Pregnancy and Chinese hospitals: Qingdao

26 Aug

When we first found out that we were pregnant, obviously we were ecstatic! But later, the reality of finding doctors in China set in. What does that look like? How do things work? What the heck do we do? How in the world will we communicate? Thankfully, like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had several friends who had already had babies in China, so they had some ideas of how to help me out.

Trent and I didn’t want to take any time off of work to visit the doctor, and for that reason, we chose a smaller clinic that is a branch of the big International Women and Infant’s Hospital in Qingdao. Both clinics are open on Saturdays, but it was anticipated that this one would be far less busy. I’d heard horror stories of people spending all day waiting at the International Clinic (because it is first-come, first-serve- they don’t really do appointments). Time is very valuable to us, especially with the job we were working at QISS… it kept us BUSY!!!

China is also different than the states in that you can go in right away, as soon as you think you might be pregnant; whereas in the States, they usually have you wait until 10 -12 weeks. I had conferred with my bestie, Catherine, who had Elijah here in Qingdao just over a year ago, and she suggested going to the doctor at 6 weeks. That is when you can first detect a heartbeat. Cat, her husband Justin, baby Eli and Catherine’s mom all met us at the clinic so we would know what to do, where to go and also to offer moral support.

That first Saturday morning Trent and I headed for Qingdao Congamarie Women’s Hospital (Marie Yi Yuan).


Most of our

Most of our “Cheering Squad” (all but Justin)

Cat and the gang were already there by the time we got there and she had already filled out most of my information for the nurses. I finished up a few small details, and they walked me up to a counter and I paid 20 yuan for the hospital card ($3). Then they had me do a urine test, which brings me to the topic of cleanliness at hospitals in China. Already you have to use a squatty potty (which makes things difficult, gross and smelly), and they don’t give you gloves or anything else while you’re peeing in this tiny, flimsy plastic cup with a sad excuse for a handle. Then, after you pee, there’s no soap to wash your hands, and you still have to carry the cup all the way back to the desk, hoping not to slosh anywhere. I was NOT impressed by the bathrooms in the hospital. (There’s also no TP… seriously, at a hospital???)

After that, we were taken into another room with what I think was the doctor and a nurse. Neither one of them spoke English, although the nurse had a bit more than the doctor did. We explained that we wanted to have an ultrasound, but not a blood test, since I already knew I was pregnant, and obviously, if for some reason I wasn’t anymore, the ultrasound would also show the same thing. One thing that always seems to happen in China is that they make up rules that don’t really make any logical sense and then they refuse to break them. So they were very confused when I made this request. Essentially the translated conversation (via our iphones) went like this:

Me- “I only want an ultrasound”
Them- “You have to have blood work too”
Me- “But I only want an ultrasound, not the blood work.”
Them- “But you HAVE to do them together.”
Me- “But why? I already know that I’m pregnant. I just want the ultrasound.”
Them- “No, they can ONLY be done together.”
Me- “Why???”
Them- “We can’t do the ultrasound by itself. Take the blood test.”

Eventually I got tired of arguing and decided just to do the dang blood test even though one is clearly not contingent on the other. They had me sit on a stool while the blood technician took a few vials of blood (without using gloves by the way!). But after it was done, I would have to wait for 2 hours for the results. Also, where you gave blood was just a few feet away from where people were bringing their urine samples back… aren’t they worried about cross-contamination???

Then they took me back to the front to pay for my ultrasound. All the while they are just leading us around and we have no clue where they are taking us… nor did we really have any idea what we were paying for. Once we’d paid, they brought me back to a room where they instructed me to take off my pants (at 6 weeks, they do the ultrasound trans-vaginally) and lay down on the bed (this took a bit of miming for me to understand exactly what the heck they wanted me to do). They wouldn’t let Trent come in the room at all, and they wouldn’t let me see the screen. Thankfully, Trent was right outside the (open) door and was able to listen as we heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. This made the visit entirely worth it! Now… what to do for an hour and a half while we wait for the blood work?

One of the best parts of going to this hospital was the fact that across the street was Wanda Plaza, a big mall, so we decided to take an early lunch and we ate at this amazing Indian restaurant! It was so good. I have no idea what it is called, but we had all sorts of delicious food! We spent a while there, knowing that we still had time to kill. Eventually we wandered back down the road to the hospital. They gave me my blood results and then brought me back to the doctor and nurse.

The test did indeed show that I was pregnant (duh), but it was the source of much consternation later on. The results showed levels for Estrogen, progesterone, and HcG- the three major hormones in pregnancy. All of them seemed normal, except for my HcG which was abnormally high. Instead of picking on that number, they decided that my progesterone was too low and not only would I have to take medicine, but I would have to come back the following Saturday for ANOTHER blood test. Now I know that in the States blood work is not cheap… not so much in China either. Whereas I only paid 100 Yuan for my ultrasound (like 17 USD), I paid nearly 350 Yuan for the blood (about 60 USD). The entire time we were communicating, it was through Google translate, so that made it even more difficult. Eventually I bought the dang medicine, although I wasn’t certain I was going to take it, at least not before I had done more research.

Finally, after most of our afternoon was spent, our first visit was done. On the way home, I meticulously searched for what normal levels of Progesterone should be for 6 weeks pregnant. Every chart I found said that I was well within the “normal” range. So I decided that I would talk to my Ob GYN back home and ask his opinion. You can read all about my decision and the weeks that followed in the post {Pregnancy} Walking by Faith. Anyways, after doing some natural things to try and boost my progesterone, I went back the following weekend.

Trent and I did another round of blood work with basically the same results. My estrogen and HcG had both doubled (now my HcG levels were WAY off the charts) but my progesterone stayed the same. This time I had no “cheering squad” with me, just Trent. So when the ladies asked if I had been taking the medication, and I told them no, they scolded me in all sorts of Chinese. They told me to take the medicine this time and come back AGAIN the following week to compare levels. Now it should also be noted that each time I went to the hospital it was around noon, and progesterone can fluctuate during the day, so who knows how accurate the results were anyways.

After all was said and done, Trent and I decided not to go back until 10 weeks, at which point we would request another ultrasound (NO MORE BLOOD!).

The next time we went back it was just the two of us. We accidentally forgot the book that they usually give you for your medical records (they literally glue things in the book and write notes in it… but all in Chinese). By the time we realized it, we didn’t have time to turn back around to go get it. In China, when you have to take taxis everywhere, there is no “going back.” The hospital is already across town and it takes us nearly 40 minutes to get there. Going back would have entailed us trying to explain to the taxi driver that our destination had changed and we needed to go back to our apartment, after which we would have had to walk the quarter mile back down to the main street to try to flag another cab, just to begin the entire trip over again. It would have added an hour or two easily to our day. Anyways, when we walked in, they wanted to know where my book was. I had already prepared my translations in the cab so that when I went there, I flashed them the screen shots I had taken of “I left my book at home, sorry.” And “I am 10 weeks pregnant; I’d like to have an ultrasound.” I also flashed “I don’t want any blood work” just in the hopes that maybe this time they wouldn’t press for it so much.

They brought me in a different room this time with two different doctors and nurses. I think it was by God’s grace that we forgot the book- they simply started a new one and didn’t even argue about the blood work- maybe since I was already 10 weeks along, it didn’t matter so much. They led me around again, bringing me to pay first, then to get my official fapiao (receipt) and then finally to the exam room. Again, Trent wasn’t allowed in, but this time they just did the ultrasound on my stomach. I still didn’t get to see anything, but the picture looked like a baby (a very little one, but a baby nonetheless), and they didn’t seem to find anything else wrong. We brought the print out back to the doctor and nurses and they looked at it and told us everything was hěn hǎo and that there was only yiguo (one) baby (we wondered if we might have twins since my HcG was so high). That was the only Chinese we understood anyways.

After the ultrasound, we went back to Wanda Plaza for some more yummy Indian food- we were not disappointed! Then we wandered around the mall a bit. We ran into Baymax (Big Hero 6) while we were there and of course, Trent had to give him a fist bump (blu-ba-luba-luba-lu).


Our overall impressions of this hospital:

Less expensive
It was super hard to communicate
Not very clean
Not foreigner friendly (unless you speak fluent Chinese)
Friendly staff
A bit frustrating, not knowing what we were paying for or even what tests they wanted to run
It was more traditional and followed Chinese laws more closely. It was disappointing that they wouldn’t let Trent in the room during the ultrasounds and that they wouldn’t let me see what was going on either.

The next time we went to the hospital should have been at 14 weeks, but we decided to hold off until 15 ½ weeks, in the hopes that we might be able to find out the sex of our baby. The odds of us finding out the sex of our baby at Congamarie hospital were not very good, but some friends had found out the sex of their babies at the Qingdao Women and Infant’s Hospital. Apparently they still won’t tell Chinese women (or men) the sex of their babies (because it is against the law), but are more lax with foreigners. So we opted for a switch this time around.


We went again on a Saturday, this time even further across town (all the way by the pier), and thankfully were greeted by an English speaking nurse, who helped me get set up with a new hospital card (thankfully they are cheap!) and listened as I told her that we were hoping for an ultrasound and if possible, to find out the sex of our baby. She took my blood pressure and weight and then brought me back to the doctor. Thankfully the English speaking doctor was there that day (I guess she’s not always there). They asked us a bunch of questions about ourselves and whether we wanted a boy or a girl… I think they were trying to feel us out. After it became clear to them that we really didn’t care either way, we just were excited to know, they told us that they would “try” to see the baby’s sex. I had to do blood work again… but this time it was for a different test… who knows what for. I tried to tell them that I had already done blood work, but they said that this time they were looking for different things.

They took me behind a curtain, and let Trent come along, to hear the baby’s heartbeat using the fetal heartbeat monitor. Then they brought me, much like the other hospital, here and there and everywhere to pay and get the fapiao and then to have the ultrasound done. We paid a LOT more at this clinic (like over 1000 Yuan), but this clinic had a much nicer facility. When it was my turn, they let Trent in the room, although there was a curtain separating us. At the foot of the bed, hung on the wall, was a big screen TV where both of us could clearly see what they were doing on the ultrasound. It was the first time we’d seen our baby move around! It was pretty overwhelming seeing our baby, really, for the first time. After the technician was finished, she informed us that she couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, that it was still too early and the genitalia wasn’t obvious yet. We knew that this was a possibility, since usually the earliest it can be detected is 16 weeks. But our baby shower was that Wednesday so we were hoping to possibly do a “Gender Reveal” at the same time, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The doctor told me to come back at 20 weeks, but after we explained that we wouldn’t be in China anymore (which even with English speaking doctors was hard to get across), she said that we could come back at 18 weeks, right before we left Qingdao. She told me that I would have to do ANOTHER blood test the next time (for something different again) and that I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink before my next appointment.

We left with a much better impression of this hospital. It still wasn’t the cleanest- they still took my blood without using gloves (don’t they know that it protects THEM?!?), and the bathrooms still didn’t have any soap or TP… (c’mon… soap?), but overall, we felt better about our experience there… at least we could communicate and knew what was going on!

I actually ended up going to the hospital again at 17 weeks, by myself, because I had a round of diarrhea that lasted nearly a week. I was afraid it was a bacterial infection, so I thought I had better get it checked out. You can read all about that embarrassing experience in my ‘“Bumpdates:” weeks 14-18’ blog post.

Our last visit while we were in China came at 18.5 weeks, 3 days before we left China for good. We returned to the same hospital, this time early in the morning. Even though we only arrived a few minutes after they had opened, they were already busy and we had to wait much longer than the last time. I was starving and super thirsty and I couldn’t wait for them to take my blood so that I could eat or drink something! Thankfully I only had to wait about 20 minutes or so before they got the blood work going. This time they were checking for nutrient deficiencies, I think. Anyways, they drew the blood (again, without gloves) and then brought me to the waiting area for the ultrasounds. My nurse (a different one than the last time) whispered to the technician about us wanting to know the sex of the baby and then we waited our turn. When it finally came, Trent and I again got to watch the entire ultrasound on the big screen (and Trent video recorded it on his phone). This is when we found out that we were having a BOY!!! We were so happy by the time we left, we were on cloud nine.

We left for breakfast (this hospital doesn’t have any good Indian food… just a Burger King down the road). But we realized that we had forgotten one important thing: Chinese airlines require an official, stamped document that permits you to fly when you’re pregnant. It seems kind of ridiculous, but it was necessary, so we had to go back. When we left the mall we were in, we walked out into the Chinese version of “Drum Line” except with a much older crowd. You can always find random things like this in China… people dancing to choreographed songs along the road or outside of businesses, Chinese dragons and masked actors on the street, or a Chinese drum line. Thankfully when we got back to the hospital, the nurse had our document prepared in just over an hour and then we were ready to go!


Overall impressions of this hospital:

More expensive
Much more foreigner friendly
Still dirty in the most basic ways (no soap, gloves, etc.)
I had to poop in the tiniest, flimsiest cup ever and then carry it through the “walk of shame” down a floor and all the way back to the counter (which again, was right by where they draw blood…)
English speaking nurses (Hallelujah!)
Overall, a much more comfortable experience

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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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