Our downstairs neighbors at the Foreign Scholars Guest House are a young couple with a 10-week-old baby. He is Canadian/Dutch and she is Russian -- and an amazing woman for having given birth in China. The girls are completely enamoured of baby Jonathan, and Zoe frequently reminds Maya not to jump up and down on the floor for fear of scaring the baby below! When I met the mom for the first time and discovered she was our downstairs neighbor, I had to apologize profusely for all the noise we make over her head!
We’ve talked several times about her experience giving birth in China. I’m very interested because I think it’s possible – for complicated reasons – that Maya was born in a hospital, though Zoe was likely born at home. So I’ve been picking her brain about her experiences.
First of all, she says her experience was not the normal Chinese hospital experience, since she gave birth in a center run by a Japanese-Chinese consortium. But there were some aspects of it that were uniquely Chinese – like the food. No, it wasn’t typical Chinese food like you’d find anywhere in China. She was given medicinal foods – the Chinese have a strong belief in the health aspects of various foods. And she says the food was AWFUL! Oh, well, that’s hospital food everywhere, right?!
She said the most frustrating thing about the whole experience is that no one would give her information – even when they spoke English. The doctor would come in to check on her during labor, she’d ask a direct question like, “How far along am I?” And the doctor would completely ignore it and walk out! (This is actually VERY Chinese!). Even during prenatal visits she couldn’t get her doctor to answer basic questions, though the doctor’s English was impeccable. And then of course there were communications problems because of limited English, as well. She said after the delivery she had a cold, so was asking about some medication for her stuffy nose and scratchy throat, and was supplementing her questions with the kind of sign language/mime you do with limited English speakers. The nurse finally showed recognition of the problem – and then brought her a roll of toilet paper so she could blow her nose!
She had several ultrasounds during the pregnancy, but no one would reveal the sex of the baby. In fact, it’s against the law in China to tell – although abortion is legal in China, abortion for the purpose of sex-selection is illegal. And legislators fear that, given the social preference for boys, if parents learn that the fetus is a girl they will abort. (She was finally able to find out the ultrasound results after filling out reams of paperwork since the law apparently doesn’t apply to foreigners. She also said she was kind of hoping for a girl, and the girl’s name they had picked out was . . . ZOE!)
During her labor, she was in a labor room . . . in February . . . with ALL the windows wide open! She was sweating like crazy because of the exertion (that’s why they call it labor, right?!) and freezing at the same time. (That’s what probably led to that stuffy nose and scratchy throat). And then in her hospital room, it was incredibly hot and airless and no one would open a window because the baby was rooming in. She said that having the baby in the room with her was definitely a privilege of being in this special birthing center. Most hospitals don’t allow rooming-in, and the babies are kept in a separate nursery.
She was in the hospital for three days, a typical length of stay. She was lucky, she said, that there were no complications and everything went smoothly. And Jonathan is certainly an adorable child! And he has a very brave mama!