I opened my eyes, craned my neck and gazed at the dark outline of DD’s back. As I shifted my belly weight from my right side to my left with the grace of a constipated hippo, I heard him say something else, then after a pause, there it came again, this time with a question mark.
I giggled quietly, heaved myself out of bed and made the familiar pilgrimage to the toilet.
Of course, when I asked him in the morning, he couldn’t remember anything. I put it to him that he must’ve been having a stress dream about me going into labour; earlier that day I’d had my first hint of a uterine contraction which may have been the ‘false labour’ that women experience in the weeks leading up to the real show. That, or he’d been dreaming about the opposition party leadership campaign, but that was less likely.
As the big day closes in, Chinese people seem more and more incredulous that I’m still working, rather than sitting in the house being overfed by soon-to-be grandparents so the baby comes out all cute and fat, as I understand is traditionally the case in local culture.
‘You don’t really look pregnant,’ a Chinese colleague said to me a few weeks ago.
I looked down at my sizeable cumberbump and was tempted to strongly disagree.
‘It’s because you don’t wear an anti-radiation dress,’ she continued.
‘A what?’ I asked.
‘It’s to protect you from the radiation from computer screens and things,’ she explained.
I thought of the times I spend in front of computer screens, watching TV or with my phone charging next to me, which, quite frankly, was most of my waking hours. In fact, my belly was fast becoming the ideal place to balance my laptop.
‘Jesus,’ I said. ‘What does it look like?’
‘It’s sort of grey, and hard, and juts out,’ my colleague replied, wrinkling her nose. It seemed the anti-radiation dress was just another one of those things pregnant women in China endured out of guilt, paranoia or parental pressure.
I hear, though, that it’s after you have the baby that the rules get really strict and bizarre to the foreign ear. My Chinese teacher, who is a few years younger than me, gave me a vivid description of how one of her friends recently experienced zuo yuezi, the special customs surrounding the first postnatal month. Strict bed rest, no going out or opening the window, no washing your hair or brushing your teeth, only eating very restricted foods and nothing cold. The baby is essentially looked after by the two grandmas, who can often argue fiercely over their interpretation of the zuo yuezi rules. Meanwhile, you lie in bed, bored, hungry and dirty.
That’s probably not being fair. It seems to be a well-meaning tradition to protect pregnant women and new mothers – who, after all, have gone through major physical and emotional upheaval – from anything that could possibly harm them. It’s also a sign that a child is seen as a gift to the entire family, and all generations pitch in to ensure the well-being of the child and the mother, which is rather sweet.
Claustrophobic and terrifying, but sweet.
A few months ago, when the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to Princess Charlotte and the whole world was swooning over the photos of the royal couple leaving the hospital with their new bundle, my Chinese teacher told me how the online chattersphere in China reacted to the news. Not, the baby’s so cute, not, they’re such a beautiful family, and not, who is Kate wearing, but…
‘Wow, she’s standing outside, in a dress, in all that wind. And she’s holding the baby. Near all the paparazzi with their germs. And, god, she’s clearly washed her hair! Crazy.’
Copyright © 2016 followingdrdippy