Permission to Give Birth – Part 2

31 Jan

At my 37 week check up, my doctor told me, “Your water is low. Your hips are wide. I think I am going to see you before your 38th week. You are going to give birth.” We walked out of her office feeling skeptical. This lady was strange  sometimes..

I had a generally good feeling about her when I met her. I felt I could trust her. She was gentle and kind, and at the same time, extremely professional and precise in her moves. My first visits to her office were so positive that I decided to give birth in China instead of going back home.

So why was I doubting her diagnostic now? 

 An American nurse who we had met during prenatal classes told us she didn’t understand why my doctor was saying that.

“Your water level is normal, your baby’s weight is normal. Nothing indicates that you are going to give birth early.”

So when 4 days later, at 11pm my water broke, my first thought went to my doctor. How could she have known? Was she that good? Simply luck?  But no, it couldn’t have been luck. Her smile seemed confident the day she predicted the birth date.

I decided to stay home, do my breathing exercises, relax and try to sleep in my own bed.

We checked in at 6 am. In the admission room, I reminded the nurse that I wanted a “normal check up”. Chinese nurses tend to prefer to measure the opening of the cervix anally. How they can tell the opening this way is still a mystery to me.

The verdict was….1cm. ” In 7 hours? This is going to take forever!!!!!!!”  I tried to hide my disappointment and sleep a little between contractions. Nurses were coming and going quietly. My eyes were shut but I could feel warm hands massaging my lower back along with comforting words in relaxing tones that I couldn’t always understand.

Two hours later, they checked me again .  3 cm. Then one nurse said, “We are going down.” I wanted to ask why. I was comfortable in my room. I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t have the time to say anything before a painful contraction left me with my mouth open. By the time we arrived to the upper floor I was screaming and begging for an epidural.

In the preparation room a nurse checked me. Again. Between 2 screams I dared to ask, “How many centimeters?”

She said “sì” (4 in chinese).

I signed the number four with my fingers, “Four? That’s it?” (I knew I couldn’t have the epidural too soon and wondered how long I was going to endure this pain before I could have some relief.)

“No, not sì (4), shí (10)!!!!” and she pushed me into the delivery room.

I barely had the time to ask myself if I was delirious from the pain or if she just had said  that I went from 3 to 10 cm in less than a hour?

Suddenly I saw someone dressed in blue rushing into the room, It was my husband. I didn’t recognize him. His hair and mouth were covered. I could only see his eyes wide open with excitement (or was it panic?),”The doctor came back 5 minutes after I had signed the papers for the epidural you asked for, he said it’s too late, you are going to give birth NOW.”

Ten minutes later, my baby girl was born.

The umbilical cord was cut within seconds; the baby was handed.. to the nurses.

As I watched my baby being wrapped in a soft fabric and then handed to my husband, I realised I had forgotten to ask for the basic thing: I wanted to hold my baby right away!

I realize now that this was not a typical birth. I am lucky to have delivered so fast without any drugs, have a doctor who listened to my strange/foreign requests in a country were c-sections and formula rules.

You can read about other birth stories in China here.

A few interesting parts:

 Women believe that they will run the risk of fewer complications with a standard surgical procedure than with a natural birth. However, according to the vast majority of medical opinion, a c-section is much more dangerous, with the death rate approximately 3x higher. Chinese women are aware of this, but they still believe that a c-section is safer, because a natural birth can lead to unanticipated complications that the doctor might not be able to handle. Basically, lack of faith in the hospitals and the doctors leads women in Chengdu (and perhaps other parts of China and the world) to choose the known path of surgery over the unknown path of vaginal birth.”

If I am going to have a scar no matter what, said one woman. I would rather have it on my belly than anywhere else.

Also, women believe that they cannot give birth, because Chinese women are naturally more frail and less able to cope with the trauma and pain of childbirth than Western women. 

Other reasons included choosing an auspicious day for the childs birth, the fact that c-section mamas have their own recovery room in the hospital and work. It is not uncommon for Chinese women to visit a fortune-teller and plan their birth around their prediction of what will be best for the child. In China, August 31 and the week before a holiday are big days for c-sections. Any child born after September 1 is technically one year behind in school and women fear that doctors will be unavailable during the holidays.”

Read “Permission to Give Birth-Part 1”

N. at 3 months with the nurse that held her first..

N. at 3 months with my doctor


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.

7 Responses to “Permission to Give Birth – Part 2”

  1. natasha devalia February 1, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story Pasca!
    I love the 4 / 10 story…it’s hilarious, in retrospect at least. And better you thought it was 4 but it was actually 10cm, not the other way around.

    Nice photos with the nurse and Dr. O!!

    • pascalinap February 6, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      Yes, it was funny.. I guess this is my favorite part of the whole story because this would never happen in another country!
      I will never thank you enough for recommending Dr. O! I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same story without her..

  2. Heidi Nevin February 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Pasca, thank you! This is wonderful. I had been waiting with bated breath to hear the rest of your story. And what a glorious one it is! Your daughter was truly ready to meet her world. The 4/10 story really is hilarious–Sichuan hua can be infuriating!

    • pascalinap February 6, 2012 at 9:19 am #

      Thank you Heidi.
      I remember meeting you when Nayla was just a few weeks old, we talked a few minutes about Greece, Tibet and breastfeeding and I immediately knew you would like my story. I wish we could see each other more often..

  3. kfhoke February 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    What a great story, Pascaline! Birth is such a diverse process- not surprising considering it is a deeply intimate experience between two (or more in Natasha’s case) people. I was quite surprised that most of the Chinese women I knew who gave birth while we were in Chengdu had natural births because I had heard the c-section rate was so high. And most the women I know who have given birth in the US have had c-sections! As a woman who has gone through two emergency c-sections, I can’t imagine thinking it would be an easier process- but of course I haven’t had a natural birth. I know many women who feel like the surgery robbed them of something and are very resentful. I occasionally feel those twinges but am mostly happy that my girls and I are all safe and healthy. I am so pleased that you had a positive birth in a country with very different ideas of how things are done.

    • pascalinap February 6, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      There is no doubt c-section have saved a lot of babies and mothers! This procedure is necessary if anything goes wrong or in case of emergency!
      I can’t help but think that here in China most woman choose to go for c-section even though they could have a vaginal birth because they are not well informed by their doctors and sometimes because doctors and hospitals get more money for c-sections.
      I know a chinese woman who was just tired of waiting, so she checked in on her last week of pregnancy and had to wait 2 days in the hospital before she got her appointment because the c-section room was completely full, then she had to stay 7 days for the recovery.. That’s a long time in the hospital for a quick procedure..

  4. Paty Meléndez February 3, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I was eager to hear the second part to your series. What your story confirms to me is that if there is one thing mothers anywhere around the world can relate to is the experience of birth, as varied as our experiences might be. Thank you Pascaline for sharing your very personal experience.

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