My husband and I really wanted to live somewhere overseas for a few years. This was pre-children of course. We both had a preference for somewhere in Asia. I landed a teaching job in an International School in Suzhou, a lovely canal ‘town’ (of a mere 2.5 million) near Shanghai. My husband took a TESOL course, took leave from his government job and looked forward to not being locked into any particular course of action. Amid visas, packing, shipping and farewelling, we researched a really good international health insurance policy. We knew that there was a very good possibility that we would have a child while we were in China. I didn’t want to take my chances with the public hospital system over there (of which there kind of isn’t one, for a foreigner anyway). We got the kind of policy where ‘covered’ means ‘covered’. 100%. I am not even sure if such a policy would even exist nowadays. For a one year policy with full maternity cover, we paid $1600USD. Our second year of cover cost us $1800USD. This seemingly inconsequential detail will become much more interesting later on in the story.
I fell pregnant in our first year in China and had Archie in 2007. There is nothing quite like an intense experience with the health care system of another country to really highlight that although you may like to think you are over the culture shock, you are most definitely not. My first appointment of a, shall we say, intimate nature, was enough to alert me to the fact that the concept of patient privacy was somewhat different in China. There is no fury like the fury of a woman in stirrups in a room where the nurse keeps going in and out leaving the door wide open. As waiguoren (foreigners) we got stared at wherever we went. Most of the time you could ignore it. Not this time.
Bedside manner was another story. After some early (minor) complications, I had to attend the local emergency department and was given shots of something. No gloves was alarming enough, but the spent sharps all over the floor was quite another matter. What was worse, was when talking to the obstetrician, and having checked that everything was alright, she told me flatly, your baby is alive now but might be dead next week. She took my breath away.
I was also very much in charge in many ways, and used Dr Google to self diagnose a few times. It was hard not having that absolute faith in the medical advice you were getting. One doctor told me to take aspirin for headaches. This advice came after 30 minutes of conferencing with his boss about the question. I was already taking blood thinning medication so to take aspirin would have been quite dangerous. Dr Google said paracetamol so I went with that.
I was able to dictate more than I would have in Australia what happened with the delivery. When told, on day 7 of week 40, that Archie would be at least another 10 days away, I said no, he won’t. I asked to be induced two days later and I doubt that in Australia the doctors would have agreed. We were also camped out in Shanghai at a hotel near the hospital and we didn’t want to be cooling our heels for days. Suzhou on any given day could be up to 4 hours drive from Shanghai and I didn’t want to take that risk of sitting at home waiting. We were actually told that if something were to go wrong NOT to call an ambulance but to call a taxi instead. Ambulances are not paramedics in China and do not come quickly. Knowing the way Chinese taxi drivers drive, I knew a taxi would get me there way faster anyway.
In the end we arrived calmly by taxi in the early evening, ready to be induced overnight. The hospital was one of the (if not the) most expensive in China. Given we had a kick ass insurance policy, it was reassuring we didn’t have to worry about a thing once we’d arrived. Our talented Mr (now) 4 arrived by emergency caesarean the next day just after lunch. Pretty much everyone has caesareans in China, so I wasn’t surprised when my labour went that way, although there was a legitimate reason. Archie had his cord wrapped around his foot and with each contraction his heart rate dipped dangerously low. I was never desperate for natural birth so this seemed fine with me, and a good way to get the whole thing over with.
The hospital was like a 5 star hotel. The best food we’d ever had. On our last night they wheeled in a white draped table with a 3 course dinner and bottle of lovely red to go with it! Being a really private person though, I didn’t like the endless parade of ward assistants who came in and out of my room, keen to help in any way they could. A friend who stayed in a Suzhou hospital actually had the assistants sleep on the couch in her room every night! Then there was the nurse who gave me a needle in the leg muscle (the most painful kind) at 5 am after I’d only finally fallen asleep at about 3. Kinda took me by surprise, you know, being ASLEEP AND ALL!!
Still, I was sad to leave as the whole hospital experience had been wonderful. My Midwife (MK) and Obstetrician (Nini Ji) were simply fabulous and I knew I’d never find food that good anywhere else!! As we left it was a formality to sign the discharge paperwork and the bill even though the insurance company was picking up the tab. I nearly fainted when I saw it. I would have if we’d been paying for it. $24,000USD. You read right. My Archie is the twenty four thousand dollar baby.
It might have been eye opening being pregnant and having a baby in China but actually HAVING a baby in China was a whole new world. To be continued…
I did a blog while living in China and it can be found here: http://nancyshack.blogspot.com.au/