Recently overheard in the Heath household:
“Honey? I need you to get me some envelopes.”
“And why do you need envelopes my dear?”
“To hold the money for bribing the doctors and nurses at the hospital…”
Before we can begin to discuss the always fascinating, occasionally shocking adventure that is becoming a mother in China, we must understand a bit of the larger picture.
Maxims of Modern China:
- China does not want any more citizens. Achieving 0% population growth would be a historic, transcendental achievement.
- China desperately wants to become a super power. The Human Development Index – particularly quality of medical services, and especially infant mortality – is a key measure of a nation’s development.
- Construction is a spectacularly corrupt sector of the Chinese economy, and hospitals are much more troublesome to build (and harder to abandon) than roads, railroads, stadiums, and apartment blocks.
- Medical care remains strikingly inexpensive (for the most part) due to the simple fact that the vast majority of the population has no real insurance and little savings. Doctors and nurses have relatively low incomes, at least on paper.
Now throw those four maxims in a hot pot and simmer. The result?
China doesn’t want you to have a baby, but if you are foolish enough to get pregnant they’re (grudgingly) gonna see that you get the minimum amount of no-frills care necessary to deliver successfully.
Despite the low birthrate, the hospitals are perpetually overflowing with expectant mothers because the government receives yachtloads of illicit income building pretty much everything except hospitals.
Want your own hospital suite post-delivery? Buy a plane ticket to America, honey! But if your envelope has enough “padding” I can arrange for a “private room” with only 2 or 3 other women in it. Oh, and if you deliver naturally you’re going to get an episiotomy because it speeds up the process. Oh? Don’t want one? Well then let’s book you for a C-section. It’s much more convenient for our staff and we can bill you 4 or 5 times the normal rate – a nice plus!
Is it always like this?
In Shanghai and Beijing there are foreign doctors happy to deliver your child for a foreign price. But these are exceptions. One would never offer NYC or L.A. as indicative of “regular America”, thus we must not gaze too longingly towards Beijing and Shanghai.
Is it usually like this?
The system here – Capitalism with Chinese Refinements – is wonderfully simple: everything, absolutely everything, is for sale. It’s simply a matter of a) can you afford it? and b) can you get the cash into the right hand(s)?
The hospital at which my darling wife will deliver our child is the very best in Shenyang, and yet it has no post-childbirth beds. The hospital is full.
And yet, as a nurse kindly pointed out during my wife’s Tuesday check-up, for $100 to $350 per night we might be able to find you space in one of our suites!
Always “might”, as it leaves room for covering one’s ass should some ugliness come to light, or a deal fall through.
The child is due on May 7th, and so we prepare.
The baby clothes are neatly folded…
The infant car seat is ready and waiting…
The apartment is spotless…
The crib stands vacant…
The hospital travel bag is packed…
…and our envelopes are stuffed with cash.