Postpartum Recovery from Birthing a Book
Perhaps because I am teaching a gynecology class right now while dealing with the very final last-minute revisions and the release drama of my new book, the "Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica," it has struck me lately how similar the production of a book is to the conception, pregnancy, labor, and birth of a real child, and then the postpartum recovery.
From that first spark of passionate embrace, in the case of this book perhaps a combination of my love for the content of the text and Maria Hicks' beautiful artwork, to a very long, very slow, very painful labor that was concluded by a somewhat traumatic birth, probably because the baby was so badly overdue and therefore quite bigger than anticipated. I am currently in the still somewhat tense and urgent afterbirth stage, making sure that the orders are getting shipped out on time and doing damage control with that. Now comes the most important part though, for the long-term health of both mother and child, and my favorite topic when I discuss classical Chinese gynecology: the postpartum recovery, the need to replenish exhausted blood and qi with lots of chicken soup and mutton stew and protect the vulnerable parent and child from the invasion of external evils, whether wind or cold or prying strangers.
In honor of this process (and to remind myself), here are some excerpts on postpartum recovery from Sun Simiao's Bei Ji QIan Jin Yao Fang (Formulas Worth a Thousand in Gold to Prepare for Emergencies) 備急千金要方:
“Incessant leaking of blood may be caused by recent damage to the fetus [i.e., bleeding during pregnancy] or the fact that the residual blood after childbirth has not dispersed but become solidified, preventing the entrance to the uterus from closing and causing dribbling bleeding for several days or months without stopping. In treatment, you may not yet use the various decoctions for interrupting the blood flow. . . .
When the solidified blood has been dispersed, then the dribbling bleeding will stop on its own [since it is] also gradually being transformed, dispersed, and reduced.”
And another excerpt from one of his rare essays...
In all cases, it is not only during delivery that women must worry. When they arrive at the postpartum stage, they must exercise particular caution. This is where the greatest threat to their lives is found. Do not leave them without company at the time of delivery. Otherwise they might act without restraint and follow their whims, in which case they are bound to violate the prohibitions. At the time of the violation, it might be as tiny as autumn down. But the contracted illness will be larger than Mount Song or Dai.
Why?... After women have completed delivery, their five organs suffer from vacuity emaciation. You may only use supporting and supplementing treatments and must not use transforming and draining treatments. In cases of illness, you must not prepare “galloping medicines.” If you employ galloping medicines, [the illness] will shift into one of even greater vacuity, resulting in her center becoming even more vacuous. You are thus distancing her from the path towards life.
Lastly, a formula for Mutton Decoction 羊肉湯, to whet your appetite for the next book, which I swear will be the revised and expanded version of Sun Simiao's gynecology formulas! I truly am like an exhausted mother who has barely survived the birth of one child, already forgotten the pains of labor, and is already thinking of having another one? Craziness... That fire monkey energy is messing with me... But seriously, I have been waiting far too long to return to that material and am very much excited to get back to it in this new year.
In all cases, for the duration of the first seven days after delivery, the malign blood is not yet eliminated completely and she may not take any [medicinal] decoctions. Wait until
the lumps below her navel have dispersed and only then introduce Mutton
Treats postpartum vacuity emaciation, with panting and lack of breath, perspiration of white sweat,1 and gripping pain in the center of the abdomen.
fatty mutton, fat removed, 3 jin
danggui, 1 liang
guixin, 2 liang
shaoyao, 4 liang
gancao, 2 liang
shengjiang, 4 liang
chuanxiong, 3 liang
gandihuang, 5 liang
Pound the above eight ingredients. First cook the meat in one and a half dou of water
to obtain seven sheng. Take out the meat and add the remaining drugs. Decoct them to
obtain three sheng and discard the dregs. Divide into three doses. If she fails to recover,
make it again.