Baby Born in China: An Expat’s Journey
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
By Liz Anderson
You expect to deal with unforeseen scenarios of all sorts when you sign up to be an expatriate. But how can you accurately prepare for something as monumental as the birth of your child abroad?
When we arrived here in Shanghai in the fall of 2016, our son was just turning one, and I was excited to spend our first year traveling in Asia with our little family of three. But knowing that we wanted to have a second child before we left China, I also spent that time conquering my nervousness about giving birth in a foreign country.
I peppered moms who had delivered here in Shanghai with questions. Was it safe? Who delivered their baby, and where? I was pleasantly surprised to find that not one mom reported having had a bad birth experience.
Once my mind was at ease, and we knew that we’d try to have another baby in our second year abroad, I became the “veteran” expat to newbies. I was hearing the same questions and concerns that I had dealt with. So, to help women who are considering giving birth here in Shanghai, I decided to write an account of my own birth experience, and gather other women’s birth stories from all the major international hospitals here.
After doing a lot of research for my own birth, I settled on Ferguson Women’s Health (FWH) as my healthcare practice of choice. Dr. Lu-Ferguson is an American-trained doctor, and I felt that I would be more comfortable with someone who understood my expectations for care as an American. From the first appointment, I could tell that I had nothing to worry about. I had given birth to our first child in a major US city (Philadelphia) at a hospital affiliated with an Ivy League school (UPenn), and the level of care here in Shanghai was equal to, or better, every step of the way. We had a few language issues when I saw some of FWH’s other doctors, but every time I followed up with Dr. Ferguson, I received answers that made sense to me. Their practice model is based on a patient support team; their staff offers classes on breastfeeding, baby care, and first aid, and they have midwives, lactation consultants, doulas (non-medical peri-birth supporters), and prenatal educators ready to help mom during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.
Leading up to the birth of our second son, I made a point of seeing all the doctors in the FWH practice because you never know who will be on call when you go into labor. As it happened, I ended up with Dr. Zou, who I had met ahead of time. Everything about my labor and delivery was normal, or at the very least, uncomplicated. I had a water birth, and Dr. Zou is a water birth specialist and therefore was the right doctor for my delivery.
Tiffany, an American woman on the doula team at FWH, was a great asset for my husband and me during our time in the hospital. We were concerned about the language barrier and wanted the same personal doula support that we had with our first son in the US. It was such a relief to have someone else in the room helping us, answering questions for us, and assisting with pain relief and labor coaching.
Shanghai offers endless opportunities for new and expectant moms. See the sidebars for my curated lists of pre- and postnatal classes, meetups, and groups, but more are always being added. WeChat groups based on your child’s birth year (I am in a Sheep babies group as well as a Dog babies group) are the best source of new class information. And it’s also a great way to meet friends!
Prep work for pregnancy
Do I have maternity insurance? Does it require a 12-month waiting period before getting coverage? Is the coverage any good?
What about vaccinations for mother and baby? Do I need to go home for some vaccines or fly to Hong Kong for necessary shots?
Pre-pregnancy vaccines: chicken pox (varicella), MMR, Hepatitis B, HPV
Vaccines during pregnancy: Flu shot, Tdap
What is important to me when choosing a doctor and hospital?
Doctor’s perspective on birth?
Low c-section rate?
Availability of a neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU)?
Are there citizenship and visa issues that I need to address before the birth? Will my marital status affect my child receiving citizenship in my home country or receiving a Chinese residence permit? Do I have all the home-country documentation that I need to prove citizenship?
Do I want an ayi or yuesao (woman hired to take care of a newborn child and its mother in the month after childbirth)? How much will that cost, when do I need to look for someone, and how?
My story is just one of many, and everyone’s experience is different. I spoke with several other women, and they all highlighted different concerns when giving birth in China.
Laura, a Canadian woman living in China for five years, had both her children in China; her daughter was born in Beijing in 2016, and her son in Shanghai earlier this year. Staying with the United Family hospital group, Laura’s experiences in Beijing and in Shanghai were both good. But she cautions that couples looking to conceive need to check their insurance first. “Make sure you understand your maternity coverage and know when the rider takes effect.” Since hospitals here know that many people do not have maternity coverage, they offer packages with discounts for the prenatal care and delivery. For example, Shanghai United Family offers a 29% discount on prenatal care if you buy a package up front (26,000 RMB for a package, compared with 37,000 RMB for pay-as-you-go care). Delivery packages at Ferguson Women’s Health offer a similar discount percentage: the package price for a vaginal delivery is 50,000 RMB vs. 70,000 RMB if you go with direct billing.
Jen, an American mom who gave birth here this year, stresses that you must really advocate for yourself and continually ask questions. “Nothing’s obvious here.” However, because there are so many options, even for western hospitals, “you don’t have to stick with someone you don’t like. Switch medical professionals if you don’t feel comfortable.”
Valentina is an Italian mom who had both of her children here in Shanghai. She delivered at American Sino OB/GYN twice, but she started at a local hospital with her first son. Due to a lack of English spoken at the local hospital, she switched to ASOG. Her advice is: “don’t be scared but be prepared. Shanghai has many WeChat groups and so many services, so do your research and visit places beforehand. Filter everything you learn to make sure you’re not getting bad information.”
One of the lesser-known Shanghai hospitals, Shanghai Baijia Maternity Hospital, has both a Chinese section and International section. Maria, a new mom from Mexico, had a wonderful experience at Baijia last spring, having chosen this hospital for its “philosophy and ideology, which were very in tune with what we were looking for—especially a hospital that followed gentle birth practices and emotional support throughout pregnancy.”
With many Chinese hospitals you can choose standard or VIP service, and Maria did a little bit of both at Baijia. “We chose the international section, which offers a wider variety of VIP services to enjoy throughout your pregnancy and delivery than the Chinese section. However, we chose the standard room for our postpartum stay as we found it very spacious and comfortable, so we did not feel the need to upgrade to the VIP room.” At Baijia, their international plan is more robust than some of the other hospitals, including access to a doula throughout pregnancy as well as during labor.
Wherever you choose to deliver here in Shanghai, the international hospitals really understand the importance of a western approach to medicine for their patients, and the diversity in doctors and patients ensures that treatment methods and medical practices from all over the world combine to create the best outcome for expectant mothers.
The international appeal extends to mothers groups as well. As Jen explained, “different backgrounds give you broader perspective and helps you recognize that not everyone will hold your same values, and that’s okay. It’s different from being in a moms group with people who all grew up in the same town as you.”
Admittedly there’s a wide gap in care styles between a modern international hospital in Shanghai and a local hospital in rural China. But for those coming here as expats, your international hospital experience will probably be equal to—or better than—whatever options you have back home. Do your homework, meet other moms-to-be through WeChat or in-person meetups, know what you want for your birth, and as with everything else in China, remember that there’s always another option! Giving birth here proves once again that life halfway around the world isn’t much different than life back in the US (most of the time!). We had a really
positive birth experience and I would encourage anyone wanting to expand their family to have their child here in Shanghai.
Prenatal yoga: MommyBow, Z&B Fitness, Belle Maternity, Dragon Space, The Clinic
Aqua Aerobics: MommyBow in Xintiandi
Z&B Fitness offers prenatal modifications for pregnant women in low-impact classes like Barre, ZCycle, TRX, and more
Doctor- and hospital-sponsored classes (this is just a small sample; contact your hospital of choice for an up-to-date class list):
· Labor and delivery
· Bringing baby home
· Pain relief
· All about breastfeeding
· What to expect postpartum
· Essential oils for pregnancy and birth
· Choosing and using a car seat
· Pelvic floor recovery
· First aid for parents and caregivers · Hypno-birthing https://us.hypnobirthing.com/
Postnatal fitness/Mommy & Me Classes
· FitMom with StyleFitness
· KangaRoos and Mommy & Baby with MommyBow
· Baby Aqua with MommyBow
· Yoga or Pilates for New Moms with Belle Maternity
· Mami & Me Yoga at Z&B Fitness
· Music & Play at Z&B Fitness
· Music Together with Shanghai Mamas
· Ferguson Women’s Health - WeChat: FergusonHealth
· American Sino OB/Gyn: http://sh.am-sino.com/en/
· Shanghai Baijia Maternity Hospital: http://e.shbjfc.com/
· Z&B Fitness - WeChat: ZNBFitness
· MommyBow - WeChat: MommyBow
· Dragon Space - WeChat Xiaohuic12
· Jitterbugs - WeChat: JitterbugsShanghai
· FitMom - WeChat: Styleofficial · Music Together: www.musictogethershanghaimama.com
· Belle Maternity - WeChat Jeydancepilates
*Please note: the author does not have firsthand experience with all hospitals and services noted in the article. Many are recommendations from other moms.
About the author: Liz Anderson is an American wife and mother living abroad for the first time. Between juggling two kids, volunteering, and coffee with friends, she can be found blogging at anoceanaway.blog.
Original Courier publish date: September, 2018