|A two-child family. [China Daily]|
Couples are finding that with a fourth family member, life suddenly becomes a lot more complicated
Seven years ago when Chen Minhong's son was about 3 years old, she was finally able to throw away her baby-rearing training wheels as her child entered another stage of growing up. It seemed that she had successfully negotiated one of the most trying stages of raising a child - but now Chen finds herself back at square one.
Four months ago, at the age of 37, she had a second child, and now Chen is relearning skills and having to sharpen personal traits - such as patience - that she may have thought she would never have to draw on again to the same extent.
That means, for example, pulling herself out of bed several times a night to feed her new son.
"Bringing up a second child is proving to be a mixed blessing," says Chen, who works at a university in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. "For one thing, it's wonderful to see my older son play with his little brother."
Yet she already longs for the day when her baby, having learned to do much more than stand on his own two feet, will allow her the freedom to go out and enjoy a bit of relaxed shopping.
At the beginning of last year the Chinese government relaxed a family planning law that was more than 40 years old, thus allowing all married couples to have a second child. An earlier relaxation of the policy, at the end of 2013, allowed couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission says the number of births last year, 17.86 million, was the highest since 2000, 11.5 percent more than in 2015. More than 45 percent of those babies were born to couples who already had at least one child; the proportion was about 30 percent before 2013.
In a survey by the commission in 2015, the interviewed respondents gave reasons why they would not have a second child. Almost three quarters cited financial pressures, 61.1 percent cited the efforts involved in raising children and 60.5 percent cited a shortage of caretakers.
If Huang Jingyi, 38, and Song Jiangtao, 47, of Guangzhou, are feeling such pressures they are not showing it. In fact the couple seem to have taken to the two-child lifestyle with gusto.
"With our two adorable daughters, we can enjoy family happiness together," says Huang, who works for an international company. "It is worrying though when they kick up a tantrum or are sick."
Like many other people, Huang believes two siblings - one of her daughters is 4 and the other is almost 2 - can provide each other companionship, and they are less likely to be self-centered.
Her parents live with her husband and the children, and they look after the younger daughter during the day and take the elder one to kindergarten in the morning and collect her in the afternoon. When she and Song, an architect, come home from work, they take over looking after the children and doing other household chores.
With an eye to when the children are bigger, Song plans to redesign their 105-square-meter home so that there are four bedrooms. His car is a seven-seater, sufficient for the family's everyday use.
"The two children are more attached to their mother, and I'm like a driver. But when we go to the zoo, our eldest daughter likes to be close to me because she wants to ride on my shoulders.
"At our kind of age we're at the point where life is stable, our careers may have peaked and we're not quite as ambitious as we used to be. Raising a child is a great thing to do. Nothing makes me feel happier than being out with the kids at the weekend, lapping up the sunshine in a park."
When it was announced last year that the family planning policy was being relaxed, many of Song's friends born in the 1970s said they wanted to have a second child, but a few failed, he says.
Huang says motherhood means taking more responsibility, and being a mother has underlined for her the importance of family ties.
She used to feel irritated if she heard a child crying or making a noise in public, she says, but she can now be empathetic and is even willing to give help if it is needed. In the same considered vein, she reckons any couple contemplating having a second child needs to weigh up the proposal carefully.
"You have to be well-prepared and consider many things such as how to balance your work and family life and how to give the child a good environment."
That will mean making compromises and sacrifices, and she says that for the moment she has withdrawn from business trips.
Anyone who has decided to have a second child might well consider doing so only after the existing child has started kindergarten, she says, which means the maximum energy and other resources are available so the second child can be well taken care of.
Relying on parents
Unlike Huang and Song and countless other Chinese couples who rely heavily on their parents to take care of their grandchildren, Ren Yan and her husband Pan Yongqiang have opted to do something different, intent on ensuring that their parents can live out their remaining years in tranquillity. That means that when the grandparents pay a visit from time to time, they can enjoy the family happiness free of the cares that keep many a grandparent preoccupied.
Ren and Pan employ a part-time nanny to take their oldest son, 5, to kindergarten and collect him later.
Pan, 46, who works for a State-owned enterprise in Beijing, says he has stayed home and looked after their 7-month-old son for more than two months because since the Spring Festival about six weeks ago it has been difficult to find a full-time nanny. He has become skilled at looking after his son and feeds him five times a day, he says.
"It's not just about changing diapers and feeding him. He can't talk, so you have to watch him really carefully and do things like playing with him."
Ren, 38, who works for an IT company in Beijing, says both she and her husband have brothers and sisters. Their parents are in their 70s and are liable to fall ill, and children provide for them financially and emotionally.
"I am enjoying the different phases my children go through. Yes, you have to spend a lot of time with them when they're tiny, but you'll get your rewards in the end. I love seeing my younger son in swaddling cloths smiling at me. And I know that when I am sick my older boy will look after me.
"Sometimes it's as if the older boy has suddenly grown up. He loves telling people he has a young brother. When one of our neighbors wants to hold the baby in their arms, he cheekily says something like, 'Oh, this baby is naughty. You really won't enjoy holding him.'
"When they grow up and live elsewhere, perhaps at least one of them will return home for the Spring Festival. By having more than one child you increase your chances in that regard."
Ren and Pan say there is no doubt that having two sons has put pressure on them financially and in other ways. Apart from having to employ a live-in nanny, they always seem to be short of time, they say, and their five-seater car is too small.
Because the number of pregnancies has risen since the recent change to the second-child policy, reserving a hospital bed for prenatal examination and delivery has become more difficult, Ren says.
She also suggests the second-child policy has had an effect on the market place. The average charge of a live-in nurse has shot up to 5,000 yuan ($725) a month, double what it was five years ago, she says. Tuition fees in a private kindergarten that teaches both Chinese and English have risen from 4,000 a month to 6,500 yuan a month over the same period, she says, and although a public kindergarten is a lot cheaper, it is difficult to enroll in one.
Whatever the downsides to having a second child, the government is encouraging couples to have them.
Fu Ying, spokeswoman of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress, said recently that as the second-child policy is implemented it is important to ensure appropriate polices and services are in place to meet the resulting demand.
Beijing News quoted Yang Wenzhuang, a division director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, as saying the government was striving to improve its medical, child care, education, social security and tax policies, and to develop child care services and ensure women's equality in employment and child care leave.
Age produces complications and risks
Liang Haiyan says she has noticed that an increasing number of older pregnant women, 35 or older, are coming to the hospital where she works as a doctor since the universal second-child policy came into force.
"Those who are in their 40s are most eager to have a second child, and you can feel how anxious they are when they come for checkups before pregnancy," says Liang, associate chief physician in the gynecology and obstetrics department of China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing.
"They are under great pressure because they know it's not easy to conceive a child at this age. It's challenging for the doctors as there are more difficult and complicated cases."
Liang, 41, is herself four months pregnant with her second child.
The optimum time to give birth is between the ages of 25 and 29, she says. Those over 35 have a higher chance of having gynecological diseases and needing assisted reproductive technology. Older pregnant women may even have some rare complications.
Mothers with a uterine scar from earlier caesarean section have a higher chance of developing risky complications when they are conceiving a second child, she says.
Sometimes they may have a uterine rupture that could necessitate a uterine removal or even be life-threatening.
The oldest woman to give birth to a second child in the hospital recently was 50. She had twins last month and had her uterus removed after the delivery.
"Nowadays, young women in labor are more willing to have a normal childbirth rather than volunteer for a caesarean section because they know about the risk a caesarean poses for having a second child," Liang says.
She adds that many would choose a caesarean section in the past because they wouldn't consider having a second child due to the family planning policy.
She suggests pregnant women have regular obstetric examinations, communicate regularly with their doctor and follow instructions.
"Just take it easy. The sooner you find any potential problems, the easier it is to solve them, with the help of doctors. If doctors say you cannot give birth to a child because of your physical condition, you need to take responsibility for yourself and give up on the idea."
It is important for a pregnant woman to maintain a balanced diet, have regular checks on blood pressure and blood sugar, and keep in a good mood, she says.
After being pregnant for three months, one can start to do exercise such as jogging and swimming to reduce the risk of complications.
Enthusiasm to have more offspring is muted
For 40 years family planning policies had kept a tight lid on how many children Chinese couples could have, but now that that lid has been loosened, there seems to be no great rush to start producing more babies.
That becomes clear from a survey about the impact of second-child policy on family education published by the All-China Women's Federation and the National Innovation Center for Assessment of Basic Education Quality jointly published in December.
Among more than 10,300 families with children under 15 years old around China, 53.3 percent expressed no desire to have a second child, 20.5 percent were willing to do so and 26.2 percent were uncertain.
Those from developed regions and cities expressed less willingness to have a second baby, especially those in Beijing and East China.
Key factors that seemed to influence the decision on having a second child were the availability of public services such as education, medical care, health and living environment. Other main factors were kindergartens and schools, the quality of infant products, the living environment and access to medical treatment.
Parents said they wanted to have a second child mainly because they believe children bring happiness to the family, and a second child made the family complete and he or she would provide companionship for the first child.
About 61.6 percent of respondents said their parents helped take care of children before kindergarten, and 78.8 percent said their education values differed from their parents.
More than half said they were worried about how to establish close relations between the two children and tackle problems if the two could not get along with one another.
(Source: China Daily)
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