Birthing Centers Cater to Expectant 'Dragon Year' Mothers

March 2, 2012

Originally posted at New America Media.

by Summer Chiang

The Year of the Dragon is an auspicious time for Chinese parents, so
much so that officials in Beijing predict a spike in the number of
babies born this year. Expectant mothers, however, are rushing to Hong
Kong to give birth so their children will have access to the island’s
more modern schools and healthcare facilities.

But as hospitals
in Hong Kong approach capacity, and as disgruntled locals gripe about
the influx of mainlanders, many soon-to-be mothers in China are
increasingly turning their eyes to this country.

According to a
report in the Chinese-language World Journal, local “birthing centers”
are sprouting up in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco catering
to such women and offering packages that include air travel and
accommodation, as well as medical and delivery expenses at the hospital
before and after labor.

The cost: anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

Dragon is fortune,” says Taiwanese-native Marvis Lin, a recent graduate
of San Francisco Academy of Art University. Two months pregnant, she
had planned to return home but recently applied for an OPT (Occupational
Practical Training) visa allowing her to remain in the country.

husband and I chose this year as the best year to have a baby,” she
says, adding she’s eager for her child to have United States

Lin says she looked into local birthing centers,
which offer everything from midwife and nanny services to traditional
foods thought beneficial for pregnant or new mothers.

contacted one place in San Jose. The agency charges between $2,600 and
$3,300 per month for a 24-hour nanny … it also offers a 50 percent
discount on hotels in San Jose if I prefer to stay in a hotel with a
live-in nanny."

Birthing centers first emerged in the United
States in the 1970s as an alternative to the increasingly high-tech
maternity wards found at most hospitals. Ones in the Chinese community
are modeled on similar centers in China, where new mothers spend
anywhere form a month recuperating on a strict diet and other rules
meant to secure future health.

The Los Angeles Times reported in
March of last year on the closure of several such centers in Southern
California, described in the report as a “hub” of birthing tourism.
Rather than closing up shop, however, operators simply stopped housing
clients, instead turning into pseudo-travel agents by offering hotel
bookings and earning a commission on the hourly wages paid to nannies
hired through them.

The industry has indeed gotten a boost from
Chinese eager for so-called “Dragon babies” believed to have lifelong
good fortune. One of twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, the dragon is
a symbol of royalty and is widely viewed as the harbinger of wealth,
wisdom, courage and power.

China’s state run Xinhua News Agency
reported recently that such beliefs have led officials there to predict
the number of births this year will climb by 5 percent from 2011, when
the rate stood at just over 12 births per 1000 people.

are thought to have until about May 2 to conceive in order for their
child to be born before the Year of the Dragon ends next February.

those who can make the trip, giving birth outside the mainland also
allows mothers pregnant with a second or third child to avoid the now
30-year-old One Child Policy restriction. Such factors, according to the
Sing Tao Daily, have prompted authorities in Hong Kong to consider
drastically drawing down the quota on non-resident births, currently set
at 35,000.

The report also cited the growing frustration of
local Hong Kong residents, who complain their hospitals are “filling up”
with pregnant mothers from the mainland, many having arrived on tourist
visas long since expired.

Mrs. Wang is four months pregnant.
While she lives in Beijing, she told the World Journal that both her and
her husband lack the residential permit known in Chinese as a "hukou,"
without which her child will not be allowed to enroll in the local
public school system.

“Beijing's international schools offer
better quality and cheaper tuition than private schools,” Wang was
quoted as saying. “However, students enrolled in international school
are required to hold a foreign passport.”

That’s why she says
she’s spent the past several weeks looking into birthing centers here in
the United States, in either New York or California.

"I'm coming to the United States to look for better educational opportunities for my kid,” she said.

With any luck, this year she just may find them.