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Mon, Nov 23, 2009
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Confinement cabin fever
by Clara Chow

BY THE time you read this, I’d have been under house arrest for three weeks.

Okay, so I’m not quite Aung San Suu Kyi. But as a second-time mum, I’ve been sitting out this month at home as part of the Chinese custom known as “confinement”.

Which means that, following the delivery of my younger son last month, I’ve been allowed to step out of the house only when I needed to visit the gynaecologist or paediatrician. Unlike my first taste of motherhood three years ago – which entailed sleepless nights, backaches and hunger pangs – my confinement period has been relaxing so far.

The Supportive Spouse and I wisely decided to engage a confinement nanny this time around, and she’s been helping to take care of the newborn, our meals and the housework. But, with the luxury of help, I’ve found that cabin fever has been slowly setting in.

Post-delivery, my wellmeaning and lovable aunts visited me and issued a string of dos and don’ts that boggled the mind.

The tropical heat in Singapore notwithstanding, I have to wear long-sleeved tops and trousers as well as bedroom slippers in the house at all times. Otherwise, I might catch some kind of eternal chill and “wind-in-the-head” that would remain latent and manifest themselves only when I’m old.

When I was caught emerging from the bathroom after washing my hair, my aunts descended on me with dismay: It was as though a war crime had been committed, such was the clucking, hand-flapping frenzy.

All my meals of late have been ginger- and herb-laden - all the better to make me farty with. And I am not to drink plain water, cold drinks, green tea and other “cooling” things.

Little wonder, then, that I’ve become a master of subterfuge: I fill my glass with “forbidden” grape juice that is the same murky-brown colour as the sanctioned longan tea, so that the nanny does not suspect anything.

But I drew the line when I was told by the female elders that confined mums are not supposed to read or use the computer.

The scientific community may still be debating upon whether motherhood makes women smarter or lose brain cells, but I’m loathe to consciously empty my brain of information for a whole month.

My limited freedom and mobility have made my behaviour weird and wonky, just so that I get a little kick out of the little things that fill my monotonous days.

Take the simple act of expressing milk. A whole host of crazy associations have sprung up around this mundane maternal duty I perform many times a day. I like sitting down to dinner with my husband while rigged to my hands-free double-breast pump under my shirt.

As the portable machine makes strange grunting sounds with its air-whooshing mechanism, I beam at him and declare: “Isn’t this romantic?”

Alone at night, as I assemble the funnel, membrane and bottle parts of my breast pump, I imagine that I’m an assassin being tested on how fast I can put together a gun and its silencer.

But by far the most bizarre thing I’ve been doing is to compete with the nanny to feed my baby.

What with everything capably done for me around the house, I have been going a little stir-crazy and feeling marginalised where the life of my infant boy is concerned.

At night, I’ve taken to tip-toeing out to the baby’s room to “kidnap” my child, snatching him from his cot before he starts fussing – just so that I can be the one to provide the bottle of milk.

It was only after a few amused friends told me to chill out and get more rest (“Baby will know who Mummy is,” quipped an experienced mother of two to me) that I realised the folly of my ways.

After all, in another week, nanny will depart and I will be left to cope with my two little boys on my own. Then, I’ll probably be wishing for an isolated cabin for me to hide in – alone.

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