Middle Kingdom Adventures: The Miracle of Life

Creative Commons photo by C.K. Koay, via Flickr

My past week in China can be summed up with a single line from a Justin Bieber song: “Baby, baby, baby oooh.” I started my internship at Shanghai United Hospital last Monday, rotating first through the OB/GYN department.

Shanghai United Hospital (SHU) is the only hospital in Shanghai where all the doctors speak English. Because SHU is a private hospital, not a teaching hospital, I was initially hesitant about what kind of experience I would have where there are no interns or residents. But to my surprise, the past five days were as educational as any clinical experience I have had.

SHU’s OB/GYN department is one of the busiest in the hospital, with doctors seeing between 15-20 patients a day. For the past week, I shadowed an OB/GYN named MK as she saw patients in the clinic and delivered babies. MK has a larger-than-life personality, making her one of the most loved and feared doctors in the hospital (think Miranda Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy). She has been a midwife for forty years, and once delivered ten babies in one day. Having spent eighteen years working in the Bronx, her relationship with her patients fuses together Western and Eastern traditions. At SHU, the majority of the patients are Chinese, but we also see a fair amount of expat patients from Germany, France, the UK and the US. MK is more than just a doctor; she’s a trusted confidant, dispensing marriage advice and calming nerves. For example, while doctors in China often push their pregnant patients to have caesarean sections for economic reasons, MK gives women the confidence they need to attempt a natural birth if they’re fit for it. Through her, I’ve learned to appreciate  the truly natural elements of pregnancy.

There are also some cultural differences that I have find notable in my time here. Doctors are not legally allowed to disclose the sex of babies here (whether disclosure happens under the table is another story). In public hospitals, a woman has to have to reserve a space nine months in advance before her due date. With health care policy changing daily all around the world, it is fascinating to see the cultural distinctions that can change major elements of policy as well as the social environment surrounding something as intimate as birth.

Of course, the real highlight of my week has been in the delivery room. Over the past five days, I have witnessed seven women give birth — two via caesarean section, and five natural (including one woman who delivered without any pain relief). Being there to witness the first moment a mother sees her baby is truly indescribable. It is these moments I most look forward to as I begin my journey as a medical student in September.

Yuying Luo ’12 (yuying@post.harvard.edu) is in deep admiration of mothers everywhere. She is on the Alexander G. Booth ’30 Fellowship this summer in Beijing and Shanghai.