I have to tell you about my experiences today checking out hospitals here in Beijing.
We chose two to check out: Mary’s Hospital for Women and Infants (near Liufang Subway station) and Amcare Women’s & Children’sHospital (near Lido hotel). The latter is right next to where we live, so it’s super convenient.
We went to Mary’s first and were greeted kindly by the door staff. They initially only addressed my partner and his parents but were quickly directed to speak to me and they did so. Many Chinese people are sure that foreigners don’t speak any Chinese and so they immediately defer to the Chinese people in the group. I was grateful that they turned to me and didn’t skip a beat when they realized I could speak the language. I was relieved, in fact.
We were shown into a small room and greeted by another woman whose job it is to sell the hospital. This is not a Chinese hospital in that it is geared towards higher-end care and that often means that it's geared towards foreigners. Still, the services are all in Chinese and this salesperson spoke to me at a million miles an hour about their services, using an array of fancy and professional hospital words. My partner asked her to slow down and she brought it down a notch before returning to her original speed a few sentences later but she was gracious when I continually interrupted her to clarify formal words. Still, overall, she was nice.
This hospital does allow my partner to be in the room while I’m in labour and then delivery. They do not generally allow a doula or midwife not appointed directly by the hospital, however, and this would be a problem. The woman told me that each situation could be discussed but she couldn’t guarantee permission. My doula wants to attend my birth (and I want her to be there) and so we need to find a place to allow her to be there. To have more than one person in the room, we’d have to pay more money, and the rule is relatives only. I suppose we could claim we were related, but that’s annoying.
All told, it’s about 40,000RMB to get pre-natal and natural delivery services there (roughly $7000 American/Canadian dollars). They offer weekly treatments after the 30th week and do not charge extra if it goes over 40 weeks right up until the 42nd week of gestation. But, if I’m not in the country, I still have to pay the package fee. No refunds even if I can’t attend my scheduled check-ups.
So, that’s that. The brochure they gave us had pictures exclusively of beautiful foreign women and babies and the English translation on the brochure was laughable in parts. Here are some good ones:
“Mary (China) coming from the hometown of the Maple Leaf (Canada), which has a unique international hospital management model, outstanding and elite medical professionals, modern high-tech medical apparatus and excellent customer service.”
Love that intro! The incomplete sentence is beautiful, but more importantly, don’t you love how the whole country of Canada is now “the hometown of the Maple Leaf”?
Or this one, proof that this hospital has a Catholic affiliation:
“Mary passes on holiness, love, elegance and joy for a health experience in Beijing and the whole of China as an initiator, builder and a protectors.”
Besides the obvious incorrect “s” on the end of “protectors,” I honestly read this sentence as meaning that the hospital prefers to provide the “health experience in Beijing…” rather than “holiness, love, elegance and joy.” They pass on the former to provide for the latter. Then I realized that they meant that they pass it on, meaning they provide it for the sake of “a health experience in Beijing…” But, truthfully, it took me until re-reading it now to see the alternate interpretation. Initially, it made me laugh out loud, much to the confusion of my Chinese relatives.
It was the second hospital that really made me mad, though: AMCARE.
We arrived and were greeted by a stone-faced counter staff. One of the women came out from behind the desk and led us to some plush lobby chairs to speak about their brochures. The price is basically the same, maybe a few thousand RMB higher but this isn’t inclusive of the extra fees for extra people in the room.
When the meeting began, she asked if I’d had any check-ups up until that point and I said, “No, besides confirming the pregnancy” and she looked at me like I was stupid, even asking me, “Not even a quick check-up?” and I re-confirmed what I had just answered. She sighed heavily and then said that treatment would then have to start on the 12th week then, as in as soon as possible since this is coming into my 12th week as of Monday.
One great difference to the Mary’s hospital was the “40 weeks +3 days” service. After this, they induce labour! I was totally struck by that! I said, “What if you want a natural birth when the baby wants to be born but this period takes 41 or 42 weeks?” and the woman again looked at me like I was stupid and said, “The baby wouldn’t be getting enough nutrients from you at that point and would need to be delivered.” (Me) “Well, what if you don’t agree with that?” (Her) “You’d have to speak to the doctor.”
Then, she made it clear that it was absolutely not allowed to have any non-relative in the room with us, and certainly no doulas or midwives. There was no budging here. Only one person at a time, as well, unless we pay more. The woman was unyielding on these points.
By this time, I was frustrated with her attitude and turned to my in-laws and my partner and said, “I don’t think this place is for me. There’s too much that isn’t permitted that I really want and it’s more expensive anyway.”
The woman immediately stood up and left our group without a word. She was the opposite of the sales person we had met at Mary’s who was very eager to secure our business. I was struck by her rudeness in a super (over-)sensitive way and while my partner stood up too and left to see if there was a doctor we could speak to instead or another representative (since everyone chimed in that she must be having a bad day), I tried to explain to my in-laws that it’s already difficult enough to be planning delivery in a country that isn’t my own, and so when people aren’t welcoming, the feeling is just totally “off” for me. I almost started to cry when saying this but managed to keep the tears from rolling. My Mother-in-law patted my leg in sympathy at the point when my voice broke and my explanation stopped short.
Another woman then came over, also unsmiling, but offering to take up where the first woman had left off. She tried to sit across from me and everyone encouraged her to sit beside me. She resisted, not looking at me, and finally agreed to sit beside me and then didn’t address me. Everyone told her to talk to me and she said, whining, “But I don’t speak waiyu!” This is the general term for “foreign language” as it literally means “outside language” and refers to all languages that aren’t Chinese, i.e. the language of outsiders. I then said, in a quiet voice, “I speak Chinese!” and she only muttered an “Oh” in response.
She sat down beside me then but still didn’t look at me. My in-laws and partner urged me to ask questions and tell her what I wanted to know. I said, “I just want to know about this,” and gestured to the brochures, but by then my spoken language skills were getting worse because I was upset. She said, rather curtly, “Well, what do you want to know about them?” and I just couldn’t take it anymore. “Forget this!” I exclaimed and stood up, burst into tears and was completely unable to speak another word. I could feel my face contorting, too, and I was embarrassed at my inability to control the tears or my own facial muscles. I let my hands cover my nose and mouth like a mask and walked out, cradling my own face, and turned towards home. I didn’t look back.
I will not go to a hospital that can’t even smile at me when I walk through the door and can’t even treat me like a human being rather than an outsider who doesn’t even deserve to be spoken to, let alone addressed with eye contact. I want to be cared for, welcomed, and treated with gentleness, especially at this important time.
My partner caught up with me in the car and jumped out to say that he supports whatever I choose and that if that means I return home to deliver this child and don’t deliver here in China, that’s okay too. He took my hands and then pulled me into him and held me. He even sputtered the new English he has learned from lyrics, “I care about you.” It sounded a bit choppy, but I smiled.
As this hospital is walking distance from home, I was home in a few moments and then called my parents who also said the things I needed to hear, including that they’d support whatever decision I make.
And now I have to make one. Where to give birth? Is this city where I want to do that? Can I stomach the language struggle and the feeling of being an outsider? Do I want to have to stomach it? What if a doctor or a nurse ignores me in the delivery room? Was the first hospital suitable even though it’s fifteen minutes away by car? That’s actually the same distance to the nearest hospital from where my parents live anyway…
So much to think about.
And going through this in a foreign country is going to much harder than I ever realized.
But, now that I've got that out, for the sake of the baby, I'm going to treat myself to a big pickle and put my feet up.