First-time motherhood comes with a mountain of both exciting and daunting decisions to make, especially when you are in unfamiliar territory. Expectant families living abroad almost immediately begin to ponder on questions related to which hospital to have their baby, private or public, Chinese or International followed by the ever-deeper abyss of birth plan options.
Deciding on which hospital and birthing plan is right for you is a very personal one and with the ever-expanding list of maternity facilities available in Beijing, you may feel spoiled for choice (infinitely more, if you have the right insurance plan or savings). However, one may also feel that these options are your only options and why so many gasp in either delight or horror at my answer to the number one question usually posed to me as an expectant mother – so which hospital are you having the baby? The answer is, none.
After what seemed like a trillion Google searches for the right hospital in Beijing and their price guides, several expeditions to check out local and not-so-local hospitals, calls and WeChat messages to other expectant mothers, my husband and I decided to look into having a home-birth. I was somewhat decided on my preferred choice of having a water-birth as soon as I found out I was pregnant and the growing literature on the health benefits of not only opting for a natural birth but a water-birth, in particular, made me resolute in my decision.
My first quest before I looked into having a home-birth was to find a hospital that offered an affordable water-birth package. It was a few days into my search when I found a very comprehensive Beijing Maternity Hospital Guide in none other than, beijingkids! I whittled my initial choices down to two, based on access to English speaking staff and of course the option to have a water-birth. Antai Hospital and GlobalCare Women and Children’s hospital (Wuzhou Hospital) were the first hospitals I visited.
It immediately struck me that the details of my thought-out-but-not-yet-written-down birth plan were at the mercy of the regulations of a chosen hospital. Personal choices and perhaps processes and procedures that are readily accessible to expectant parents in my home city of London in the UK, I assumed would be readily available to me here. Decisions, such as having my husband cut the cord required clearance at one hospital and then denied unless a hefty fee was paid.
I wish to have autonomy over a number of other labor and delivery decisions that kept being denied or required clearance. These included, delaying cord clamping (not to be confused with Lotus Births) artificially rupturing my membranes (manually breaking my waters to speed up labor where there is no emergency) and leaving baby during first skin-to-skin contact to latch and bond unwashed. Vernix Caseosa, the waxy coating on a newborns skin is a proven natural moisturizer and cleanser, full of vital vitamins for baby.
These, of course, are all very personal requirements, a result of extensive research and by no means a call to admonish birth plan choices other expectant mothers make for themselves and their unborn baby. The importance I place on highlighting the above is that an expectant mother should have, at least in my opinion, autonomy over her labor, delivery, and postpartum choices unless there is an immediate cause for concern and genuine emergency determined by your health-care provider during labor. It is important to emphasize that with every birth plan comes a contingency plan in the unlikely event of an emergency or the level of risk factors associated with the health and medical history of a mother-to-be. Depending on how a pregnancy journey unfolds, even the best laid out plans need room to evolve and adapt.
It turns out, that to have the kind of labor in the kind of environment I wanted, where my birth plan could be executed to the T – essential oil diffusers, candles, music; birthing pool (I kid you not) – I needed to think of alternative options to make it happen. While home-births are becoming a popular and everyday option for expectant families where I am from, the thought of how I could go about having a holistic home-birth in Beijing, was yet to be another ride and adventure on my mother-to-be voyage.