“Now you listen to me! Do you want the baby to come out or not? You think you’re in pain? You don’t look like you’re in pain!”
It’s nearly five years since my youngest daughter Elin decided to go ex utero, but the shrill, slightly less than empathic words of our tough-loving Chinese midwife still ring in my ears as I conjure the memories. Admittedly, I was not in the best frame of mind – aggrieved at being stopped before the delivery room at a yellow line that had been painted onto the hospital floor. Prospective hand holders had to pay ten kuai for a pair of hygienic pajamas.
Ariana’s arrival on the world stage in the UK began with Xiaoqing bobbing in and out of bathing pools and being told of hypothetical situations in which she may be inclined to push. In fact, such was Xiaoqing’s comfort/boredom level, that she found time to sleep between contractions, discussions, and mock spa sessions. Waking from her umpteenth slumber, Xiaoqing was told by our UK midwife that, “Baby is at least two hours away. You have another rest, and when you’re ready, you have a little push.”
I had emptied the coke machine and was nearing the completion of my personal translation of War and Peace. Suddenly, Xiaoqing said, “Enough is enough. I want it out before breakfast,” and duly sent me to fetch the midwife. The incredulous lady entered unable to believe her eyes, quickly adopting the backstop position as Xiaoqing got ready to deliver. In the time that it takes to release a few gigantean elephant shrieks, Ariana emerged just in time to join her family for breakfast.
Fast forward to Beijing, where we feared for Xiaoqing’s safety were she not to obey the orders of “Lieutenant Corporal” Li, aka our midwife. In half the time that it takes 204 flags to make their way around a London running track, Xiaoqing was sitting up in bed, nursing Elin with one hand and making a business call with the other. Upon seeing Elin, the midwife’s icy demeanor melted; cooing replaced barracking as she counted ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes.
My intention here is not to cast the Chinese health service as a socialist paradise. Despite Xiaoqing refusing all the drugs, painkillers, drips and lengthy recommended stay in hospital, I vividly recall the cashier insisting that there was no way our bill could be just 800 kuai. I also remember having to rush out to buy toilet paper, after discovering that not providing it extends across sectors nationwide. I think however, that something is clearly to be said for the Confucian school of man, or in this case, woman-management. While Ms. Li’s bedside manner was not for the churlish, it was effective – saving Xiaoqing a great deal of pain.
As a Brit, I spend two-thirds of my time worrying whether or not I have offended the canteen lady by reaching too quickly for my lunch card or by using the wrong suffix when addressing my wife’s business colleagues. As a teacher, I’ve not gone as far as shocking my students into success, but maybe it’s something that I should consider …
“Dennis, do you want to go to university or not? You think that’s effort? You don’t know the meaning of the word!”
Has a nice ring to it, no?