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With about a month to go, I'm looking past pregnancy to what almost inevitably follows in China: zuo yuezi (坐月子). In English, this is roughing translating as “sitting the month.” Yes, it is pretty much as it sounds--after giving birth to a child, the mother is basically expected to lay around, resting, eating, and (preferably) breastfeeding while her mother-in-law and other relatives take care of the cooking, cleaning, and errand running. Sounds like a pretty sweet set-up, right? Well, let's not draw any conclusions yet, because all this lazing around comes at a pretty steep price. There are numerous rules to follow and I've realized that if I'm going to try sitting the month while retaining my sanity, I'm going to have to better understand this practice, what it involves, and how much of it I am willing to embrace.
So what does “sitting the month” entail, exactly?
That is what I'm trying to get to the bottom of. I've talked to Chinese friends, read the limited articles and blogs (such as Taiwanxifu) I can find on the subject in English, as well as read the concise but helpful book, Lockdown, by Guang Ming Whitley. Mostly, zuo yuezi involves a lot of practices that most Westerners and many modern Chinese women would find unbearable. Forgoing activities such as showering, teeth brushing, reading, watching TV, and facebooking for an entire month after giving birth. Does that not sound miserable? Well, it's only the beginning of a long list of restrictions. Others include a long list of prohibited foods and beverages, banning visitors, crying, going outside, air-conditioning and even opening the window.
What's the reasoning behind all these rules?
Put most simply, zuo yuezi helps the mother recover after giving birth. The full answer is complicated and not something I can answer with much authority. Everything relates to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), most importantly to the ideas surrounding yin and yang. While I am by no means a TCM convert, I can see the value in some of its principles.
So what's the upside of sitting the month?
Clearly, a mother's well-being affects the well-being of her child. While this seems pretty obvious, I think it's something we often forget. Women often talk about “putting their children first” and I'm not sure that's the best approach in the long run. We need to take care of ourselves too, especially after giving birth. In America we put a lot of emphasis on mothers making a speedy recovery and getting life back to normal asap. In a way, this does sound rather appealing, but once I became pregnant I thought a lot about the benefits of easing myself into the routines of everyday life and motherhood; I think zuo yuezi will help me do that.
But am I really willing to do this?
I'm definitely willing to try. I will try my best with the dietary requirements and limit my time reading, but I will be showering and brushing my teeth. Luckily, Ming and his mom have not been overbearing during my pregnancy so I assume they will continue to be openminded about the decisions I make for myself and the baby after he is born, but I think it is important for me to also open my mind to some of their Chinese ideas and practices, such as zuo yuezi.