China's Second-Child Boom
Apr. 26, 2017
China's one-child policy was lifted last year after 3 decades, prompting many women to seize the opportunity to have a second child.
In 2016, a record 18.5 million births were reported. That's the highest number this century.
But there's concern amid the baby boom. Some women hoping to become mothers again are over the age of 35, and the health risks they face are greater.
Xu Lianwen is now 36. She was born shortly after the one-child policy was implemented in 1979. Xu had a second daughter 10 years after her first.
She was both excited and nervous about having another child.
"Even now, it's a strange feeling to think I have another child. When I was a kid, almost every child I knew was also an only child. I played with the other kids from the neighborhood. I don't really know what it's like to have siblings and play with them," she says.
Xu's first daughter, Xi Ruiyan, is in grade 4. Nobody else in her class has a new sibling yet.
"I want to play with my sister. I have a neighbor who's 10 years older than me. She's really nice, and I want to be like her for my sister," she says.
"Almost everyone around us is a one-child family. Until last year, if you were a family that had 2 kids, it was a big source of guilt. The kids would have a hard time at school. Now that the policy has been dropped, we can tell people we have 2 kids without being embarrassed," says Xu's husband.
But the rise in second births has left some women feeling out of their depth. Some older women use an online message board to discuss their hopes of having a second child.
"I was born in 1974 and am 43. When I got pregnant 4 years ago, I had an abortion because of the law. I've been trying for another baby for 4 months but no luck. I'm losing confidence."
"I'm the same. I want a baby but can't get pregnant."
"Hang in there. I'm 44 but I'm in my fifth week of pregnancy," say some of the messages.
Medical professionals worry about the women's health and developmental issues for the unborn baby.
"Many complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and lipid metabolism disorder all become more likely during older pregnancies. That, in turn, means more risks during delivery," says a doctor.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission calculates that around 90 million couples could have a second child. Half of these women are 40 or older.
The first half of 2016 already showed a 30.6% rise in maternal deaths compared to the previous year. The government is formulating a response.
In Shanghai, obstetrics units are adding more beds and deploying more infant intensive care ambulances.
Local laws have been revised so that mothers can take longer maternity leave. The central government has set 98 days, but Shanghai has added another 30 on top of that.
The month of postnatal care has become more important than ever. In Shanghai, an increasing number of women are spending that month in special facilities rather than at home. The city has around 90 such facilities.
A whole floor of a central Shanghai hotel has become a postpartum care center.
Yu Meici is 42.She beat the odds to have a second child 20 years after her first. After a difficult 30-hour labor, she had a boy.
"My first child was a natural birth, so I wanted to do the same this time. But, I didn't have the strength. I had a caesarian, and it was pretty tough," she says.
Yu gets checked by her doctor twice a day.
"When she arrived here at the center, she was suffering from severe anemia. She was very pale. Her eyes were sunken. And she needed the support of someone to walk. She was experiencing a difficult delivery because her womb was functioning abnormally and she had lost a lot of blood. So, a caesarian was performed," says the doctor.
Yu says she feels much better, but she's sometimes unable to produce breast milk. The glands can also be affected by age, so it's necessary to get regular massages.
"The glands are blocked here. I need to massage the problem. That should make the milk flow better. Otherwise she'll get lumps," says a nurse.
Yu says that the birth really reminded her of her age. But it made her even more determined to do everything she could for her baby.
"I'm so happy to have a healthy baby, despite my age. Not everyone can have a baby when they want one. Just wanting one isn't enough," she says.
Many people long for a second child, whatever their age.
The Chinese government predicts an extra 4 million babies will be born every year until 2020.