Confinement, or something like it

On the afternoon after my D&C, I woke from my nap to find that Christmas had arrived. Or rather, the Eu Yan Sang fairy had come and gone. One of my best friends had quietly dropped off a giant package containing several bags of mysterious Chinese herbs and fruits, all sorted into Weeks 1-4, with detailed instructions as to what to drink when, and for what. As well as two bars of chocolate (“coz herbs can get boring”) and a couple of boxes of raspberry leaf tea. It was exactly what I’d wanted to wake up to, without knowing it.

Up until that moment, I’d been a TCM unbeliever. I’d never gotten into the postnatal (or, in this case, post miscarriage) confinement thing because well…the whole not bathing for a month stipulation kind of undermines its credibility somewhat, and from there it just seemed like a lot of hogwash. My main argument was that the rest of the non-Asian world seems to get along fine without red date tea and pigs trotters in black vinegar and rice wine everythings, so let’s just eat like normal human beings and get on with life, shall we?

Except, after Michael was born, I wasn’t really eating like a normal human being. The first few postnatal months were a chaotic mess of disorganized and unbalanced meals, coupled with limited knowledge on what a wildly hormonal woman who’d just lost 500kg of blood and flesh should be eating. I was too exhausted, busy and depressed to even consider turning on the stove, so my well meaning mother-in-law took over the kitchen and basically cooked chicken in rice wine for twenty days, as a kind of nod to confinement principles. Generally, I was eating poorly. There was no real breakfast, lunch or dinner. I just pecked at whatever happened to be in the fridge, or left out on the stove, whenever I had the heart to. Eating was really the last of my priorities, behind “Stop Michael from crying” and way, way behind “Clean up poop situation that just happened on the rug”. It was even behind “Lie down on the couch and stare blankly at the wall”. I really didn’t have much appetite, even with all the breastfeeding going on.

On hindsight, I think poor nutrition held back my recovery somewhat. Of course it did. It’s so stupidly obvious, saying it (or writing it) out loud now. I was weak. I would have been less weak, if I’d eaten regularly and properly, at the bare minimum.

But the confinement diet is another thing all together. And I have no idea why I became a believer, that afternoon. All I know is – sifting through that package of twigs and shavings and wrinkled fruits all neatly bagged and tagged with my friend’s authoritative notes on how “This revitalising soup will strengthen your constitution and replace lost energy”, I somehow embraced it all. The love emanating from that large shopping bag held some kind of evangelistic, persuasive power. And there is something almost mathematically satisfying about every component having its own particular purpose. The ingredients to benevolent magic potions refined through the centuries by grannies fanning charcoal fires.

Instead of archaic, it has all started to seem… wise?

Whatever it is, this feels good for me. It feels like I’m taking care of myself, and that in itself brings me surprising comfort.

So here it is – I leave you with the iconic, the legendary, the Most Wanted potion of all – Red Date Tea. (Do me a favour and google the health benefits of red dates. And you thought quinoa was a superfood!) I’ve been drinking litres of this stuff, every day, and I can bet you millions of postpartum women are right now swigging this very tea all across Asia. I would have it dripped directly into my veins if I could, because it is actually oddly wonderful once you get into it. In fact, it sends me to sleep at night like a warm lullaby, and guess what – that’s what it’s supposed to do. Longans! And dates! They do that! I told you it works! Embarrassing to only discover it now, and even more embarrassing to provide a recipe for it. But here it is, folks.

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Red Date Tea

25 dried red dates (the big long ones, not the shriveled small round ones)
20 dried black dates
4 sticks of radix codonopsis (dang shen)
30 dried longans (obviously, ain’t nobody counting this, just do a handful)

This is by no means a strict recipe. Leave out the radix codonopsis, or replace the black dates with red dates, if you like – though black dates apparently have even more nutritional value than red.

Give everything a rinse and then throw it into a pot containing 4 litres of water. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer over low heat for 5-6 hours. You should then be rewarded with a dark liquid which is sweet and possibly a little bit tangy. Drink it warm, and if you’re hardcore (or just in need of fibre, like I am) go ahead and eat the dates and longans too.

Be well!

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