Nov 6, 2010  •  In Asian, Baby, Korean, Parenting, Personal, Relationships

I Am Not a Prisoner

A few days ago, I sent out the following tweet which caused quite a stir:

I immediately received dozens of replies, which were soon followed by emails and private messages from those who were worried that I was being held prisoner in my own house.

And as much as it warmed my heart to know that so many people cared, all the concern made me laugh a bit because it simply was not true.

Allow me to clarify.

My husband comes from a very traditional Chinese family and he himself holds many of those traditional beliefs as well. The Chinese believe that the first month after giving birth is the most precarious for the mother and the baby; Chinese custom dictates that both the mother and baby be isolated from the outside world (for fear of foreign germs) and be taken care of by other family members (or live-in helpers) for the first 30 days. For the first 30 days, a new mother’s only concern is to eat, sleep, recover, and produce milk for the baby.

While I am not Chinese, the Korean culture holds similar beliefs in that the mother and baby should have a similar confinement period where they are kept warm and be under the care of others for as long as possible.

(For more on Asian post-partum practices, check out this link.)

Another thing that both cultures have in common is the importance of families, and the belief that it takes an extended family to raise a child. As such, it is not uncommon for a new mother and baby to go live with her parents or in-laws for a few months after giving birth, or have a family member (most often the mother’s mother, or the mother-in-law) to come stay for a few months after birth.

If you recall, I was vehemently against this practice prior to having the baby. However, all that changed once the baby came into our lives.

The day after giving birth, the hospital had me fill out various forms which included an application for a Social Security card, birth certificate information, and a screening for post-partum depression (PPD).

A few hours later, a nurse informed me that I had tested on the border for PPD.

I knew that with my history with major depression, I was at a higher risk than most women for PPD. The hospital’s policy required that I speak with a social worker before being discharged, and this is what I did.

One thing that I learned from speaking with the social worker was that one of the symptoms of PPD is either a severe attachment to the baby OR a severe detachment from the baby.

And as I have been chronicling here on this blog, I have been feeling detached from Claire ever since the moment of birth.

More than 5 weeks after having the baby, I am finally starting to feel a small bond, and I hope that this will grow as I continue to nurture it. However, those first few weeks were tough. There were times when I didn’t want anything to have to do with the baby.

There was also the fact that J needed to go back to work after just two weeks. And as much as my parents wanted to help, they have two businesses to manage.

That’s how my in-laws became my saviors.

J’s parents, who are retired, are visiting from Hong Kong for the first three months of Claire’s life. Since there is no extra bed for them at our place, they are staying with J’s brother and come over almost every day to help with the baby so that I can rest during the day and retain my sanity.

I won’t lie — sometimes I do resent them. Sometimes I feel like they’re hogging the baby, and I worry that my own child will become closer to them than to her own mother. Sometimes I feel my MIL’s eyes scrutinize my every move whenever the baby is in my arms. Sometimes I see my house — my domain — being invaded and changed (this is especially true of the kitchen) and I feel violated. And as much as my MIL tries her best to clean after herself and my FIL, I like everything spotless and organized just so due to my OCD tendencies and the old adage “no help is better than bad help” has popped into my head on more than a few occassions.

But without my in-laws, I probably would have switched to formula a long time ago because I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to keep pumping in order to bring up my milk supply. Without them, I probably would’ve had many more meltdowns than just the one last weekend. And without them, my “possible” PPD may have progressed to full-blown PPD.

If you look at the date of the tweet in question, it was posted on November 2, just three days after the 30-day confinement period had passed.

(And to answer your question, no I did not stay indoors the entire 30 days. I left the house for doctor appointments, and a couple of short trips to the stores towards the end.)

As much as I would have loved to strap Claire to the stroller and go for a walk by the river, Asian cultures believe that cold weather can be detrimental to an already-fragile body. So with the weather growing colder with each passing day, my in-laws, J, and my parents want to keep Claire’s exposure to the cold as minimal as possible.

Do I think some fresh — albeit cold — air could be good for the baby? Sure. But the fact of the matter remains that I am vastly outnumbered in this debate.

And truthfully, it’s just not that important to me. If the issue on hand were one that I feel passionate about, sure I would fight for what I believe. But not being able to take my newborn girl outside when I can easily just go by myself or wait a few days to go with the dog (because Comang would be re-joining the ranks shortly) was not something to fight about. At least, not to me.

So no, I am not being held prisoner in my own house.

And no, I am not hating my in-laws visiting almost every day to help with the baby.

And whenever I feel resentment toward them at all, all I have to do is remind myself how lucky I have it that I have people who obviously care very much for the baby take care of her for free. They are here for only another two months — how much will they miss her when they’re back in Hong Kong, when my own parents, who live only 45 minutes away, call every day to whine about how much they miss her?

Relationships are built on love and compromise. I’m sure that some of my readers will not be able to understand my stance on this issue, and that’s okay. Like I’ve said before, this is what works for my family and we are happy with it.

6 Responses to “I Am Not a Prisoner”

  1. Glad you clarified – I totally @ replied you with a kinda "WTH?" type reply, without even thinking of cultural customs. Of course, that's because I was worried about your mental health & know that it's proven (so you can tell your family this) that fresh air benefits the mother AND babies. Going outside for walks & such is shown to decrease symptoms of PPD as well as anxiety. That's kind of why I was surprised! Of course… tradition & culture sometimes trumps science, and I can understand that. ;)

    Happy you're not a "prisoner" – haha! Thanks for explaining!

  2. Thank you for your post! I was a little worried there for you but now reading some about your culture it makes more sense. Just remember you have a voice and sometimes you're right and everyone else is totally wrong :)

  3. That's so funny that people got so worried!! I wouldn't have thought of it at all. They care about you and Claire and want the best for both of you, so if they thought it was a bad idea, I'd trust their counsel. I wouldn't have thought, "Oh my gosh she's a prisoner in her own home."

    You are SO BLESSED to have such loving family in your life!! Especially during this difficult time, adjusting to Claire and trying to bond with her. After all that help, I'd listen to pretty much anything my family said, if out of nothing but respect and feeling like I owed it to them or something.

    I'm glad you're feeling closer to your daughter!!!

  4. Helene HT:

    omg, ur post speaks every word that i wanna say deep down my heart as our situation's almost the same. my mil is actually LIVING in our house since i was in the hospital. while i couldn't thank her more for being so helpful, sometimes i just can't stand her acting like the master of the house. i cried a few times of being trapped in such dilemma yet i'm so grateful that i have such a understanding and supportive hubby, esp. when then person i'm complaining is his mom… same situation,hubby's only taking 2 weeks off work and i'm kinda worried about the days without him during day time…

    p.s. – oh btw, am also being "imprisoned" for one month here. but last time i went out for the doctor's appointment, i made hubby to take me shopping for 30 mins XD

  5. While I didn't see your original tweet, I can understand that it could have set off a bit of friendly concern. That is the issue with Twitter – you can't really explain yourself in 140 characters. haha. But great post and I can see the love and respect that comes from the cultural traditions.

  6. I know you probably want to go outside because it's so pretty out, but if your in-laws are worried about the temps outside maybe you can convince them that it's ok to go for a walk at the mall with the baby, or IKEA or Target or some other big store where you can get some exercise and they can buy you baby swag!

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