The Fried Rice I Didn’t Know I Needed After Giving Birth

In The Fourth Trimester, we ask parents: What meal nourished you after welcoming your baby? This month, it’s ginger fried rice from Tenderheart cookbook author Hetty Lui McKinnon.

I have always been one of those daughters who thinks she knows best. So during my first pregnancy, when my mother told me about all the Chinese rules of postpartum care, I scoffed and laughed her off. My mother, who grew up in China before immigrating to Sydney, Australia in her early twenties, is a person I would describe as very traditional. She was exceedingly strict when I was growing up, and her imposition of antiquated-to-me Chinese practices, like not washing our hair on Lunar New Year’s Day, was the source of much angst. It came as no surprise that her attachment to cultural customs became rampant as my due date approached.

At the time, my husband and I were living in London, and my mother made the long journey from Sydney to be with me for the birth. With her, she bought jars of Vegemite, my old knitted baby bonnets, and mountains of unsolicited Chinese wisdom. While we waited for my baby’s arrival, she solemnly told me about the traditions after birth in Chinese culture. New mothers avoid raw foods, which prevent the body from restoring its internal heat. They sip medicinal broths made with jujubes and goji berries to expel “dampness.” According to ancient customs, postpartum care is paramount, giving the body time to recuperate and recover from the physical trauma of childbirth.

The practice of confinement, referred to as “sitting the month” in Chinese, facilitates this recovery and includes rules such as the new mother (and baby) not leaving the house, drinking cold water, or engaging in any strenuous activity for at least 30 days after giving birth. And that’s just to name a few. Food plays an important role to restore balance. In traditional Chinese medicine, pregnancy and childbirth throws off the body’s yin and yang (or cold and heat) so the diet must correct this. Being the headstrong daughter who has always possessed a healthy skepticism towards my mother’s beliefs, I listened in a perfunctory way, determined to not be subjected to any of her rules.

My daughter Scout was born on an overcast Sunday morning, nine days past her due date.

After her birth, as I cradled her wrinkled body in my jelly arms, my body weakened by labor, birth, and the racking force of a mother’s love, I was overcome with hunger. A ravenous, maddening hunger. My stomach felt empty, every growling pang a sign that my body was mourning the loss of carrying another human, and longed to be filled again. The midwives offered me cold buttered toast and milky black tea. I devoured these without thinking.

After transitioning from the delivery room to my hospital bed, it was lunchtime and a bowl of watery vegetable soup appeared before me. It tasted of barely salted water, so bland and austere that, despite my ravaging appetite, I was unable to consume more than a few spoonfuls. For those first moments, I lay exhausted, not quite sure how to look after my baby, and not quite sure how to look after my body either.