Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pantang Oh Pantang!

My confinement lady Kak Zarina holds up Zara.

~ Confinement: Day 21 ~

Its been 25 days since I gave birth to Zara and 21 days since I discovered what it's like to undergo 'confinement' or pantang.

When my mother - an Australian - delivered me 30 years ago, she went through confinement Chinese-style, which proved to be quite a culture shock to her. She was stuffed with ginger on a daily basis and her menu consisted of plenty of 'heaty' food. She was also forbidden to wash her hair for 30 days - yuck - although I do believe she managed to weasel her way out of this clause. But I think that was pretty much the worst of it.

30 years later, and here I am going through the same thing - but in my case, because I married into a very diverse family, I opted to go Malay-style. And yes, it's been quite a culture shock to me too. I'd been told that my confinement would roughly consist of a daily regiment of urut, a strict diet, something called 'tunku', and that I'd have to bathe using water boiled with a mixture of leaves. OK, I'd thought, I can manage that. I mean, how bad can a daily massage be? And in all honesty, I thought I'd be in for quite a pampering!

The day I checked out of hospital, I met my confinement lady - a lovely lady called Kak Zarina who travelled all the way down from her kampung in Yong Peng, Perak to care of me for three weeks.

That was also the day I discovered that urut pantang isn't pleasant at all - in fact, it's really quite painful. The whole point of urut during pantang is to re-align your urat (veins) and to push your uterus back into place. You can imagine how that might feel after you've had your uterus enlarged and hanging out for 10 months! By the third day of my pantang, I had bruises on my hips, back and lower abdomen and was really not looking forward to Day Four.

My urut session each day  was followed by tunku - essentially a hot river stone that is kneaded into pressure points along your body. This was a little more pleasant than the urut, but there were occasions when the stone would be so hot and pressed into my bruises so hard that I'd wince and pound the floor in pain. And no, I'm not being dramatic! 

Mandi daun - now this wasn't bad at all. The idea is that bathing with water boiled with leaves should tighten the skin and help shrink those loose flabby bits you're left with once you've delivered.

Tangas - Another ritual to tighten the bits, but this one specifically for the nether-regions! I had to squat over a pail of steaming water that had been boiled with something or rather I can't recall. This was pretty manageable.

Asam Jawa wash - Yep, another remedy for the nether-regions, but this one to help heal the wounds caused by the delivery. It did sting a little initially but it helped to relieve the itch caused by the stitches!

Barut or bengkung - This is one of the mainstays of a traditional Malay pantang... the body wrap. Traditionally, this would be 44 yards of cloth that had to be wrapped tightly around the body after applying a mixture of kapur and lime on the belly. Thankfully, these days you can buy or make a barut that resembles more of a corset. It's a lot easier to put on and more importantly, remove when you desperately need to pee!

A 'heaty' diet - OK, so I've never really understood the whole 'heaty' and 'cooling' foods concept. I mean, what makes some foods 'heaty' and others 'cooling'? And I especially don't get why most fruit and veges are banned during confinement because they are too 'cooling' - I thought fruit and veg were supposed to be good for you! Still, out of respect for the entire process, I am going along with it, although I am SO looking forward to a good fruit smoothie on Day 45!

Socks - It's funny how when I went to the hospital for my one week check-up that I could immediately tell who else in the crowd had just had a baby. Every one of these women, including moi, were wearing socks with their slippers - something so unfashionable there can only be one reason for it... confinement! The idea behind this is that socks prevent angin or wind from entering your body. I hope someday someone will be able to convincingly explain to me what all this angin stuff is all about.

Imprisonment - Yup. I am under house arrest for 44 days. No going out unless there's a doctor's appointment - although I do know of some women who forgo even that for the sake of fulfilling their pantang. In Chinese pantang, I believe it's 30 days. I'm not sure about Indian confinement, but I'm pretty sure the Malay pantang is the longest. It's not a bad thing I guess. It does ensure I'm at home resting, which knowing me, I wouldn't do otherwise. I also don't have much time to go out anyhow - as I spend most of my time with the baby at my boob. Still, it can be torture when you're stuck at home while Mothercare is on sale and the country is going through a ridiculous heatwave. Let's just say I am definitely looking forward to going out on April 9th... and my first stop will be Starbucks for a Chocolate Cream Chip Grande with Whipped Cream!

Kak Zarina left for her kampung on Day 18 of my confinement - which means the urut, tunku, tangas and mandi daun part of the regiment is over. The day before she left she bathed me in lime water to 'cleanse' me, a ritual I'll need to repeat on Day 45 on my own.

A lot of people may think pantang is a waste of time - and to a degree, even I questioned the effectiveness of some of the rituals I was meant to follow. Still, I decided before I delivered that I wanted to go through the whole thing... at least for the experience of it. And if there needs to be any proof of the effectiveness of the regiment as a whole, I'd say the fact that I've lost almost 15kgs in the last 25 days is proof enough!

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