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Confinement as brainwashing?

Just a rapid thought, between nappies and other reproductive tasks :-)

The practice of postpartum (i.e. after the birth) confinement is common in Malaysia, and basically means that after the birth the mother is confined to the home, or a room, and has to eat certain foods, follow certain practices (such as not bathing), and so on. For more information on the Chinese version try: "Zuo Yue", Chinese Postpartum Confinement?, and ‘Doing the month’: Ancient tradition meets modern motherhood.

Anyway, the principle seems fine: the mother is able to rest and recuperate, concentrate on getting breastfeeding going and learning how to deal with the baby. Some traditions may have made sense once upon a time: e.g. no bathing for a month - imagine in a rural setting, water can be dirty, it has to be fetched, and someone suggested to us that it was also a suitable 'contraceptive' to keep the lusty husband at bay!

But others - such as a diet very low on vegetables and fruit, high on meat, ginger (thought to exacerbate jaundice in newborns) and herbs - does not make sense. Especially the no fruit and veg for the first ten days (or something like that).

Also: being confined. Literally sometimes. A friend of a friend had to stay in one room for thirty days! Not allowed out. Now that's a good way to induce postpartum depression if you ask me!

Anyway, back to the title. Being confined to a room for a month is a form of sensory deprivation. Coupled with the high stress of dealing with a newborn, the lack of sleep, and a different diet, it could actually be said to resemble a 'brainwashing' programme. Maybe, that is one function of confinement - a liminal period that realigns the mother as an extension of the child, enforcing her subsidiary role as reproductive organ rather than autonomous individual.

Just a thought...

Charlie is here!

At last we have our baby, from inside the womb to outside in the real world with us :-D

He was born last Friday, 23 April, at 7.34am, and here is a quick account of it all. It's the first time I've been able to properly sit at the computer since he came, and he may wake up soon anyway.

WW was given pitocin to induce labour on Thursday at about 21.30. The doctor recommended inducing him as he was already officially 'term' (i.e. ready to come out) at 38 weeks +, and the amniotic fluid had been relatively low (aka 'oligohydramnios') for the previous four weeks. Actually, the need to induce for low fluid is debatable (see the conclusions of this medical article, or this one), but we went ahead with it, as he had a good weight anyway. Actually those articles mostly say that it should not be routinely done, but it's difficult sometimes to argue with a doctor... The whole pregnancy thing is a bit scary sometimes, and in the end one is just worried about getting the baby out safely, and the mother being safe too.

The midwife told me to go home and sleep, and to come back the next morning at 7, but things progressed quicker and I got a call at 2.30 to come in as the waters had broken already. When I got there at about 3, I could hear WW screaming in pain from down the corridor; the epidural was in the process of being put in, and the pain was still intense in spite of the pethidine she'd had earlier. Actually, that's one problem with inducing birth by using pitocin, it makes the pain more intense. Here are a page from about the pros and cons of pitocin, and one from the NHS about its possible effects on mother-child bonding and lactation.

We had decided to try to do as natural a birth as possible, but the epidural really helped. For the next 3 hours or so she dozed on and off, with the midwife monitoring the cervix size, contractions, and foetal heartbeat regularly. When the cervix had expanded enough, the midwife cut the epidural as she explained that WW needed to feel the pain a bit more to help her 'feel the need' for pushing (or something like that). Although the epidural in theory only stops the pain, but does not affect muscle control, it seems that it does interfere somewhat with the natural process, and the ability of the mother to react appropriately.

The final stage started at about 6.30. The doctor came in, and the midwife and 2-3 nurses were there too. I sat at the edge and tried to encourage WW as much as possible. Soon we could see some of Charlie's hair sticking out, and as she pushed more, his head slowly appeared bit by bit. Surprisingly, WW wasn't doing all of the screaming and swearing that I had been expecting :-) But I guess that's just because she was really focused on getting things right.

With each contraction, she had to push (as if you're doing a number two, the doctor kept saying), and maintain the push for as long as possible. Once she relaxed, you could see Charlie's head slipping back a bit. The midwife was pushing hard down on her stomach, and the nurses joined in a chorus of 'Push! Push! Some more somemore somemore!' I found that I managed to help by telling WW how far Charlie was out, and showing her with my hands around my head. Actually, a mirror would really have helped, so that the mother can see what is happening - it was really obvious how even a short break in the pushing would let the baby slip back a bit. Kind of like trying to squeeze the last toothpaste out of a tube, and the paste slips back when you relax your hold a bit.

And, then, suddenly his whole head came out. He was facing up (not the best position), and it was amazing to see his face all squashed up sticking out 'down there'. One more push and he all slipped out!
new born baby delivered

This picture is just after he came out, and you can see how blue he was. The medical team cut the cord and rushed him to the weighing station etc. I followed them and I was so scared when I saw how blue he was, and not moving. They pumped air into his lungs, extracted mucus from the lungs, rubbed his feet and chest. I guess it was a short time, but I was freaking out like crazy in my mind! But then, in a classic cliche, his first weak cry pierced the air, and my heart, and I almost cried with relief. I guess it must have showed because afterwards the doctor asked if I was OK.

But his breathing was still a bit dodgy - he was 'grunting' (that's the official term I think, but it sounded more like 'grinding' to me) and his chest was jerking irregularly, and after letting WW hold him a little, they brought him up to the nursery to put him under an oxygen tent thing, and monitored the oxygen saturation level in his blood (some info on Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome).
new born baby neonatal oxygen tent

Fortunately, he was doing better in a couple of hours and WW could try to breastfeed him (breastfeeding is not as obvious as you would think it is, but it's important start trying to breastfeed as soon as possible, ideally in the first hour)

So when the grandparents, relatives and godmother first arrived, they could only look at him through the viewing window of the nursery.
new born baby swaddled

A couple more hours of observation, and his oxygen saturation levels were normal. The paediatrician said that he had had probably just had a little excess mucus in his lungs - and he was cleared to be able to come to our room :-)

So, there is our little bundle of joy. He's five days old today, and we love him to bits.