Born Strong

I was fit and strong before my first pregnancy, thanks to my constant exercise at a younger age. I was an athlete in secondary, high school, and university: long-distance race walking, triathlon was my expertise.

With my first baby in the tummy, I was energetic and active. I flew around the world for work till I could hardly fit through the airplane door, it was almost in the 9th month’s pregnancy.

I was having late-night conference calls with US partners just before the delivery day when the baby was already overdue for about 2 weeks.

With 30+ hours of labor after induction, I went through a C-section, for which we later got to know the real reason, after seeing the 4.4 kg baby.

I was still fresh and dynamic after the baby’s birth. I looked after the little one day and night, fully breastfeeding; In the meantime, I also took care of 20+ worldwide factories in China, Japan, and Korea: the production, quality, safety, and field returns – yes, I was an engineer in charge of worldwide factories back then.

My grandmother

My grandmother is a legend. She is 96 years old now, mother of 9, grandmother of 16, great grandmother of 22, and still counting. She is sharp in her mind, remembering all her savings, belongings, and daughter-in-laws’ responsibilities to her; she is healthy in her body, doing her chores and conducting daily patrols across the whole village.

I was one of her most favorite granddaughters, given the fact that she literally raised me up single-handed. My workaholic parents were both buried in their high school teaching careers throughout their life – it is no joking to teach high school graduation years in a highly competitive overcrowded province, in China.

So, when my grandmother heard about my pregnancy, in a chilled morning after the first frost in early September, before the morning sunbeam shining on any plant, she went to the farm and collected the mysterious herbs – back then she was still young, in her 80s’. The herbs were kept in a soft cotton bag, hanging behind an aged wooden door for 7 months till they were completely dried, without being touched by any direct sunlight ever.

“This herb natures ‘Yin’, could clean the womb after baby birth, so the womb will be fresh and strong to bear babies later on.” said my grandma. With 9 children born to her, her words have lots of credits. With her now 96 years old age, still healthy and crystal clear in mind, the credits are still growing.

My first confinement

It was a joke.

Highly educated, majored in biochemical engineering, fabricating brain cancer drugs, I was not into those “old fashioned” stuff; as a teacher for 30+ years, my mother was equally modern. So, my first “confinement” was just drinking the mysterious herbal tea that my grandmother forced into my mother’s luggage.

Due to respect to my grandmother’s hard work in collecting and processing those herbs, my mom fed me that herbal tea; but due to her and my “modern core”, we did not follow any other confinement practices, other than just eating lots of fish and chicken to maintain good nutrition to sustain the breast milk.

Breastfeeding continued well, but my weight was not dropping; my weight was growing, but my health was declining.

Something went wrong, after the 1-month confinement.

I could hardly stand on the floor with my bare feet, it felt like I was in a totally different body. My soles were hurting like standing on nail carpet; my back was aching as if a hundred kg load was fixed on me; my eyesight and memory dropped to golden (fish) standard; my dropping hair could make a carpet; my teeth shook and ears heard invisible bugs’ chirping. I was sometimes unbearably upset and depressed.

The happy, healthy me was gone!

My mom left after a month, my mother in law came. My mother in law applied her traditional Indian confinement ritual, religiously: 3 meals a day freshly cooking and feeding, her son; occasionally topping me up with some dry, fatty, and super sweet dairy products that she packed from India. My weight kept growing but the health continued declining – the worst thing was that the milk quantity started to decrease dramatically, which could hardly catch up with the growing appetite of the 3-month-old tiny man.

I somehow turned to be a fat, weak, ugly, grumpy, depressed, and non-productive “cow”.

Then my mother in law left. I was left alone with an always hungry baby, a constant innocent husband, and a forever dumb maid.

The hungry baby cried at night. Young father snored the cry through. Anxious mom hated her empty factory.

Milk factory rescue

I could forgive the clumsy husband and useless maid, but I could not forget my crying baby. No mother could see their baby crying, she would take whatever efforts to feed her baby.

My baby was born at 4.4 KG, the doctors told me to breastfeed him for 2 years, to prevent potential later obesity and other diseases.

high demand, low supply.

I decided to seek help. I started to read a lot. I tried different recipes and formulas. With a noncooking maid and a husband easily getting lost in the kitchen, I had to cook by myself. I closely observed the effect of each ingredient, I carefully calculated the in and out liquid ratio to gauge the function of each formula.

Thank God, changes started to merge in, my breast milk quantity grew and caught up and exceeded the customer demand, I could always save some extra milk for the little guy. Our fridge was filled up with the frozen milk blocks. I stopped breastfeeding after a year, but this little guy enjoyed the breast milk storage for an extra 2 months!

However, my health was not improving. Frequent toilet visiting at night, constantly dropping hair, poorer memory and eyesight, a fluffy figure with lots of pain all over… all kinds of wired aging symptoms were hunting me all the time. I was always short of breath, without surprise, I was diagnosed as asthma by 3 top Singapore hospitals… As if my life energy had been drained mysteriously.

If this is the way, how could any lady possibly give birth to a double-digit number of children without murdering themselves? My grandmother was a classic example of such legendary survivors!

She is a miracle: somehow, her words held true and her herbs worked well: after a year, I was pregnant again!

Asthma and Miscarriage

The coming pregnancy was not a smooth one, the baby’s heartbeat was slow, miscarriage happened after the 4th month. I was sad but reached a kind of realization: my health was not good enough to sustain baby anymore! When the mother could hardly breathe, how could the baby live?

After the 2nd pregnancy and miscarriage, my health worsened. I had suffered a lot from the constant cough due to the new norm of asthma. Asthma or miscarriage could not be a reason for forever medical leaves, so I immediately resumed my work and kept traveling for assignments, until one day I ran to a hospital in an emergency because of the severe pain in the chest. There, I accidentally encountered and consulted a TCM doctor! That was the lunchtime and all other doctors were away, the TCM doctor was trapped by a long queue of suffering babies in front of his door. He is a TCM child doctor – well, I saw a baby TCM doctor for my asthma! you can see how desperate I was.

He was very busy, super-efficient, and possibly badly hungry, too. Without saying a word with me, he prescribed me 3 doses of herbal formula, just after seeing my tongue and felt my pulse.  Uncertain about the extra express diagnosis process, I asked the doctor whether anything else I should pay attention to. As if shocked by the fact that his patient could indeed talk, he looked at my face again, said 4 words: “Eat less fatty meat!”

A bit humiliated, but persistent like me, I asked him whether he could give me more doses of the medicine because I was from such a far place that I may not be able to follow up visiting him soon. He looked at me again, unhappy and with disapproval, but he still changed “3” into “5” on my prescription.

He was right, I was wrong.

When asthma disappeared like a miracle after exactly 3 doses of the wired herbal medicine, looking at the grass leaves, insect shells, and some strange flowers in the spared 2 herbal packages, my pride from modern education and confidence in modern medicines shattered.

So, facing the inconvenient truth of my poor health after the miscarriage, experienced the amazing power of TCM medicine tackling asthma, I started using TCM herbs to rebuild my health.

It was just 2~3 weeks after the miscarriage at that time,  I made a strange decision and strictly conducted it: I followed a thorough confinement procedure, with TCM herbs as food supplements… even though that was just a simple miscarriage.

Luckily, my health picked up after this little detour: I could sleep the whole night, my physical pain and mental depression also somehow reduced!

And interestingly, I was pregnant again after another half-year, with twins!

A cautious confinement and breastfed twins

I was super cautious and well prepared this time.

I carefully planned and monitored my diet and herbal supplements; I gently but diligently exercised to maintain my health; I prepared all the confinement herbal packages before my delivery. My mom went to a confinement catering center and learned cooking for a month!

Twins were born healthily: 2.8kg and 2.4kg.

Planned not to have any more children, my mom already retired from her job, given all the bad experience from my first confinement, we decided to be super cautious for this last confinement chance — my this confinement was an upgraded premium version: 90 days’ confinement!

The confinement was very smooth, the recovery was excellent: my weight dropped to pre-pregnancy weight; two babies picked up weight within a month and they were on breastfeeding till 1 year old – my breast milk quantity used to reach 3 litters a day! My lost hair and eyesight did not come back, but all the mysterious pain and short breath were gone! My hands and feet are warm, I am not pale and chilled anymore.

Since then, I believed in confinement deeply.

Though with the modern me equally deep inside, my confinement was a hybrid one, traditional herbs applied with modern nutrition & health concepts.

Without good planning, lacking sufficient support and care, confinement could be a tumbling ride that leads to lots of physical and emotional pains; but if play it right, we can come out with a healthier and stronger new self.