It has been nine days since I gave birth, and I have not washed my hair. And I haven’t had a shower, either.
One of the traditions of postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi – 坐月子) is no washing after childbirth. This is to prevent the body from catching cold after birth. A woman’s body goes through a lot of changes during and after childbirth. She loses a lot of blood, and her whole body is more susceptible to cold. With both my births I went into a type of temporary shock almost immediately afterwards, with uncontrollable chattering teeth.
Once upon a time, people lived in more traditional Chinese style courtyard houses, which were draughty and did not have modern conveniences like heating and air conditioning. While most Taipei residents live in climate-controlled apartment buildings, not everyone has modern conveniences. Avoiding anything that will cause physical discomfort, especially draught, to new mothers is essential.
In fact, I am finding that most principles of zuo yuezi are aimed at warming the body. Women should avoid cool drinks, cold foods and ‘cooling’ fruits and vegetables ( e.g. watermelon, cucumber, nashi pears etc). Instead her diet includes warming foods such as soups with ginger, rice wine, Chinese herbs and ingredients such as Chinese red dates and goji berries.
But back to no washing. Most medical practitioners suggest that with modern conveniences such as hair dryers and heated bathrooms, it is okay to bathe. And most postpartum confinement centers are equipped with luxurious en suite bathrooms. But traditionalists still eschew washing hair or showering, claiming it will cause headaches later in life.
So far I have not showered or washed my hair. I thought I would find this one of the biggest challenges. Initially planned to shower directly after childbirth, but the hospital shower was cramped and slippery. Plus I was so sore after delivering a nine pound baby that all I wanted to do was rest. I am finding it strangely liberating not to have to spend time on personal grooming: more time for establishing feeding with baby, resting and blogging.
This does not mean a total lack of hygiene. My confinement nanny (月婆 – yuepo), Mrs Yang, cooks up a pot of ginger water each day, which I use to take a sponge bath. The fragrant water is warming, and the whole process is something I look forward to. I also find it is easier than negotiating a slippery shower while I am still a bit unstable on my feet.
And there is a solution of sorts to greasy hair. Mr Taiwanxifu bought me a bottle of German product that allows for ‘dry’ hair washing. It works a bit like hairspray: you spray it on and then comb it through. It actually works quite well, and gives my fine hair more volume than it has ever had before. Perhaps I should invest in another bottle for when I go back to work, for those days when I keep pressing snooze on the alarm (or when baby keeps me occupied).
Perhaps we all wash too much. I am not suggesting we give up on personal hygiene, but considering that many people work and live in air-conditioned comfort most of the time and engage in a sedentary lifestyle do we really need to waste so much water washing once or twice daily? Having gone through nine years of drought in Australia, the driest country on the earth, water is a something that I no longer take for granted. And is it really good for our skin to be subjected to frequent washing and scrubbing with artificial soaps and cleansers?
For now I am seeing how long I can last before I really can’t take dry hair wash anymore. And when zuo yuezi is finally over, I plan to celebrate with by indulging in a big spa or hot spring soak.
Ginger Wash Water
3 x 5cm knobs of ginger
Wash and scrub ginger. Slice into rough pieces. Fill a saucepan with water and add the ginger pieces. Boil for around 15 minutes until fragrant. Strain and set aside to cool slightly before use!