Post-partum Recovery and Cultural Customs

My friend Annie was looking forward to having her mother-in-law come out from Hong Kong to help out for a while after the pending birth of the first grandchild in the family.  After Annie, her husband, and the baby came home from the hospital, she was relieved that her mother-in-law took care of everything so that Annie could rest and bond with the baby.  She even made soup for her everyday.

“Family recipe.  Will make you strong soon and you make good milk for our baby.”

Annie appreciated all the help…at least for the first seven days.  When she began to feel strong enough to do some easy housework, her mother-in-law immediately ordered her back to bed.  Annie was barely allowed to lift a finger except to nurse the baby and to go to the bathroom.

In fact, the matriarch did not allow Annie to get out of bed for THIRTY DAYS!  By the end of the second week, she was nearly in tears.  And by the end of the month, she had gotten so weak that she could hardly walk.  And the baby fat around her belly?  Don’t even think about it.

I’m hearing conflicting reports on how common it is in Hong Kong to remain bedridden for 30 days after giving birth, but my husband David agrees that the Chinese custom calls for keeping the baby away from the public until he or she is at least a month old.

Baby Meg with Big Brother Josh

That’s why I had this unfortunate incident at the nearby shopping mall one day when Meg was only about a week old.  Being the second child and a very easy baby, I popped her out in about two hours and was no worse for the wear.  My first born had already done most of the damage anyway.  It was a hot day in August, we were in a small apartment with air conditioning that couldn’t keep up, so we thought we’d go cool off at the mall.  Besides, Josh loved to go on the merry-go-round there just like any other 2-year old.

A couple of Chinese ladies came walking over to our bench where we were enjoying some croissants, peeking into the canopy of the infant car seat which sat upon the dual-purpose stroller.

“The baby – how old?” the older of the two asked me with a smile, in broken English.

“Oh, six days,” I replied, proudly.

Her eyes grew wide.  She then turned to the other woman, said something to her in Chinese, and turned back to me and glared.  They both pointed their fingers at me.  I wasn’t really sure what they were thinking, but they suddenly didn’t look so friendly.

I asked my husband who speaks Cantonese, “What did they say?”

“I’m not sure, because they were speaking Mandarin, but I think they said, ‘Child abuse!’”  I decided to scurry away before they called security on me.

Every culture has its own way of handling childbirth.  In Japan, they let the mom stay in the hospital for a full week even when there are no complications.  As for me, I followed the cultural customs of Kaiser Permanente Medical Hospital in Southern California.  I went into labor with both babies on a Friday morning then came home with a new bundle of joy on a Sunday afternoon.  It was like I went on a weekend retreat each time.  I just came home with a special package afterwards.  If my husband didn’t pull some strings, though, the hospital would have made me leave on Saturday instead of Sunday.  Also, the German nurse told me that I had to pass poop (and show her the proof) before I could leave.  For once, I was happy to be constipated for 48 hours.

My friend Christy, a fitness instructor, shared with us one time that she had decided to go for a jog, pushing her newborn in a baby jogger, three weeks postpartum.  She quickly found out that that’s not a very good idea.  She recommends others now to avoid her same mistake.

I am not sure which culture does it “right,” but it really all depends on mom and baby.  After my experience with mastitis, though, I would just recommend you to take it easier than you think you should.  That’s what I should have done, in hindsight.

How did you handle your postpartum period?  How long did it take you to get your groove back?  Share in the comments below!