Thursday Open Thread

May 17, 2012

It’s Thursday! How is everyone today?

I ate up this NYT article on the cuarentena, a period of roughly 40 days postpartum when women in Latin American countries are pampered and supported.

It sounds like “quarantine,” but it refers to 40 days. In traditional Hispanic culture, as well as many cultures around the world, there is a real ritual attached to the first 40 days or so after a woman has a baby. We attach a lot of ritual to the time before the baby, with baby showers and foods to eat or not to eat during pregnancy and coddling the mother. We don’t really have a prescription for after a baby is born.

But in Mexican culture, it’s highly ritualized. The idea is that women family members traditionally surround a mother and help bathe and clean and diaper the baby. But really the focus of the attention is the well-being and safety and health of the mother for 40 days. The poorer and more rural and more remote a community is, the more likely it is that they are going to take this ritual seriously.

Isn’t that just lovely? Of course I didn’t experience the traditional cuarentena, but I did have multiple steaming pots of caldo de pollo delivered by my aunts. I had both a broom and a vacuum snatched out of my hands by relatives, one of whom was my 75-year-old grandmother. She insisted I should not be doing housework of any kind and marveled at the fact that I was up and around. She said in her day, her mother and aunties forced her to stay in bed. Of course bathing was also discouraged, as they feared a cold draft might cause a new mother to catch a cold, so they made do with sponge baths . . . for 40 days. Yikes.

In any case, I completely agree that it makes more sense to lavish a woman with attention and help after the baby is born, as opposed to before. In her book The Immigrant Advantage, author Claudia Kolker argues that we could learn a thing or 20 from newcomers to our country:

One of the things I learned is this idea of permission — permission to take care of yourself, to ask for help. This felt very revolutionary to me. It also entails giving help — stepping up and being there and not just sending an e-mail or gift basket, with the understanding that you will be helped in the same way. It’s the power of a group of people getting together at their best to do difficult things. With a cuarentena, you’re not alone. It’s difficult being a new mother. To be surrounded, to have other people on the team, it’s a happy atmosphere. It helps you get through it.


What do you think? Could you get on board the cuarentena train, or did you prefer being left alone to nest and bond in those postpartum days? What kind of help and attention did you appreciate the most?

What’s on your mind today? Chat away!