My moon month is over. I was released from “house arrest” on Thursday and after I’d bundled up in my winter wear once more, I stood for a moment in the driveway, arms outstretched on either side of my body, back arched and face pointed to the sky and breathed in. The winter freshness filled me like a balloon. I’m surprised I didn’t float upwards.
I know that “sitting out the month” or doing a “yuezi 月子” is really good for both mother and child after giving birth. It’s a chance to recover, to heal, to regulate life (again) with a brand new baby whose sleep patterns are all over the place (and thus so are yours as the mother). Of course, the dedicated month also gives me a chance to bond with the wriggly little being that just emerged.
Besides remaining indoors, I follow almost none of the other “rules” to doing the moon month based on traditional Chinese practices. I even slept without socks on. Gasp! Other rules include not coming into contact with cold water (through washing or drinking), not seeing anyone but family, no distractions for the mind like reading or television or computers, not bathing (except with sponge baths and with warm water that has been brewed with ginger), and not bathing the baby. I adhered to none of these things. I even walked around barefoot sometimes and was only occasionally barked at by Guo Jian for it. The truth is that the strict adherence to the rules wasn’t expected of me, the Western wife.
There’s also a rigorous diet plan for postpartum women that includes things like pigsfeet soup and a variety of other meat/bone-based edibles that are certainly not going to be offered to a vegetarian of 25 years! That’s lucky for a husband who isn’t much of a cook, anyway. I even ate salads this past month—the uncooked or “cold” food that is a definite “NO-NO” for postpartum women, let alone anyone who follows seasonal eating according to TCM (traditional Chinese medicine).
In other words, I had it easy. I lived like I would normally live. I was a “yuezi 月子” rebel.
Even so, I am constantly shocking my Western friends and family when they realize, suddenly, that I didn’t “enter the wind” for 30 days. Their eyes widen like I have accomplished an impossible feat. My cousin said, “I thought at least you’d be able to go for a walk around the neighbourhood!”
Guo Jian was really adamant about not allowing the winter wind to enter my joints. When giving birth, a woman’s joints open up to allow the baby to pass through such a narrow opening. Following birth, they slowly close up again. In TCM philosophy, cold or wind can become trapped in these joints if one is not careful during this time. Furthermore, if no additional childbirth is planned for the future, they will forever retain the cold and this is said to be the cause of arthritis or other bone-related health issues in the future.
Regardless of whether I believe in this, by staying indoors I missed some of the worst weather this winter has seen (so far). There was an ice storm, several deep freezes of -30 (Celsius) and more, not to mention a record number of heavy snowstorms. I chose a good time to submit to moon month house arrest and I have no regrets.
That first day of release, we went to the one-month postpartum midwife appointment and discovered that baby Topaz has gained 2lb and is 4cms longer than when he was born. Hurray!
Since then, I’m walking every day and will hopefully get my body back in shape sooner than later. These things take time. I’m not in a rush. Staying healthy is key.
For now, I’m enjoying the crisp beauty of winter that settles into my cheeks as I walk, the crunch of snow beneath my boots with every step, the sound of the sleigh’s wooden slats scraping and sliding against the frost as I pull my perfect little girl behind me, and the subtle snuffling noises of a newborn wriggling against his mommy’s chest as he’s all cuddled up under my jacket.
Motherhood is beauty.
This post first appeared on Ember Swift’s site on January 21, 2014.
Ember Swift is a Canadian songwriter, musician, writer, cyclist, green thumb, cupcake fan and proud mom living in Beijing with her husband, Guo Jian, and their daughter Echo (born January 2012). They are expecting a second child at the end of 2013. Ember writes professionally for several print and online publications (including beijingkids), as well as three blogs through her own site: www.emberswift.com. She is also an internationally touring musician and performs regularly in China with her all-girl local band. She has released 11 independent musical albums over the years but, these days, prefers to be with her family rather than on the road touring. She continues to release her music online and hopes to have completed her memoir project by the end of 2014.
Photo courtesy of Ember Swift