isabelle thye

Reflection on postnatal confinement

I’ve always thought that I am a courageous person who creates my own path.

At 23, I gave up a professional career and dove into the F&B industry. At 25, I started a company without knowing exactly what I got myself into. At 26, I gave up everything and started afresh in the creative industry. At 28, I published a book to tell my story.

At 30, at a time when I was most susceptible to postpartum depression, I wish I muster the strength to stand up for myself against an enormous constitution called ‘the tradition’.

Battle

After the delivery, everything was simpler and happier during the hospital stay when it was just me, my husband, and our baby. The moment I stepped into our home, I lost my voice about what I want and what should be.

I never knew that when the confinement lady took over my baby, she’d take care of him 24/7. It was depressing to be stripped off my responsibilities as a mother and being told to rest all the time. I wanted to be with my baby and learn how to take care of him, why couldn’t I tell the confinement lady what I want?

Without knowing anything about baby care, I felt trapped in a state of powerlessness. I wasn’t sure if my needs were valid or if they were my ego speaking, so I chose silence.

Looking back, I wished I breastfeed my baby more but I was unsure of my ability to fulfil his need. When I looked to the confinement lady for guidance, she encouraged me to express breastmilk and let her bottle-feed the baby. I didn’t think it was the best for me but I put my needs behind what I thought was the ‘standard practise’.

It was funny how I succumbed to ‘standard practise’ after all the rules and expectations I’ve defied over the years.

And then, came the most bizarre rule - a mother is not allowed to wash her hair during the confinement month! Even though my mother-in-law was understanding enough to let me ‘observed’ the rule for only 6 days, for the rest of the month, I felt judged internally whenever I washed my hair.

Struggle

What is the purpose of a confinement month? Why do I feel like we spent money to imprison myself in the name of confinement? Why are my agency and autonomy compromised? Why do I think that it does more harm than good to my mental health?

Everything I did against my will and common sense during that month added up to form a heavy weight that suffocated me.

I was angry that a mother is prohibited from the basic right of taking care of her personal hygiene after her body goes through massive pain and shock. My sense of self dissolved when I muted my voice and did things to preserve peacefulness on the outside.

Most of all, I let myself down by not speaking up for what I believe in.

Reflection

When I felt low and depressed, I cheered myself up with the fact that the confinement was only a month-long affair.

True enough, now that I’m in the ‘I’ve-got-this’ mode, the frustration and suffering were replaced by understanding and appreciation.

The distance allows me to see the benefits of the confinement practise. It will be a dream for many mothers to have help, delicious meals, and someone to care for the baby throughout the night In the first month. The extra time, energy, and sleep I enjoyed only became valuable after they evaporated in the day to day life with baby post-confinement.

I understand now that the confinement lady did the best she could with the best intention in her heart.

What was missing were communication and balance.

As a first time mother, I wish I have the opportunity to learn and not to have my responsibilities completely taken away from me. I wish the confinement practise could be more nurturing and compassionate when I didn't feel like myself in my own body. I wish my psychological needs are taken care of as much as my physical healing. I wish we could reexamine what our grandmother did and adapt to science and the abundance in the current environment.

The confinement experience I had might not be the most ideal but I’m grateful for the help and care I received. Ultimately, I owe it to myself to manage my inner experience regardless of what’s happening outside.

I have the power to speak for myself, to understand and to communicate instead of succumbing to a victim mode as if there was no other way.

I thought I was courageous and now I know I’m always a student - life has many more lessons for me to learn along the way.

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