For reasons that are no longer clear to me, with both pregnancies I didn’t go to the hospital until I was three to four months along in the pregnancy. Maybe this was because we were nervous about another miscarriage and didn’t tell anyone right away, unlike the first time. Or perhaps it was just to avoid all the chaos that is going to the maternity department at a hospital.
One of the biggest surprises I had was when we were walking outside one night, pregnant with our son, and I commented on how nice it was that our house was just a five minute walk, if even that, to the hospital. It’s where my husband works and I assumed that it’s where I’d give birth.
Oh, no, he informed me. They no longer have a maternity department since it’s a smaller community hospital and the larger General Hospital wants to be in control of things. At that point (2008) there were just two hospitals at which babies were delivered. Our son was born at the GH and our daughter at the other one in 2012. A year later, that department was shut down and all the doctors and nurses reassigned positions or transfered to the GH.
That said, there are some private hospitals on the other side of town, but they aren’t regulated in the same way and are much more expensive. I imagine this situation doesn’t happen in larger metro areas, but if you’re in a smaller town, make sure you know where you can go to get prenatal care and have the baby.
Now, once you find a hospital, here are some things you need to know:
Go early. Hospitals tend to open at 8 am but people’s start queuing as early as 7 am to ensure that they are seen before the staff goes home for their two hour lunch break (at least that’s the norm in smaller towns like mine). Here there are no appointments, though there are some things are only done on certain days of the week. For example, the blood glucose testing is only done on Tuesday’s, at the hospital where my son was born.
Take your medical record book to every visit. Pen and paper still rules when it comes to medical care in Chinese hospitals. They only use the computers for citizens who have medical insurance cards, which need scanned to deduct the money. On your first visit you’re given a booklet that they fill out with your name, age and all those other stats that are important. This book includes space for all the details of your future visits as well.
You’ll see lots of doctors, all female. There’s no such thing as a primary care physician and the same holds true for prenatal care. Expect to see lots of doctors on each visit, but you can feel relaxed knowing that they’re all female. Men aren’t allowed to work in this department, and male nurses in China are about as rare as foreigners in my city. I know they’re here, but I never see them!
Exam rooms are also female only. Unlike Western clinics, where appointments are done in the privacy of an exam room with one patient and one doctor, and the dad is welcome, in the Chinese hospitals I had my kids at, there was one large room with several desks and tables. It finally clicked why so many women were accompanied by their mothers in law; even if the husband didn’t have to work at that time, he could only sit in the hall and smoke. (Yes, smoking is allowed I the shot pails, though it’s starting to be banned in top tier cities).
Take plenty of cash. The Chinese health insurance system provides a prepaid card to I discuss, though foreigners are not allowed to be part of this system. One resound its good to have a person accompany you to your visit is that they can go to pay the bill while you wait in line. I have records from one visit with my daughter where I needed both a bloody test and ultrasound.
In both cases, I went to queue up while hubby paid the bill and then returned with the recipes which we had to give to the doctor before they’d serve us. Fortunately, routine services are cheap. The ultrasound was around 100 RMB. Blood tests are similarly priced.
Return in the afternoon for results. While you can get your test results back on the same day, you have to return to the hospital after a set time, usually 3-4 pm to get them.
Disclaimer: I’ve only been to public hospitals and this has been my experience. I know lots of ex pats who’ve given birth in international hospitals in China and private Chinese hospitals where they had different experiences.
Have you had a baby in China? Share your experience–no matter what type of hospital–in the comments!
Other posts in the Having A Baby In China Series: