When we found out baby number 3 was on the way, one of the first things which came to mind was how we could organise the older two children’s school and nursery arrangements, given I was due in the middle of the summer holidays. I knew I would need some quiet time to get into the rhythm of having the new baby, but also having sufficient rest postpartum that in Chinese is collectively known as ‘sitting the month – zuo yuezi’ （坐月子）after birth.
As with other traditions, zuo yuezi may come across as mysterious, but many cultures around the world also highlight the importance of the postpartum period where it is considered the most significant time in a woman’s life to receive a full recovery following childbirth. In particular, zuo yuezi is considered by many a way to offer a ‘reset’ button for the health of a woman that lays the foundation for her health for the rest of her life.
So much of this is about food, health and (ideas about) nutrition, but what I have to realise is that zuo yuezi not only addresses the physiological and hormonal changes to the body from expelling lochia to breastfeeding needs, it also revolves around a set of woman-centred customs that involves her wider family network and completes after a month: what are these and who hold(s) the authority about what and how to eat? Who organises the work around the family and domestic space? As you can tell, a big part of what Zuo yuezi entails is the ways social relations are maintained and negotiated, which tells us a lot of about family life, parenting and the changing role of women in the domestic space.
For example, this time round, my husband is in-charged of the kitchen to prepare and cook all our family meals and drinks, whilst my mother-in-law supports him and helps with picking up the older children from holiday camps and nursery. Whilst I was at the hospital, my husband would bring freshly cooked food after dropping the children off, and a fresh thermos jug of rice tea for me. As he would go home late afternoon, I asked him to bring me the rice cooker, so I could cook fresh rice and heat up something simple as I could not use the microwave (as the quality of hospital food was slightly dubious – all I asked for was boiled water which they gladly provided me).
Following my return home, I continued to have simple dishes, soups and teas for a month. In fact, my obstetrician reminded me at my six-week check that my body is still pregnant (also known as the fourth trimester) so it’s important to ‘take it easy’.
As I write, I have recently completed my study interruption at the Thomas Coram Unit at the IoE (previously with the Institute of Global Health) and have resumed my PhD studies which examines exactly this topic of zuo yuezi which I hope will add to the body of literature in parenting and family studies.