Giving Birth in Chengdu

note: This post is the first of a series following an American in China’s adventures into fatherhood. Subscribe to our RSS feed or our join our Facebook Fan Page to stay informed of updates!

The process of having a child in China is different compared to the West, and although giving birth is universal and therefore involves ubiquitous truths and beliefs, there are certain things inherent to having a baby in today’s China that are unique.

The paradox that envelops the nation on all levels — the interplay between modern society and tradition — influences the intrinsic process of having a child.

Oh My God, I’m Pregnant

Like in most places, the moment of truth happens in a bathroom, with a pink strip and beads of sweat on a forehead.

After learning that she was pregnant, Xiao Bai went to the best, or better put, most expensive hospital in Chengdu, Angel Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital. This hospital is like no other in the area: the interior resembles a high-class hotel and upon entering, a beautiful young lady will approach and ask you how she can assist you. Xiao Bai told her and paid the 100 yuan fee for seeing a doctor. In this hospital, she was treated to a one-on-one consultancy with a doctor – a rarity for China, to say the least. This is almost unimaginable for the vast majority of Chinese who go to public hospitals, where they have to wait in long lines, push their way to the front, and are lucky if there are only three or four other patients talking with the doctor at one time.

The first question the doctor asked is familiar to every Chinese woman: Do you want to keep this baby? She replied yes.

Xiao Bai went for an ultrasound to see if the baby was in good health. A check-up at Angel is 380 yuan, compared with 30 yuan at an ordinary hospital. The check-up was to determine if the baby was positioned correctly within the womb.

“I heard a sound like a train,” said Xiao Bai. “And before I asked the doctor what is it she told me, ‘that’s the baby’s heart, pretty powerful, eh?'”

The doctor took the report and after one look exclaimed that the baby was in great health and judging by the size, must be at least 75 days old — Xiao Bai guessed that the baby was around 50 days, based on the conception date and knew that 75 was impossible. The doctor then went on to describe the Do’s and Don’ts:

— Don’t use your computer
— Try not to use your cell phone
— Don’t eat raw foods
— Try not to watch TV
— Drink fortified milk powder every day
— Stay away from cats and dogs
— Eat a lot of fruit

The doctor wrote out a prescription for milk powder, calcium pills, and multi-vitamin supplements.

A beautiful girl accompanied her to pay for the goods — which amounted to more than 700 yuan — and with that, Xiao Bai took her bag of items and returned home. At the time she was living with a group of friends in a run-down concrete hovel next to the bus station. She slept on a small mattress on the floor and there were four cats prowling around at all times. So after spending 1000 yuan in one day at Angel Hospital, Xiao Bai realized that she would have to set her sights a little lower.

The first place she went after Angel was the Air Force hospital. In China, the military runs a variety of enterprises, many of them are open to the public. Most Chinese believe that a hospital managed by and for the military will be of higher quality than one for the common people. Once again, the first question the doctor asked her was:

“Do you want to keep this baby?” Again, she responded yes.

After looking at her report from Angel, the doctor said, “Well there is nothing much to do for the next few weeks, so just go home and come back in your third month and we can go through the basic procedures.” Xiao Bai was given a list of things that would be done at that time and then she left and went home.

"Chengdu Mothers" Online

In an effort to learn more and find a support group for the next three months, she went online and found Chengdu Mama Online, a forum for expecting mothers in Chengdu that includes an active discussion forum and a wealth of information. Xiao Bai went to find out more about the Air Force Hospital and after a bit of research she found out that the Obstetrics and Gynecology department had been rented out to another private third party — it wasn’t even a part of the Air Force hospital.

For most pregnant women, the hospital is very important. In China, being able to trust the institution and doctors is paramount and if something does go wrong, who can you go to for help? Since the law and the government will be useless in case of malpractice, most people consider the media as their only source of aid. With a military hospital, people feel they can trust the doctors, but they can’t possibly use the media because the media would never dare to investigate the military. So when Xiao Bai heard that the Obstetrics clinic was being run by a third party, she decided to keep looking.

By then she had moved out to the countryside to live with a friend of her husband-to-be. She spent the next month listening to buzzing insects as she fell asleep and waking up to birds singing. Eventually, she moved back in with her father and began earnestly researching hospitals around town.

In Chengdu, each district has its own Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic. These clinics are small, but can handle births and basic needs for mothers and children — but the downside is that they are constantly inundated with patients. Xiao Bai’s father urged her to consider the clinic in their district, the Chenghua District Mother and Baby Clinic. The main reason for rejecting this hospital was the TV tower next door — Xiao Bai hated the tower, because of rumors that people who lived near the tower had been sick with cancer, so she refused to go to the local clinic.

Her father suggested the No. 2 Hospital. This hospital was very close to the office that Xiao Bai used to work at and she had been there many times to interview people. She remembered that when she went there previously, doctors would always stand right next to the patients and coldly and clearly communicate the details of each patients condition. This bothered her. Also, although the No. 2 hospital is comprehensive, it is exceptionally small and crowded. So she refused this one as well.

Another complication with all of the hospitals her father suggested had to do with social norms. Her father wanted her close to his home, but in the complex he lived in all of the people knew her as a small child and when she came home pregnant, they began talking and staring. A pregnant woman without her own home and without a man waling beside her invites gossip. Although her father ignored it, Xiao Bai did not want her condition to affect him. So she decided to search out a hospital as far away from her father as she could, in a place where no one knew her and could gossip about her.

She invited her friend out to help her find an apartment, but after a few days of searching they hadn’t found anything suitable — too small, too big, too dirty, too expensive. So things looked bad until a friend turned to her and said,” I have two apartments nearby, you can rent one of them if you want. Pay whatever you can.”

Xiao Bai took a look at the place it was perfect: big, relatively modern, right next to People’s Park and, most important of all, it was less then two minutes walk to a venerable, old hospital called Baojiaxiang Alley Baby Hospital by locals and the People’s No. 9 Hospital by the government. Xiao Bai herself was born in No. 9 Hospital 22 years ago. She figured, “Something like this must be fate and the doctors at No. 9 must know what they are doing, they did the same thing for my mother.”

Below is a small comparison of prices for a visit to the doctor in some of of Chengdu’s hospitals:

Registration Fee

Angel: 100 yuan (50 yuan if you reserve online) — this is a one-time fee. After this initial visit, patients are given a card on which all subsequent visits are recorded and you are charged accordingly. No wait, one-on-one service, clean, comfortable — a lot like a Western clinic.

West China Second University Hospital, (Huaxi Hospital, the largest and most well-known in Chengdu) 30 yuan expert /10 yuan standard doctor — this is a fee you have to pay each time you visit. In order to be seen by a doctor, you have to show up early in the morning on, say, Monday and you might get an appointment for the next day or the day after. This is by far one the most crowded hospital in the city. There is a Gold Badge service that some people use, which is 80 yuan per visit, but you are able to see a doctor in the same day and this wing of the hospital is far less crowded. Most Chinese are not willing to pay this much for a visit to the doctor. There is a brisk business in appointment slips; locals line up and wait at around 4am and then sell an 30 yuan appointment on that day for 100 yuan. It is also possible to make an appointment through your cell phone by dialing 12580 (only available through China Mobile’s Gotone service) — you are charged minutes from your phone for each call as well as the price of the appointment, but you don’t have to stand in line. I have seen foreigners and Chinese, using this service, walk in and see a doctor right away.

No. 9 Hospital: 11 yuan standard / 15 yuan expert doctor — this is a fee you have to pay each time you visit the doctor. People do show up early in the morning to get an appointment, but in our experience it has always been possible to show up at 2:30pm and see a doctor within 30 minutes.

Stay tuned for the next post about having a child in China, in the meantime leave your comments below!

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About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. After living in Chengdu on and off for twelve years, he now lives in Minneapolis.

27 Responses to “Giving Birth in Chengdu”

  1. Charlie

    When is Xiao Bai due to have the child?

  2. Any idea how many children are born of foreigners in Chengdu? Is it a lot?

  3. Not sure. I’ll try and find that information. It might be difficult, because according to Chinese law

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationality_Law_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

    Anyone born with at least one Chinese parent is considered Chinese. Nationality here is by blood only, so all of the children born of mixed marriages are Chinese nationals unless specifically noted otherwise …

  4. dual citizenship no problem. China does not give a hoot what other countries say about what they consider to be a Chinese national, and unless you bring it to everyone’s attention, you should be able to maintain dual. eg the US Consulate will give a passport to a baby with an American father and the Chinese will assign a hukou/ID to a baby born with a Chinese mother.

    Having said that, most nations DO NOT acknowledge dual citizenship, including the US and China, so according to the law, one has to choose.

    • I’m afraid it’s not that simple.Sascha. You might not be able to acquire both American passport and Hukou or to keep them for long. And you definitely can’t keep two passports, unless you never wanna use them. I’m not gonna start spinning my story. But i will leave you some notes. U may have heard that for child born in China to mixed marriages to leave China, they either leave with a one-time exit permit or China passport w foreign visa,as policies vary in different cities. So here are some scenarios. A. Child has got American passport, no Hukou yet so no Chinese passport. He has to leave with an exit permit issued by BEE(Bureau of Exit and Entry) . In many cities, BEE then will take the attached page off the Chinese Birth Certificate. The page is also needed when you wants to get Hukou(And you can’t get Chinese passport w/out Hukou). So that prevents everything. And if the Child has a Hukou, get it revoked. BEE wants a revoke copy.
      B. Child has got American passport, no Hukou yet. But BEE refuses to give Exit Permit.(why? I’ll explain some other time. ) Then child has to register Hukou, get a Chinese passport and go to US embassy for a pro-forma visa. (US embassy will warn you that this is only one time deal.) Finally, child enter States. Unless he never wants to come back to China, his Chinese passport will be revoked when he applies for Chinese visa. Back to China with US passport. Hukou still there? Yes. PSB may find out when child goes to get residence permit or they may not.
      C. Child has got Chinese passport and no US passport. Basically, he stays Chinese for now. This is what PSB suggests/likes if child plans to live in China for a few years. And certainly PSB doesn’t care that you won’t have your US tax return for having a kid. And on top of this, Child has to travel to US like all Chinese do. Get a visa.

      Sooooooo am I making all your head spin?
      Hey talk to me when you have a second child born here after the first one. That’s another story involving China’s birth control policy.

      Hello to you all~~~
      Amber (mother of 2)

      • since i wrote this post (and that comment) a lot has changed and that comment (dual citizenship nooooo prooooobblem!) is foolhardy at best.

        yes. lets talk. i can be reached at [email protected]

      • Please excuse my grammar and typo. I’m making my own head spinning just to think of past 3 yrs dealing with PSB, BEE, etc.

      • Charlie

        That’s what I suspected. Dual citizenship is usually only granted at birth unless you buy property in a different country or surrender your current citizenship. In some situations it’s quite unfair – take Sascha and I, for example. I have German and US citizenship because I was born in the US and my mother remains a German citizen. I speak broken, terrible German and have spent little time there.

        Sascha, on the other hand, was born in Germany and immigrated to the US at a young age, forfeiting his German citizenship in exchange for US. As I understand it, he’s petitioned several times unsuccessfully for German citizenship, despite the fact that he went to high school in German and speaks fluent German.

        The policy is unfair, but dual citizenship is quite tricky. 95% of the people I know that have dual citizenship were granted it at birth.

        As a matter of fact, the last time I renewed my US passport in Chengdu, I answered positive to the question “Are you a citizen of any other country?” which took me 10 minutes to explain to the clerk. I was born in Washington DC but was granted dual citizenship at birth, along with millions of other Americans (including my sister). Apparently the clerk hadn’t heard of this and had to inquire within to issue me my passport!

        • Yes. The policy is unreasonable sometimes. Even within China, different city’s Bureau deals with the “mixed blood” matters in different ways. In Shenzhen,PSB will refuse to extend Child’s Chinese visa even his US passport was admitted at China embassy in the States. They think the embassy has made a mistake. The child is born Chinese to a Chinese parent. And that’s it.No discussion. I’ve known friends who have to take kids to HK every time to renew visa.
          BTW I know a friend who was born in HK to British parents who also have dual citizenship. So now he has HK ID,English and German Passports.
          What a lucky guy.

      • Hello Amber, was wondering if you could share your experience in managing 2 passports… my child already has a Chinese passport and I am thinking if I should apply for the “other” one… If it’s not too much trouble, could you contact me at [email protected]? Thanks.

  5. My wife and I went to the women’s hospital on the first ring road by the music conservatory and as we walked in there was a woman in a ballroom gown playing a grand piano on a mini stage across from the rose pedal-filled desks that decorated each floor. Though it wasn’t incredibly expensive, they wouldn’t let me in the ultrasound room. I begged and got in anyway. The woman kept saying, “there is the head, the hands, the feet.” “the head, the hands, the feet.” Three tyimes more to be sure. I asked if that little shadow was the baby’s hat, and she responded, “there is the head, the hands, and the feet.” Then we went back to the doctor and she said, “you know… you’re gonna have a bay. You should eat corn.” The midwives in Canada were a bit more insightful on prebiotics and exactly what the placenta actually does…

  6. do you remember which hospital that was? stay tuned, we’ll get into some of the unique differences in Part 2

  7. if i have a baby i will go to small town ,cheaper and easier

  8. some small towns are developed. If it’s possible, pregnant women can go to a small town which also has good medical treatment. For instance, Shuangliu, Huayang, they are suburbs, but you can spend less money to get better treatment there compared with Chengdu.

  9. In chengdu, the South is more expensive than other areas. but you can’t be sure hospitals in South are better than others. you might have to spend 20000rmb to have a baby in big hospital, you might also spend money on 关系, try to find a good doctor, convince him to take good care of the mothermother, make sure everything is ok until the last minute.

  10. Hi:

    I have started a Forum Post for the whole raising a kid topic, feel free to check it out and ask a question or give an answer or post pics 😉

    http://www.chengduliving.com/forum

  11. Hi Sascha,

    My wife Lisa has helped a number of people over the years here in Chengdu to have natural deliveries. We recently have started providing the service as part of our business. Lisa and I have raised five children, four of which are now adults. I know you don’t necessarily advertise on your web but I was wondering if you knew how I might be able to get the word out to people who could use Lisa’s help.

    One of the biggest obstacles to a normal delivery is fear of the unknown. Lisa has been involved with the medical system here in Chengdu ever since SARS broke out. The US consulate needed help at that time and asked Lisa to help because of her many years of experience. As a result of this, she ended up working as a consulate nurse for several years giving her exposure to most of the hospitals in Chengdu and many in China. This experience is what she brings to the table when she provides childbirth training and doula services.

    We have a number of very happy families that can vouch for the quality of her services and invite you to check us out at:

    http://mychina-solutions.com/My_China_Solutions_Chengdu/Natural_Childbirth_in_Chengdu.html

    Thank you for the work you have done to help couples negotiate the scary waters of childbirth.

    Sincerely,

    David Newsham

  12. Hello! I am soon giving birth in “Sichuan women and children hospital”.. I want to know about its services if any one of you know. I am a Pakistani and have been living here for about 2 years, Due in 3 weeks, leaving china a month later. As long as I understand duel citizenship is not possible in China even if the baby is born here. my email address is [email protected]. If anyone of you have any helpful info about my hospital please inform me I did not know choosing a hospital is such a big deal here. Someone told me about this hospital and I blindly went there. I have been treated quite well. Had no issues till now, but I hope delivery will also be smooth.

  13. Angel Women’s & Children’s Hospital is an excellent, professional, and extremely clean facility with “State of the Art” medical equipment in providing excellent health care services. The staff is friendly and is totally engaged in providing you with the upmost services with the gentle attention needed when seeking medical assistance.

    As an Expat living in Chengdu, this really was amazing and very comparable to any 1st Tier hospital in the USA. Well done as a World Class Medical Facility. Thank you so much!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blog Series: Giving Birth in Chengdu | China Hope Live - January 29, 2010

    […] the local health care system and social customs as they prepare for the birth of their baby (Part 1, Part 2). ~ Discuss (0) […]

  2. Excellent series on giving birth in China « Chinese Girls Are… - December 28, 2010

    […] Giving Birth in Chengdu  […]

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