With all the pressure on new mothers to quickly rebound from birth, we love the concept of “Lying In,” or taking some time postpartum to heal and bond with your baby. We’ve partnered with Earth Mama Angel Baby to share a real life story of “lying in” from Motherbees founder Heng Ou, and show you how important it is to slow down and adjust to your new life as a mama.
The day after I gave birth to my first daughter Khefri, the old ways of China showed up at my door in the form of my Auntie Ou. Fresh off the bus from Oakland, her shopping bags brimming with knobs of ginger, ruby-colored goji berries, and freshly harvested chicken feet, she bustled into my Silver Lake home with her daughter Wendy at her side.
They’d come, she briskly informed me in Mandarin, to induct me into the postpartum tradition known as zuo yuezi, which means “sitting the month” or less poetically, “confinement.” This month-long regimen of nourishing foods, deep rest, and seclusion was critical for ensuring my strong recovery from childbirth, my future reproductive health, and plentiful breast milk for my baby, she said.
I had long since fled the restricting atmosphere of my first-generation immigrant upbringing in Maryland for art school and a more bohemian life in Los Angeles. But I always remained close with Auntie Ou, a renowned Chinese herbalist who diagnosed ailments with a glance and was renowned for her prowess in the kitchen. Ordering me to stay in bed with Khefri, she set black vinegar on the stove to purify the air and shook her head disapprovingly at my “open” or “yin” state. If left untreated it would lead to fatigue, back pain, ill-health, and depression. Deep in my bones, I knew her presence was non-negotiable. “Lying in” was my only option.
Besides, who was I to argue? Like many women, I thoroughly prepared for a healthy pregnancy and birth, but I hadn’t planned for postpartum. I had some fuzzy images of myself, glowing and triumphant, with an adorable, pink-cheeked babe swaddled in my arms. But the reality was not so rosy. Sore, achy, and sweaty, still bleeding post-birth, my tiny daughter and I fumbled through the first steps of breastfeeding while my hormones were roller-coastering and days and nights blurred together in a haze of sleeplessness.
So, I did not protest when Wendy heaped blankets on my bed, popped a wool hat on my head, and banned showers until further notice (they were too cooling). I gratefully received the warming, ginger-spiked tea, soft and digestible rice porridge swirled with black sesame paste, immune-boosting bone broths, and breast-milk-enriching soups. I let Auntie Ou sequester my cell phone and police visitors for this fleeting phase of bonding with my baby.
My bed became the center of my universe. There, I surrendered to a simple, repetitive existence of nursing, eating and sleeping. And after two-weeks of dedicated care, my relatives returned north leaving my freezer stocked with pig trotters to fortify the blood and fish-and-papaya soup to promote lactation. I maintained this restorative regimen and a few weeks later began emerging from my cocoon, physically stronger, emotionally steady, ready to meet the world as a mother.
Zuo yuezi’s practice of woman-to-woman care stretches back thousands of years and is still prevalent in China today (though well-heeled women are now doing it their own way by checking into luxury postpartum hotels). Its tenets are simple and universal: From India to Mexico, from Russia to Indonesia, to the Ivory Coast and beyond, remarkably similar cultural codes dictate that a new mother is to be encircled with support for 21, 30, or 40 days. In that space, freed from all responsibilities, she can focus on recovering from pregnancy and birth and nursing and bonding with her newborn. Most importantly, she is never to be left alone.
The first weeks after giving birth can be blissful; they can also be isolating, stressful, exhausting, and lacking in vital nutrition—four factors that contribute to postpartum depression. Time-honored protocols like zuo yuezi have protected new mothers’ well-being and ensured baby’s best start for eons. Sadly, this attention and care is a far cry from what most first-world women—especially in the U.S., the only developed nation with no mandatory maternity leave—experience today.
Sitting the month and lying in inspired my passion for reviving this lost art—for my generation of mothers and our daughters when they follow. I began creating modern interpretations of these restorative recipes and gathering wisdom for what I call “the first forty days”—the roughly six-week period of postpartum. I discovered that the cocoon of maternal care can be spun without a squadron of aunties on hand. It can be built from small acts of giving by friends, family, and neighbors. A pot of soup made with simple, nourishing ingredients; an offer to stop by with groceries and clean laundry; a listening ear on an especially fatigued day, and a gentle gaze that says, “I see you.”
In a society that pressures women to “bounce back” right after giving birth, forty days of loving gestures offers the mother a rare and precious alternative: to sink into stillness with her newborn, and receive.
Find out more about about lying in with Earth Mama Angel Baby here.
*We are so grateful when brands support our content and community. This post was sponsored by Earth Mama Angel Baby.