"It's about food, about sex, about rest." Evelyn, a 34-year-old Dominican immigrant who recently gave birth, is explaining the Latin American custom called la cuarentena("quarantine"). It's a 40-day postpartum period during which mothers recuperate from labor and bond with their babies. Minutes earlier, her bouncy 7-year-old daughter let me into their apartment, on the second floor of a two-story house on the outskirts of Boston. With delicately pretty features and a thick ponytail, Evelyn (who prefers to withhold her last name) is the picture of new maternity: Her black-haired infant is wrapped in a pink fleece blanket and planted at her breast.
With my almost 4 year old daughter I was in bed for 1 week, on the bed for 1 week and around the bed for 1 week. Or I was supposed to be. After about a week and a half I got pretty antsy. My midwife admonished that I'd never have a time like this again-the next time I'd have another child to care for. I'm 4 mos. pg. with baby 2 and know that kind of dedicated time is just not going to be possible. The most important thing to me to take from this philosophy, though, is to honor myself and the miraculous process my baby, my family and I have just gone through.
I met a mother who's son was born the same time as my daughter. She said, "I'm not going to let this whole pregnancy and birth thing get me down." She worked right up to birth and jumped right back into the office at 6 wks. I thought she was missing out but I think that's a very mainstream American idea-that we should be able to bounce back immediately and begin being super moms on top of super workers, spouses, etc. The idea that women can do it all is fine and dandy but in trying to do it all we often don't have time to stop and wonder at, absorb, evolve through the transitions in our lives. That is why I love and respect these post birth traditions in so many parts of the world. It's a concentrated period of time in which to go through a metamorphosis, if you will.