“Grilled lamb, please,” I told the trainee waiter at The Chili’s Grill & Bar Restaurant at a newly opened mall when he asked me for my lunch order. On hearing this, my boss Mr. J who sat next to me stared at me and asked abruptly “You didn’t know? You are not supposed eat lamb during pregnancy, because it is harmful to the baby in your womb.” Ever so curious, I raised my eye brows and asked my boss, “but why?” Joining our lunch was the other two lady bosses who then rolled their eyes and quipped, “Aiyoh, you are so Gwai Poh! (A Cantonese slang which means I am westernised in my thoughts and actions like the Caucasians) Lamb in Chinese is called Yang, sounds like “Fa Yang Diao” (the Epilepsy disorder) so you cannot eat lah! Later your baby got Epilepsy, how?!!!”
My eyes must have opened so wide that in my head, they had popped out and rolled on the spanking new floor of Chili’s all the way to its kitchen, on hearing this unscientific association. I also got a long lecture from the three of them on what other what-not-to-eat for preggers like me.
There were more shocking exchanges when I told them I didn’t even go with any confinement practice for my first two kids. I gave birth on day 1, came home on day 2 with the baby, and by day 3 was already giving my newborn a nice bath myself, after which I would also bathe and shampoo myself while happily singing in the warm shower! I even went out for my first shopping on day 4 or 5 with my newborn to get some disposable diapers from the local Tesco in my usual shorts and slippers.
I also told them I would sleep in air-conditioned room and drink 3 to 4 litres of water (and sometimes while standing which is another taboo) which included red dates soup, plain water, Ribena, Milo and have normal meals loaded with veges and had fruits for desserts.
Confinement was a relatively strange term to me because I felt so energetic and liberated each time I give birth! I wanted to revel in the beauty of my baby in the soothing ambience of Starbucks or walk with my baby in my loving embrace in the community playground amidst the sunset that I thought it was impossible that one should stay in the room without shower for a month!
All three of them rolled their eyes in unison as if it was rehearsed to perfection on hearing my exploits during the post-delivery days. I quickly earned a new nick name for myself by the end of the meal – the Gwai Poh Mama, i.e. the westernised mother.
I respect and adore my bosses and I do not disrespect traditional Chinese practice of hiring a confinement woman to pamper and care for a new mother and her baby after birth. I have even advised some friends to get a confinement lady to get the help they need after such a traumatic experience as giving birth to a beautiful new life but in my case, because back then (about 11 years ago to be exact) Daddy Joe and I had just started working as young executives that hiring a confinement lady which easily costs RM3,500 meant our finances would be in the ruins for us that we just never hired one for all three births. (After thought: Oh well, with 3 kids our finance had never really bounced back anyway! 😉 )
If you find this Gwai Poh Mama strange, wait till you meet her 70 years old mother who had also defied the convention 40 years ago without any confinement practice for all 3 kids of hers. She was modern and practical because she was a ward sister who had studied nursing from abroad via a scholarship and now at the age of 70, she is globetrotting the world’s ancient cities in good health and without any joint pains (which defies the common Chinese belief without following proper postnatal care and confinement taboo, one would have long term illnesses such as Arthritis, lots of “wind” in the body and strange as it may sound, apparently one’s uterus may also migrate to the wrong place at one’s old age ). As you can imagine, practicality, independence and modern ideologies are the stuff of my mom, my older sister, my sister-in-law and now, me.
That night, I propped myself up on the bed with my two happiest little people i.e. Cheeky Koko and Pumpkin Mei-Mei sandwiching my big rounded tummy with my no.3 baby as I shared with them yet another exciting venture of Mr. Wang, a fictional character I had creatively imagined who hailed from an ancient city in China.
I looked at the two sleepy heads and laughed to myself as I brood about my motherhood style. Am I a Westernised mother in an Asian place, an Asian mother looking West, or am I an Asian mother with a modern twist to all things traditional? I bet the two sleepy heads didn’t care as they too, have happily survived the sometimes wacky parenting journey of such a crazy mom as yours truly.
After thought: This was a post I wrote in 2011 before I got tangled up by a really big crisis management at work that delayed the posting and when the dust has finally settled, I was already due to give birth to Baby B and enjoyed my new motherhood again. Well, now between the piles of diapers, laundry and workload, I finally found this absolute must-share piece to debunk some myths around my Gwai Poh practice. So yah, I am NOT pregnant AGAIN ok. 😉