The Decolonial Parent

a continuous work in progress

bowl of ramen with pork and seaweeds

Why I’m doing postpartum confinement

Yes, the truth is that I am under no obligation to do a postpartum confinement. I am not fully Chinese, my partner’s family is not Chinese, and I don’t live in a Chinese community. There is no social or cultural expectation that I would follow any Chinese traditions of any kind (including all those feast days that I am so enamoured with).

But the truth ALSO is, I can.

My mum is Chinese, and her culture carries a lot of meaning for her. Her family’s values and traditions guide her path and informed the way she raised me. Her clan’s language was our secret code when I was a child growing up in a country that wasn’t ready to fully embrace people like me yet. And her feast days are my feast days, imbued with symbolism and meaning, the elevation of the people and places we hold in esteem, and the reminders of generations of reflection, insight, and wisdom.

Zuo yuezi is literally a month out of my entire life, and an opportunity to experience a tradition that has been passed down through those very same generations of Chinese women. It has analogues in other cultures that also share pre-capitalist, pre-colonial values. It really feels like something special that I have the privilege to experience, even if only one time in my life.

When I’ve explained how it works to people who don’t share this cultural background, I’ve often heard things like “oooh I couldn’t go a month without washing my hair/going outside/eating whatever I want to”, and one of the things I’ve heard most from families who have observed it as part of our shared culture is that these same issues have emerged during their practice of zuo yuezi (hair has gotten washed, excursions have been taken, taboo foods have been eaten, etc). People express curiosity and interest in the traditions whilst also asking “but why would you want to?” about the accompanying restrictions.

I think for Western feminists (and by this I include all feminists of any background who have been acculturated in Western norms, wherever in the world they now reside), we are resistant to the idea that we are in any way weakened by pregnancy. There’s a sense that pregnancy itself is a time of restriction already, when it comes to diet and activity, with people rejecting the traditional wisdom to restrict lifting or reaching or bending, etc. That somehow, in conforming to those restrictions we are accepting that our steadfast strength is compromised, leaving us complicit in the reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

But the way I see it, making a human being inside my body is hard work and physically/anatomically, emotionally/hormonally, mentally/spiritually taxing. My organs have moved around, my skeleton has shifted, my nerves and blood vessels have been parted and repositioned. My endocrine system has been completely diverted from normal operations for nine months, and then upended again by birth. And then, whether I’ve squeezed that person out of a small channel in-between my bowels and bladder or had them cut out of by body through layers of tissue and major organs, they’ve caused untold destruction on the way out.

Is my body damaged, depleted, or distorted by these events? How can it not be? Of course, in time, I will heal. My organs and bones will return to an approximation of their previous positions, and my raging hormones will find a more tranquil equilibrium – but many of the changes that pregnancy has wrought on my body will never be undone.

I am blessed to have access to a culture that acknowledges the internal devastation caused by the creation of new life, and holds space to affirm it and heal from it. If that means wrapping my unwashed hair for a month and eating congee for breakfast every morning while I stay indoors and learn the subtle and unsubtle ways of my newborn, then that’s a love language I am happy to learn the vocabulary of.



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