Jerry Chan’s Baby Blog — Chapter 4
Everybody needs time to recover from giving birth regardless of whether it was a natural delivery or caesarian section, but what and how to do it varies widely from culture to culture. Take my sister in Norway, for instance, – a week after she gave birth to my nephew (also by c-section), she was up and at ‘em, and practicing rock climbing at the gym a mere ten days after her surgery.
Here in China, though, it’s a different story: new mothers are expected to “zuo yue zi” (做月子) after giving birth, which means resting at home under from very strict conditions for anywhere between 42 to 56 days.
And just how “strict” are these conditions? As I write this, my wife has not been allowed to shower or bathe since her surgery last weekend (fortunately, she’s not as naturally smelly as me). Naturally this has a lot to do with preventing her c-section scar from getting infected, but it has as much to do with the fear of her catching a cold or chill in her weakened state.
The enforcers of this, and oh-so-many other rules, are her Lao Beijing parents and the yue sao (月嫂) – a kind of post-birth ayi that many Chinese employ to take care of newborns and their mothers during the “zuo yue zi” period (I’ll have a lot more to say about how we found ours and what’s happened since in another post).
My wife has also been under a strict regimen of precautions and dietary adjustments: in addition to the no-bathing thing (we’re told tonight she can wash her hair – yippee!), she has also been restricted from watching TV and even reading too much (bad for the eyes), nor can she go outside (sounds a bit extreme, but given the air quality, not too inclined to disagree). Her daily diet, prepared by the yue sao, consists mainly of a mixture of various veggies (tomatoes, paprika peppers, soybean sprouts etc.), some proteins (tofu, a bit of pork and fish, mainly) and three types of soups – a cloudy, rich fish stock (made from grass carp, or “ji yu” 鲫鱼 in Chinese), pig feet soup with soybeans (zhu ti tang, 猪蹄汤), and chicken soup made from rooster. All virtually salt-free and as bland as white northern rice. Yum.
These soups, especially the latter (which must be made from rooster and not hen), are all intended to help kick-start my wife’s mammary glands (xia nai, 下奶), which has been a bit of a struggle for us. To this effect, we’ve also tried out a variety of Chinese medicines and herbs – including Tong Cao (a bark-like root thing-y that I have no idea how to write in Chinese, much less translate), Dong Chong Xia Shu (again, a very Chinese thing that basically translates as “bug in the winter and grass in the summer,” which is pretty much what it sounds like), and a syrupy medicine that seems to work especially well called Sheng Ru Zhi (生乳汁). A couple of bottles of the latter has indeed gotten my wife lactating. More precisely, she has begun producing the semi-clear colostrum that helps boost baby’s immune system, and over the past few days the consistency of her lactation has gotten progressively thicker, so we are hopeful.
Getting little Marianne used to suckling has been another ordeal. Because we’ve resorted to bottle-feeding her formula in the past week as we wait for my wife to xia nai, our daughter has become very accustomed to the generously sized stand-in nipple of her baby bottle. She struggles to suckle her mother’s somewhat less amply-sized natural stand-ins and cries and fusses as we try to coax her to eat, and it’s times like these when I’m standing there, breast pump in hand, that I appreciate the value of parental patience.