Sunday, June 21, 2009

40 Days and 40 Nights

No this post is not about Noah, but I am sure some mothers out here must begin to feel just about as stir crazy. A few months ago I commented on the fact that a Uyghur woman is expected to stay at home for 40 days after giving birth. One of my friends commented that she wasn't sure if this sort of confinement would be relaxing and healing or simply drive her crazy.

Last week some of my friends from the states gave birth to their third child. I thought her post on the forced home stay was rather funny and I thought you might enjoy her insights (Beth this is for you).

Our boy is just over a week old now, but according to local custom, we need to keep him inside- and I should for sure be inside with him, lying in bed- for one whole month after birth. I know this and I really do want to honor the local culture as much as possible, but this is really tricky! We don't have family here to take over caring for me, the baby, the house and the big kids, and I admit, I am very Americanly productivity minded. Matt has been a Super Dad (absolutely extraordinary!) but still, he can only do so much.

So, I confess, I have ventured out already. Several times actually. Matt took me out for breakfast to a cute coffee shop nearby for my birthday. It was just me and my men (Isaiah was still a bit ill so he didn't go to school, but Marian did.) I tried to find an exit out of our building where I wouldn't have to pass by the usual line up of people-watchers or hear too many comments before hopping in the back seat of our electric bike. But the plan failed.

I ran into an unexpected crowd of very concerned neighbors. What was I doing out already!? And WHAT was I doing wearing no socks, even daring to expose virtually my whole calf (calves) so soon after giving birth? (It was about 80 F.) How old is that baby?... Basically they were all of one mind and voice: "go upstairs this instant and don't come out again for three more weeks!"

Then I met two more ladies, one about 50 and the other about 70 years old. The younger asked me "do you know that we have a custom..." and she went on to explain the "Man Yue" custom of spending the first month lying down.

"Yes, I know."

"But you don't follow it?"

"I know there is lots of value in that custom. I think it is very nice and helpful, but it's not what I'm used to and I also have two big kids I need to care for so I can't really practice Man Yue like you do."

Then the younger woman, who apparently was already familiar with foreigners ways, explained the whole thing to the older woman. "These foreigners don't rest for a month. She walks around with no socks on. She probably even drinks cold water- really cold."

The elder was flabbergasted. Certainly not cold water! (It would make my stomach upset and my milk undrinkable for our little one.)

Then the younger continued..."She probably brushed her teeth the first day after she gave birth."

The elder promptly replied: "That's impossible. If you brush your teeth that soon, all your teeth will fall out."

Lots to keep in mind!

And, it's not just a few people who have shared thoughts like this with us. These views honestly seem to be held by at least 9 out of 10 people we meet.... and people do share their opinions very (very) willingly. There's basically no holding back when it comes to people declaring what they think of you!

The gate guard at the kids school is another friend of ours. He's always careful to look out for and care for our family. He told me, scoldingly (which means he cares a great deal for us) that he doesn't care if it's not what we're used to... and then he laid on us the equivalent of "when in Rome, do as the Romans."

Yes... Somehow...


Meena said...

O, dear. That is stressing me out just reading your friend's blog post! She seems to keep the right perspective, though...that it is really our dear friends caring for us and looking out for us.

Anonymous said...

Now that is 1 great story!!! Loved it!!!

Beth said...

Thanks for the post Karen! I'm just catching up on your blog now. It's a very apropos time to read it, though, as tomorrow is Robbie's first birthday, so I've lately become nostalgic about "last year at this time" :)

Maybe we should strive for a balance. I am sooo very "American productivity minded" and i think most other people here also expect that they will attend work/church/exercise class, host family gatherings, and in general resume life as usual immediately after having a baby. On the other hand, lying in bed for an entire month?!?!

Do you think that the younger generation (who is a bit more globalized it seems) will continue to uphold these customs?

Beth said...

PS I think that in this case the social pressure might be enough to make me want to follow the custom,'s tough when other people question your ability to be a fit mother :)

Unknown said...

Hi Karen,
Thanks for sending your blog address. Dave and Martina told us that you were blogging. My, but you are some busy girl!!
You are very much on our minds especially as you continue to grapple with all of those funny idioms! Also that you are making good and important relationships.
Keep up the good work. Hipe to see you next time you are in Cambridge.