Life in a Luxury Hotel for New Moms and Babies

“Aren’t you glad we’re going to the hotel now?” I asked my husband.

He nodded. “We’ll use this opportunity to learn from the nurses.”

We rode an elevator to the fifth floor and waited in a dark lobby. I felt as if I were at a zoo: on the other side of a glass wall, we could see a brightly lit nursery, where nurses matter-of-factly lifted and lowered babies, as though they were dolls. Then a nurse came into the lobby and plucked our baby out of his stroller. For the next thirty days, the hotel would monitor his needs and control his movements. I only needed to look after him when I wanted to.

In Room 8, a collection of dainty white bowls waited on a platter: clam soup, steamed fish, crunchy okra with beef slices, bright greens sprinkled with goji berries. I felt a surge of optimism. I was going to treat the hotel like school, and graduate into the best mother I could be.

The food was meant for me, so my husband left to find some lunch. A receptionist handed me onboarding materials, bath-product samples, and information about a service that preserves umbilical cords. Next, a nurse showed me how to label breast milk. Once a day, she would take my temperature and blood pressure; twice a week, she would help me change my C-section bandage.

The telephone by the bed rang. My baby was hungry. Did I want to feed him, or did I prefer to rest? I chose the former, as though I were ordering room service.

A couple of minutes later, he was wheeled in on a cart, which contained a perfectly warmed bottle of formula and a drawer of fresh diapers. Newly washed, with his hair neatly parted, he looked like a present for me. The nurse told me to sit on the sofa and gently pressed my baby into my arms. “Make sure to burp him frequently,” she said. If I needed any help, I could call the nursing station. Then she closed the door, and for the first time in my life I was alone with my son.

My baby came with detailed instructions. I was to feed him every four hours, fill out a chart with how much he ate and when, and mark any diaper changes. This sounded easy enough; I imagined myself lounging in bed, sipping tea as the baby cooed. But with me he often cried until he was purple. He had spent the past nine months curled up peacefully inside of me, with no complications. Now that he was out in the world, why couldn’t I soothe him?

Many times, a nurse took my son from my arms and bounced him to peace. Then, when he landed in my arms again, he would erupt in anger. She would try to reassure me, but eventually she had to return to the nursery. “You can just wheel him back to us if you need a break,” she would say. I was overwhelmed, and I started sending him back after every feeding.

For weeks, I spent no more than four hours at a time with my son. I felt terrible about it—I seemed to be trading intimacy for tranquillity—but I told myself that he appeared happier with the nurses. Maybe the instinct to suffer through discomfort was too American. I kept thinking back to the massage therapist who’d milked me. “You have time here,” she had said.

The first time my son pooped at the hotel, I called a nurse over in panic. At the hospital, my husband had handled diaper changes.

“Do you know how to change a diaper?” she asked, without judgment. When I nodded hesitantly, she demonstrated, propping his body on her left arm while gripping his thigh like a drumstick. At the sink, she peeled off his diaper and used the faucet as a bidet, before cleaning him with wipes. My baby was delighted.

“Can’t we just use wet wipes?” I asked.

He was less likely to develop diaper rash this way, she said gently.

Some of the activities were genuinely sweet. During a baby-swimming session, my husband and I clapped in encouragement as we watched our son, ensconced in an inflatable ring and surrounded by rubber duckies, confidently kick around in a full-sized bathtub.

On another evening, a photographer and his assistant came into my room. After setting up some backdrops on my bed, the assistant stared my son in the eyes and began to hum, low and melodic. Immediately, the baby fell into a trance. They managed to dress him as a newspaper boy, as a bunny rabbit, and in beach clothes. When they wrapped him in a green pear costume, he fell asleep.

As adorable as the photo session was, it made me feel useless. I was learning a few tricks from the staff, but they did everything for me, and they were better at it. About three weeks in, I began to feel claustrophobic. In the long, dark hallway between rooms, my fellow-moms didn’t make eye contact. Occasionally, I overheard bits of people’s lives. “Don’t cry, don’t cry,” one mother pleaded in the room next door.

Another time, I was holding my baby in my room when I heard a man’s angry voice in the hall. “This place is like a jail,” he shouted. “My wife is in her room, crying. I will sue you!”

My son glanced up at me, puzzled by the commotion. “Sh-h-h,” I told him. Through the door, I could hear stomping feet and the low voices of staff.

Although the hotel advertised itself as a modern and flexible take on postpartum traditions, it wasn’t wrong to call it a place of confinement. I couldn’t have my girlfriends or parents in my room, or take my son out for a stroll. Everyone had a uniform: mothers wore white pajamas with pink and green circles; nurses, who were exclusively women, wore green scrubs; and babies wore off-white kimonos. Only dads wore street clothes and had no official role—a reflection of a traditional society in which mothers are expected to be married to fathers and tend to be the primary caregivers. The few times I did step out—for a snack, a quick coffee with a friend, and a much-needed date with my husband—the nurses asked me where I was going. I always felt ashamed. “Errands,” I’d lie.

During my last week, I finally made a friend. Mariah, a Taiwanese Canadian woman, had just given birth to her second child, a baby boy. One afternoon, after our morning feedings, we grabbed bubble tea and sat on the roof. The nurses literally gasped when they saw us together.

“When I had my first kid, I was just grunting,” Mariah told me. Because she hadn’t trusted her live-in nanny, she’d done night shifts by herself, and grew so tired that she could barely speak. So, the second time that she was pregnant, she immediately put down a deposit for a hotel.

I confided that I was having a difficult time being alone with my son. My American friends probably envied me, but I was starting to wish I could trade places with them; for all their sleepless nights, they seemed to have bonded with their newborns immediately. With a week left in my stay, I felt about the same as I had in the car: anxious, inadequate, confused.

The point of the postpartum period was not to learn skills, Mariah reminded me, but to recover physically and mentally from the rigors of pregnancy. On her phone, she toggled through parenting apps that she wanted me to try.

“How long do you have your baby with you in your room?” I asked.

“Eight in the morning to eleven at night.”

The shock must have shown on my face. “The point is that I can sleep through the night,” she said.

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