Many women struggle with physical and emotional changes after giving birth, and the lack of support and attention to their needs can lead to postpartum depression and other health issues. This is why Dr. Kristal Lau’s book on postpartum care is a crucial addition to the conversation.
When Kristal joined the AHN community two years ago, she was still pivoting out of her medical career. She shared that her mom has been encouraging her to pursue her idea of writing a book on Malaysian Chinese postpartum confinement practices and include notes from her medical background.
During her confinement month after birthing her first child, Kristal compromised with her mother to modernize some of the confinement practices by medical logic. With a balance of traditional Chinese and modern postpartum care, her book provides a comprehensive guide for modern moms to take care of themselves during this important time while feeling connected to their Chinese roots.
In this article, we will dive into Kristal’s journey as an author. We will also explore why postpartum care should be a mainstream topic and why it is important to prioritize the health and well-being of new mothers.
BECOMING A MOTHER OF TWO
I practiced medicine in Australia as a Basic Physician Trainee before moving to the USA and would’ve chosen to specialize in geriatrics medicine if I hadn’t met my husband.
Ironically, I’ve chosen to work in the perinatal world now, because I used to actively avoid seeing pregnant women patients when I was a junior doctor. I felt intimidated by the responsibility of two lives and potentially more if the patient already had children.
Becoming a mother of 2 while facing the challenges of a modern immigrant from South East Asia to the West (and being a US military spouse) opened my eyes to the importance of postpartum care in setting mothers up to thrive in the postpartum year and beyond. Especially when I was planning for my first confinement practice and had to adapt things to where we were living in rural Alabama. From this experience, I decided that contributing to a small part of the perinatal industry was fitting.
POSTPARTUM 30: THIRTY DAYS TO A NURTURED FOURTH TRIMESTER
The core message of my book entitled “Postpartum 30: Thirty Days to a Nurtured Fourth Trimester” is about preserving a traditional and cultural practice so that it remains relevant to current and future generations. Otherwise, we’d forget!
So, the key components of my book showcase the best of both worlds. I discuss postpartum physiology (what we know today about how the birthing body recovers after birth) and basic Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles around the postpartum body.
I have chapters dedicated to adapting confinement practices to fit a modern mom and her family’s needs and lifestyle. I also guide readers on how to respectfully tell their mothers or mothers-in-law that they’d like to practice a modern version of confinement and include them in the picture.
MODERN MOMS WITH CHINESE ROOTS CAN EASILY BENEFIT FROM THIS BOOK
Firstly, it’s written in English! Readers don’t have to know any Mandarin or Chinese dialects (just like me!) to understand the TCM and confinement concepts I discuss in the book.
Secondly, I include historical references about the confinement practice and discuss why certain practices made sense to our ancestors. Finally, I challenge two aspects of the traditional confinement practice head-on. I encourage readers to embrace all the emotions that come with the chaos of the postpartum period instead of pushing them away. And I encourage spouses and partners to be the main confinement support person rather than another family member.
PUBLISHING MY BOOK HAS BEEN VERY SURREAL
I fully invested in writing this book after the overwhelming support from Asian Hustle Network group members when this book was just an idea. I also appreciated the nuances brought up by the AHN members in that defining post which added more to developing my book’s content. My first beta readers were also from the AHN community!
I’ve always wanted to be an author ever since I was a teen, so I can’t believe that I’ve done it! The book has also allowed me to represent a small part of Malaysian and Chinese culture to the world. Plus, it’s my biggest ticket away from medicine and into carving out an unconventional career that works for me!
Making time to write my book was the biggest challenge because I got pregnant with my second baby just after starting a 6-month book coaching program to develop my book. I’ve also been living in Germany since 2020 due to my husband being stationed here at a military base. So, I was writing on and off throughout my pregnancy and postpartum year while juggling our newborn, toddler, deployments, 2 dogs, and trying to thrive in a foreign country. The next biggest challenge was believing in myself, and that I have what it takes to write on this topic.
BALANCE AND EVOLUTION FOR POSTPARTUM CARE
To balance traditional Chinese practices of postpartum care with modern medical logic, I drew from my professional background as a medical doctor and a public health graduate, and my personal background as a Malaysian who grew up with both TCM and modern medicine. I also consulted with my medical peers and a TCM doctor (a connection I made through AHN too!) about how postpartum care from the East and West can meet in the middle.
An example of this balance is compromising on the hair-washing practice. Personal hygiene is a big part of the confinement practice. The strict traditional way is no hair washing for the entire confinement month. A modern compromise is to not wash the hair for the first 2 weeks and once you start washing your hair, make sure to dry it completely while in the warm bathroom before stepping out into a more chilly environment.
As more attention is given to the concept of matrescence, the transition a woman goes through to become a mother, it’s important to recognize the need for nurturing and support during this time.
Physical therapy should be a standard part of postpartum care, as many women suffer from pelvic floor and back pain issues after giving birth. Unfortunately, too many women are told that these issues are “normal” and should be lived with. Pain and discomfort should not be considered normal, and pelvic floor rehabilitation should be a global standard of care for all new mothers, rather than being limited to a few countries or requiring out-of-pocket expenses. The rest of us have to learn how to ask for pelvic floor rehabilitation referrals and likely pay out of pocket for it.
CARING FOR NEW MOTHERS
Two big areas where family members can help a new mother in the postpartum period are to help her feel seen and alleviate her mental load.
Unfortunately, new mothers frequently fade into the background as the newborn baby takes the spotlight. So, holding space for the new mother to grow into her new identity and showering her with attention reminds her that she’s still her own person and that she’s equally important as the baby!
Women and mothers are also commonly the main household manager in many families who do all the planning, troubleshooting, and preempting of troubles. This is the mental load of women and mothers. Alleviating this during the postpartum period isn’t just asking her what help she needs, it’s becoming the Project Manager at home while she recovers.
Asking her what she needs still requires her to plan and troubleshoot, and that doesn’t help lighten her mental load when she needs all the energy to recover from birth and care for the newborn.
MODERN MOTHERS HAVE DIFFERENT NEEDS THAN THE GENERATIONS BEFORE
First, society needs to accept that this generation and the upcoming generation of modern mothers have very different needs and challenges compared to the generation before us and not shame us for it.
For example, many women in my generation (especially us Millennials in developing countries like Malaysia) have been conditioned to “do-it-all” i.e. excel at our careers and in being a mother. It’s ingrained in us to “mother like we didn’t have jobs and achieve in our career like we didn’t have children”. Why do moms today carry this burden? It’s likely because we were exposed to conflicting messages about womanhood and motherhood while growing up. We were empowered to be anything we wanted and that we could achieve anything we put our minds and hard work to i.e. embrace the modern woman identity. Yet, we’re still pressured to marry before 30 and start having kids while constantly reminded, “Don’t waste your education by becoming a stay-at-home mom!”. Balancing the identities of an empowered modern woman with the traditional (and biological) roles within motherhood is a unique challenge for many moms of our generation.
So, only when society is willing to empathize with this struggle, then they can provide the social, emotional, and mental support to help modern moms thrive as they go through matrescence.
My book normalizes the notion of nurturing mothers from the beginning of their motherhood journey; the postpartum year. I encourage mothers to prioritize themselves and not feel completely guilty about it. And to get comfortable with asking for help and accepting help before things get too overwhelming. It’s nice to be recognized as a SuperMom but it’s also nice to not have to live up to that image.
CONNECT WITH KRISTAL
LinkedIn: Kristal L.
Book webpage: tinyurl.com/pp30book
Author webpage: Kristal Lau – Mandala Tree Press