My son was born in Suzhou, at Kowloon Hospital, on a summery day in late September 2015.
I must confess that when I discovered I was pregnant with my third child, I was shocked. We hadn’t planned to expand the family, so we hadn’t taken out any Maternity Insurance. I browsed the websites of some of the most famous clinics in Shanghai, and I soon realized we couldn’t afford them. I already knew that I would have a C – section and the prices for this kind of delivery were outrageously expensive.
I could have returned to Italy to give birth, but my elder daughter was due to start primary school that August and I didn’t want her routine to be messed up with too many changes. So, even though some of my foreign friends asked what I was thinking, we decided we would give a Chinese hospital a chance.
I needed a hospital where the nurses could speak English and act as a go-between with the doctors, in other words a hospital with a VIP section. Our first choice was the Kowloon Hospital in Suzhou Industrial Park district because it was near to our house and well-known among expats. My first impression was good: things seemed to be working well, and I didn’t notice issues with hygiene. The nurses spoke excellent English and were kind and, being a VIP patient, I could jump the queue. The cost of being a VIP patient was double the price of the local section, but anyway, a mere tenth of the price of the Shanghai clinics.
As in Italy for my first two pregnancies, here I saw the doctor every month as well. She measured my belly, weighed me, and asked the usual questions. I was surprised that she never visited me inside the place where children come out, while in Italy they did it each month. The rest of exams and tests were more or less the same as in Italy.
Every month, another expat lady was waiting to see the doctor at the same day and time as me. We started chatting, and I discovered that for her it was her first baby. Every time we met, we talked a little about the hospital service and agreed that all in all it wasn’t bad, but we both felt there was never any in-depth communication with the staff. For me it wasn’t a big deal: I already knew how things go when you are expecting a baby. But for her it was different: she would have preferred closer interaction with her doctor and the opportunity to get more information.
As my due date was approaching, they asked me if, after the delivery, I wanted to take home my placenta. I said no, and they made me sign a paper in which I declared I agreed to donate it to the hospital. Together with the doctor, we decided to plan the C-section for September 29th, one week before the due date. They wanted me to check into the hospital the night before, and so I did. My mother in law came to support us, so I didn’t feel worried for my husband and the kids staying alone at home. In total, the hospitalization was five days.
Excited and a bit anxious, I took my luggage and checked in. When I arrived in the room, however, things were a little different than I remembered. It wasn’t in as good condition as when we visited the ward months before – and it was rather dirty! Moreover, the nurses and doctors in the ward barely spoke any English, even if I was admitted to the VIP section. I took it well: the only thing that mattered was to have a safe delivery and a healthy baby!
The day after, I waited until afternoon for my turn in the surgery room. My Mandarin was scarce and their English poor, so we communicated mainly through the phone translator. As you may imagine, the automatic translation was not always correct, and a couple of time the result made me burst into laughter. However, I didn’t feel so amused when they tied my body on the operating table: what if I couldn’t tell them something was wrong? What if I couldn’t explain my feelings? As these thoughts went through my head, I began to feel dizzy. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down, I closed my eyes and waited for that awful sensation to dissolve. A few minutes later I was well again. They had taken the baby from my womb, and I listened him crying. I suddenly felt relaxed: he was well.
They took him away to dress him and I don’t think they washed him, because he was still slightly covered in a white patina. After cleaning and sewing me, they finally brought me to my room; I couldn’t wait to see my baby! I was lying in bed with an oxygen cannula in my nose, and the nurse put him on my breast, trying to make him suck. He didn’t, and she got clearly nervous. I wanted to tell her not to worry: I had already breastfed my other two children, and I knew how to do it. But to speak Mandarin after surgery was out of the question, so I couldn’t comfort her.
Postnatal care after a c-section was a little different compared to Italy: for instance, they pressed my womb a couple of time to make all the blood flow away quickly, while in Italy they let it come out naturally. They gave me painkillers, while in Italy they didn’t. As in Italy, they asked me not to remain immobile, but to try moving during the night and they made me stand up and walk a little the morning after.
Let’s speak about hospital food: I think a picture can be more eloquent than words:
Hot soups are considered healthy for a woman who has just given birth, but I have to admit I wasn’t brave enough to eat this one. They also told me not to drink cold beverages and suggested I should even dilute yoghurt with hot water! It was September, and the weather was still warm: I walked around in my flip flops, happy to let my feet breath. But they scolded me: I had to keep them warm otherwise I could catch a cold!
All these customs are part of the “month” tradition which new moms in China traditionally follow. For instance, they should stay in bed and rest as much as possible, eat hot soups, not take showers and always stay warm. These rules, which some consider way too strict, are supposed to protect the mom’s body in this very delicate period of life.
On the fifth day, we were discharged. They finally washed the baby and let him swim for a while in a big tub filled with warm water. He seemed to appreciate the experience!
Overall it was a good experience. I especially appreciated the kindness of the nurses and doctors: even if many of them couldn’t speak English, they always tried to make me understand everything they were doing, what kind of medicines they gave me, which tests I was taking.
Antonella Moretti is Italian and has lived in Suzhou since 2012. She writes about expats in China in her blogs www.parsleyandcoriander.com (English) and www.cucinanto.com (Italian) and is the author of the book “Parsley & coriander”, a novel about expat women in China.