BBC news published an article this week about postnatal confinement, a traditional practice that is widespread within the Chinese community. Confinement is thought to be important because of the community’s belief that the immunity of both mother and baby is low following the birth (note; I have not researched the science behind this belief). Women traditionally do not leave the boundaries of their own home for one month post-delivery. Visitors are kept away, and the most strict guidance also includes avoiding physical activity, showering, and cold drinks.
I read about this with interest. After the birth of my first daughter, I remember the second walk I went out for, when she was three days old (the first walk is too miserable to detail). I was too tired to push the buggy, my body screamed in pain, but getting out into the cold winter air felt good. The sun even made an appearance as my daughter was introduced to her local park for the first time. I returned home tired, but relieved to have done something that resembled normality. I had done it; I had left the house. However, I am not sure I would have ventured to the park that morning, navigating the icy pavements, if I hadn’t felt compelled to ‘return to normal’. Birth has been normalised to the point where society seems to view it as a simple procedure. Whilst it might be normal, it is not easy. My body had been pushed to its limits before being left battered and bruised. Within a fortnight I was asked by a friend if my belly had returned to normal. Women are expected to bounce back and pick up their lives where they left off, and for many, this pressure can be too much.
The idea of confinement appeals to me in some respects. Not being expected to be out and about or welcoming visitors must take some of the pressure off new parents. The couple might get used to parenthood without worrying about tidying up for visitors or looking vaguely presentable. They would not need to worry about being anywhere on time, or making sure they have everything that might be needed for a trip out with a newborn.
Being cooped up for a month would probably have driven me crazy though. With the other parent often only taking two weeks parental leave, being home alone for days on end (once they have returned to work) does not appeal. Within two weeks I was out with my daughter by myself, meeting new friends in coffee shops and going to baby rhyme time. And it did feel good to start new routines resembling my new normality.
I keep hearing the saying ‘it takes a village’. In fact I’ve heard it uttered so many times on parenting groups that it’s starting to annoy me. I understand the premise; in years gone by, motherhood was not something undertaken in silos. Instead, women would work together in a community to raise their children so that the intensity could be shared. The family unit has become more insular, and there are fewer chances for parents to take a break. Extended families are now separated by hundreds of miles, and so it can be more unlikely that grandparents, or aunts and uncles, can offer any form of childcare or respite. I feel that I have a great group of friends who could be called upon in an emergency, but we have not arranged anything regularly. Perhaps developing these non-familiar communities (the so called ‘village’) would be beneficial in ensuring parents feel more supported.
I can see the advantages of confinement; of not pushing yourself to do things that you are not physically or emotionally ready for as a new mother. But for me, getting back out into society was refreshing, and I felt that creating my own new normal was what I needed to give my mental health a boost as I found my way with a new baby.