One of the golden rules of Chinese postpartum confinement (坐月子 zuo yuezi) is ‘no visitors’, or at least limited visits to only close family and friends. But could it be that I am craving company?
In her book ‘Lockdown: An American Girl’s Guide to Postpartum Recovery’, Guang Ming Whitley, who forbade non-essential guests, writes about the ‘no visitors’ policy during zuo yuezi as follows:
“A visitor is someone who comes over to see and hold the baby and talk to you. A visitor gets comfortable on your couch. A visitor wants you to tell your birth story and asks how breastfeeding is going and how long the baby is sleeping at night. A visitor gives you unsolicited advice and expects you to listen attentively.
You spend time before a visitor comes making sure to cover up the bags under your eyes (there will be that many bags) and to change out of your pajamas. You miss all the cues your baby is sending because you are too busy entertaining the visitor.
Therefore, no visitors are allowed. I obeyed this commandment without any argument and you should too. I knew that if I let even one person come over, the floodgates would open. Set clear boundaries and enforce them. People with your best interests in mind will understand.”
I can so relate to this. Most days it is a blessing not to have to worry about changing out of pajamas, to have uncombed and wild unwashed hair, to sleep in if I need to, to have a nanna-nap mid afternoon, and to focus on establishing feeding with my baby. I can slob around and (mostly) do things when and if I want to — depending on baby’s schedule.
Earlier this evening, one of Mr Taiwanxifu’s friends rang. “Probably not a good time to come and see the baby right now,” he said. Part of me appeared disappointed, and he noticed. “I think deep down you miss not having visitors,” he said.
And he is right. Part of me yearns to dress up my newborn son and show him off, to retell the birth story and to talk about the sleepless nights but baby’s gorgeous smile. And to dress myself up a bit (even if only to comb my hair), and to hear people tell me how good I look as a new mother. Super-mother syndrome? Maybe. Could it also be that I miss people, that I miss normalacy and that I miss hearing what is happening in the world beyond my four walls?
I should add at this point that I am discovering that the confinement ‘no visitors’ policy does vary depending on the individual. We have had a few, but not many, visitors. We noticed that visiting hours at hospital were busy, too, so I guess I can assume that most Taiwanese allow people to visit them in hospital. (We had a few offers for people to come and visit, but we politely but firmely declined.) And confinement centers often restrict visitors entry into a mother’s guest room, but usually have a dedicated lounge area for receiving guests.
I polled a few friends who had gone through zuo yuezi about the ‘no visitors’ rule. One Western friend, who has practiced zuo yuezi, told me that she was allowed to have frequent visitors: they could come to her, she just couldn’t come to them. But several of my Taiwanese friends had a different response. With some prodding, they admitted that while they did receive some visitors, the ‘no visitors’ rule gave them an excuse to screen visits to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Given the emphasis on the new mother getting sufficient rest during ‘zuo yuezi’, it is culturally acceptable to say no to offers of visits.
So it is okay to say no to visitors if need be, at least until the baby turns one month old (滿月, man yue), at which time the parents celebrate by giving out sticky rice (油飯, you fan) and red eggs (although these days the trend is increasingly towards giving out cakes). Baby is three weeks’ old today, so I guess I now don’t have too long to wait until I become social again. For now at least there is email and Facebook (not withstanding the fact that I am not supposed to spend too much time on the computer!)