As many of my readers know, I endured (and benefited from) the Chinese postpartum confinement practice known as zuo yuezi (坐月子). One of my challenges in writing about this practice has been deciding what term to use. You see, zuo yuezi isn’t widely understood or practiced in Western cultures (at least, not anymore). So there is no direct or easy way to translate the term.
Zuo yuezi literally means ‘sitting the month’, a reference to women spending a month indoors resting after birth in the Chinese postpartum tradition. Western cultures used to have a similar tradition of supporting a mother after childbirth, although not necessarily with the same heritage of medicinal recipes. A friend recently told me that in Wales, a women was supported during her postpartum ‘lying in’ period by her mother and sometimes also her grandmother. More broadly, it was often called ‘confinement’, which is now mostly perceived as a quant term with negative connotations of weak women being forcefully locked in their bedchambers. Although the term is still in use: for example, the policy guidelines at my work on maternity leave still refer to the period of ‘confinement’ as being the time from when a women leaves work to have her baby until her return.
So how to translate zuo yuezi so that it conveys a positive, nurturing and healing spirit? How to make the description, and related terms, relevant to modern women who want to recover their energy after childbirth so they can get on with their business of being mothers and empowered, strong women? I have come up with a few suggestions, and would love to get your opinions via this poll.
And what about the postpartum carer, who looks after Mum and Bub during the first weeks after she comes home? In Taiwan, she is often called a ‘yuepo‘ (月婆), although the term is not so commonly understand because most people are either cared for at home or else go into luxury confinement centers. In China, such carers are often referred to as a ‘yuesao’ (月嫂). And there is a growing trend in the West of postpartum doulas, who provide a similar type of service. Please vote and let me know what you think the best description is.
Luxury confinement centers (坐月子中心, zuo yuezi zhongxin), where a mother lives in hotel-like accommodation and receives 24-hour care (with baby either rooming in with her or most usually in a nursery) are an increasingly popular choice in Taiwan and major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. They are also springing up in the United States as well, in part to cater for Chinese mothers who travel to the US to give birth. But what is the best name for them? I’ve come up with a few alternatives.
And finally, many new Mums (and Dads) that I know chose to stay at home and order in specially prepared zuo yuezi meals. Usually these include specially prepared medicinal dishes for the new mother, but are often generous enough for a hungry husband to share as well. Some companies will also prepare vegetarian versions. But what to call this service in English?
Of course, I welcome your input into using any terms that I have not included. There are some linguistic differences between Chinese spoken in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities. And also differences in English spoken around the world. It’s a wonder that we can manage to communicate with each other at all, but hopefully some standardisation in terminology will help to better describe the zuo yuezi tradition.