I was privileged to have Mrs Yang, a supportive and experienced confinement nanny (月婆yuepo) to look after me during zuo yuezi (坐月子) , the month of confinement after having childbirth. Having someone in your home to help directly after childbirth can be a godsend. But it can also be stressful having a stranger in your home, especially if you don’t communicate or understand the ground rules.
Recently, I read an article on hubpages written by someone who engaged a nanny — called a pui-yuet in Cantonese. Some of the rules of engagement were different from my experience of hiring a nanny in Taiwan, so I thought it might be useful to spell out some of the basic expectations.
- Select your yuepo early. A good yuepo is hard to find and her calendar fills up quickly. Mr Taiwanxifu started making inquiries about a yuepo within days of finding out I was pregnant. We located Mrs Yang through word of mouth via contacts established through the playground grapevine, but there are agencies that specialise in outsourcing yuepo. Recently, a friend of a friend tried to contact Mrs Yang only to find that she is already booked out until next April! Like many yuepos, she is connected with other confinement nannies so hopefully will be able to recommend someone. But the sooner you find someone, the better.
- The start date. Once we identified a potential yuepo, we invited her around to discuss hiring her for zuo yuezi . She then gave us a draft contract, which we perused and signed. A key part of the contract was the start date. There is a high rate of caesarean sections in Taiwan, often pre-scheduled, so this makes it relatively easy for confinement nannies to know when to start work with a new family. But they understand that not everyone knows when they give birth, so they are flexible. They usually schedule a bit of time between contracts as a buffer, but also commit to finding another yuepo if for any reason they are unavailable. The contracted period starts from when the mother comes home from hospital.
- Working hours. Mrs Yang worked for us six days a week, from Monday to Saturday for thirty days. She cooked extra food on Saturday so that we would have meals on Sunday. She arrived just after 9.00am most days, and left after 6.00pm. She did not live in with us, so was not there during the evening. The thirty days did not include Sundays or public holidays, so in the end she was with us for over a month and a half. We liked having her with us, so extended her contract by a few extra days.
- Cooking for the household. Mrs Yang’s main duty was to cook for me, the mother. But she also cooked meals for Mr Taiwanxifu and our toddler. Perhaps because Mr Taiwanxifu praised her so much, towards the end of her time with us she cooked some special Taiwanese dishes just for him. She said that she once looked after a household where she cooked daily for eight people! But not all yuepos will cook for other family members, so this is something you should communicate clearly beforehand if you envisage her cooking for more than one person.
- Looking after baby. In addition to cooking, Mrs Yang also minded the baby for me while I slept. She loved to bathe him daily, a ritual that she clearly got a lot of joy from. From time to time, she also fed baby when a bottle with expressed breast milk. And she was a whizz at changing nappies.
- Looking after the mother. The yuepo’s role includes teaching mothers how to look after an infant. How many new mothers have wished their baby came with an instruction manual? At first I was reluctant to take some of Mrs Yang’s well-meaning advice on board. Some people complain that confinement nannies can be bossy when it comes to teaching how to raise babies. But with time I found that Mrs Yang’s quiet advice was usually valid so eventually I would ask her opinion on any issue I was unsure about. In addition, I had attachment issues with breastfeeding during the first few weeks after bringing baby home, and she calmly helped me deal with the crying (baby) and pain (me) at that time. And when I had engorged breasts, she massaged them (with vigour — it was painful!), which helped avoid the potential development of mastitis. It initially felt odd having a stranger so interested in my breasts, but I quickly got over my timidity.
- Housework. Some yuepos will do housework, while others won’t. It is best to discuss this beforehand to avoid any confusion. We are lucky enough to already have a lovely full-time Filipino helper, so we did not ask Mrs Yang to do any housework — although our contract with her did specify that she would do light housework related to the baby. Initially I was worried that our helper, Marissa, might be jealous of Mrs Yang, but the two soon became good friends. Mrs Yang taught Marissa how to cook some Taiwanese dishes, and they ate lunch together every day. Mrs Yang also folded the washing together with Marissa while they chatted in broken Chinese/English, and the two of them often looked after the baby while I slept. (I should add that having so many people at home to help with the baby was completely different from my experience in Australia with my first son. It is a luxury that I have truly appreciated.)
- Mealtimes. Our yuepo did not eat meals with us. Although Mrs Yang cooked many meat dishes, including with offal, she was vegetarian so she preferred to eat meals by herself or with Marissa.
- Shopping. Mrs Yang visited her local wet market every morning to shop for fresh produce. Mr Taiwanxifu supplemented by purchasing items such as rice, sesame oil and rice wine from the supermarket. Mrs Yang is a regular at her market, and we could tell that she enjoyed selecting the freshest produce and had a good relationship with certain vendors at the market. We trusted that she would buy top quality produce at the best available price. One day she even managed to buy three crabs that had been caught by accident at sea as part of a fishing catch — they were non-farmed and filled with prized crab roe. But she told me that some families are very cost conscious and prefer to shop themselves. While I was impressed with her frugality and bargaining, her philosophy is that the zuo yuezi experience is not the time to scrimp by using inferior or cheap produce.
- Payment. The wage for a yuepo is around NT$2,000 a day, with food extra. All up we spent almost NT$80,000 for a month and a half. Mrs Yang paid cash for food at the markets, and we paid her salary and reimbursed her weekly on a weekly basis. We did not pay her a hong bao (red envelope) at the conclusion of her contract, which is the practice in some Chinese communities.
- If you don’t get along. We paid a NT$5,000 non-refundable deposit when we signed the contract. Mrs Yang told me she only once had a situation where her contract ended early. (She has cared for over a hundred babies.) She did not get along with the family, so asked to leave early. They then tried to avoid paying her (long story, which I won’t relate because I only heard it second hand). It is rare to have a situation where you don’t get along with a yuepo and wish to break the contract. Since we did not go through an agency and paid Mrs Yang weekly, technically we could have paid her a weeks’ wages and ended the arrangement. It is probably a good idea to discuss how to handle this issue in the unlikely event that you don’t get along.
Do any of my readers have any experience with hiring a confinement nanny? How did you choose your nanny, and how did you decide on what her terms and conditions would be?