Permission to Give Birth – part 1

25 Jan

The first thing a Chinese woman has to do when she discovers she’s pregnant is to get a “Permission to Give Birth” documentTo get it she has to apply for it – in a bureau and she has to take her marriage certificate. It is illegal for a nonmarried couple to have a baby. If she doesn’t get the permission to give birth, she can’t deliver in a hospital. This also means  that her child won’t be able to have identity papers, go to school, work, travel, or even live in another city.He will be marginalized; socially unaccepted. 

When I found out I was pregnant, I was extremely happy. I rushed to see my very close friend and neighbor to share my excitement.  The second thing was to see a doctor,who could confirm the pregnancy with a blood test.

The first question my Chinese doctor asked was, Do you want to keep this baby?” I said, “Of course.”

The only other questions she asked were the father’s name, my date of birth, and after a quick calculation, she asked me to come back in 2 weeks for the first ultrasound.

In the meantime she asked me to do the following:

– Not to use my computer

– Not to use my cell phone

Not to eat raw food

– To watch as little TV as necessary

– To drink fortified milk powder every day

– To stay away from cats and dogs

– To eat a lot of fruit

– To eat a lot of meat

Since my pregnancy was going well my doctor decided not to overdo it with excessive blood and urine tests, just the regular ultrasound  schedule.

As foreigners, we were allowed to know the gender of our child. Because of China’s one child policy, doctors are not allowed to reveal the gender of a foetus while it is still in the womb, but this is slowly changing in the cities because some doctors consider they are not dealing with farmers anymore who would get rid of the baby if it’s a girl. If the doctors are caught they can have their practice removed and face very high fines.

At our first 3D ultrasound, the nurse asked us if we wanted a DVD of the scans. We were excited. We said yes. She then informed us that they had a viewing roomwhere all our friends and family could watch the DVD’s of each ultrasound. That was a bit extreme, so we said no. But the truth is that when we got the videos, we sent them to our families by email.

At the second ultrasound, the same nurse screamed, “Aiiiiiiiiiiii, so cute! But look at the HUGE nose!!”

I didn’t understand, the nose looked normal. Even tiny. But then I was the mother after all.

Was my baby a monster?

They see babies every day. They must know better than me. Then she called another nurse who was walking by and told her, laughing,Look, look at this baby’s nose!

A very close Chinese friend who was present, noticed that I was on the verge of crying. She sweetly said,Don’t worry. We Chinese have very flat noses, so for us this is a big nose. But we consider big noses are good. To have a bump on your nose is even considered good luck.”

It made me feel a tiny bit better.

But it was the same story at every single ultrasound over the following 5 months.

Scan. “Heart ok”.

Scan scan. Brain ok”

Scan scan scan. ” Ooooooh look, look, look. A big nose. There’s laughing, calling out to the other nurses, and pointing at the baby’s nose.

At my 7 month check up, I requested a private appointment with the doctor to discuss my birth plan. I was a bit afraid of the cultural differences and wanted to talk about the  Chinese procedures. I asked for it because the visits to the doctor here are always made with an open door. Anyone can come in, ask a question, sit and stare at you until you are done. She simply said “no need for a private appointment” and closed the door. For the first time I saw her relax.

Shput down her pen, and with a smile said: “So what do you want to discuss?”

MeCan my husband be present at the birth?

Doctor: Usually family members are not allowed in because in China, hundreds of people would crowd into the room. I think it’s in the mother’s best interest to be able to focus. But if your husband manages to stay calm, he can be present.

Me: Unless there is a medical problem, I want to have a natural birth.

Doctor: Fantastic we encourage that! Currently at ourhospital we have only 40% rate of natural birth.The management has asked us to increase this number.

Me: If possible, I don’t want any drugs.

The doctor smiles: Ok, I will give them to you only if you ask.

Me: I want my baby with me at all times and I’mplanning to breastfeed exclusively. I don’t want anyone to give water or formula to my baby.

Doctor: your baby will be with you all the time. Nobody else will feed her unless there is a medical problem.

I am amazed. So far she says exactly what I want to hear.

Me: Can you wait until the umbilical cord stops pulsating before you cut it? In Europe we believe that it reduces the risk of jaundice.

 Doctor (suddenly more serious)We believe the opposite. The more you allow the baby to take blood from the placenta once it’s born, the more problems you have.

 MeBut can you please leave it if we ask you to?

Doctor: I’m sorry. I can’t do that. This is a medical issue. I am responsible for the delivery.

Then she asked “What do you want to do with the placenta?” I was caught off guard.

“What do you mean?”

Well, in China, some people want to take it home,she said, almost whispering.

That’s when I remembered someone had mentioned to me that some people here cook the placenta and eat it. Apparently it is extremely good for you.

No, no I don’t want it. I said in disgust.

Well you can rest assured, in this hospital we destroy it after birth.


For a second there, I had a doubt. This is country where  black markets are bigger than legal markets. I had to focus on answering the next question in order to forget the image of people sitting around a table eating my placenta.

Pascaline is greek, she lives in China since 2008 with her french/lebanese husband I. In 2011 she gave birth to N. at Angels hospital in Chengdu. This is the first part of the series “Permission to give birth”.

7 Responses to “Permission to Give Birth – part 1”

  1. heidinevin January 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    This is a fascinating post, thank you so much. Never having had the nerve to give birth in China myself, I’m so interested to hear how it went for you. Did this post get cut off? How did you resolve the cord-cutting issue? How was the delivery? I’d love to hear more. What a traumatizing experience to have everyone laughing at your baby’s nose in the ultrasound–I can’t even imagine. Ultrasounds are such a very sensitive experience, and to have such outspoken commentary is just awful!
    The subject of the placenta, for which I have great reverence, is also a fascinating one. I’m happy to say that I ate both of my children’s placentas (!) in the form of a delicious stew that my dear father lovingly prepared for me in the first hours after their births. I ate it for lunch every day for five days after each of my births, and I truly believe the vital nutrients, blood and energy that I reabsorbed from the placentas (which are beautiful, incredible organs) did wonders to balance my hormones, establish my breastmilk supply, stave off postpartum depression, and restore my vitality in the early postpartum period. When I mentioned this to my Chinese ayi (nanny), I experected her to be horrified (as much of my extended family was). I was amazed at her completely casual raction–“Yes, many Chinese mothers eat their placentas. It’s considered very important for the mother’s health.” Which of course it is, as all other mammals know (cows, cats, dogs, they all gobble it right up). Being a long-time vegetarian, it was important for replenishing my blood supply. Placentas are considered the only meat that comes from life, not from death. Other women who may not fancy eating their placentas as meat dehydrate them and consume them in capsules. And other women choose to bury the placenta beneath the roots of a young tree in honor of the new life they have brought forth. Regardless, I would hope that we can overcome feelings of “disgust” towards the sacred placenta which nourishes our babies so perfectly in utero.

    Do tell us more–I’m still wondering if perhaps the post got cut off before the end?

    • heidinevin January 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      My apologies for the typos–I have a lot of difficulty typing in these reply boxes, as the lines and words jump in and out of view in such a frustrating way! xo

  2. pascalinap January 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Thank you Heidi.
    I have difficulties accessing the editing page that’s why the story appears to be cut off, but there is a part two (the birth), I will post it next week.
    I thought my baby was the only one to be called “big nose” but when I read catherine’s post a few weeks ago (white ghosts), I understood that it’s a common thing for foreigners to be called that way and even if it’s a 22 week foetus!

    I didn’t know all this about the placenta, thank you for sharing. I still have a hard time with the idea of eating something that comes out of my body. I know that in ayurvedic medicine they advise you to drink a glass of your urine first thing in the morning. As much as I am a fan of the “all natural” stuff, there are a few things I can’t seem to be able to do yet.

    • heidinevin January 26, 2012 at 6:08 am #

      Haha, I understand! I actually tried the whole urine therapy thing once…it’s really gross!!! I never got brave enough to drink a whole cup–an eye-dropper full was all I could handle. Yuck! And my dad would be the first to say how glad he is that I’m done having kids, because preparing the placenta stew was not his favorite job in the world! We have since learned that if the placenta is steamed for 20 minutes prior to cutting for stew, it is much easier. FYI! Haha, this is such a great subject… 🙂
      I’m so excited to read your Part 2 next week.

  3. Kathryn Leung May 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi, thank you for sharing your story… I’m also a foreigner looking to give birth here in China as my husband (also a foreigner) is working here (we’re both living here for now). Was it difficult for you to get together the necessary paper to give birth?

    Thank you very much! 🙂

    • pascalinap May 31, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

      Hi Kathryn,
      As a foreigner, you don’t need any paper to give birth.
      You can go to the hospital or private clinic of your choice and even choose your doctor if you wish.
      You just tell your name and age and they open a file with your information, they will follow your pregnancy and write down all the test results. if you had prenatal tests abroad, they will do them again here just to double check everything is ok, and that’s pretty much all you’ll need!
      Just so you know, some hospitals have english speaking doctors, other provide translators, I would advise you to take the time to choose the hospital/clinic that suits you. Make a birth plan or a list of questions and talk about it with your doctor, customs and habits differ from country to country, make sure your doctor understands what you want and writes it in your file.
      Good luck!


  1. Permission to Give Birth- Part 2 « Multicultural Mothering - January 31, 2012

    […] Read “Permission to Give Birth-Part 1″ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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