I’m sure that my experience of finding out I was pregnant was like most women’s, complete with conflicting emotions that first overwhelm and then, thankfully, get quelled by rational thought. Like, yes, it’s really true, I am pregnant (those one minute tests are pretty accurate even if they only cost 20 RMB in China). Or, yes, of course I can get through the next nine months (like all the women around the world have before little old me).
Pregnancy isn’t an easy pass for anyone, even if you’re as lucky as me. I’ve found a lot of women relish the chance to share their own pregnancy-related aches and pains, dramas, and even traumas. These are their personal badges of courage and triumph, and they wear them proudly. I’ve sat and listened and wondered if my face registered the worry I felt inside as they gave voice to their experiences. I silently offered prayers of gratitude to my genetics and good fortune. My pregnancy has been low-key and sickness-free, other than dealing with a bout of viral bronchitis. In June. I’d be surprised to come down with this back home in the middle of summer, but I live in China where coughing without covering one’s mouth is somewhat of a national pastime.
Living in China has been the major, not to mention, obvious hurdle of this pregnancy. Deciding to get pregnant when we still have a considerable amount of time left in Haiyang wasn’t a decision we made lightly. There were additional risk factors we considered. Ones I suppose others didn’t think we had taken into account. Iggy and I love rehashing the blank stares we received from some folks back home and even within the village when we shared our good news. Quick cries of congratulations have at times been followed by critical questions and even the odd cultural commentary. Iggy’s Chinese colleague assumed this was an accidental pregnancy so asked, “Will you keep it or get rid of it?,” as he pushed his hands outward from his chest. Abortion is seen as a practical option to unwanted pregnancy here; it’s not the loaded gun full of cultural, moral, and religious judgement it is in the U.S. Mostly, we’ve received questions and comments like those below.
Q: “You’re having a baby…in China?”
A: “Yes, we’re having a baby in the most populated country on the planet. We assume they know a thing or 1.4 billion about the subject.”
Q: “Aren’t you worried about the pollution?”
Q: “What if there is a complication? Things can go wrong unexpectedly.”
A: “Well, until they do, we won’t panic. Thank god there is this thing called an airplane that can get us back to the U.S. if necessary.”
The list goes infinitely on. As we’ve told concerned parties: we did, we most certainly did weigh the pros and cons. The big con being that the medical facilities and doctors in the local area aren’t great. Prenatal care in Haiyang is simply not an option given the cultural differences in attitudes about appropriate medical care and the obvious language barrier. We briefly considered our options in Qingdao. One visit to the Qingdao Municipal Hospital’s International Clinic was enough to shock this silly thought out of me and the ever-supportive, ever-protective Iggy. Some folks won’t have a problem seeking treatment from a local hospital. It might not bother them that a stray dog might wander through the halls, that nurses don’t wear gloves when taking one’s blood, or that one has to use a public bathroom complete with squalid squat toilets and doors that don’t lock to provide urine samples. Others might not care that there isn’t toilet paper or soap, or that you have to gingerly walk a glistening yellow liquid sample down the hospital halls and hand it over to a guy wearing jeans in an open air lab.
A sign on the reception desk of the Qingdao Municipal Hospital’s International Clinic informs patients they don’t accept red envelopes. Slipping cash to the doc won’t help you here.
I don’t happen to be one of those people. Call me spoiled. Call me germophobic. I don’t mind. It’s one thing to have a baby in China, it’s another to go totally native and buck the norms of sanitation and related medical decorum I grew up with. You see, I was that patient attempting to pee (while standing!) into a flimsy little cup in one of those bathrooms. Let’s just say it was a less than magical moment in my early days of pregnancy.
Even before getting pregnant, we knew Shanghai would be the best choice for us for prenatal care and labor and delivery. Since moving to China, I’ve been going to a great Shanghainese OB/GYN, who speaks fluent English and works at a facility geared towards expats and the city’s upper crust. That’s one of the pros of having a baby in China. Our international insurance covers medical care at 100%. We pay a pretty penny to have such coverage, but, as we’re learning, it’s worth each and every one of those copper coins.
Insurance is the easy part. Traveling to Shanghai for each appointment is somewhat of a hassle. On the days I have check-ups, I hire a private driver to shuttle me two hours to Qingdao to catch a 7:40am flight. I arrive in Shanghai around 9:30am, take a 40 minute metro ride to my doctor’s office, see the doctor, hop on the metro, and head back to the airport to wait for an afternoon flight. It’s around 8:00pm by the time I return home, depending on whether or not my flight was delayed (it usually is).
Knowing that I’m in competent medical hands is worth this hassle, as is being able to communicate with my doctor in English. The travel to and from medical appointments are added expenses we knew we would have to grapple with given they aren’t part of the expat package provided by the global company Iggy works for. If we were here as independent English teachers or contractors, I would understand this. If the company didn’t have policies extending support to expats dealing with other major life and family events, I might understand more. But they do. If, for example, Iggy and I were to get divorced, they’d pay to send me and my belongings home (how thoughtful!). If we had school-age children, they’d pay to send them to an international school in Qingdao where tuition is on par with one year of college in the U.S. (no joke!). These are all great benefits so why not take the expansion of one’s family just as seriously? We raised this question with the company. To be fair, after much negotiation, they provided some additional financial support. We appreciate it immensely. We would have liked the company to take our thoughtful feedback regarding what we feel is a glaring omission from their expat package seriously. They didn’t.
In contrast, our families and the women of the expat community have been exceptionally supportive (even those who posed their initial judgy questions). This is a definite pro. My mom is willing to come stay with us for two months to help us adjust to life as first-time parents (she swears it’s not just because she wants to visit Shanghai). People who go on their annual trips to the U.S. have been more than happy to bring us back baby products and supplies (Amazon must love us right now!). And, there’s a wealth of expat forums and resources online to help us navigate the ins and outs of pregnancy here like the obviously named website Having A Baby In China. We’re looking forward to our September escape from the village when we relocate to Shanghai to have the baby, but we’re more excited to return with our plus one. I’ll have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom for his/her first year of life. This wouldn’t be an option if we were in the U.S. because we’d both have to work. I’d call that another major pro.
I still deal with conflicting emotions about being pregnant and having a baby here. There are real concerns that Iggy and I discuss and take seriously. Let’s face it, though: we’re not the first expats to do this and we won’t be the last. We’re just one of many couples who have decided to make our China experience that much more adventurous. We’ve always been up for a challenge and we’ve always learned and grown from the ones we’ve taken on. The only difference this time is that the growth in my case is literal.