Toward my third trimester when I was expecting my firstborn some 8 years ago, my Mum hauled me to get my hair chopped off into a boyish crop. Her reason? “Confinement cannot wash hair. You better keep your hair short so easier to maintain.”
Not wash my hair? I was horrified!
The ordeal began after childbirth, whilst every other mother I saw in the parent craft room after the delivery had had a shower and were looking like fresh daisies, I looked like a withering head of cabbage. I was not allowed to bath, not allowed to wash my hair, not allowed to touch water!
My mum presented me with one of those plastic gloves to use when I wanted to do laundry for my personal objects. “Cannot touch water. Touch water already , your hand will ache .”
I was made to wear socks and slippers all over the house. “Must wear, wait the dampness seep from the tiles into your feet then your feet ache .” What dampness? The floor felt bone dry to me.
The only cleaning I got was an attempt to use Chinese White Wine to wipe me down- but this made my skin turn red and itchy. She then started to sun dry ginger skin which she then immersed in really steaming, hot water before allowing me to use it to bath myself. The steam stung my eyes but at least there was the feeling of water splashing over my body.
A local professor’s wife, a western doctor and a mother of an ex-colleague, spoke to me on the phone - she had had showers after having her 3 boys and never suffered any aches and pains. She theorised that the elders had brought such traditions from China where one would not have had access to hot water from a well (no bathing- it is cold in winter and well water is “cooling”), where there were no tiles on the floor (dampness theory) and bathing would have caused a young mother to catch the chills in winter. “We live in a tropical climate, all those things do not make sense here although they made good sense in a Chinese village.”
My former tuition teacher, who is an experienced and elderly sinseh, adviced that it was fine to bath- “Shower quickly in hot water and dry yourself fast. And if your mum still says no to baths, go to the Chinese Medical Hall and ask for special herbs that you can soak in your bath water during the confinement period. Must bath or else you are like a huge, walking germ!”
So to bath or not to bath?
I confess I showered during my confinement- my Dad allowed me to sneak baths whenever Mum was out to work. Aches and pains? Nil zilch.
When it was impossible to take a bath because Mum was hovering about on weekends, I gave myself powder baths with St. Luke’s powder- a menthol powder with anti rash properties. When I had my post-natal wraps done for 3 weeks and couldn’t bath because of the cloth that was knotted around me, I would take a deep breath, suck in my waist and pour in a ton of the powder into the gap I made. It made the heat more bearable, and the itch from my perspiration less annoying. I also used dry shampoo when I had trouble sneaking in a hair wash- you can get various brands of dry shampoo from the pharmacy these days. They help to degrease your hair and keep you feeling fresher. But nothing beats a good old wet shampoo (with conditioner) followed by blow drying the hair.