Happy 2019 and the year of the pig!
After 3 month of maternity leave, I can honestly admit I’ve never been so eager to return to work. Motherhood has been the most challenging job I’ve ever had. Like most Chinese my generation, I grew up as an only child, knowing nothing about babies. It was quite a journey learning to change diapers and burp babies. That being said, the most challenging part is the cultural difference of motherhood between East and West. As my first Dose coming back, I want to share some of these cultural differences.
“No shower or coffee for the entire month after birth?!”
Childbirth used to be dangerous. Super dangerous. 1 in 10 women used to die from childbirth. So it makes sense that every culture has its beliefs about post-pregnancy care. This often comes in the form of bedrest, called a “laying period.” In the US, the laying period used to range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Eventually, wartime needs for hospital beds during World War I and World War II decreased the laying period to just 48 hours.
In Asian culture, the “laying period” persists. Chinese refer to this practice as zou yue zi, roughly translated as “sitting the month.” While “sitting the month,” new moms cannot leave the house. Family cannot come in. But that’s not all. “Sitting the month” comes with onerous restrictions on diet and activities. New moms are not allowed to bathe, shower, drink cold fluids, eat spicy food, eat raw vegetables or raw fruit, or drink coffee. NO COFFEE. These practices are supposed to help restore the yin and yang balance in a woman’s body and spirit and have been noted in Chinese historical documents going back over 2000 years. In the modern era, affluent Asian moms can check into special clinics to “sit the month,” where trained attendants rush back and forth to meet all of their needs for a sum of just $500 per day.
As someone who couldn’t stand sitting down for more than 30mins during pregnancy, I have made it abundantly clear to my parents I will NOT follow such tradition. You can imagine the look of horror on my parents’ face when they saw me chewing on ice chips coming out of caesarean section. For months afterwards, I have to hone my tolerance on subtle hints about their disapproval. Not enough milk supply? Not enough appetite? Feeling emotional? It is all because I didn’t follow the traditional practice! In fact, this is an on-going struggle for almost every Asian American new mom. Follow the Easter tradition from parental pressure? or do what every other American do? You can even find doulas or nannies that advertise their specialty in these traditions to appeal to the Asian American market.
“Why don’t you want your mom to move in?”
While in the US, the “laying period” was only available to the super-affluent, (early American farm workers could never afford a laying period.) Most Asian women will follow a laying period. How do they accomplish this? With a cultural tradition that goes hand in hand with sitting the month – parental support. We’ve talked about multi-generational household and family-centric Asian culture in previous Doses, but this is bringing it to the next level, especially in modern Chinese culture. It is called the “Grandparents Trap.” According to Wuhan Morning Post’s study in 2017, 60% to 70% of children under age 2-and-a-half in China are cared for by their grandparents, as well as 40% of children
over age 3.
Behind this shocking number is a mixture of tradition and modern reality. Grandparents have always played a paramount role in Asian cultures. They often set the rules of parenting styles and what the grandchildren can or cannot do. Instead of the parents, grandparents are often the one who name the grandchildren. In modern China, young parents today are mostly working professionals. Majority of them also grew up as only-child like myself. Not only do they know nothing about babysitting, many of them still live with their parents while doing zero housework. For those young parents who are not ready to start a family yet, the most common line they hear is:”Hurry up and give me a grandchild. I will take care of him/her for you!” Trading their carefree retirement years with full-time babysitting duties, Asian grandparents are taking up almost all the parenting responsibilities.
So you can imagine my parents’ reaction when I said no to them moving in. After weeks of negotiation, we agreed on their visit a week after my delivery and 3 weeks of stay. The American side of me felt extremely uncomfortable as my mom assumed her responsibility of mid-of-the-night babysitting. The Asian side of me felt guilty seeing her disappointment when I refused her help so she can rest better. This conflict continued for weeks until her last week of stay. She confessed her biggest fear was to return home and being judged for not taking care of her only daughter when I needed the most help. With wet eyes, I confessed my biggest fear was for her to go through the exhausting newborn stage all over again after raising me. We are still dealing with this cultural difference today.
Being a new mom has its rewards. But it is far easier to go back to work. After all, writing Dose of Asianess on a Sunday night is much easier than being a stay-at-home home and work 24/7.