because I thought I was supposed to. It was not good. After my second I got a lecture from the nurse - no lifting except for the baby for a month, avoid stairs, no housework or drivivg for two weeks, no visitors unless they are willing to do dishes and laundry and cooking. I followed much of her advice. What a difference.

I think too often new mothers are afraid of appearing selfish or weak, so they ignore the wisdom of their own bodies. Except for the ban on chocolate, Dong Ayi sounds all right. And what a beautiful baby!

Tom T. said...

It seems to me that "enforced elaborate special care for the mother" can very easily turn into "enforced infantilization of an adult woman." Superstition is superstition, and we shouldn't romanticize it just because it comes from a foreign culture or because there's a cute l'il baby involved.

wildaboutharrie said...

Tom T., I'm not sure which parts of the story look like "infantilization", but you might not be aware that it takes most mothers 3-4 weeks to establish a good breastfeeding relationship with a newborn. I think one reason breastfeeding percentages are so miserable in the US is women don't take the time to just sit around in their PJs and work it out with the baby. (Lack of support and know-how from family elders also doesn't help.) I'm not one to harken for "the good old days" in general, but in the case of new mothers, I think a step back in time is a good idea.

By the way, regarding my last post, after my second I drove after a week and was back to housework soon after, but this was a huge improvement from my first time around, where I moved us into a new house two days after our (early) baby was born.

Troy said...

2 hours after my 6 year old son was born my wife had a Wendy's Chicken sandwich, Biggie Fries, and a Large Diet Coke (caffeine included!!! -- another stare producer).

After 2 hours of pushing she barked the order, I snapped to, and did my duty. What was I to do? I'd gotten her a steak if it had nt been close to midnight and she hadn't demanded Wendy's. And she took a shower the next morning.... Women are tough.