Saturday, October 4, 2014

"El Desarreglo"

When my doctor came to my hospital room to give me my last check-up before I went home, he removed the dressing from my incision, asked me about my milk supply and told me, "Go home and wash your hair. You have my permission to wash your hair. You're a sweaty mess."

The nurse looked at me with a "don't you dare" care-bear stare and I felt like I was stuck in the middle of a really contentious cultural battle. Whose advice do I take? The doctor who I trust and respect? Or the nurse, who I don't know and haven't ever met before?

I had taken a shower the day before - IV bag hanging from a hook in the shower especially designed for that, in a room that, as far as I know, has always been a maternity room. The nurse told me that I needed to take a shower, so I did. It was fast and cold and I didn't wash my head, but I had immersed myself in water. I would have done it even if she didn't tell me to; I was dirty and sweaty and gross.

I wasn't, however, surprised when a friend arrived minutes after my shower and freaked out.


I was surely going to get an infection, and if I got sick it would be the kind of sick that doctors don't know anything about** and OMG what was I thinking. And on top of it all, I was in the room with air conditioning and it was cold! I just took a cold shower in a cold room and seriously.

You see, the rules of newborns do not only apply to the newborn. There are more rules, even, that apply to the mom. Generally speaking, nobody can leave the house or lift a finger for six weeks post-partum. The only thing that can be lifted is your baby, and even that is iffy.

The rules are not exclusive to Dominicans - there are similar rules in most of Latin America and even Asia. (My Korean friends were also shocked that there was air conditioning in my hospital room, as cold air is thought to be terrible for a new mom, and in Korea women are not even allowed to have visitors in the hospital for five days.) A new mom is supposed to be very careful - guardar el riesgo - for about 40 days. Anything that is done outside of the rules, can cause a desarreglo and then you're in for it.

Being careful includes not being cold. You might see a Dominican mama in a sweat suit and wool cap in August. August in the Dominican Republic. It includes not showering for several days after birth, and even when showering is acceptable, washing the head is not. Hair washing cannot happen for six weeks. One cannot go outside at night, or even open windows or use a fan because the sereno, or night air, will cause complications. A new mother cannot lift anything, wash anything or participate in regular household duties (except of course when it is convenient or beneficial to the other members of the family - the rules only apply sometimes)

I am just about out of the risky stage and will be expected to get back to my normal life (with a new baby!) in a few days (though, the doc has already given me the all-clear). I still have a year of baby advice and rules to "follow," but I'm really trying to take it all lightly and not get too upset by los entremetidos - the people who want to tell me what to do all the time!

**While (many) Dominicans tend to trust medical professionals more blindly than (many) North Americans do, there is a underlying system of belief in the supernatural that often negates a doctor's authority. The most common problems are caused by mal de ojo - a curse of sorts - and a doctor's knowledge is not apt for mal de ojo. You must go to a bruja or someone who does ensalmes (praying over the body, in the name of "saints" and spirits) to be cured of mal de ojo. Some of the more mentioned problems caused by curses are empaches (which cause digestive issues) and fertility issues. 

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