by Jocelyn Eikenburg
A Chinese female friend once said to me, “Western women don’t need to do zuo yuezi because you’re much stronger than us.”
Zuo yuezi, for those of you who don’t know about this, is the month-long confinement that new mothers generally observe in China after birthing their child. During that time, they rest, eat nourishing foods, and usually have assistance with the new baby (often from their mother or mother-in-law). It’s an extremely important recuperation custom for new mothers in China.
Now, zuo yuezi is not a tradition in most Western countries. But it’s not because the women are so strong they don’t need a rest!
After reading “cost of postpartum confinement centers”which I shared,some readers were aghast at the cost. One friend thought that the hotel-like accommodation was only for the extremely wealthy. Actually, while the per night tariff is not cheap, many people I know have stayed at them for a month or longer after having a baby. Others have spent between US$1,000 and US$2,000 a month on special home delivered postpartum meals.
Why is there instead a perception in Western cultures that it is wrong to spend money (and time) on a woman’s recovery? If a husband loves his wife, why wouldn’t he want her to have the best care? And if she loves herself, why doesn’t she demand it?
getting someone to come in and help the mother with cooking, cleaning and looking after baby so that she can get some sleep? What extravagance! Why, people would think she was lazy, or that she was a negligent mother who could not perform her duties. Real mothers prove themselves by feeding through the night, changing dirty nappies, cleaning up vomit and doing several loads of washing. Then they put on some lipstick and try to look glamorous as they entertain guests.
Unfortunately, most supermums fizzle out eventually. In my case, it took less than a month with first baby before I began to get worn out and very cranky.
It’s kind of crazy that the absence of zuo yuezi in Western countries could lead people to conclude Western women must be stronger – though it’s not the first time I’ve heard this sort of thing.
People in China also claim Westerners are tough because we’re taller and larger than a part of the population here in China — with some even attributing this physical difference to diet (that Westerners supposedly consume loads of dairy and red meat). Naturally, this leads to bizarre conversations among friends. For example, one of our friends here in China proudly announced she planned to feed her toddler lots of cheese, because it’s supposedly the “food of champions” for foreigners. All the while I kept thinking to myself, where did she learn this nonsense?
By Ember Swift
The modern “zuò yuèzi” is not as strict as the traditional one, so, yes, I’d recommend it to new moms. In the West, some new moms think they need to jump right back into life and work after delivering a child; they’re too hard on themselves. I think the practice is primarily about rest and recovery, not to mention establishing those early bonds with your child and as a family unit. The connection to TCM in the rules related to cold, wind, water (etc) all make logical sense, but some of the stricter requirements like not bathing (yikes!) are just not realistic in this day and age when we have access to hot water in the wintertime and when our homes are (mostly) free from drafts. What’s more, how wonderful is it to have someone making your meals and taking care of your home while you just get used to being a mom? It’s hard to turn down such a beautiful offer of caregiving.