Baby news? In baby news we are doing great. Our beautiful son decided, quite on his own, to join our family on December 5. He literally broke his own water with a very hefty kick and 12 hours later he was born into this world. He is an amazing snuggle bug, loves to sleep, and at three weeks old still swims in his new born clothes. (Knock on wood) he seems to be a very chill baby. After he gets a bath his hair naturally stands up in a Mohawk . He looks a lot like Sis did when she was born – many of the same facial structures and features. He has beautiful blue eyes (I hope he keeps) and both of his siblings absolutely adore him!
When am I coming home for a visit? I will be home from the middle of June to end of July/early August. JD will have to work, so for a large portion of the duration it will just be the kids and me.
What’s it like giving birth in China compared to the U.S.? Good question. I’ve decided after giving birth in China – I would never recommend it to anyone. JD and I have discussed many a time how we feel that the private hospital where I gave birth is decades behind the U.S. United Family Healthcare is the premiere private hospital in Tianjin (China’s fourth largest city). To give you an idea, only the elite Chinese are able to afford to go there. The cost of labor and delivery is very comparable to the U.S. (we have to pay upfront, each time we use their services and then submit a receipt to insurance for reimbursement). The hospital prides itself on it’s ‘western’ practices. I’m not sure though how many births like mine the hospital experiences. Both Bear and Sis were delivered naturally – and I’ve never had an epidural. So when I told this hospital I wanted a natural birth, more than one nurse and doctor tried to discourage it, asking time and time again whether or not I was sure and if I would sign the consent for an epidural for later on – if I needed one. One of the options for pain medications during labor was laughing gas (which yes, I did end up using – though I’m not sure it made a difference). This was a rather difficult labor as my body was not quite ready to give birth to him (my cervix had not even softened yet when my water broke). So when the going got tough, the doctor and midwife immediately jumped to ‘lets have a C section.’ I on the other hand, just wanted to be left alone, to birth the way that was most natural to me. Things got a little intense and I ended up calling my amazing midwife back in the States, waking her up and having her consult as things were not going as planned. Finally one of the head doctors of the hospital (the doctor I had been seeing for all of my prenatal check ups) walked in and things immediately changed. She told me that I did not look happy and that I could kick out anyone in the room that was not making me happy. Which I did not do, however, it gave me back the power to labor in the positions I wanted, instead of in bed tied to a fetal monitor. Things moved rather quickly from that point on and before I knew it I was holding a beautiful baby boy.
So let me back track and explain a little about births in China. Almost all of the babies delivered in China are via C section (unless someone goes into labor early – and even then I’m sure there is a high probability of being a C section. Due to the fact that there are so many people here, public hospitals do not have the time or the space to let women birth naturally. Therefore to keep women having babies moving, C sections are scheduled and these women and babies are pushed through the system. If you want to have any shot at a natural birth you have to go to a private hospital. I’m also guessing that most Chinese women who give birth at a private hospital probably elect to have an epidural, just from the way I was treated when refusing to sign a consent form to have one.
Recovering at the hospital in Tianjin was also a lot different than recovering from birth in the U.S. It was much nicer! I had a nurse check on me and my baby only a few times a day instead of every two hours (maybe I scared them off during labor)! For the majority of my time I was left alone to enjoy my baby and recover in peace. I had to stay in the hospital three days after giving birth (so as I gave birth on Saturday, I was not allowed to go home until Tuesday). I was ready to go home on Sunday – but didn’t buck the system. So when Tuesday morning came, I think I freaked the nurses out when I requested that the discharge process get rolling. The hospital was not ready for us to be discharged, so my hopeful let us be out of here by 10am turned into a grateful I made it out of there by 1pm. I’ve been told by Fiona that most Chinese women want to stay in the hospital a month after they give birth (no thanks). I’m guessing that as I was at the private hospital, most Chinese women actually stay a bit longer as the hospital makes more money the longer they stay.
Is the air pollution in Beijing as bad as they show on television? Yes, yes, and then some! Smog is nasty, smelly, and disgusting. The air becomes heavy and thick. When it is super bad it becomes hard to breath when you are outside. Unfortunately it is the time of year where we experience it way too much. Just to give you an idea how bad it is, I’m staring out my window and cannot see the buildings a block away. The air quality is so bad that we do not go outside unless we really need to and we try our best to keep our children inside. We do have masks to wear when we do go out – especially if we have to walk somewhere (which we avoid doing during these times). Last time when it rained and it was this smoggy, the rain was a dirty gray-black. The roads looked as though they were covered in grease. (When it was snowing beautiful big snowflakes when we were in Beijing, we would not let the kids catch them on their tongues because it is China and you don’t know what is in the snow).
Smog also shuts down roads. Any major high way is shut down because I guess it is unsafe to drive on really smoggy days. We ran into this problem on Monday as we tried to go to the U.S. embassy to apply for our Newbie’s passport. We had to turn around and come back home as the smog was bad and the roads were closed. There were even two nights this past week that the smog was so bad it was like a white out and you could not even see the buildings next to ours. Needless to say our air purifiers run 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
What seemingly innocent action performed by you or the kids has earned the most stares (besides just being American)? Not wearing enough clothes or what is considered warm enough clothes when it is cold out. I’ve been chided on two different occasions by different Chinese women that I have not been dressed warm enough for the weather. The first time we were waiting for our shipment and the second time I was hot and did not wear a scarf. I got looks today as I walked through IKEA without a coat. Chinese like it warm (think toasty 76 degrees). We on the other hand still have our air conditioners on.
What Chinese custom caught you most off guard? I think the custom that caught us most off guard is the way the Chinese pay no attention to personal space. This goes hand in hand with how they push and shove to get on trains. You can be standing in a checkout line with only one other person behind you and the person behind you gets as close as they possibly can to you. It drives us crazy. You want to be like back off but it just doesn’t happen.
How do you communicate with the local people as you are in the process of learning Chinese? We use a lot of hand gestures, facial expressions and finger pointing. On a day to day basis I interact with our driver and ayi. With our driver, I have been instructed to send him a text in English and he will use an app to translate it to Chinese. We’ve had less confusion this way as before when we were using an app to translate and then send, there was more lost in translation. I tend to try to be clear and use few words when I send him a text. So far everything has worked out well for us.
Our new ayi has worked with Western families for the past 10+ years. She knows some English and she works on communicating with us by speaking what English she knows and speaking Chinese rather slowly to us while moving and pointing to objects she is talking about. She also has a list of common foods (produce and meat) that she keeps in our kitchen. So when she is planning a meal or going to the store, I can show her what we like and she will buy foods that we will eat. Or if I’m looking for something specific I can point out what I want her to buy. Our ayi shops at the Tongu Markets which are where locals buy a lot of their foods. This is wonderful for us as many of the foods are priced better than what you would find in the super markets where we shop.
Any other communication issues we have with anyone, be it driver, ayi, or whomever, we call Fiona. Fiona will then either call or talk to that person on the phone and then translate for us. Fiona has also called and ordered McDonald’s for us (yes they deliver here) as well as set up of phones to be able to have Papa John’s delivered – where we can order in English.
If you wake up and find you are out of something you need, what do you do? I debate how much I really need what I don’t have and then decide from there. A lot of the non perishable basics (toothpaste, diapers, wipes, soap, etc.) we have a huge stock of – this also goes for vitamins and drugs. So usually the only things that we run out of are baking supplies and or food items. At this point I have two options. I can either call Julie and see if I can barrow something or walk across the street to the very overpriced grocery store at the mall and over pay for what I need. If it is something I need for dinner, then I often either decide it is a breakfast night and fix scrambled eggs and wait until I go to the store the next day to pick up what I don’t have. If it is a week day, I can text my driver and have him take me somewhere, this usually takes a little more planning though.
How convenient is it to just go to the market? In all honesty it’s not too bad. I usually go shopping during the week after school drop off in the morning. Most shops do not open until 9, so I often drop off the boys at home with the ayi and have our driver take me to the store. Our new ayi also shops for us too. She will have our driver take her to the Chinese markets and any other store she needs to go to buy what is on her list. I do really miss having the freedom to hop in our own car and drive myself to where I want to go, however I would never want to drive in China. The Chinese have a much different style of driving compared to the West. It can be uncomfortable even cross the street.
How do you shop for food? It depends on which market or store I’m going to for what I need. The Tongu markets are more of a challenge for me. I have only been there once and not as comfortable going there as it is very Chinese. I can pick most items ups at Jusco or Tesco (think the equivalent of Walmart). These places often have a small selection of Western foods, but they also supply the basics such as bread, eggs, milk, etc. If you are really looking for a specific Western food item, such as cheese you go to Times – the Western grocery store (and be prepared to spend an arm and a leg) for whatever you need or have a craving for. We buy most of our meat at the German butcher because it is all imported from Germany (again you pay for it) but we’ve also had some of the best chicken breasts we ever had from here. Oh, yes, we have our water delivered as well as juice and beer. Whenever we are out, we have our ayi order more.
Things here (U.S.) that say made in China are many times cheap. Are things in China cheap — except for exports? JD and I have a saying – things in China are shiny on the outside, crap in the inside. This seems to have proven time and time again for us. China is a society where things are not meant to last. Take houses and residential buildings for example. When we visited back in March we toured the Royal Palace – which is basically a small residential area of town houses and/or individual homes. Just glancing down the street there were a couple of homes torn down and they were working on rebuilding – they were only ten years old. We live in a high rise filled with million dollar apartments. At first glance they look shiny and luxurious, however upon closer look (after living in one for a while) you start to notice how the marble is not completely grouted in the shower. When they have to fix something in a wall or ceiling its not patched to our Western standards. The front elevator has been broken for two months now with no signs of fixing it any time soon. There is a room in the basement of this building full of broken marble and tile that does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon. Nothing is made to last. So if something breaks you throw it out and buy new. I think this is why many exports are much more expensive – because they are required to meet much higher standards and can come under scrutiny by Western consumers!