Some just whine and complain
In bed at the hospital
Coming and going
Asleep and awake
In bed at the hospital
-Cold War Kids
Over 16 million babies are born every year in China. That means there are over 16 million mothers pregnant and/or giving birth in any given year. Such a populous country with access to cutting-edge technology in addition to thousands and thousands of years of history of childbearing...that should lead to the conclusion that childbirth here is a breeze, right?
Nope. The reality is that China’s hospitals are too busy to cater to the needs of worried mothers. Mothers leaving the hospital with a baby in tow are often scarred not only by a c-section but also by the entire experience.
My neighbor is one such mother. When her water broke at 33 weeks pregnant, she summoned an ambulance to take her to the hospital right away. Upon arrival, however, no beds were available. She was not scheduled for delivery for another seven weeks.* While the hospital did not tell her to go away, she was placed in the hallway. There in the hallway, without family, friends or privacy she labored. Hospital passersby were her only companions. Doctors examined her in the hallway with zero privacy. Nurses wouldn’t even bring her a glass of water. Meanwhile in the waiting area, her husband frantically called female friends asking for assistance (males are not allowed in the birthing wings). Finally, the baby’s heartbeat indicated he was in duress. The first-time mama ended up on the operating table for an emergency Cesarean. After the Cesarean and she was sewn up, the doctors told her to move herself to the gurney so they could take her out of the operating room. She was so traumatized that she flat-out says she will never give birth again.
To be fair, many mothers have relatively smooth births in Chinese hospitals. I, however, have heard too many traumatizing stories like my neighbor’s. I didn’t need to think long before determining that giving birth in a Chinese hospital was out of the question. I am adventurous, but not that adventurous. Western medicine was for me.
Fortunately, Beijing’s sizable expat community and rich Chinese desiring a not so Chinese birth experience means there's a market for plenty of international hospitals. These hospitals include Beijing United Family, Amcare, Baodao, and Oasis. I contacted a number of them and compared prices. Out of these, Oasis offered a free tour. In addition to taking a gander at the spacious birthing and recovery rooms, one of the obstetricians invited me into her office to discuss prenatal care and birth. They had me at the superb English, but I ultimately chose Oasis for the following reasons:
- The facilities were gleaming clean and spacious
- The atmosphere was chill
- The staff was friendly
- The doctor said my medical wishes would be respected
- The cost is a little bit cheaper than BJ United Family (a very popular hospital for expats)
- They did not pressure me to get a 1,400 RMB consultation (uh-hum! BJ United Family) without letting me check out the facilities.
- Did I mention everyone speaks English?
Yeah, that didn't happen. My water broke at 34 weeks and I had a few minor complications during labor. But what did happen is that Dumpling got born and both she and I got superb care.
Here are some general observations about giving birth and staying at Oasis:
- Staff: Labor and delivery doctors and nurses were professional, reasonable, reassuring, and kind. During our two weeks stay, the pediatric nurses were so hospitable and aware of my needs. They would eagerly fetch anything I needed (towels or lotion for example). Everyday a friendly ayi would clean the room, always asking permission before entering.
- Treatment: Born premature, Dumpling’s biggest obstacle was weight gain. She would nurse for a few minutes and fall asleep. To pack in the calories, she was syringe fed with calorie fortified breast milk every couple hours--even through the night. Because she was so sleepy, getting her to swallow just 10 ml was a laborious process. While birdMAN and I at times would feed her, the nurses did the bulk of it-- especially in the middle of night. They would tell me to rest and go to sleep. The staff also were very supportive of breastfeeding.
- Room: On par with a super nice hotel. Impeccably clean. The bed and pillows were so comfortable. birdMAN slept comfortably on a couch with hospital provided bedding. The room was private and quiet and stocked with an air purifier.
- Food: Oasis provided breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. In the morning, I could choose out of two or three choices for lunch and dinner. I am not sure if because I was starving all the time or getting meals were a highlight out of a relatively uneventful day, but I really enjoyed and anticipated each meal. Four bowls - usually soup, salad, cooked vegetable, and main course- neatly arranged on a tray arrived in a timely fashion. Occasionally, some weird mystery meat resembling bologna speckled with white was served with breakfast. Otherwise, the food was more than satisfactory.
The take home is: if you happen to find yourself pregnant in China, and you can’t or don’t want to go back to your home country to give birth, you need not fear. There are international hospitals (like Oasis) in major cities that match and/or exceed the care of western hospitals.
Unless...you want to embrace the Chinese birth experience and take your chances at a Chinese public hospital.
Here is a helpful resource that compares Beijing International hospital costs:
https://issuu.com/beijingkids/docs/beijingkidsjulhealthguide2014 (see pages 24-33)
*In Beijing, mothers without Beijing hukou（户口）must reserve a space for birth in a public hospital by the time they are 6 to 12 weeks pregnant. If they miss that window, they will have to go to their hometown to give birth or pay extra at an international hospital. See China’s big baby bump puts the squeeze on hospitals and pregnant women
Chinese Word of the Blog: 住院 Zhùyuàn