I‘ve been wanting to write this post for the longest time but didn’t find the emotional energy to do so. 8 months ago I gave birth to a little cute diva and as Chinese traditional rules that I will have to spend one month (28 days to be exact) doing my confinement. For those who don’t understand why a mother needs to be confined after birth, please allow me to explain.
A lot of Asian cultures passed down a tradition that dictates that after a mother gives birth, she will require strict care regime to get back to her pre-pregnancy health. When I say strict, I’m not kidding. I’m not supposed to shower or take a bath for 28 days (or basically touch water) – Ewwww! I’m having to only eat certain food to generate ‘heat’, get rid of ‘extra wind’ and helps in milk production. And I need to take 5 – 6 small meals a day. Imagine 6 meals of ginger, sesame oil, chicken, fish and a lot of herbal tonic soups everyday for a whole month. Not only did I produce more milk for my baby, I ‘generate’ a lot of farts and burps (getting rid of wind aka gas inside my body). No fan, no air conditioning in the bedroom and if I am going out of the confined area (bedroom), I’ll need to be decked in long sleeves, long pants, socks and hat. For the fear, I’ll catch ‘wind’ and cold that will lead to old age rheumatism.
On the plus side, my baby and I get taken care of during the 28 days by either a confinement lady (where she’ll stay in your house for the period) or a confinement centre (where you’ll stay in the centre for 28 days). My meals, laundry even the baby chores like baby bath (I’m not supposed to touch water, remember) are all taken care of. My job is to eat, sleep and feed the baby.
In fact, the first 7 days after birth, I’m not supposed to get out of bed at all.
To please my family who insisted that I need confinement, I compromised by enrolling myself at a confinement centre instead of letting my mother-in-law confined me (oh gosh, that came out so wrong). Anyways, after birth, I was whisked off from the hospital and to the centre with my newborn. At the centre, which basically is a house with a lot of rooms, I was assigned a room with an attached bathroom by myself and my baby will be housed in a common nursery with round-the-clock on shift nannies taking care of her.
The nannies are wonderful and I know each of them by names. They’ll let me know her sleeping pattern and often passed on useful tips on how to take care of the baby when I return home. They are all foreign workers, mostly from Myanmar and Philippines. Away from home, family and their own children to come to Malaysia to earn a living so as to send money home to allow their children to have a better life. One of them has an eight-year-old son whom she hadn’t kiss or hug for 5 years. She talks to him every night on FaceTime without fail. She missed all his major milestones. All of them are the same, some with more than 3 children, some with elderly parents. Well, you know me, I can’t be not doing anything, so I ended up chatting with them a lot. By the end of 28 days, I have become fast friends with them.
Imagine my shock and horror one day when I stumbled upon a notice by their employer aka the boss of the confinement business.
“To My Beloved Staff;
Please have your good manner in consuming the food in the center. The management have allocated food for you all. For raw one such as Fish, Chicken, Pork, vegetable, for the staff to cook by themselves for Lunch and Dinner. For food such as bread, butter, cheese, jam are strictly for the mommies customer. The center have white bread and peanut butter and mayonnaise for you all to consume. Center also provide you all with coffee. Milo and Nestum are strictly for mommies customer only. Such as instant noodles like Maggi and Mamee which flavor of chicken and curry be provided to you all. Other than Curry and Chicken flavor, please don’t take! Is STRICTLY belong to your BOSS!
The center is providing good enough food for you all. Please ask the Aunty which and what you can consume or eat!”
The second part of the message is the same passage translated into Tagalog.
It was actually my husband who first saw this notice when he made a wrong turn and accidentally walked into the staff quarters. Immediately, I asked him to go out and buy bread, jam, instant noodles of all kind of flavour, biscuits and cakes. I sneak the food into the staff quarters and passed it to one of them. In the total of my stay there, we did this thrice whenever the boss is away from the centre. While I offered to confront the boss about it, the nannies asked me to drop the subject for the fear he will retaliate against them when I leave.
I feel for them. I am away from my family for 4 years and I understand the yearning of being with friends and family in your home country but I can never imagine the pain they must endure each day being away from their children and husbands. I can’t even tear myself away from my little diva for a few hours without checking in on her. Yes, my last break away from her is pretty painful, brutal but necessary for my sanity.
All that loneliness and yet no appreciation from their employer! Jam and cheese are not luxury delicacies like lobsters and caviar! How expensive can it be to supply the same type of food that the customers are eating?
If we invite them in our country to work, we have to respect and give them equal rights. Even in Singapore, a well-known prim and proper country, has employees crossing the line with their domestic helpers. Forums and websites advice the employers to install a camera in their own homes to monitor what the domestic helper’s activities during the day when they are at work, go through their phones and confiscate if necessary and don’t allow them to go out or require them to report their whereabouts on their off days.
If I can’t trust someone who is here for the purpose to help to ease my chores and to take care of my child, I shouldn’t hire one at all. As much as they are from a developing or third world country, they are just here to earn a living, no different from you and me. How would you feel if your employer gave you the same treatment? I bet you’ll throw your resignation letter in his face in a heartbeat but these ladies don’t have such luxury, bound by circumstances, they can only bear with it.
Chinese have a saying “同人不同命” meaning we are similarly human but our lives have different fates.
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