I’m not writing this to complain about what is essentially a luxury service that not everyone, especially here in China, can afford. Nor do I intend to discount what I have seen for myself to be a huge help to young families “in need.” But all the same, we have come to feel a bit disappointed and frustrated over the differences between What We Were Told vs. What We Actually Experienced.
For starters, the bit about “taking care of baby and mom” was definitely not the case. The curt, minimal attention my wife received at the hospital was dismaying enough (we were booted out after four days and a total of perhaps 20 minutes of actual attention to mom’s condition and c-section wound. The rest of the time was spent by hospital staff on a few diaper changes and an alarmingly immediate and old school reliance on bottle feeding).
During those first few days in the hospital, it became readily apparent that Wang Jie (“Sister Wang”), a stout woman in early fifties, genuinely likes children – she spent much time holding and doting on our baby. Unfortunately, it was also apparent that this attention didn’t quite extend to my wife. Over the next few days, as my wife struggled with the pain of recovering from her c-section, it became apparent that helping my wife was no real concern to Wang Jie (a fact that seemed to directly contradict what we were told at the yue sao company).
Even more dismaying was how both hospital staff and Wang Jie seemed entirely unconcerned with encouraging my wife to breastfeed (we later found out that unless a baby is allowed to suckle her mother’s breast pretty much immediately after birth, she will often have difficulty with breastfeeding later – ours was promptly given a vial of sucrose after she was born, another practice now discouraged in hospitals overseas). In fact, opportunities for my wife to even have contact with our baby were rare, and for both the nurses and Wang Jie, the emphasis seemed to be on what was easy and convenient to themselves (what better way to shut a crying baby up then a plug of the bottle?), and not what’s best for mother and child in the long run.
At first we really had no clue if this was acceptable or not, but after a few days (day three, to be exact), I realized that my wife had only been given the chance to hold our baby a total of three times. Allowing her c-section scar to heal certainly affected all this, but surely that was not reason enough for the almost total lack of contact between mother and child. Something seemed wrong.
During our first week home, as my wife recovered in bed, Wang Jie continued to dote on the baby. My wife’s lack of access to Marianne also continued, and we felt as though we literally had to demand to hold her. As with the nurses, Wang Jie quickly quelled Marianne’s cries of hunger were with a plug of the bottle, and other tasks (i.e. baths and garment washing) were done at Wang Jie’s convenience, not when we felt (or didn’t feel) that mother or baby needed these things done.
Her entire demeanor bordered on stoic, and she had no useful techniques or advice to offer about breastfeeding (save for a curt, “just bottle feed her, it’s all the same” and some very poorly prepared soups). The general impression we got was that Wang Jie had been doing this for a long time, and had thus adapted some rather subtle ways to evade anything beyond the most basic tasks of caring for babies – a sort of “cuddle and cover” strategy.
We called the company and asked for a replacement. Two days later, one showed up (only after we had waited around all the previous day) – only trouble was, the company had not informed Wang Jie (“We’ve been trying to call her,” they said when we called to ask, “but she never picks up*!”). So we were faced with the very uncomfortable task of asking Wang Jie, still clutching our baby, to leave as the new one was literally in the doorway.
Nanny No. 2 (a 33-year-old mother of two from Hubei who goes by Xiao Li) has been a bit more attentive to my wife’s needs, but has also had a tendency to “just do” without much initiative to teach us anything (I won’t get into the continued problems we’ve had with her breastfeeding “support”). Perhaps it’s common yue sao practice, but we also quickly noticed the same problem as with Wang Jie – a lack of physical access to our baby (unless we asked). It was only after we sat Xiao Li down and explained to her how important we feel that she occasionally step back and allow us to try out the day-to-day tasks of baby care for ourselves that things have improved – and now, it seems that Marianne, at last, knows who her mommy is.
Perhaps it’s all a matter of personal chemistry, but our experience with both has led me to believe that while yue sao certainly have training in the fundamentals of baby care (i.e. changing diapers, bathing and bottle feeding), they seem to lack the one that is the most crucial: effective communication.
I also believe we were naïve to expect so much. Problems aside, it’s clear that all yue sao do indeed work hard taking care of other people’s children, and I feel especially grateful to ours when, at 4am, I am invariably awakened to the sounds of Marianne’s cries, knowing that soon after Xiao Li will feed her. So it’s probably unfair to pin any blame on the Wang Jie’s and Xiao Li’s of the yue sao industry. Like many burgeoning industries here in China, yue sao companies need better oversight and (assuming there is not one already in place) a national system of standards and accreditation.
More importantly, the yue sao at this particular company need better training – especially when it comes to communicating with the parents and, thus, imparting their skills to them. After all, long after Xiao Li has moved on to the next family, we’ll still be the ones up at 4am.
*A likely story: In the 48-hour period between the time we called and the time the new yue sao came, I never heard Wang Jie’s phone ring once.