At first, having a natural birth in Beijing can seem like a daunting task. Living in a foreign country can be intimidating enough, but when you add potential language barriers and unfamiliarity with the Chinese healthcare system to the mix, fear and worry will inevitably emerge. Expectant mothers and their partners want nothing short of a “perfect” birth. For many, this means giving birth naturally. The good news is that this isn’t as difficult to accomplish in Beijing as one might think.
Jess Meider, a former healthcare professional, yoga instructor, and professional musician, gave birth naturally to her daughter in November 2012. “After doing my research, I decided to give birth at Beijing United Family Hospital,” she says. “I’d already worked there for five years and many of the staff still remembered me, which made me feel very comfortable.”
“They were very accommodating. My husband and doula were permitted in the room, something that I was very adamant about,” she says. “Once you know what your expectations are and you communicate them clearly with the hospital, a natural birth is very achievable.”
Communication with the hospital staff is paramount, whether it takes place between healthcare professionals, expectant moms, or doulas and midwives. In that sense, language barriers can potentially be a huge obstacle for moms-to-be. One way to overcome this is by finding a bilingual doula.
Doulas and Midwives – What’s the Difference?
Doulas support the mother throughout her pregnancy, labor, and post-delivery. They offer both physical and mental support and often live with the mother for the duration of her pregnancy. According to international doula association DONA International, doulas are professionals trained in childbirth and childcare. While this is certainly the case for many, formal training is not a strict prerequisite for all doulas in China. For example, doulas might simply be a family friend or relative.
Robyn Wexler, an American-born bilingual doula based in Beijing, completed her doula training ten years ago in San Francisco. She says that doulas play a vital role when it comes to those “awkward translation moments.” If you are at all anxious about language barriers, be sure to find a doula who can support you and ensure that none of your needs or requirements are lost in translation.
Ivy Makelin is the leader of the China branch of the La Leche League, an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping breastfeeding mothers by providing information and mother-to-mother support. Herself a mom, she also offers consultations and advice on a variety of topics. “When it comes to giving birth naturally, having a birth plan in place is very important,” says Makelin. “You need to be very clear about what you want and don’t want. When you’re researching hospitals, have your questions ready. If they don’t have everything you need, then move on to the next one.”
The question of whether or not Chinese hospitals should be considered if you are planning a natural birth often comes up. Chinese hospitals have notoriously high C-section rates – the highest in the world at 46 percent, according to the World Health Organization. A staggering two thirds of urban Chinese women opt for a C-section and that figure is thought to be rising.
“If you are worried that your hospital is going to try and push you into having a C-section, the best thing to do is to ask your doctor lots of ‘what if’ questions,” says Makelin. “Ask them what they would do if something went wrong, at what point in a long labor would they opt for a C-section, and so on. This is a very easy way to gauge how inclined they are to perform C-sections without actually asking them directly.”
Jess Meider has hope for Chinese hospitals when it comes to natural birth, but says it depends a lot on your own attitude and mindset. “Chinese hospitals won’t offer the same kind of privacy that an international one would,” she says. “Bedside manner doesn’t exist. If you can get your head around that, then it might be OK.”
“It’s all about knowing what kind of environment you’re comfortable in and trusting your body to do the job it’s designed to do,” she says. “If you’re a bit anxious or unnerved by that sort of thing, then it probably is best to choose an international hospital. [However,] natural birth can be achieved in a Chinese hospital if you really want to.”
Testing the Waters
Water births are often sought out by those who want a natural birth. According to Water Birth International, the process can help reduce pain for the mother and ease a baby’s transition into the world. As it stands, there are two hospitals in Beijing that offer this service: Beijing Antai OB/GYN Hospital and Harmonicare Women and Children’s Hospital.
Water births are not very common in China. Officially, the first one on record occurred at Antai in 2004. It should also be noted that water birthing tubs are only available during the labor process; women must get out for the final stage of the birth. Makelin is one mother who has used Antai’s water birthing facilities. “I didn’t want to get out at the time,” she recalls of her son’s birth back in 2008. “I was so relaxed. But none of the hospitals here offer [a full warter birth.]If you want [one,] your only option is to do it at home.”
There have been many cases of women giving birth at home in Beijing, but there are no facilities in place for this in China. Women who take this course of action usually need to recruit internationally-trained midwives and bring them to China. Despite being technically illegal, many cases of home births are still believed to happen in Beijing. The only other alternative for foreign expectant mothers who want a home birth is to return to their home country.
Finding a Support Network
One of the most useful resources that mothers have is the Beijing Mamas Yahoo group. Here, women can seek advice and read first-hand accounts of women who have given birth in Beijing. In addition, there’s the baby and pregnancy section of the forum on beijingkids (www.beijing-kids.com/forum).
There are also pregnancy and breastfeeding support groups like the one hosted by Beijing Mamas founder Liora Pearlman every month at Beijing United Family Hospital or the new Bumps2Babes group that meets at SOHO Shangdu every Friday morning.
Whatever your birthing expectations are, it’s important to remember that things don’t always go according to plan; there are cases where a natural birth simply isn’t possible. Should that happen, there’s no need to be disappointed. As long as you bring a healthy child into the world and raise it in a caring and loving environment, you have already accomplished the greatest task any mother can.
Beijing Antai Maternity Hospital 北京安太妇产医院
Daily 8.30am-5pm. Bldg 18, Court 1, Xingheyuan, Jiayuan Lu, Fengtai District. (67735551, 67537768) www.antaihospital.com 丰台区北京丰台嘉园路星河城1号院18号楼
Beijing HarMoniCare Women and Children’s Hospital (HMC) 和美妇儿医院
Daily 8am-5pm. A2 Xiaoguan Beili, Beiyuan Lu, Chaoyang District (6499 0000, email@example.com) www.hmcare.net 朝阳区北苑路小关北里甲2
This Yahoo group is a space for parents to share resources and ask questions about family life in Beijing. Membership is free, but must be approved. To join, visit groups.yahoo.com/group/Beijing_Mamas.
This pregnancy and breastfeeding support group meets every Friday morning from 10-11.30am at SOHO Shangdu (beside The Place and Central Park). For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
English Breastfeeding and Pregnancy Support Group
Lay-led by Liora Pearlman, this group meets on the second Friday of every month at Beijing United Family Hospital in Lido. For more info, contact email@example.com.
La Leche League (LLL)
LLL is an international organization that specializes in breastfeeding advocacy and support for new and expecting mothers. The China branch is led by Ivy Makelin. To find out more about LLL, visit www.llli.org or muruhui.org.
photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun
This article originally appeared on p78-79 of the beijingkids October 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com