Today, marks the 34th month of the twins, it is just fitting that I publish here on my own blog my first experience doing Ge-lai. Read on…
Ge-lai is hardly heard of among pregnant Filipino women, but the practice has been associated with pregnancy itself among those with Chinese heritage in the Philippines.
I am a Filipina married to a pure Chinese who was born and raised in the Philippines. Marrying Jon also meant embracing his culture. Among them is the traditional practice of ge-lai after giving birth.
I first encountered the term ge-lai when Jon and I were trying to get pregnant. I did not fully understand it then, but it has always haunted me. So when I got pregnant, i finally asked my husband what ge-lai is really about. In reply, he said that it’s a post-natal care followed by the Chinese which means that you won’t be allowed to bathe for a whole month. That’s it! Hmmm, ge-lai does not sound so dreadful after all.
But as my belly grew bigger in the passing months, I learned more about ge-lai that my husband failed to mention (I think deliberately) when I first asked him about it.
Here’s my chronicle:
At one month pregnant: All our friends and relatives knew I was pregnant and they were excited and happy for us. Jon’s aunts started asking me if I will undergo ge-lai, and I remember very clearly how Jon answered for me proudly, “Yes, she will!” Some approached me with words of luck. They told me I can do it. I must have looked so puzzled and worried that they all seem to reassure me that it’s easy and repeatedly say that I can do it.
At two to three months pregnant: Ge-lai includes tea and I love tea! At this time, my mother-in-law had contacted her classmate for some herb concoction for my ge-lai. She also asked her sister based in Dagupan for some ginger. I asked my husband what the herbs are for and he told me casually that it’s for my tea. A ge-lai diet includes lots of tea, he said. I thought that’s great because I love drinking tea, but my thoughts were only into jasmine tea or the type of teas that I usually drink. I remembered my husband being very happy about it.
At four to five months pregnant: Ha, Jon started to break it to me gently. My baby bump was showing and I was blooming that people thought I was having a girl. In one of my appointments with my OB, I heard the lady sitting across from me talking to her daughter about ge-lai. In my mind, oh, ge-lai again? But I got curious so I eavesdropped. So the mother was telling her daughter that she will not be allowed to bathe for 30 days or even wash her face. When I got home, I asked my husband about it. He said that since I won’t be allowed to take a bath, naturally, washing my face won’t be permitted too.
At six months pregnant: Baby showers left and right. One of our baby showers was hosted by my classmate. And in that party, the wife of our friend brought up ge-lai again. But this time, her version really scared me. I learned that aside from not bathing for 30 days, in some cases it’s even 31 days, you will not be allowed to wash your hands, what’s down there (you know what I mean), eat fruits, vegetables, and use the electric fan directly at you. Your outfit is limited to the following: pajama/jogging pants, long sleeves, and socks. And the most shocking of them all is that you will only be allowed to eat black chicken, pigeon, native chicken, pig’s trotters, and lapu-lapu soup!
I am a picky eater. My husband would describe my eating habit as either really expensive or downright jologs. Nothing in between. Plus, I’m not really an adventurous eater. So upon hearing this, I looked at my husband with Ling’s signature stare (aka Lucy Liu from Ally Mcbeal). He knew he has some explaining to do when we get home.
At home, Jon comforted me and told me that I need to eat all those food so my body will get its warmth back (apparently we lose it during labor) and to balance the yin and yang of my body. With eyes rolling, all I can say was, “Yeah right!”
At seven months pregnant: Rollercoaster ride of emotions. Early contractions started kicking in at this time and I was adviced to take Bricanyl while undergoing a three times a week monitoring via a non-stress test. But we were still very excited since all the baby stuff are in and the decors for the baby’s room are done. One month to go and we could finally see our baby.
One afternoon, while decorating the nursery room with my sister Sarrah, I mentioned to her that I will go through the Chinese traditon called ge-lai. A nurse by profession, she was shocked. Being my ate and a very dutiful sister, she searched the internet for more information. She stumbled upon Giselle Sanchez’s blog (yes, the comedienne) and it made me realize that ge-lai doesn’t sound that bad. Giselle’s blog was centered to the benefits of ge-lai for the mommy. But at this point, I still took ge-lai with a grain of salt.
Then,I got scared again. While having dinner at the House of Wagyu, my mother-in-law said that the stuff she ordered from her friend and the ginger from Dagupan have finally arrived. So while enjoying my steak, ge-lai graced us again. The next day, I took it upon me to check-out the stuff she mentioned. I was shocked to see how many and raw they were. I asked my mother-in-law what all the herbs are for? She told me they were called “o-tso tong sim,” and that I’ll only be allowed to drink that. I can’t have water, she said, and my jaw dropped liked Jimmy Carry from the movie Mask.
At eight months pregnant: I started attending lamaze and breastfeeding classes while looking for my “abugado” or a person who is an expert and who may be able to help me talk with my mother-in-law about the whole tradition of ge-lai and how it affects breastfeeding and the baby.
When I heard that I will only be allowed to drink Chinese tea, I acted fast. I got in touch with Medela Moms, a breastfeeding support group, and told them about my concerns. How do I reconcile ge-lai and breastfeeding my child? Here was my email to the group:
1. I am not Chinese, but I am married to one and I will practice ge-lai.
2. I am determined to breastfeed my baby, but I don’t know if the Chinese tea that I will only be allowed to drink would affect my milk supply.
3. I also don’t know if the wine they want me to take will affect my milk and my baby.
4. I really want to show my in-laws that I will do my best to embrace their culture, but I need help.
I was so happy and thankful that Miss Beng referred my email to her partner Maricel Cua. Miss Maricel was so nice in replying to my concerns. She said she had the same dilemma and would be very happy to help and assist me with my ge-lai and breastfeeding. Oh, thank you Lord!
Now, onto finding an “abugado.”
Jon and I then looked for a pediatrician who is a breastfeeding advocate and who understands ge-lai. My OB, Dra. Anita Poblete, recommended Dra. Joy Ty-Sy. Ate Bessie called the clinic of Dra. Joy and her secretary, Miss Carina, was so jolly and accommodating to us. So we went and visited Dra. Joy. I asked her to be my son’s pediatrician and then discussed with her my concerns. I was happy that she said she will help me with my in-laws. She was glad too that I was exerting effort to undergo ge-lai. She assured me that I can take all the herbs, but not the wine. That day, she became my “abugado.” She said she will explain to my mother-in-law that I need to drink water (warm water). She also gave me a two-page list of things to buy to help me with breastfeeding which included her recommended soap, lanolin, and feeding bottles. I was impressed and was sure that she was really an advocate of breastfeeding. I was happy! Oh, thank you Lord!
Dra. Poblete then recommended Rome Kanapi for our lamaze class. Miss Rome is really a sweetheart. She is cool, carefree, and knew what she was talking about. We attended her class because I want my husband to see how it was like to be pregnant and undergo labor.
“Alangan naman ako lang mahirapan. Dapat dalawa kami, regardless kung natural o ma-CS ako,” I told Jon.
In one of our sessions with Miss Rome, she mentioned that our bones will loosen-up to accommodate the baby. This is were the yin and yang concept of ge-lai became more logical to me. Then, I knew I was ready to embrace ge-lai. But I gave my husband a condition. I told him that he has to eat all the food that I eat, and to make it really yummy. After all, he is a chef. So as my dutiful husband, he made all efforts to comply with my condition.
At nine months pregnant: I was finally at peace with ge-lai