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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Having a baby in China

I thought I'd do my husband a favor and post about having a baby in China. We now have a healthy, beautiful almost 9-month-old baby girl that was born at the Women and Childcare hospital in Wuxi, China. The experience was not easy and a little stressful at times, but everything worked out well in the end and we are very thankful for that.

Researching hospitals

After finally finding out where we were heading to in China, we were able to research some hospitals and  birthing options. As our savings were running low by sitting and doing nothing in South Africa, we had limited options. If you do decide to have a baby in China, you will have various options to choose from.

1) Fully International hospitals: These hospitals have doctors from Western countries and speak English. In Wuxi there is a United Family hospital and in Shanghai there are several Western Hospitals. At these hospitals you can get the full Western treatment, but at a price. For a vaginal birth it would be about 80 000 rmb (at current exchange rates it's about 13 000 USD.) While that is not expensive for a birth in America, in China it is quite extravagant. As we did not have that much money saved up or insurance, this was definitely not an option.

2) International VIP sections in Chinese hospitals: This is just a VIP department with English speaking Chinese doctors in normal Chinese hospitals. Some hospitals don't even offer this service, only the good Chinese hospitals do. There will always be an English speaking person to assist you at the VIP section. Going for check-ups are a breeze at the VIP sections as you don't have to wait in the long queues associated with Chinese hospitals. You can also get away with some Western standards, like having your own room and your husband accompanying you in the birthing room. The Women and Childcare hospital had an International VIP section. For a vaginal birth it was around 20 000rmb (3200USD) The check-ups are about 400rmb (65USD) which includes an ultrasound. Blood tests varies from about 100 rmb - 500 rmb (16-81USD) depending on what they are testing for. The exchange rate was higher when we were researching it in South Africa and the cost was more expensive. This was also not an option for us at the time.

3) Local VIP sections in Chinese hospitals: I am not sure if this is common in all Chinese hospitals, but I stumbled onto this section in the hospital by mistake. This is the VIP section for Chinese citizens, but Chinese citizens can also go to the International VIP section. This section has local Chinese doctors that usually speak English. The rate for a birth is cheaper than the International VIP section but a little more expensive than the normal section. A vaginal birth is about 12 000 rmb (2000USD)

4) The local section in Chinese hospitals: Your last option is to do what the Chinese do - go to the local department of the Chinese hospital. This is also what we did. Here everything is really cheap, but the lines are extremely long. For a vaginal birth it is about 5000rmb (814USD) To see the doctor it is 30rmb (4USD) and ultrasounds varies from about 80rmb - 200rmb (13-32USD) The downside to these insanely cheap prices is that you literally have to wait THE WHOLE DAY to get your check-ups done. By the time we got to China I was 36 weeks pregnant and had a check-up once a week. Our little one also decided to come 2 weeks late and I ended up having 5 check-ups. The local department is not bad, but it is not a high end hospital. When I went for my check ups, the doctors and nurses made it seem like no one spoke any English, but gradually people starting creeping out that spoke English just fine.

It is possible to have a baby in China at the local department, but believe me, it's not that easy. This is my story:

My first check-up:

The first day Brian started his new job, I decided to be brave and check out the local hospitals. We had two options - the People's Nr 2 hospital (which had a foreigner department) and the Women and Childcare hospital. I was armed with a map of my new city, Brian's credit card and a printout of pregnancy vocabulary translated into Chinese, which I got from .I was ready to do this! It was so hot that day. I was sweating from head to toe just waiting for a taxi. But I was not going to let that get me down. I went to the People's Nr 2 hospital first but was told that they did not have birthing facilities and don't do births. Mmm, okay. They sent me to the Women and Childcare hospital. The hospital was really big and it was being renovated, so it was in quite a state. At the reception, no one spoke English and a guard gave me a paper with the number 18 written on it. He pointed to the elevator. I figured out that he wanted me to go to the 18th floor, which was the VIP section. At the VIP section I was able to get some very useful information, like the procedures and prices at the hospital. I had my first check-up at the VIP section but knew that it would be the last as it was a little too expensive for us to have the baby there. The ultrasound came back fine, our baby was turned and everything was looking good.

The next time I hired a translator to help me at the local department. She helped me register at the hospital and went with me the first time to get all the test done so that I could do it by myself in the future. The service at the hospital was really good. They are very diligent (except for the tedious procedure that they follow)  and I never felt like I wasn't getting proper care. The only problem was the long lines. When you get to the hospital, you have to pay to see the doctor. You get a number for this. This hospital was always very busy, no matter how early I went. My number was always in the late hundreds. I usually had to sit there waiting to see the doctor for 3 hours. When you finally do see the doctor, she takes your blood pressure and orders the necessary tests (which are always the same). Then you have to go back to the reception and pay for the tests. By that time, it is already around 11 and the hospital closes from 11 - 2pm (???) At 2 pm you have to go back and wait for your tests (you get a number for this too). After completing your tests,you have to take the results back to the doctor. She'll check it and schedule your next appointment. This procedure is so tedious and annoying, but I had to go through that several times.

Our final check-up:

Brian went with me to my 41 week check-up. This was in the October Moon festival and he had a week off. My usual doctor was not in that day and I had to see another doctor. When I went in to see the doctor, she was very agitated and concerned. I was 41 weeks pregnant, which is a no-no in China. (They never let the women go over 40 weeks, they break their water at 40 weeks when the baby hasn't come naturally.) My usual doctor didn't say anything to me, but then again, she did not speak any English and probably just decided to let me be. I will never forget what the doctor told me then, Brian and I still joke about this. She said: "You must go and prepare for labor."
I went out and told Brian what she had said. We were excited, but also concerned. I was 41 weeks pregnant but I knew that the baby hasn't even dropped yet and was still very high in my uterus. I had so many questions, but no one to answer them in this country with limited English.
We went to pay the deposit and booked me into the hospital. We basically just did what we were being told. Brian went back home and got my bags and a few things that I would need. After waiting for this little one for 41 weeks we were ready to meet her and was ready for whatever we had to do to 'prepare for labor.'

Our experience in the hospital:

After booking into the hospital and after Brian got back from picking up my bags, we were able to sit and talk about what was happening. We were excited and scared and prayed a lot in that small hospital room. I had a roommate and privacy was not an option. My doctor came (who spoke perfect English, can you believe it!) and was able to explain to me what was happening. She said that the baby was doing good but that 41 weeks was too long and she suggests that we should try and break my water to trigger labor. I knew that babies can go for 42 weeks but Brian and I decided that since we are in China and not in the International section, that we should just listen to the doctors and try to co-operate. I agreed to let her try and break my water. The doctor took me down to the 'water breaking room' where we waited for my turn with other Chinese women and their partners and mothers. I will not go into too much detail about the water breaking room only that the doctor frequently tried to convince me that the equipment  she was using was in fact sterile. Women went into that room one after the other, with no time in between to prepare for the next person. I was shocked. That room will be engrave into my memory forever, and I am thankful that I was the only one that saw it :-)
In the end the doctor couldn't break my water because the baby was too high up.

The doctor immediately started me on pitocen, hoping that the contractions would be strong enough to push the baby down and start labor. I was on 3 rounds of pitocen with no success. We ended up being in the hospital for 5 days, trying  everything to get this baby to drop. I did squads, jumping jacks, I walked up and down stairs and explored the whole hospital, but nothing worked. We were tired and exhausted from being in this tiny room. Brian had to sleep on a pull out chair, the bathroom was so tiny and we only had hot water on certain times. We also didn't get any food at the hospital, this service is not included in the price. You can order a few dishes of Chinese food from a caterer but had to pay for it yourself. Brian had to go out each night and get us some food. We had everything, from pizza to Starbucks and even just cheese and bread a few times. Netflicks was our biggest friend in the hospital and we were very lucky to have a laptop and the ability to watch some English movies and shows. The doctors and nurses were excellent. They took very good care of us and we made a few friends along the way.

The birth:

The pitocen did nothing to me, it wasn't even painful. After 3 rounds of pitocen I was already almost 42 weeks pregnant and it was unlikely that this baby was going to drop. I had no other choice but to schedule a C-section. At the beginning of my pregnancy I was all for a natural birth and did not want a C-section, but by this time we were just so tired of sitting in the hospital that we really wanted a C-section. It was scheduled for Tuesday, the 9th of October 2013. The morning the doctor came to me and told me that they are very busy and had a lot of emergencies that morning. She said that I might have to wait until tomorrow for my C-section. I couldn't believe it. The thought of sitting in that room for one more day was just too much for me and I started crying. (I didn't want to, but I just couldn't help it.) The doctor was very sympathetic and told us that she would be right back. She came back 30 minutes later and gestured for us to come. I was under the impression that I was going for another test. We went down to the 5th floor and was told to wait in this room with other women and their families. They gestured for me to come (Brian wasn't allowed) and to take off my shoes and put slippers on. I didn't even say goodbye to Brian. The doctor led me to a small room and told me to wait there. She said that I was going to have my C-section now. I immediately started to panic because I knew that Brian had no clue what was going on. I asked the doctor to go out and at least tell Brian what was going on. I was then led to the operating room and was told to climb on the table. On the way to the operating room I passed many women in labor, pushing out babies in full view of everyone around. It was quite the experience.
The operating room was small but clean and neat. The anesthesiologist came and administered the epidural. After that, everything was standard and I knew what to expect and what was happening. I felt very much alone and really wished that Brian could be there with me. I prayed a lot and knew that God was with me.

At exactly 1:36 my beautiful little girl was born. We didn't know the sex beforehand and the whole time through my pregnancy we were convinced that it was a boy. I cried when the doctor showed her to me. They cleaned and dressed her while the doctor sewed me up.
After the birth I had to stay in the ICU for 2 hours before I could go back to my room. They wheeled me out where everyone was waiting and we could see Brian again. The birth was finally over.

After the birth, the doctor wanted me and the baby to stay in the hospital for 10 days. This is standard procedure in China. We only stayed for 5 days before begging her to let us go. She did.

I am very happy that everything worked out well in the end. I think the VIP section would've been better for us, but I do not regret our decision to have our baby in the regular section. The care we received was excellent and the doctors and nurses were very good. Our time in the hospital was very long, but we have fond memories when we think of the birth of our first baby.

We did a lot of research about birthing procedures in China before we came and I found that a lot of the information I found on the internet is not true. I found several sites that said that Chinese doctors prefers C-sections and that they would push it on you. This was not true in our experience. The doctor tried her best to get our baby to drop and was reluctant to do the C-section. She waited 5 whole days before scheduling it.
I also found information that Chinese hospitals would give babies formula and looked down on breastfeeding. This is not true, they really encourage breastfeeding.

If you do decide to have a baby in China, rest assured. You and your baby will be just fine. 

Here is our station at the hospital and our little one with the Chinese doctor (Julie) that delivered her.