“Sitting the month — or “zuo yuezi”坐月子 in Chinese — is a traditional form of postpartum confinement meant to help women recover and stay healthy after giving birth. Historically, it was believed new mothers should be kept warm for the crucial first 30 days post-birth, during which time they were instructed to wear long clothes, avoid any kind of cold air, not bathe, stay away from raw or cold foods, and just generally lie still at home.”-Dai Wangyun, Researcher from East China Normal University as quoted in Sixth Tone.
The Right Place, The Right Time
Originally, my wife wanted to give birth in her home country of Japan where she was more familiar with the health care, and her mother could be nearby afterwards to help during the initial postpartum period. Being fortunate enough to live in Taipei where there has never really been a major outbreak of Covid-19; however, traveling to Japan to give birth would have been an unnecessary and impossible risk, as we would have to take into account travel restrictions, quarantines, and increase the risk of exposure to the virus. We never even considered traveling back to the US as it was clearly akin to flying into the eye of the viral storm.
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Like a treasure hunter sitting on a pile of gold, it seemed that living in Taipei was actually the best option in the entire world with regards to the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Life has never strayed far from normal here, and the total number of accumulated cases is still hovering around 1,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, with deaths for the entire island numbering in double digits.
When my wife and I knew for certain that Taipei would be the best place for us to give birth to our now more than one month old bundle of interstellar joy, Luna, we started to really think about what the next steps would be after birth. This was the first time for both of us to be parents, and even though we felt ready, no one is every truly ready, right?
It didn’t really occur to me that my wife would also like to opt for one of Taipei’s many postpartum care centers after leaving MacKay hospital, but she seemed to be very keen on the idea after researching blogs of Japanese mothers who had stayed in these centers — for a price. The health care in Taiwan is excellent, with our national insurance card covering much of the expenses. Our entire bill for the medical expenses of the birth and the postpartum three day hospital stay in Mackay was just over 200 USD, and this was inclusive of three meals per day. Postpartum health care centers, on the other hand, are not part of the national insurance plan, and the price would be a pretty penny. Additionally, coming from the Western mindset that values uber-independence as a strength, so much so that we expect parents to go back to work pretty much immediately after birth, I had some residual cultural doubts in my mind:
Why should I let others take care of my baby?
Now is my time to show the world what an awesome parent I’m going to be…from day 1!
I’m not going to let some stranger tell me how to care for my child!
“I think there are some distinct cultural differences when it comes to health and medical practices. People who live in Western or European countries will obviously be more likely to follow their own patterns of lifestyle choices with regards to postpartum care. Asians, and especially those of Chinese descent, will use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices that have evolved over thousands of years. Much of our practices connected with postpartum care for mothers revolve around a combination of rest and sustaining a specialised diet with the goal of helping the mother recover a balanced and natural equilibrium , rather than depending on medication to do it for her.”-Victor, Manager at 小青田 “Fruitful”
As I have lived in Asia for almost 20 years, I’ve definitely changed and become more open to cultural practices and different ways of doing things. In addition to showering in the evening, taking off my shoes at home, and living a lifestyle that is not dependent on a car, I’m also definitely open to ways of child care and considerations for the mother’s health that may not be a part of Western tradition. (The first three practices I mentioned may not actually be particularly “Asian” practices, but are lifestyle changes I noticed I have made during my time in Asia. They may just be hygienic and environmentally conscious changes — or just part of being an adult). I also thought to myself that staying in a postpartum care center would be a cultural learning experience, as well as something that could ease our first days as rookie parents.
A General Overview
About 4 to 5 months into pregnancy my wife and I started touring multiple postpartum care centers in Taipei so we could make the most suitable choice. Two of them were recommended by my manager at Pershing Technology Services Corporation (PTSC) and were both in an area close to my work. All of the centers that we toured were very clean, friendly, professional, and elegant. They seemed like the kind of places where I would want to stay for a retreat, especially if I were a mother or a baby. They all had gynaecologists who visited the centers, a 24 hour nursery with a ratio of 1 nurse per 5 babies, and a paediatrician who made weekly visits.
Two of the big pull factors for the postpartum care centers are the meals as well as being able to provide fresh parents with professional medical support. The 月子餐 (postpartum cuisine) is really an area that all of the staff at the postpartum care centers love to introduce and proudly puff their chests out as they tout the benefits of their meals. These meals are the primary fuel in the gas tank to propagate healthy, fertile breasts which are necessary in order to sprout the vital energy needed for our baby. Although baby formula is not shunned or frowned upon, Taiwanese hospitals and the postpartum care centers all put the priority on emphasising the health benefits of breast milk in order to nurture newborn babies and build up those valuable antibodies in a new life.
The postpartum care center we ended up choosing, was 小青田(Xiao Qing Tian) “Fruitful”, and it was one of the smaller postpartum care centers, but its size was part of its charm. In addition, at least two of the staff could speak Japanese which was a big plus factor that put my wife’s mind at ease. On the day we toured the center, they made sure to have their top Japanese speaker there to help answer any questions my wife might have.
I spoke with the manager, Victor, at length. We entered the postpartum care center on that day just expecting a tour, but we left having paid a 5,000TWD deposit to reserve our spot in late January for our room. Victor was good at his job, the kind of salesman that could make you feel confident about the choice you were making, and there was almost an instant sense of trust.
Up Close and Personal Care
Upon leaving Mackay Hospital in the taxi to journey to 小青天 “Fruitful”, we were greeted by the staff after taking off our shoes, recording our temperature, and sanitising our hands with spray. As part of the Covid-19 restrictions, no guests were allowed past the entrance doors. When we arrived in our spotless room, there was a gift package on the bed. Our room looked out onto the city and through the giant window we could see Taipei 101 in the distance.
Not long after arriving, we received a knock on the door as our first lunch had arrived. It included multigrain rice (230 calories), braised pig’s feet (240 calories), scrambled eggs with shrimp (190 calories), seasonal greens (80 calories), medicinal soup with pork (150 calories), and sweet white fungus and taro soup (180 calories). My initial irrational fears of the postpartum care center not providing meals specifically for husbands were put to rest immediately as this was more than enough for the two of us, and I understood why my Taiwanese colleagues said that husbands often leave postpartum care centers gaining more weight than the mothers who are draining their bodies of energy everyday.
We had signed up for a twenty day stay, and we would soon become very accustomed to hearing knocks on the doors or receiving calls from the nurses checking up on us, delivering food and snacks, or letting us know that Luna wanted to be fed.
Riiiiiiiiiiing! “Luna’s hungry.”
Knock knock! “We need to check your blood pressure.”
Riiiiiiiiiiing! “How many bowel movements has Luna made today?”
Besides the meals, one of the things that most impressed us at 小青田 “Fruitful” was the level of professionalism, attentiveness, and hands-on care by the nursing staff. They were there at our beck and call, and if we had so desired, we could have chosen to leave Luna in their care for as long as we wanted. One of my initial slightly too imaginative fears about staying at a postpartum care center was that it would be TOO posh, and we would be tempted to just take time for ourselves and leave Luna in the nurse’s care, becoming distant and irresponsible parents by the end of twenty days. Needless to say, this did not happen, and the nurses made sure to involve us, answering all of our health questions while mutually caring for my wife and Luna.
“Every parent takes care of their children differently and there’s a range of expectations when staying in the postpartum care center. Some give their kids to the nurses directly so that the mother can rest and recover, others insist that the kids stay in their room and the nurses just teach them there, not letting their babies out of their sight. Our mission is just to make sure we take care of children, and we work with the parents to be flexible in caring for the mothers’ and babies’ according to their requests.”-Victor, Manager of 小青田 “Fruitful”
During our twenty day stay there, my wife and I did in fact steal away 3 to 4 times during the day to do laundry, run errands, and enjoy a quiet lunch outside. When we returned, our missed meal would be waiting for us, which I would pack and eat the next day at work. Although I admit we felt guilty the first time we left Luna at the center, it was a small piece of heavenly private time in the grand scheme of things, and it made those initial days more relaxing. Additionally, when we needed a night’s rest, we could leave Luna in the nurses’ care. When my non-Taiwanese friends asked how I was sleeping, I almost wanted to say, “like a baby,” but held my tongue. Towards the end of our stay, the nurses encouraged us to spend entire nights with Luna (which we did) so as to prepare ourself for a soft landing upon returning home.
“Our postpartum care center may be small scale, but we’re very thorough, and I think the that our intimate size is actually something that gives us an advantage for the level of care we are able to provide. We are also all on one floor, so everything is close by. We have 1 nurse for 5 babies or less, a visiting gynaecologist, a paediatrician, and a TCM doctor. There are only 12 rooms total, and the nurses work on 8 hour shifts.”-Victor, Manager at 小青田 “Fruitful”
No Life Task is Too Small to Learn or Teach
Besides the meals and the professional medical care, the stay at 小青田 “Fruitful” postpartum care center was also a very valuable educational experience for all three of us. The nurses and doctors were also willing to answer any questions we might have about parenting with regards to health and wellness. They certainly were not shy in their instruction, and it was easy for my wife to connect with them on a personal and physical level.
“All of the training and educational opportunities that we offer here are provided in order to help parents make a smooth transition when they return home. We have professionals here who are used to handling all kinds of situations with a diverse background of babies. Some of the classes or training include bathing, giving baby massage, reading to children, yoga for the mothers, and self-abdominal massage and exercises to help the mother’s recovery.” — Victor, Manager of 小青田 “Fruitful”
Confident First Steps
Looking back on our time in 小青田 “Fruitful”, it’s difficult to think what our first days back home would have been like had we opted not to stay there. We definitely could have done it, and so many parents do return home from giving birth immediately, but I like to think that staying for twenty days at 小青田 “Fruitful” helped to give us both a head start as parents, as well as a more relaxing way for Luna to start her life as a human being outside the womb.
Upon returning home, we knew we were not expert parents by any means, but we felt confident and well-equipped in the basics such as diaper changing, feeding, reading certain signals from Luna, how to hold her, and basic interactions. I also personally liked the fact that Luna was already in the habit of being in contact and taken care of by a community — a community that we paid for, yes, but a community, nonetheless. Although twenty days sounds like a long time, our stay was on the shorter end, as most parents choose to stay a full month, with the longest stay at 小青田 “Fruitful” being a full two months at the center. Regardless of the length of time, I have not once regretted our decision enter the world as newborn parents with our newborn daughter through the gateway that the 小青田 “Fruitful” postpartum care center provided for us all.