Being Pregnant In China (Guest Post)

Being Pregnant in China

Photos by our wedding photographer Andy He

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.

Being Pregnant in China

Moving to superstitions and rules that pregnant Chinese women have to follow.

  1. 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.
  2. No scissors on the bed. This might lead to miscarriage.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  • R Zhao

    My experience was quite different. I think there’s no one-size-fits-all about what hospitals are like because it depends on the city, the type of hospital, and if you have any guanxi (connections). From my experience, privacy is usually lacking. I was fortunate to have some pretty good guanxi with my ObGyn, and gave birth at a realatively unpopular hospital, so I didn’t ever have to queue or deal with too much weighting. I did have to get an ultrasound at almost every visit which seemed a bit excessive! Overall, I thought my level of care was decent, but nothing like what I would have had in my home country, unfortunately.

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    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I think there are as many stories about giving birth in China as there are babies and mothers. What I think is quite interesting are to dos and don’ts during the pregnancy and after that as well. Was there something that was hard for you to accept or something very surprising?

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    R Zhao Reply:

    I think it’s hard that everyone is constantly giving advice and telling you what you shouldn’t be doing (or eating. . . or drinking). My pregnancy went pretty well though. The most challenging bit was after the baby arrived, especially with zuo yuezi, which I kinda tried to do.

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  • Mélody Fornay

    That was really interesting, and quiet scary also. I would have gone to Hong Kong too, I guess….

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  • Jim

    My wife is pregnant and loves tea. We get decaf tea and her doctor (in the US) says it’s ok.

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  • Charlotte

    Like Sara’s comment below, it seems that every one of us has very different experiences having babies in China, with a few common threads. I was allowed to eat potatoes and hid my iced coffee from everyone :) . My husband hated the crowded rooms of women with their mother-in-laws (because you apparently can’t go to the doc alone?) so he found another doctor friend to help us go in in the evenings to avoid the chaos.

    Can’t wait to hear about the walking over fire; that sounds interesting!

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  • Vitali Bokov

    > No tea of any sort, no coffee, no potatoes.
    That’s quite a tough one for any Westerner. :)

    > 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.
    Oh, women! :D I have 1 pair of trainers and 1 pair of shoes. :D

    > In China, smoking is allowed everywhere. People smoke everywhere, even in the elevators.
    Wow, I wouldn’t be able to survive this. :(

    > 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.
    This sounds like in the old days when men had to go through rites to be considered a proper grown up man. :)

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