I have always been fascinated with Taiwanse-style postpartum confinement centres (aka baby hotel), having an almost voyeuristic need to find out what happens behind the scenes. So I was so excited to sleepover at the luxurious, newly opened Wenhua-Garden Postpartum Nursing Home. And it was so good that I even kept catching myself saying ‘next time I have a baby, I’m definitely coming here’.
As a mother of two boys — a three and a half years old, and a second eight and a half months old baby — I don’t get enough sleep. Although baby no longer wakes every three to four hours for a feed, it is still rare for him to make it all the way through the night. And if baby slumbers peacefully, toddler invariably wakes up after a nightmare or opens the curtains convinced it is morning already.
But those first few weeks, when baby has absolutely no sense of day or night, and when he or she wants to play at odd hours the lack of sleep is most pronounced. Especially if baby is unsettled for some reason. Nothing can prepare you for that. Even if you have been through it before.
Imagine, instead, a peaceful oasis where you can relax in a queen-size bed made-up with crisp linen sheets and fluffy coverlet. Perhaps you are snuggling in bed with your baby, or instead sleeping in knowing that a trained nurse is keeping watch over your peaceful angel. (And if you are at all worried about your cherub, you can flick on the television to be reassured that he or she is okay — there is a webcam above each baby’s crib in the nursery.) If your bub is not so angelic, you can ring up a nurse and ask her to take baby away for burping or ask for specialist assistance with breast feeding. And there is plenty of room for husband to stay with you, in your own post-baby retreat that can help ease you both into the life changing role of parenthood.
It sounds like a dream, but such a place actually exists. And I got to experience it for real. Although not with a newborn baby — this time with husband, toddler and an active almost-crawler.
After my tour of the center by a lovely staff member named Cleo, she left me to get settled in my room. But before leaving, she pointed out the complimentary cutlery set that the centre provided to all guests — you reuse your own utensils at each meal and get to keep them to take home. She then filled up a thermos jug with healthy Chinese herbal tea (designed to assist new mothers — in the zuo yuezi tradition, women avoid drinking ordinary water after childbirth). Then she returned a few minutes later with a set of breastfeeding friendly pink cotton pajamas, issued to all mothers staying in the centre and worn throughout the day. Kind of a comfortable way to mark that you are a willing inmate.
I couldn’t wait to try on my new pajamas. They were soooo comfortable. I thought it was a practical uniform for mothers to wear after childbirth, when you are still feeling a bit sore in certain places and you don’t want to still wear your pregnancy clothes but still have a long way to go before regaining your formal figure. No need to feel anxious about not having any clothes to wear. And the generously proportioned pajamas were also designed with discreet openings that made breastfeeding convenient.
Speaking of which, Taiwanxifu baby was getting restless so I sunk into the comfortable couch and gave him a feed. This gave me an opportunity to try the crescent-shaped breastfeeding support cushions included in each room. Yes, they got my tick of approval as well as the pajamas. And then after feeding, baby had fun playing around on the bed with the cushion.
Then I heard the doorbell chime. It was time for dinner. The evening meal was served early, from 5.20pm onwards, with Wenhua-Garden providing another snack at 8.00pm. If I wanted to sleep instead of eating, I could have put on a ‘do not disturb’ sign on my door and staff would have left the food outside on a ledge. There are microwaves in each room so that mothers can reheat meals if necessary. Not that I had the willpower to wait … my meal smelt delicious.
But although it was early, I was hungry. And intrigued to try the meal. Also a little worried, as I had recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol so the traditional offal based rich zuo yuezi meals were supposed to be off the menu for a while. I was wondering how to politely refuse to eat liver or kidney soup. So I was relieved to open the plastic cover on my meal tray to find a selection of four light and healthy gourmet dishes plus rice and fruit.
I started with the scallops, poached with Chinese wolfberries (goji berries) on a bed of shredded mountain yam. All three of these main ingredients are key zuo yuezi foods; goji berries have enjoyed popularity in the West in recent years as a superfood, and mountain yam (山藥, shānyào) is just as nutritious if not more. As for the scallops, well they were a plump and fresh as they ought to be. Vegetables were lightly steamed broccoli with goji berries.
The highlight for me was the yum cha looking dish in the back-ground: Cantonese style prawn balls, which were soft and light and fluffy. According to the chef, who dispute his youthful appearance has considerable experience working in confinement centres, some women can have allergic reactions during zuo yuezi if they eat seafood that has not been prepared properly. To get around this, he uses fresh green prawns that he processes into the prawn balls himself.
Finally, the soup. Underneath the ceramic bowl was a pork and longan soup that was warming, nutritious, sweet and so good that it was hard to believe that this was an everyday zuo yuezi meal. (Mr Taiwanxifu enjoyed it, too.) And it was delicious eaten with the wholesome wholegrain rice blend.
After dinner, I channel flicked through the many cable and movie channels. Then baby was getting restless and a bit of a handful, so we rang reception and asked for a pram or cot to contain him for a while. They came back with a top-line electrical rocker, which can rock your baby to sleep for your automatically. No need to walk around praying that baby would soon finally drift off to sleep.
Time to prepare for bed. But first, I indulged in a hot shower in sparkly brand new en suite bathroom. I was surprised to see showers in the centre, as traditionally women are encouraged not to bathe for at least 30 days after birth. Contrary to this rule, Cleo told me that most mothers in the centre to shower regularly. Each room is equipped with a climate control system to ensure that women will not get a chill after having a shower. But if they are worried about washing their hair, they can always book in to be pampered at the beauty parlour.
At the risk of toilet humour, I have to describe the loo. Wenhua-Garden has installed a Japanese-style toilet, and while I couldn’t work out how to operate all the various functions, what was immediately obvious as I sat down was that it has been pre-warmed. Toasty warm. Handy for mothers whose lady bits are sore after having birth, or who have common but unpleasant postpartum conditions such as hemorrhoids.
Once baby settled for the night, I indulged by trying the foot massager installed in the Tiffany room. I hadn’t used one of these electronic foot massagers before, and so it took a little to get used to the feeling of fabric squeezing in and out of my feet. It was kind of like reflexology, but without the pain, and the rhythmic pressing was relaxing. So relaxing that I could imagine sitting in one of these and allowing my feet to be pampered while cradling a sleeping newborn baby. How come I was still imaging having another baby? Hmmm, crazy thought.
Before bed, I relaxed with another mug of warm Chinese herbal tea. Then it was lights out for a goodnight sleep. Well, almost lights out as I noticed that a thermal red light remained on, presumably to assist in the (likely) event that a new mother needed to get up to attend her child in the middle of the night.
The next morning I woke fresh and relaxed. And I even managed a sleep-in of sorts. Once we ate breakfast and organised our belongings, we relaxed for a while in the main sitting room. This is an area for women to meet with their guests, or to sit with their babies and chat with other mothers. It was opulent in the extreme, decked out with original artworks, chandeliers, plush velvet sofas and a grand piano. But what I liked best was the wide open windows that allowed in the morning sun. I felt at home sitting there, and almost wished I could be at leisure to soak up the sun while reading a lifestyle magazine or two.
It is is goodbye to Wenhua-Garden for us and time to go home. It had been a short but luxurious stay.
Wenhua-Garden Postpartum Nursing Home is at Level 3, No 9, Lane 130, Minsheng Road Section 3 (台北市松山區民生東路三段130巷9號3樓, phone 02 2717 1222 for details). They organse tours for expectant mothers on request.
Taiwanxifu stayed overnight to experience what it was like to stay at a confinement centre at the invitation of Wenhua-Garden Postpartum Nursing Home.