Fabulously Lazy 坐月子

I've hardly seen her likes before
Somewhere else, nowhere else before
The girl in the spotlight evermore
Like no one before, forever more
-Franz Ferdinand

Zuo yuezi (坐月子)literally means “sit one month”. The Sit One Month is the monthlong period immediately following childbirth during which a mommy must stay inside and avoid dangerous activities like drinking cold water (cold is bad), using air conditioning (wind is bad), taking showers (water is bad) or climbing stairs (moving is bad). All the aforementioned activities will further imbalance her body, which childbirth has rendered vulnerable and weak. Mommy's body is out of whack. Don't let the heat out, and don't let the cold in.

She lays on her back only to be disturbed to nurse her baby. Her mother or mother-in-law has moved into her home, not only to enforce the Sit One Month rules (no showers, ugh!), but also to care for the new child (perhaps for as long as three years until the child starts kindergarten). In addition to baby care, Grandma cooks special heat-restorative food, like eggs, rice wine porridge (米酒), and pig feet soup.

Rice wine porridge and eggs is on the menu for postnatal healing!

The above is typical of how the Sit One Month goes according what I've been told. While the Sit One Month rules vary from person to person, this practice is pervasive among all social classes.

China's educated, western influenced, city dwelling women are cutting their mothers and mothers-in-law out--and the inevitable family friction-- and opting for fancy Sit One Month rehabilitation centers. My hospital offers up to one month packages which includes a spacious, comfortable room with queen-size bed, a luxurious bathroom, 24-hour nanny service, massage, stretch mark fading, psychological treatment along with medical care. Month long packages range from 88,800 RMB (12,900 USD) to 138,800 RMB (20,200 USD). Other centers also offer baby care classes, baby acupressure, yoga, craft classes in fancy gated complexes for 27,000 USD per month [1].

Less affluent Chinese stick to traditional Sit One Month rules, strictly enforced by older generations. The dry-cleaning guy told me his wife spent the month laying on her back and drinking special soup. Another young mother told me that childbirth causes you to lose fire (or heat), and so showers are to be avoided because water is too cold. Another friend in her mid-fifties, barely literate and working as a nanny for a well-to-do Chinese family, was completely befuddled when I explained to her that western women do not do the Sit One Month. Another mother of a two-year old reluctantly adhered to the Sit One Month rules under her mother's stern eye. After the one month’s completion, a walk down the block left her out of breath.

I admit, I scoffed a little at the idea of a month long sequester. I am American, and American women pride themselves on rebounding quickly from something as mundane as childbirth. Proud mommies show off their little mini-mes at Starbucks or the mall. Nothing is cuter than a sleepy baby decked out in color coordinating hat and newborn onesie emblazoned with gold lettering, “Hello World” or “Brand New.” And no showering after childbirth? That's disgusting! Furthermore, not drinking cold water, or cold foods like fruit, to avoid getting a cold is scientifically unsound. If I want cold water, I am going to drink it.

As it turns out, I ended up sort of doing a Sit One Month. Because little Dumpling came six weeks early, weighing just under two kilograms, we spent the first two weeks of her life holed up in a hospital room to get her over her jaundice and fatten her up. During this time, I sat and sat only leaving my room to get water from down the hall. While I snoozed through the night, the nurses fed Dumpling expressed breast milk via syringe. The hospital provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus afternoon snack to my room, which I ate in bed. Yes, I sat and sat. And sat some more.

The weeks at home following the hospital stay were exhausting. Our lives revolved around getting our sleepy Dumpling’s weight up to 2.5 kg. I functioned on two hour increments between feedings, alternating between breastfeeding and syringe feeding Dumpling fortified expressed breast milk . She was such a sleepy baby, barely awake to eat. Feeding her 20 ml would sometimes take a half hour. Between feedings I--you guessed it--sat and sat. And sat some more.

The weather was also miserably cold and polluted, so staying inside was the attractive option. Dumpling was especially fragile as preemie and getting cold or sick could be dangerous. So I was thankful that because many respect the Sit One Month rules, most people stayed away and came only to drop off meals or fruit.

In retrospect, it would have been really nice to have my mother or mother-in-law around to help cook and clean for a while. Thirty days of Moomoo cooking would have been awesome. I would have been putting on the pounds along with Dumpling. Also, having time to baby bond undistracted by cooking and cleaning would have been nice. For a few weeks, I felt like Dumpling was a stranger that I needed to get to know.

Dumpling is coming up on three months old and gestational age of 1.5 months. I am glad to report that she's a champion breastfeeder, chubbed up and recently started smiling and cooing. We are best buds now.

And all that happened despite me taking showers.

Chinese Word of the blog: 坐月子 Zuò yuè zi
English translation: to convalesce for a month following childbirth, following a special diet, and observing various taboos to protect the body from exposure to the "wind"

[1] China Confinement Care for New Mothers now $27,000 a Month

Dumpling's personal nurse
Daddies are good at the sitting part
Xialian makes good dinner
Chinese friends make good lunch
Good eating during the Sit One Month
Sometimes we sleep instead of sit
Just chillin' at 4 weeks old
Two months old and getting big