pregnant abroad

Ni Hao, My Chinese Baby

I’ve been trying to write this post for quite a while now. Every time I make a draft, it ends up being a million pages long, no exaggeration. There are so many details. But now, I’m taking on the challenge. I’m condensing this story into one blog post rather than writing it in different parts, like I had thought about doing.

Well, here goes …

The decision

Deciding to have Leticia in China was easy. We had gone there for work, had secure jobs in which I was being promoted, and we were ready to start a family. Deciding to have a baby actually coincided with the introduction of some new insurance plans in our company. I scanned through the different plans, noticing there was one that covered maternity fees. So, without hesitation, we decided I would change to that plan.

The conception

Well, it was a dark and stormy night. The rain was bucketing down on the hotel roof as we tucked ourselves into bed. The sound of the rain created a romantic atmosphere in our penthouse room … Don’t worry, I’ll spare you those details. Plus, us in a penthouse? Ha! We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. All I know is that it happened around the same time as we were visiting Hangzhou, a city in Eastern China. It was my first time trying lizard there. Wow … is lizard an aphrodisiac then?

We had been trying for Leticia for four months. Although that isn’t considered a long time at all, it felt like forever to me. For three months I cried every time I had to look at a negative pregnancy test. I was sure I couldn’t conceive due to a history of colposcopies and suspected Endometriosis during my college years.

A positive test

Berto and I had been really working on our health and fitness. We were doing it all; folic acid, balanced diets, exercising, and of course the thing that actually gets you pregnant … wearing extra pairs of socks. No really, studies have shown that warmer feet improve circulation which in turn betters the chance of conception. Just ask Google.

Anyway, I had been cycling to work everyday but had developed a cough and was becoming out of breath very easily. I mean, a couple of steps and I was out of breath. My boobs were feeling super tender too. “My period is on its way,” I thought. Yay for another cry fest. I logged into my period tracker app. I was two days late. This never happened anymore. After begging Berto to get a test, he finally caved. He was worried I’d be disappointed and upset again. It was different this time though. I could feel it.

I was right. I guess you know when you know.

The hospital choice

I had done a bit of asking around and a lot of researching. I was between two hospitals. One was a ten-minute taxi ride or a thirty-minute bus ride. The other was a thirty-minute taxi ride, on a good day. Good days are few and far between with traffic in China. We decided the closer hospital would be the better option. So I called and went there to make sure the test I had done was accurate.

That one trip there was enough for me. There was barely any English spoken and the atmosphere just wasn’t very friendly or welcoming. I was lucky to have had a okay-ish friend (she’s actually fab but if she’s reading this she’ll get a big head) who speaks Chinese accompany me there that day. After that experience, I decided that I needed to call the other hospital. Even over the phone they were so much nicer.

Public maternity care in China, which would mean no English, extremely crowded hospitals, and lengthy waits, among other things, just wasn’t going to be an option for me. So, I went private. My insurance was covering the hospital I chose which was an American-style international hospital with English speaking staff and an awesome team of multi-lingual translators. It was fab! The foyer alone was like that of a luxury hotel.

I ended up being admitted at 11 weeks pregnant as I had started to lose Leticia. Silver lining to that shitty situation was that I was treated like a queen. They put me up in a room with a double bed, two couches, a TV and a huge bathroom. Berto was even allowed to stay. Jesus, I could have had a sleepover party in the room they had given me. It was $300 per night. Thank goodness for my insurance. The care I received was phenomenal and my baby ended up being all safe and well.

The hospital visits

Being that it was my first pregnancy , I didn’t know what to expect from pre-natal visits to the hospital. It’s very different from Ireland in that you don’t visit a GP. All visits are at the hospital with your assigned OBGYN. Mine was Dr Chen, a middle aged female doctor who spoke very little English but had so much positive energy that I always felt amazing after seeing her.

The visits were definitely different to that of the public system here in Ireland; at least from experience with my pregnancy on Reagan. I never felt like “just another pregnant woman” there. Each woman was treated with the utmost care and attention. All visits were thorough and I was given  plenty of time and opportunities to express any concern I may have had. Dr Chen’s assistant even gave me her personal number in case I had any questions. I’m pretty sure I made her regret that move.

I had a lot more ultrasounds there too. 4D scans were offered at an extra cost outside of my insurance but not in any way extortionate. There were more things covered during routine check-ups too, like ECGs, mandatory glucose tests, bloods, weight gain and measurements.

The whole lead up to having your baby was comforting and they really built trust and rapport with their patients. Dr Chen even learned a tiny bit of English to use with me at my visits. She was so amazing! I called her “my Chinese mammy”.

The low amniotic fluid

At 37 weeks, we found out that I was a little low on amniotic fluid. I was still in the safe zone though. I was advised to drink plenty of water from here on in and come back the following week. The appointment was set to be on New Year’s Eve. NYE is our anniversary (One of three. We had three wedding ceremonies. I’ll write about that another time) and our favourite night to be out.

Week 38 hospital check come along … long story short, I had hit too close danger zone on the amniotic fluid front. “Go home, get your hospital bag and come back. We’ll start to induce you in the morning,” Dr Chen instructed the translator to tell me. Ummm … come back to the hospital on NYE? If they weren’t going to induce me until morning, why miss our last night out pre-baby?

We went back in at the crack of dawn the next morning and they prepared me to be induced.

The induction

Off we went down to the labour ward which consisted of two private rooms and two delivery rooms. I was directed into one of the private rooms after a brief encounter with the head midwife who apparently had ultrasonic hands and insisted that I was having a VERY big baby. Not exactly what I needed to hear since I would be soon pushing this, what sounded to be, humongous monster out of me.

The induction began at 9 that morning. I had a few contractions here and there but they were more like mild period cramps. I could hear screams of mercy coming from the other private room. There was another woman who had started an induction at the same time as me that morning. The midwife and translator kept coming into check on me. They told me that my contractions were much stronger than the other lady’s according to the monitor. I honestly couldn’t feel much. In fact myself and Berto relaxed watched a few movies as we patiently awaited our baby. My heart went out to her though. She sounded like she wasn’t coping too well.

The induction didn’t work that day. A few other methods of moving things along were suggested to me that evening. A foley bulb induction was attempted that night. This method is not one I would recommend to anyone. As far as I’m aware it is a practiced induction procedure in the States but I have yet to meet someone in Ireland who has heard of it. Either way, I had to tell the nurses to stop. What was supposed to be a five-minute procedure ended up being twenty minutes of me begging my translator to tell them to stop while crying my eyes out and Berto bursting through the doors in scrubs to see what the hell was going on. He didn’t beg. A firm ‘stop’ from him and I could hear the stainless steel instruments hitting the tray right away.

The next day, we began induction again after having an ultrasound to check on Leticia and the amniotic fluid levels. They had me on the max dosage of oxytocin this time but I didn’t feel any contractions at all. No cramps, nothing.

My low amniotic fluid meant Leticia was running low on oxygen. In a nut shell, this wasn’t ideal. They said if I didn’t go into labour by noon, we’d have to discuss the next step.

The next step

The induction didn’t go according to plan. I even ate pineapple while being induced and nothing!

The next step was a C-Section. I had only briefly considered a section during pregnancy when I overindulged in chocolate and thought I might have given myself gestational diabetes. Now I was about to have a section and I didn’t know how to feel (see my post on my c-section experiences here). Berto did what he does best and YouTubed C-Sections. BAD IDEA!!! I let him watch the remainder of those videos alone.

Adrenaline took over and I was more excited than anything else to meet our first little baby. We didn’t know the gender. Well, in my heart I knew from day one that I was having a girl but we never had that confirmed.

The meeting

There I was being rolled off to theatre and on the way to finally meet this little person I had gotten to know over these past 9 months. I couldn’t wait. They gave me the spinal and then invited Berto inside before they started to make the incision. Off to work they went.

“IT’S A BOY, IT’S A GIRL!” yelled the excited anesthesiologist. What? What did we have? Is it a boy or a girl? Thinking back, we always laugh about that.

Leticia was cleaned off and brought over to me. I was told to stop crying. They told me not to be emotional. I had just had major surgery and they were trying to stitch me back up so wasn’t supposed to move a single muscle.

“Well sorry for being ecstatic that I’ve just met my little gorgeous girl!”

The conclusion

Honestly, if I were to rate my experience of having a baby in China, I would give it a 20/10. But to be fair, I went private, not public. My hospital was very expensive. If I hadn’t changed insurance plans, there is no way we’d have been going to a top end hospital. I ended up having to stay in hospital for seven days after having Leticia because I ended up getting an infection and  being the sickest I have ever been. From day one to day seven plus the inductions, routine bloods, IVs, medication, the section and meals, my bill tallied up to $75,000 (€65 approx). All I can say is, thank goodness for insurance.

Me and my Chinese Mammy, Dr Chen on the day I finally left the hospital. I have so much love and adoration for this absolute lady.


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