What it’s like to be pregnant in China? No, I don’t have any big news for you, but I do have a guest post from my dear friend Ellen who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at the end of last year.
I’m a Russian from Estonia and my husband is a Hakka Chinese from Guangdong province, China. Through common interests we met at the university in England and fall in love. Two years later we moved to China to start the next phase of our lives. We got engaged, married and I gave birth to a child – all in one year. Since love stories are pretty much all similar, then my pregnancy was certainly something remarkable and I’d like to share this story.
To begin with, visiting hospitals in China is bizarre. The system here is that you go to a hospital in the morning, you get a queue number (if you’re lucky to fit into the quota) and then you wait. Once you see that your turn is about to come, then you start pressing yourself into the doctor’s room. The doors are open and along with you there are two-four other women standing next to you, trying to squeeze themselves onto a chair next to the doctor. One has to accept that there’s no privacy in China. Everyone gets to know your story. Furthermore: in case of visiting a women’s doctor, everyone gets to see your… you know. I haven’t allowed that! Though I have accidentally seen some.
When it comes to antenatal check-ups in China, then doctors care very little for tests. In modern practice, each antenatal check-up includes checking body weight, blood pressure, urine sample, listening to baby’s heartbeat, measuring the stomach (feeling the abdomen) and occasionally an ultrasound scan to check the baby’s growth. Moreover, at certain weeks of pregnancy the doctor will perform various screening tests. In China, all of that is done only if you require. At first, I knew very little, which tests need to be done, so I didn’t know to ask. And to be honest, I think that would be of little use since doctors only care for you if you tell them you have pains and great discomforts. Well, eventually my dear husband arranged me into a private hospital in Hong Kong, so I got proper check-ups and screening tests in my later pregnancy.
Moving to superstitions and rules that pregnant Chinese women have to follow.
- No cold food. Not only it includes ice cream, cold drinks and cold soups, but also food that carries cooling energy like watermelon, papaya, and some Chinese desserts. Cold can lead to miscarriage.
- No scissors on the bed. This might lead to miscarriage.
- No tea of any sort, no coffee, no potatoes. For me as a Westerner, that was perhaps the toughest task to give up these three things. But in the name of the baby’s health, I managed. To 90%. It is believed, that all of these contain poison for the baby (when potatoes sprout, they instantly become poisonous, did you know that?). Whenever we went to a restaurant, then waiters knew instantly what drink I should be offered: hot water.
- No high heels. OK, it might sound obvious that a huge belly and high heels don’t go together, but I was forbidden to wear high heels from the moment we got certain of my pregnancy. It was week 6. I found it difficult to get used to this rule as well, because I’m a person who has 20 pairs of high heel shoes and only 2 pairs of flat shoes.
The shocking part is that in China no one seems to have heard of the harm of cigarette smoke to the baby. In China, smoking is allowed everywhere. People smoke everywhere, even in the elevators. So it happened to me a couple of times that a man with a cigarette in his mouth walks into the elevator, seeing I am obviously pregnant. And then those countless cases of smoking next to me at the restaurants, in the streets.
All in all, I gave birth to my baby in Hong Kong, where doctors speak English and I received very good care. If I were to get pregnant again, then I would either go to Hong Kong again, or even better, go back to Estonia. In my opinion, it is a risk to be pregnant in China.
Stay tuned. There will be part 2: Chinese postpartum 30 days, called 坐月子 (zuo yue zi). I have to step over a fire to get home, I am not allowed to take shower, my daily diet consists of black eggs, black ginger, chicken soup and rice only.