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Life in the motherhood suite

After giving birth to my first son, I spent nearly a month at a Taiwan “postpartum center” to rest and prepare for being a mom

Angela and Miles Handout

Life in the motherhood suite

A little past 5 p.m. last Oct. 17, my son, Miles, let out his first cry in the small delivery room of Dianthus MFM Clinic in Taipei. The moment felt surreal, my body shaking uncontrollably after the exertion of the delivery. As a new mom, I marveled that this 7.9-pound newborn placed on my chest had only moments earlier been inside me and now was my responsibility and blessing.

After two nights at the birth clinic, I was discharged. Instead of heading home, my husband and I checked into a room at the Foryu Postpartum Center, our abode for the next 24 days. These hotel-like postpartum centers, common in East Asia, help mothers practice the tradition of postpartum confinement known as zuo yuezi (literally, “sitting the month”). With a team of nurses to care for the baby 24 hours a day, three meals delivered to the room, and cleaning ladies to tidy the room, a new mom can rest and recover from her pregnancy and delivery before fully taking on the hardships of motherhood.

Chinese culture places much significance on the first month after childbirth—people blame later aches and pains on not getting enough rest early on. The traditional practice of zuo yuezi, which dates to first-century China, includes a myriad of restrictions: For one month, mothers can’t go outside, wash their hair, take a shower, use air conditioning, or drink cold water. The rules aim to protect mothers from getting sick or chilled in their weakened state, although today many have ditched the more stringent rules. The tradition demands new mothers eat nourishing foods such as ginger, sesame oil chicken soups, and herbal teas (see “New baby? Just relax,” March 18, 2017).

In Taiwan, most new moms rest at home as their mothers or mothers-in-law (or hired helpers) move in for a month to cook, clean, and help care for the baby. In recent years, postpartum centers have cashed in on the practice, often advertising their nursing staff and amenities (think massages, spas, yoga classes). The centers can cost $150 to $450 a night, depending on the level of luxury.

In my practice of zuo yuezi, I took a lax route. I washed my hair, occasionally ventured outside, and ate sushi and pizza (in addition to the traditional foods). But I also took advantage of my time at the postpartum center to recover, rest, and learn all I could about caring for a baby. Each room was stocked with new-mom necessities: an electric breast pump, a baby bottle sterilizer, and a breastfeeding pillow that doubled as a postpartum seat cushion as sitting became painful.

Due to a minor respiratory infection, Miles had to stay in the birth clinic for his first five days, at times hooked up to an IV. When he finally arrived at the postpartum center, the nurses patiently instructed me how to breastfeed him for the first time and how to keep him awake as he inevitably fell asleep in his tiresome endeavor of eating. They taught us clueless first-time parents how to change Miles’ diaper, how to swaddle him tight, and how to bathe him.

During those first few days, it gave me peace of mind knowing I could call a nurse to my room anytime I had a question. The nurses had me keep a log of Miles’ feedings and diaper changes, and every other day they recorded his weight gain to ensure he was getting needed nutrients. At night, most of the mothers wheeled their babies to the nursery for overnight care so they could get better sleep. I kept Miles in my room most nights. During the day, if I needed to run errands, take a walk, or just get some time to myself, I handed Miles to the sweet nurses.

A week after his birth, I woke up with a fever and flu-like symptoms. A nurse took my temperature and urged me to see my obstetrician, who told me I had mastitis, an inflammation of the breast. After I returned to my room with medicine, the nurses checked on me and offered tips to treat the problem.

The center hosted weekly classes—including one on baby massages. One night the nurses let Miles go for a “swim” in a small pool inside the nursery. With an inflatable ring holding up his head, Miles quickly fell asleep, allowing a nurse to place a fuzzy bunny hat on his head so we could take photos. Another day, professional photographers came to our room and transformed the bed into a makeshift photography studio: For more than two hours they dressed Miles up in various outfits and snapped photos. They came back days later to sell us the expensive pictures, which we sentimental parents could hardly refuse.

Yet the restrictions of the confinement also took a toll. I spent most of my time in one room with a small window providing a view of a narrow alley and countless air conditioning window units. I sometimes felt restless. When I did go out, the cleaning lady fretted that I wasn’t wearing enough clothes or that I needed to put on a hat. Friends could visit, but they weren’t allowed to hold the baby: They could only look at Miles through the glass of the nursery.

By the end of our stay, we were eager to return home. I said goodbye to the cleaning ladies and nurses who had cared for my son so well, and a friend drove us back home. I walked through our front door carrying Miles in his car seat, still very much a new mother, but a much more confident one.

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a former editor and senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.



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