This page will document my ongoing journey at Shanghai Changing Maternity & Infant Health Hospital (上海市长宁区妇幼保健院）
Note: Why did I choose a local hospital instead of an international hospital? Due to not being the typical expat who gets many perks such as great maternity insurance and other awesome benefits, I’m not able to spend the $10,000 to to $15,000 fee that is usually associated with those kinds of hospitals. Instead, finding a VIP section in a local hospital is a reluctant but necessary choice. Hospitals ranging from $2,500 to $5000 is a much more reasonable price for those paying out of pocket like myself.
My first child was delivered at Changning Central District Hospital. To read about my birthing experience there, visit this blog entry by clicking on the link: https://vanessadewey.com/2012/06/14/the-epic-story-of-eve-scarlett-deweys-birth/. To read about a horrible experience during prenatal, read here: https://vanessadewey.com/2012/05/11/monitored/
I knew from my previous experience, I needed a fresh start. I decided to look at two hospitals: First Maternity and Infant Health Hospital as well as Peace Maternity. The first one having an English speaking doctor during prenatal and second having a wonderful delivery ward. However, in the back of my mind I kept going back to Changning Maternity which is the only local hospital in Shanghai to do water birth. (Not to be mistaken with my previous hospital’s name. “Changning” is the name of the district). Water birth is something I wanted to try the first time but eventually gave up on due to the fact that this hospital has a large and intimidating wait due to its popularity and because I didn’t feel my Chinese skills would be up to par 3 years ago. Also, the hospital I had decided on last time was 5 minutes from my previous job which made prenatal appointments extremely easy to balance with work.
But things were different this time. I am at a new job that didn’t have any hospital near by to influence my decision in that regard and my Chinese is at a level that I think I could survive and communicate. So I made up my mind. I was going to do it. I was going to follow my dreams of having a water birth.
9.13.2014: 1st appointment (303 RMB/$50)
I took the stick test at work during a bathroom break. I was only 1 day late, but then I’m never late so I knew I was pregnant. With Chinese hospitals, you have to get in early and get registered or they don’t accept you, so I knew I had to find a hospital soon. This was Friday. I didn’t want to take work off to confirm my pregnancy and set up my registration and so I called Changning Maternity and lo and behold they were open on a Saturday! What? A maternity hospital open on a Saturday?! Sweet! I headed over there on my scooter around 9:30 a.m. It was a 25 minute ride.
The first thing I noticed about this hospital was the massive amounts of people with pregnant bellies. Unlike my last hospital that was a general hospital with a special floor for obstretics, this hospital only serves pregnant women. I felt like I approached a giant ant hole, where thousands of pregnant female ants flocked around like drones in an ant colony, focused on their mission at hand. It was almost overwhelming and made me step back. I finally apprehensively approached the info desk on the left-hand side and told them that I was newly pregnant and they asked me with a look of boredom and apathy “Yao bu yao baobao?” which means “Do you want the baby?” It wasn’t the first thing I expected to hear when announcing my pregnancy and thinking I heard wrong, I asked for her to repeat herself. She repeated it with a more loud and annoyed sounding voice and after getting over the initial shock I replied “yao” (Yes, I want it). “Ok go to the registration desk on the right-hand side.” she said in Chinese. There I paid a registration fee, received a green card and booklet.
Then I was directed to the second floor where I waited at the specialized clinic. After reading a bit and trying to ignore the dozens of eyes that never looked away from me, I decided to humanize myself to the masses by starting a conversation with other pregnant women. After their initial shock and giving me that “Holy crap, a talking dog!” look I had an interesting conversation with three different women. And after what seemed like forever (but really was only 2 hours) I finally saw the doctor. She had a few simple questions like when was my first day of my last menstrual cycle. After literally one minute, she sent me to take a blood test to confirm the pregnancy. And just like that I left and went back to the first floor, following a winding corridor and found the lab. I took a number from a dispenser and sat down and soon discovered that the numbers on the screen had nothing to do with numbers being dispensed. Lab lady pointed at me and said to come over. Alright. Sure. No wait so I guess that’s fine by me. She took my blood and said to come back in three hours and get my results. Couldn’t someone just call me and tell me the results? Do I really have to come back? Yes, I did. Boo. So I went home, ate lunch and spent another 25 minute scooter ride to get back.
I was directed to a machine on the first floor where I had to swipe my green card and got a paper with my blood results. Was told to take that up to second floor. When I got up there, it look like a ghost town. No one was there. The specialized unit doctor was not there, but another doctor saw me. She took one glance at the blood test results and said matter of factly and without looking at me, “You’re pregnant.” That’s it. Very unceremonious.
I went downstairs to schedule my next appointment. “I would like a Saturday please.” “No Saturdays”. Didn’t I just come on a Saturday? “No, Saturdays are not available for the first three months of prenatal.” Whatever. Confused, I just went home. Now, I had to break the news earlier than I had planned to my boss. Great.
10.8.2014: 2nd appointment (600 RMB deposit fee/$100):
I went straight to the pay the fee at the registration counter. This time I was instructed to pay a $100 deposit and was given a pink card. They put the $100 deposit on my new pink card. From what I could understand, the pink card was for prenatal use. So I’m guessing the green card would be for anything else. (After childbirth, infant health etc.). Then I was directed to the second floor but this time district 11. I was bit confused since I was at district 8 before. But now I realized that on a Saturday, things ran differently, and that wasn’t my normal place for appointments. I discovered I needed at do an ultrasound, but I was already given a queue number for the doctor on my registration and receipt paper. So I went over to district 10 and got another queue number but this time for my ultrasound. I was the next one up so I literally waited all of 2 minutes. I was directed into a room where there were curtain dividers. I was ushered in while the previous patient was still putting on her pants. Not much for privacy I guess. I was directed to take off my pants for the vaginal ultrasound. “Could I get a glimpse of the baby?” “No.” they replied. “But what about next time?” “No.” they replied. Basically this hospital will not let you see the baby, take a photograph, receive a printout. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
No sharing of excitement. No smiles. No humanity. I was being barked at. “Don’t move!” “Stay still”. “Get dressed!” “Your done!” “Next!”. I was barely pulling up my pants as the next patient started to undress. My heart ached. Could this hospital be worse than that last hospital? The one that I didn’t think could possibly be worse? At least they showed me the monitor even though I never got printouts. I remember how my heart soared as I saw the little wiggling of my 8 week baby. Tears streamed into my eyes after that glorious moment. But with this place, nothing. I felt like a punch to my stomach. With resolve I reminded myself of my end goal: a water birth. This place may have worse prenatals but if that means I have a more positive delivery, it would be worth it at the end.
I got a printout of random measurements and took it back to district 11. There I showed my number to the attending nurse who said to sit down and wait for room 8. Thinking I was going to wait for 2 hours again, I got comfortable and starting reading a magazine. But then I kept looking at the numbers. I was number 26 but when I sat down the monitor was already on number 52, then 53. Was I skipped? Surely the nurse would have known and not had me sit down. Then it jumped to 32. Maybe it’s random. I didn’t panic quite yet. After about 15 minutes the attending nurse said my number had passed and to just go in. Really nurse! And why was I given a number for the doctor before the number for the ultrasound? Didn’t they think this would happen? So I went into the room and no one seemed to be around. “Hello?” No one answered. Within this room were two other rooms. One looked as small as a closet. I peaked my head inside. “Hello?” The doctor looked up. She didn’t say anything but I sat down anyway. Then she looked at me and started getting nervous. She started to speak with me in English. I was going to tell her I could speak Chinese, but I thought, “Why not go with this special treatment?”I didn’t expect this and was delighted. Her hands shook as she read my file and my ultrasound report. She told me everything was normal. I asked her when my due date was but she said it was too early to say. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking as she mustered the best English she could. I wanted to hold her hands and tell her she was doing great and that her English was great. It actually pitiful to watch but I went with it, enjoyed the sound of my mother tongue. She gave me a form to fill out for an upcoming blood test and sent me on my way.
After that I went to make another appointment with the appointment desk. The queue was quite strange. There was no official line. You sit on a large bench/couch and then scoot down everytime someone is finished. In unison, surrounded my other pregnant women, I lifted my butt and scooted by but a few inches down the line until eventually I was off the couch and made my next appointment. I scheduled two. One for the blood test and one for the next checkup. Both Fridays. “Only Friday?” Yes, this time, these two appointments could only be done on Fridays due to the lab requirements. I didn’t get it, but I made the appointments and went home.
10.24.2014: 3rd appointment (11 weeks) (Fee taken from deposit)
Had an appt for a blood test at 7:30. Walked right it at 7:15 even though the hospital doesn’t officially open til 7:30. A sea of people. Makes me wonder when this hospital unofficially opens.
Didn’t have to go to the registration desk. Got directed to the lab. Got my blood taken into 4 viles from a nurse that seemed perplexed that I could speak Chinese. She told me she didn’t find many foreigners in this hospital. I explained I chose this hospital for the water birth. Didn’t have to wait for results. In and out in 20 minutes. Best appt ever.
However, not sure what the blood test was for. Didn’t feel like asking.
10.31.2014 Fourth appointment (12 weeks; 200 RMB/$33):
Figured out one of the reasons for the blood test. Found out I have high blood sugar. Doctor warned me about limiting my sugar intake or that I may get gestational diabetes.
Had another ultrasound after waiting for an hour. Got yelled out for moving on the table. Asked if I could see the baby and was told only if I brought in my husband and paid an extra 160 RMB. I explained I didn’t want a printout, I just wanted a glimpse. Could she just tilt the screen. “Nothing to see!” she said harshly in Chinese. Got a printout of just the measurements and took it to the doctor. Told the doctor what happened and she and I went to the headnurse and then to the sonographer to investigate my claims. She explained that the “fee” was not really a bribe but the extra service fee for seeing the baby, but then it mysteriously changed to 100 RMB. “What if I didn’t have a husband? I’m not enough of a reason to see my baby?” To which she replied, “Just have an accompanying family member”. The doctor and headnurse seem satisfied with this answer and left me shaking my head.
At this point I just felt angry but then surprisingly calm. I cannot always understand and accept this culture, but I am willing to deal with a crappy prenatal experience if my delivery is better than the last delivery. I could have chosen better hospitals but this is the only hospital that offers a water birth, so I remain focused on my end goal and plunge ahead in this crazy place called China.
11.24.2014: 5th appointment (15 Weeks; 3000 RMB/$491)
****Disclaimer: The words and terms referring to the female anatomy
might be will be used in the following post. Read at your own discretion.
At the end of my previous appointment I was given a form to fill out of contact numbers of my work, husband etc…then instructed to bring 3000 RMB to my next appointment. I paid this fee upon entering and then was given a green slip of paper with an extensive list of tasks to complete. Looking at it just gave me a headache. I knew that if I stared at it long enough I could quite possibly figure out where I needed to go and what I needed to do, but I went with the easy route and told one of the nurses I didn’t understand it. Score! I got my own personal escort!
So my first task was to collect a urine sample. The nurse escorted me to the restroom with a barcoded test tube. Oh sorry did I say restroom? I meant stalls of dirty squat toilets. Unlike my last hospital that had everything very private with a tray window in the stalls to insert your urine, I had to grab one of the many cups all thrown in a bin, pee in it, trying not to pee on my hand. Failing at that. Dig for tissues in my backpack with wet pee fingers since the hospital doesn’t provide toilet paper and then attempt to carefully pour it into the test tube. Opened the stall door and got to carry my pee tube to the middle of the bathroom as women all lined up to use the restroom watched me stick it in a crate with everyone else’s lidless urine. Is someone coming for that? What if someone messes with my urine? Why would someone mess with my urine? But It’s just like there. Out in the open. What if someone else’s pee gets in it? Ok, enough over-thinking this. Moving on.
The nurse then escorted me to a room where I waited to go behind a mystery curtain. 20 minutes later, my turn arrives. I’m asked to take off my shirt and then they attached clamps to my breasts and side. Ok, heart check. Sure.
Next task, the nurse takes me to another nurse where I sit down and have the most difficult conversation of my life. This conversation put my Chinese skills to the ultimate test. I was asked to give a full medical history of myself and my family. Questions like “Have you ever taken penicillin?”, “Have you ever experienced a miscarriage?”, “Did you carry your last baby to full term?”, “How old were you when you first received your menstrual cycle?” made my head spin. I nervously typed a way on my cellphone pleco dictionary as the nurse, with an amused expression, patiently waited for the tapping to end. After what seemed like an eternity of questions, the nurse, satisfied to complete my forms/charts gave me a little brown polkadot purse with the hospital’s name on it and said “Here is a little gift for you.”
Onto the next task. The nurse escorted me into door number 7 and gave all my charts to another nurse (let’s call her “Dawn” since I will refer to her later) who examined it extensively, looked perplexed and then asked if I could speak Chinese. “A bit” I replied. With an exasperated tone she basically went full speed ahead and didn’t look back. More questions. And more questions. AND MORE QUESTIONS.
My head continued to spin. “Excuse me what did you say? What color is my what?”(Internal dialogue: What is a “bai dai?” “Bai” is white? Ok. Second word, “dai”? Hmmm string, ribbon…holy crap is she talking about my discharge?!!) I answered, “Um, I don’t know…what color should it be?” “Yellow. It should be yellow.” Ok, good to know. Then she asked me to lay on the bed and take off my pants proceeded to hoist my legs into the air while sticking a cotton swab stick all up in my lady bits and then into a test tube. “Go take this to the lab.”
So there I went. Holding my vagina juices soaked cotton swab test tube all across the hospital while passing a sea of husbands until I finally reached the lab. Handed then my tube and watched as they took my swab, spread its juices all over a petri dish and continued to study it under microscope in front of me. Awkward. By the way, where was my escort nurse lady? She mysteriously disappeared. Time to whip out that green piece of paper of tasks and try to figure this out.
Hmmm what to do. What to do. Ok, this one looks new. “B Chao” I remember that B means ultrasound for whatever reason. Ok where? I see a 3. Ok, got it, district 3! Weird, never had an ultrasound in district 3 before. Got there and picked a number and saw only one person was ahead of me. Sweet! Still waited quite a while. Why does my ultrasound always take 2 minutes and the person if front of me take 15? I dunno. Anyway, lady seemed nice. Almost was tempted to ask if I could look since her demeanor seemed friendly compared to the other sonographers in the past. But felt to tired to do any pleading for peaks today. Just relaxed and let her do her thing. Everything normal. Next.
Took my test back to Dawn. She informed me to collect my blood pressure reading and a printout of my urine test. Ok, I can handle this. Sure. Found the results machine, swiped my hospital card, printed out my urine results, then found the blood pressure machine, stuck my arm in it, waited, got the print out. No human interaction except with robot like machines and went back to Dawn. Was informed my urine was blah blah blah. Ok, don’t know. I think my brain shut off at this point. Alls I could figure out is that my discharge was unhealthy and I was to take some capsules from the pharmacy and stick them up my vajay jay.
Almost at the finish line! Went to pay my pharmacy bill and then received my meds. Informed to wash with chlorhexidine acetate solution daily down there and stick two lacidphilin vaginal capsules up my hoo hoo once a day.
Made a new appointment for December 29th and was told to do one more blood test in three more days. Ugggg. Why so many??? But finally can go home or should I say work. No rest for the weary.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel. I found that light: V.I.P.
When I first registered for the hospital, I was told V.I.P. wasn’t offered until after the 5th month. At this point I just accepted it because I had already registered and didn’t want to take the time to find another hospital. For 5 long months of terrible bedside manner, waiting with the masses for massively long waits I dreamed about V.I.P. Around 5 months, I finally spoke to my doctor. Ok, it’s been 5 months, can I switch to V.I.P. now? She then led me to another nurse who then led me outside. (Where was I going?) We went into a little garden area in the middle of the hospital. Think of the hospital as a large O. And in the middle is the outside garden area with benches. Well off to the side was a little glass house. I entered and saw a beautiful array of floral arrangements and a nice clean office with a smiling staff. “Welcome! What V.I.P. package would you like?”
I first took in my surroundings. Is this the first glimpse of prenatal heaven? Why does the air actually smell fresh? What is happening? Happily, I sat down and looked at the paper she passed to me. It had a couple of packages laid out with different prices. Then to my horror I saw Package A: Weeks 1-16.
What??? There was actually a package for early pregnancy?? I asked the representative about this because I remember being clearly told V.I.P. wasn’t offered until after 5 months pregnant.
“Yes, we do have early pregnancy V.I.P. services. The lady that gave you that information must have assumed you wanted to save money and believed V.I.P. is not too essential in the early months. Most women don’t sign up for the first package but wait to buy the second package which is offered after 16 weeks.”
First of all, the second package still starts earlier than 5 months. And secondly I hate that “assuming” nurse lady that did not believe that my little foreign brain could handle complete information. How about you tell me everything about V.I.P. and let me make an informed decision for myself? Is that so hard? Why??????
Ok, just breathe Vanessa. Yes, sure you suffered for your first 5 months of prenatals. But it’s not the end of the world. It was only 7 appts. Could have been worse. But could have been so much better too.
I signed up for package B which covered the rest of the prenatals. Damage? 3000 rmb. About $500 USD. Well worth it. To keep my sanity.
I’ve had about 3 appointments in the V.I.P. section since. Observations? Bedside manner but improved. Nurses smile and greet me and act like they remember me when I enter the office. No more barking, eye-rolling, speaking caveman Chinese like I’m a retarded. There seems to be a consistent staff of 3 nurses and the same doctor. Out of V.I.P. the doctor kept changing and the nurses were sporadic.
Wait time? Very little of that. If I come early enough, I can be in and out quite quickly. To make appointments, I literally have no wait time and no more scooting my hiney down a long couch/bench for uber amounts of time until it’s my time to book an appt.
The doctor? Patient. Not in a hurry to kick me out. Will use English for certain words if I’m having a hard time understanding. Not like she can speak English in complete sentences but she does know certain medical terms in English which helps because I can fill in the rest.
And there’s other foreigners. I’ve seen 3 so far. Never saw a single one in the main floor of the hospital. But here, I’m not the only one. I don’t feel so alone.
So far, I’m much happier. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still very much in Chinese hospital. Standards compared to the U.S. are low. (Where is my V.I.P. bathroom?) But it’s better. Much better and I’m getting happier with the whole experience.