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!

Of Martha, Mary, and Mastitis

This is not me but my sick stunt double

“We can take you in the wheelchair,” said the nurse as I was getting discharged from the maternity ward.

“Oh no, I can walk myself,” I insisted.  I grabbed my bags and got up to leave.  “Whoa,” I exclaimed as I dizzily leaned back on the bed.  Good thing David was holding our newborn!  I have never needed assistance in walking and certainly wasn’t about to be wheeled out of here.  I’m a mother, and I can take care of myself AND the baby, thank you very much.

After a couple of more failed attempts at putting one foot in front of the other, however, I had no choice but to give in.  I still felt weak and unsteady 48 hours postpartum.  The nurse waited patiently for me to take a seat in the wheelchair and proceeded to push me down the hallway.  I’m supposed to be pushing a stroller, not sitting in it! 

As soon as we arrived home, I went about cleaning the house.  The place was a mess, and my parents were coming over soon!  In-between baby feedings and diaper changes I did the best I could to tidy, vacuum, launder, and cook so that my parents wouldn’t think that I was a total wreck, regardless of the fact that life with a new baby is quite literally out of control.  “This baby won’t stop crying, honey.  Where is the off switch?” I kept asking David.

When my parents showed up at the door, they made a beeline to their first grand child and took turns holding him in delight while I continued to sweep, mop, wipe, and fold clothes.  “I could use a little help here,” I said under my breath and actually began to look forward to feeding times just so that I could kick my feet up for a little while.

Only a few days later, it was Easter.  I had been a member of our church’s worship band for many years, and I had every intention of going back to sing and play for the Easter service.  “I can’t believe you’re out and about already,” people marveled as I sang my solo.  “You look like you’ve got this baby thing down!” I was feeling pretty good about myself.

…Until later that afternoon, that is.  I began to run a high fever, and the redness around my breasts clearly indicated an infection was setting in.  Mastitis.  I pored over the pages of my baby books, and the experts all agreed that the most common cause of mastitis is — you guessed it — new moms trying to do too much.  The good doctor got me some antibiotics and ordered bed rest.

For the following three days, I stayed in bed, crawling out only to nurse Josh and to eat.  The friends at church brought over meals.  Initially I refused, explaining that my mom was around to help me with cooking so there was no such need (ha!). The truth is, I didn’t want to admit that I was in need.  Boy, is it humbling to receive, but what choice did I have?

On the third day, I felt as though I came back the dead. The house went to pot again, but oh well.  And the undisturbed bonding time with Josh?  Priceless.

This reminded me of a story from Luke 10:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It took mastitis to bring down this Tiger Martha and become more like Panda Mary.

Are you a Martha or a Mary?  Anyone experience mastitis?