Being pregnant in a different country can be difficult. I have already shared my experience with prenatal check-ups here in Bozhou. There are many things I wish I had known before deciding on staying here for the birth. Cultural attitudes with regard to pain management during delivery, birthing methods, the doctor-patient relationship, and the role of spouses differ widely from my home country.
Maybe sharing my experience will help other people who don’t have the luxury of living in a big Chinese metropolitan city to have a happy and healthy pregnancy and birth while avoiding my mistakes and staying ahead of possible problems.
#1 Dating the Pregnancy
When we first visited the hospital to confirm the pregnancy, they actually didn’t give us a due date. It seems to be normal here to not date the pregnancy in the first trimester (as they didn’t even like to give you check-ups before the first trimester was over). We did ask them to write down a gestational age for the pregnancy and a due date. Interestingly, both didn’t match. Looking at the ultrasound my pregnancy was further along than their calculated due date. Their explanation was that foreigners simply have bigger babies (I did get the foreigners-are-different-explanation a lot throughout and after my pregnancy).
However, I have learned to never trust Chinese doctors (I don’t trust doctors back home blindly, why should I here?). Thinking their explanation of “foreigners-have-bigger-babies” is not very scientific I decided to take the chance to get another opinion from a German doctor while I was visiting family and friends in Germany in my second trimester. It turned out that the Chinese calculated due date was almost off by one month! Of course, a due date is a mere approximation. The birth can happen anywhere before or after (in fact only 5% of all women give birth on their due date). But being off by one month was a huge discrepancy. Because baby’s development and all signs spoke for the German due date, I advised the Chinese doctors to use that one from the day forward (and luckily we did!).
#2 Approaching the Due Date
As it is common in most countries, after a check-up once a month, I had to go every two weeks from week 32 and every week from 36 weeks of pregnancy. While before they only took my vital signs and gave me blood tests (if I asked for them of course), after week 36 they also started monitoring the baby.
Every week I had to wait together with a crowd of pregnant women to get connected with one of the only two fetal monitors at the hospital. Needless to say, it took several hours of waiting, standing (no chairs in the doctors room, because why would heavily pregnant ladies have to sit down?) and reminding the overstrained nurse that you are still there, before it finally was your turn. It is important to know that equipment in these places is not as modern as we are used to. It does its job, but it looks like some remnant from Mao’s time.
The fetal monitors at the hospital did not measure contractions. It was mainly to record baby’s heart beat and movement (which you had to do manually, pressing a button every time the baby moved). At my 38. Weeks check-up we went through the same routine as usual. Because it was only two more weeks till the German due date, I tried to inquire what I am supposed to do if contractions start. Until now I had no idea where to go and whom to contact if contractions started. Like always, the doctor was not interested in listening to my questions at all (as in her eyes the Chinese due date was still weeks away) and she was too busy to even look at my or slow down. In this case the only thing you can do is 1. Be persistent and annoy the doctor until she finally pays attention to you, or 2. Leave and find someone you know (‘guanxi’) who can help you to get what you want. We went with possibility number two.
#3 Starting Contractions
No one would have known that the same day I got my 38. Weeks check-up in the morning, and went out for a walk and a shopping tour; I would end up with contractions the same afternoon.
Honestly, for hours I thought I was just tired and was having Braxton-Hicks contractions. Only late in the evening after persistent pushing by my lovely husband did I agree to go to the hospital. I wasn’t only reluctant to go because the contractions weren’t painful, but also because I was dreading to be at that hospital again. I have been told a while ago that because of an incident in another private hospital most women have now transferred to the public hospital, the one I was going to. With the additional amount of pregnant women I feared there won’t be a single room left and I had to stay with eight other women in one room… Oh boy, if I would have known what would happen next…
#4 Trying to Check into the Hospital
So we made our way, with sister-in-law, her husband, her two kids and mother-in-law on the phone, to the hospital. By this time I was already annoyed with the crowd of family members following me. I tried desperately to tell my mother-in-law not to come as I didn’t know yet if it’s the real thing and for all we knew it still could be hours away.
When we entered the hospital this time and went to the maternity ward it was already after eight in the evening. The strong smell and noise that welcomed us should have been my first clue. Still believing I will give birth in that hospital we went confidently to the nurse station and explained our situation. The nurse didn’t even blink an eye and only said “We are full, but if you want you can have a bed on the corridor on floor two”. I was in shock. We just passed by floor two and it looked more like a train station terminal during Spring Festival than a floor in a maternity ward. Women with their newborns in arms lying piled one after another to the walls left and right of the corridor, surrounded by what must have been close family members. It seemed impossible to find a way through the mess of people, beds, clothes, bed pans… and the smell was something you would expect to find in a public toilet.
“We are overcrowded. If you can accept the conditions stay, if not you should leave now.”
By the time the nurse told me this I had already gotten a check up and knew for sure that the birth is going to be happening today.
Of course I could not accept those conditions! So we left. And in the late evening, with heavy contractions starting, we drove around town to find another hospital that would admit me. We should have visited the maternity ward of the public hospital earlier. We should have insisted more to know where to give birth and where I would stay after delivery. This is something to keep in mind for any hospital in China.
#5 Entering the Private Hospital
Yes, we ended up in one of the many private hospitals. Even though I would always recommend to go for a public hospital in China. The reason is that most private hospitals will rip you off and in the worst case even be harmful.
But with contractions being apart two minutes by now we had no choice. The hospital was empty, mainly because it was exactly that said hospital that had an incident a while ago and made all pregnant women run away.
The advantage of an almost empty hospital is evident: You get doctors and nurses full attention. I was checked in within minutes, taken through a series of check-ups and before I could blink an eye was transferred to the pre-delivery room. Husbands not allowed to enter. You can take one female person to accompany you. I had none. My sister-in-law had left by now and it was only my husband and me.
The room itself looked like a huge dormitory. Around twenty beds lined up in the room. Only four of them were occupied. I took the bed on the very far end of the room. It really wasn’t a nice experience, and no way to relax. The other women seemed to be already going through the last stages and contractions made them fill the room with screams. Nurses scolded them for making such noise as it’s believed screaming during delivery will hurt the baby.
#6 The Delivery
I will not go into details about the first stage of birth. Let’s just say the private hospital offered pain relief in form of an epidural which I accepted happily. Nurses seemed to know what they are doing, even though they were doing it without any extra warm words for their patients.
Everything was done very strict by the book. They also tried to convince me to get a c-section. This practise is very common in China, especially in private hospitals as c-sections bring more money. I politely refused.
When it was time to deliver they will make you stand up from your bed and walk yourself over to the delivery room.
In there you are pretty much left alone. The delivery room at this hospital had two beds. On the one next to me was a 15 year old girl being stitched up after delivering a healthy baby boy. There were around four nurses, not sure if any doctors were present. I really couldn’t care less at that moment. While most of them were busy stitching up the girl, the rest literally ignored me; only occasionally telling me to stop making noises and just push.
When finally your baby is born they will not let you hold it. The just showed me her gentiles saying it’s a girl and took her away for check-ups and after that brought her outside to my husband. Even though I strictly asked for the chance to hold my baby and have skin-to-skin, and I was assured that it will be ok, in the end they ignored my wishes and I was too tired to fight for them.
#7 Post Delivery
After the birth they push you back into the pre-delivery room (yeah, now they don’t make you walk yourself). My mother-in-law was already in there holding my precious girl. I was to stay in that room for another three hours during which I was not allowed to hold my own baby! Mil was running back and forth holding my baby girl as is she just gave birth to her and it was her daughter… I was split between anger about the situation and joy about my healthy baby.
The three hours went by quickly and they finally released me to go to my room.
We managed to get a private room with additional kitchen and living room. It was great and I couldn’t have asked for more. As usual in many Chinese hospitals you have to buy a lot of things yourself. In fact, you even have to buy your own toilet paper. Being a private hospital they made sure we would buy their things. I won’t go into detail of what you need as I am leaving this for the next post, but you will need someone to take care of you and bring you food. Chinese hospitals rarely, if ever, provide food for their patients.
Overall the experience in the private hospital was better than I had anticipated. I would do many things different now if I had the chance to do it all over again.
I would not go to the public hospital and would try harder to get what I want (like a pre booked room for after delivery).
I would not want my mother-in-law there and take away the possibility of holding my baby for the first time.
I would not give in to nurses telling me breastmilk in the first few days after birth is not enough for baby, I should give formula (or water, which I didn’t and still haven’t).
In fact, I will have to say, if I had the choice all over again, I simply wouldn’t give birth in a small town in China. No matter the positive, the negative just overcome the positive things…
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