One of the things I love about spending time at home on maternity leave is watching Taiwanxifu Toddler bond with his infant brother. But this is not always encouraged during postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi).
Taiwanxifu Toddler is so far adjusting well to his role as ‘elder brother’ (gege). Mr Taiwanxifu brought him into hospital twice to visit his baby brother, and he was also with us when we went to hospital to bring home Taiwanxifu Baby. We had been telling him for months beforehand that he was going to be ‘gege’, and he was very excited about having a little brother.
Taiwanxifu Toddler has recently started pre-school, so he has his own friends and activities during the day. But as soon as he wakes up of a morning, and as soon as he comes home of an afternoon, he rushes to see his ‘younger brother’ (didi). He is fascinated by the baby, and keeps wanting to touch is feet and watch him sleep. Even mundane things like changing the baby’s nappy seem interesting to him. Although I do admit he was less enthused during our long, long night of tears when the baby’s cries woke him up in the middle of the night.
Occasionally, Taiwanxifu Toddler competes for attention. For example earlier this evening as I was trying to feed a crying baby he decided to climb onto my lap as well. And sometimes he jumps on the bed or demands I play with him while I am in the middle of feeding or burping baby to try to catch my attention. But mostly he is very considerate.
I consider it important for my toddler to be involved in the experience of having a new family member from the beginning. So I was somewhat surprised when my research into postpartum confinement centers showed that most centers have restrictive policies in regards to visits by siblings.
Many parents in confinement centers make frequent use of the infant nursery where trained nurses are on hand around the clock to care for babies. Usually mothers are encouraged to feed and room in, but since the emphasis is on the mother’s speedy recovery there is often not much pressure to bond with the baby. Some of the centers I spoke with said that older siblings were allowed to visit the mother in her room or a lounge area (although I did not get the impression this was encouraged), but baby had to be returned back to the nursery and could not have contact with other children. The reason was to prevent cold and infection with the baby, which could be transmitted to other infants in the nursery.
Many families in Taiwan now only have one child, or two at most. So I guess the instances of visiting siblings in confinement centers is quite rare. Without wanting to cast too many cultural judgements on the lack of opportunities for siblings to bond, I can’t help but wonder whether older siblings would feel traumatized by having Mum suddenly whisked away for a month or longer. I find it hard enough juggling competing requirements by baby (and my own physical limitations post birth) when my toddler wants my attention. I think I would miss my toddler terribly if I was holed away in a hotel-like center.
I guess this is one of the reason why home delivery for prepared confinement food is a popular and growing market. Not everyone wants to lock themselves away from family and familiar surrounds for a month, but realistically who has time to cook gourmet, nourishing meals when there is a new baby in the house? I am fortunate to have plenty of household help at the moment, yet even with this assistance I still find it hard to get enough sleep in-between the four-hour feeding schedule and expressing milk.
So what do you think is the best way to help other siblings adjust to the arrival of a new baby?