The Duchess of Cambridge recently made her last public appearance before giving birth to our future monarch. At eight months pregnant, I suppose it is felt that she needs to be left in peace in order to rest – the baby could come any day now, after all (as Elly would concur!)
The concept of retreating from view to nurture your baby reminds me of the tradition of confinement. For me, this concept evokes a time when Britain had a far more repressed culture, which probably peaked during the Victorian era. Baby bumps – implying the sexuality inherent in a pregnant woman (how did she get to be that way? Oh right…) – were not flaunted. The Jane Austen website describes the Regency practice of confinement, or lying-in, as:
“an old childbirth practice involving a woman resting in bed for a period of time before giving birth. Though the term is now usually defined as ‘the condition of a woman in the process of giving birth,’ it previously referred to a period of bed rest required even if there was no medical complications. A 1932 publication refers to lying-in as ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months.”
This page also includes a lot of interesting information about childbirth in Jane Austen’s time, which is worth a read (for the non-squeamish).
According to my knowledge gleaned from Victorian novels, confinement traditionally continued after the birth as well, preferably in a darkened room (they didn’t know about Vitamin D back then), with mostly female attendants. Once the mother had regained a semblance of her previous figure she was allowed to rejoin the world again.
I thought such a practice was long abandoned, but it turns out that in some East Asian cultures confinement is very much alive and kicking. In this case it is called “doing the month” and seems to be far more like a pampering break than a lonely exile in a dark room. The Huffington Post reports that the
“new mom rests and avoids physical work. The mom stays home and is attended by close family and friends. Some women even hire a professional confinement ‘lady’ or maid. These helpers cook special recovery meals for the new mom, teach her how to bathe, swaddle, and care for her newborn, and tend to the baby when mom needs rest.”
Sounds pretty good to me! In New York there are even special confinement centres, located mostly in neighbourhoods where there are lots of Asian immigrants. The tradition can also be found in India, and over in Europe, Greece.
Personally I hope to achieve a balance, or a semi-confinement: I’m still making plenty of public appearances, but try not to stray too far, especially when by myself. After we take our baby home, we won’t be hiring any professionals but will hopefully be able to accept the help of friends and family. I’m sure we will be somewhat anchored to the house during the early days, but friends who have had babies have emphasised the importance of going out – even if it’s just to buy milk. Of course summer will have arrived by then so it won’t be too much of a hardship… fitting the rain cover on our buggy was definitely the most challenging part of putting it together!