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Understanding Family Dynamics in China as a Midwife

Experiences of a Dutch Lactation Consultant/Midwife in China

I learned a lot during the first years that I worked within the local medical system. Last time I wrote about some of the Chinese Customs Surrounding Childbirth. What else did I learn?

Family dynamics. Role of mother (-in-law). As a Dutch midwife, I went to the homes in the villages of the recently delivered mom, talked to her, did the necessary examinations, and as usual I explained her my findings and gave advice. Seemed logical to me, but I soon found out that the one mistake I made in those early days was to focus my attention on the expecting or new mother when giving advice or teaching. Little did I know of the huge influence that the mother (-in-law) has on the running of the home. It isn’t the new mother or her spouse who decides what does or doesn’t happen. No, it’s the mother(-in-law)! What made things even more complicated was that both grandmothers didn’t always agree. If I wanted to help this mom, I had to involve the grandparents as well: teach, show, and explain them the importance of and reasons behind certain things.

Role of the father. I didn’t only need to reach the grand parents, I also wanted to get the dads more involved. The traditional thinking here in the countryside is: “Women run the family and the home, husbands are responsible for the things outside the home”. Never mind the fact that most women work these days and contribute to the family income. After the women get home from work, they are still responsible for cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, taking care of the children, whilst the men put their feet up. Likewise, “birthing” is a women’s thing and men don’t get too much involved. Inviting the men for antenatal classes was a challenge at first. In recent years I have noticed though that men are more willing to participate.

To be continued….

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