Things are a tad different in this country regarding birth and babies. For starters, most urban women deliver by Cesarean section because “it avoids the pain of childbirth.” I speak from experience when I say with some certainty that it might accomplish that objective but the recovery pain from surgery is longer lasting. In Canada, after a baby is delivered, the goal is to get the mother on her feet and out of the hospital asap. Not so here. Women are encouraged to rest in the hospital for 5 days, then head home where they begin “the best time of their lives,” not because they will be home with their newborn but because they get a solid month off! A new mother is expected to rest and to be waited on for an entire month, not even venturing out of the apartment in case she catches a cold or worse. Who cares for the baby? Judging from our neighbours , the woman’s parents move into the home (or come in every morning) and are joined by the husband’s parents in the evening; all 4 of them stay for dinner and then fuss, feed and fret over the baby. An ayi might also be hired–usually a young girl who will get up with baby at night so that mom can rest. Our friend David and his wife recently had a baby and it is much the same: her parents have moved in but he gets up for the nightly feedings. Which might make the next point obvious.
Breast-feeding seems not to be done here. I asked Tina about it once. She didn’t really understand the question because she answered that she “sometimes” does it. Again, speaking from experience, it is not possible to breast-feed “sometimes.” You either are or you are not. Biology does not allow it as an occasional experience.
After David’s baby was born, our students told me that his wife had the baby on June 1st. I was surprised that it was exactly that day since David had given me a range of dates and I know that first babies are often late. The kids scoffed at my surprise and said, “Of course, it was scheduled.” Right. So then I asked a few questions and discovered their monumental lack of knowledge. When I asked if most women had babies scheduled, one boy answered, “Of course, how else?” So I told them that most women in the world delivered babies naturally and that in the west, a lot of women and doctors do opt for C sections but very many women choose natural delivery and many of those choose to have their babies at home. The horror! I thought it best not to explain natural delivery right then as there are a few things they need to know before that, such as how the baby gets in the womb! I also asked about breast-feeding and it became fairly clear that a good number had no idea that breasts perform this function. No, they insisted, no one does that here. I have since been told by our teachers that the kids grilled them later about whether breast milk was better than formula, as I had offered as the opinion of science, and were in disbelief that that could possibly be true! Obviously, they teach a slightly different curriculum in this part of the world.
So next week, we are going to teach some facts of life to our kids as part of Planning 10. In BC, kids learn about reproduction starting in grade 7. In grade 10, the kids are well past the basics and the lessons are about STDs, safe sex and birth control. We are going back a bit to cover first things first. I will take the girls and the two male teachers will talk with the boys. Should be interesting.
After 3 months of maternity leave, women go back to work and the grandparents become full-time care-givers. This role seems to be coveted by some–there are doting grandparents everywhere–but it is also a duty and expected. I’ve written about this cultural expectation previously. It is an answer to universal child care but certainly defines the “golden years” in a way that we might find hard. Say good-bye to the golf course, grandma!
In an effort to maintain discipline, boys and girls on campus are not allowed to have girl and boy friends as it interferes with their studies. This is probably a good policy as the kids live in co-ed dorms that appear to be loosely policed, and while they may not have all the facts, they will certainly have the desires of young people everywhere. Nation-wide, the official attitude towards sex is clearly that it should occur within the bounds of marriage. There are penalties and stigma attached to having children out of wedlock. In one province, the fine for having a child this way is up to 3 times the woman’s annual salary! We have heard that citizenship is sometimes withheld from the child, but we have not had that confirmed. Condoms are on display in convenience shops everywhere, so once married, sex is okay, but keep the one-child policy in mind. Again, not a bad policy for a country with a huge population.
On another note, I violated my personal policy of choosing unpackaged products and purchased a tube of mascara. It came in a velvet bag, inside a tin which was wrapped with hard paper. Y135 or $22–way more than I ever pay at home (thank-you, Avon). I was desperate, what can I say? Cosmetics are expensive in China, especially quality skin care products. Whitening products are very popular and American drug store brands like L’Oreal and Olay have moved in to the market in a big way.
We are getting ready to come home and actually packed a bag today. We are excited and looking forward to friends, family and good times. I think I may rouse Geoff to head downtown to our outdoor bar for a cold beer in preparation for the patio!