After Erni Lee gave birth to her first baby in Sydney she was told by her mother not to wash and to stay in the house for a month with her new baby.
“It’s 30 days, no washing, especially no washing your hair, you can shower but with hot water and your not allowed to go out – at all,” said Mrs Lee.
The new mum left hospital with an underweight baby and moved in with her husband’s family.
Like many South-East Asian women, the 37-year-old was expected to follow the rules of confinement.
“Staying inside the home is meant to protect yourself from ‘bad wind’ or ‘evil spirits’,” she said.
Erni and Vincent on holiday. Image supplied.
"It's believed after you have given birth and you are bleeding, the evil spirits can smell you. When you are at home, you are much safer because when you go out bad spirits may approach you."
Erni Lee doesn't believe in evil spirits or superstition but she respects her family's wishes.
"My mum asked me to do it [confinement] and I was happy do it - to give it a try.
"I stayed at home for 30 days straight. I didn’t break that rule but I did break the rule with washing my hair – I just couldn’t stand it.
"I used dry shampoo at two weeks, I lasted two weeks."
"I said to my mum –Western people have never heard of it and they give birth in the morning and go and take a shower straight away - they wash their hair – they survive."
However, the 30 day commitment gave Mrs Lee a chance to "focus" on her new baby Vincent. She wasn't lonely or desperate to go out - she was determined.
"It’s been passed down. My sister did it, my mum did it, so I felt like I should be following the tradition. I don’t believe in the evil spirits but I believe in tradition."
"It’s nice to recognise where you are from and to follow what people have been doing for hundreds of years."
It's a cultural tradition that could be threatened.
Mrs Lee says many people think it is "silly" and have trouble following the rules - especially in the west.
"My mum is nearly 7o and back then in her generation it was really really strict and nowadays it’s like: 'No, I don’t wanna do it'."
Erni and Vincent overseas. Image supplied.
But it is a tough ask. Despite only a few nurse visits, her mum and a couple of friends coming over Mrs Lee stuck to the plan.
She didn't leave the house for 30 days. It's hard staying home for a few hours with a newborn let alone a whole month.
"You and the baby have to be inside at home. The baby had to get some sun every morning, so I would go to the balcony to get him vitamin D but after that I went inside again."
Listen to Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss confinement on our podcast for real parents, This Glorious Mess.
"Also, during confinement we have this thing like Spanks – it’s like a piece of linen and you wrap it around you like a corset. It’s tough. It’s very hard. You can hardly breathe."
After 30 long full days of pumping, feeding and surviving on her mother-in-law's delicious soup, Mrs Lee was a little scared but finally went outside.
"I went to the shopping mall, I had some food and had a look around. I brought the baby along in the pram – it was so good. I went to the park as well," she said.
The 30 days were up on a Friday and by Sunday there was a full month party where family and friends came together to celebrate the baby, after confinement.
"It was like - 'phew' - something heavy lifted off my shoulders. Mostly it was the guilt thing," she said.
"I didn’t feel guilty anymore because I’d done it. Now, when talk to people I feel proud about it. "
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