Lu Guangxiu, a veteran gynecologist from Xiangya

Editor:Sharon Lee
Updated:2015-11-16 09:52:40

Making babies

  Lu Guangxiu, a veteran gynecologist from Reproductive and Genetic Hospital Citic Xiangya, Changsha.[Photo by Zhang Wei / China Daily]

  Assessing the popularity of assisted reproduction in China at a time of policy easing

  The alleyways off Xiang Ya Road in Hunan's capital, Changsha, are lined with rows of houses that have common kitchens and bathrooms but separate rooms. Couples from different parts of the province and elsewhere on the Chinese mainland arrive here daily in the hope of becoming parents.

  Inside the so-called small hotels, numbering in their hundreds, the wallpapers come more in blue than pink - representing the clich colors for boys and girls worldwide.

  The couples rent the rooms at an average cost of 1,200 yuan ($188.28) a month and visit a bunch of hospitals in the area, including banks that preserve sperms and embryos in liquid nitrogen. The facilities have turned this city in Central China into a major destination for assisted reproduction outside of Beijing and Shanghai.

  Recent interviews in Changsha and Beijing with many senior doctors, people opting for medical intervention to have children, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and a population expert suggest that assisted reproduction continues to be popular in China since the country's first baby through in vitro fertilization in 1988.

  While some interviewees say as China loosens its family planning policy, assisted reproduction may rise in relevance, others point to levels of infertility in present-day Chinese society as a reason for the sustained draw of IVF, intrauterine insemination and other forms of laboratory-enabled childbearing.

  On Oct 29, the Communist Party of China announced an end to the decades-long one-child policy, saying all couples could have two children in the times ahead. The rule change is expected to balance demographics, particularly with regard to the challenges posed by an aging society.Making babies

  People wait in the outpatient hall at a Beijing hospital for women and children, the hospital says its patient intake doubled this year. [Tian Baoxi / For China Daily]

  The policy easing started in late 2013, when couples with one parent as the only child, were told they could apply for permission to have second children in parts of China.

  By April, nearly 67,000 "second-child procreation certificates" were issued by the local government in Hunan, accounting for a quarter of 270,000 couples with one parent as the only child in the province, according to Changsha Evening News, a city-based paper.

  With 30,000 new babies born as a result, Hunan's birthrate increased by six percent this year, the report said last month.

  Local family planning officials weren't available for comments to this newspaper.

  There were around 17 million live births in China last year. And, with the nationwide two-child policy in place, the country could expect an additional 3 million babies to be born in the next five years, according to the central government.

  When Zheng Mengzhu, China's first IVF baby was born in Peking University No 3 Hospital, her parents who are from Northwest China's Gansu province, paid up to 4,000 yuan for more than a year's stay in Beijing, she says. The expenses were incurred on renting accommodation and paying hospital fees.

  Today, the same hospital charges an average of 30,000 yuan for an IVF cycle comprising a few sittings. When the "test-tube baby" program was launched in the 1980s, there were a handful of couples who showed up for it. Since then, the hospital has witnessed more than 10,000 assisted births.

Making babies

  A woman seeking to have a baby through in vitro fertilization in the same city.[Photo by Zhang Wei / China Daily]

  Pregnancy watch

  In one of Changsha's quiet backstreets, a 35-year-old woman from Yongzhou, a city in the province's south, says she is pregnant with a second child after having failed to conceive through two previous attempts at IVF. Her first child is seven years old and was born without medical help.

  Married for eight years, she is from a business family.

  Hers was a problem common among infertile women: blockages in the fallopian tubes. The tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus, or womb as it is known in layman's term. Doctors also cite habitual abortions as a major trigger for infertility among Chinese women in the recent times. In the '80s, pelvic tuberculosis was a big culprit, they say.

  "My fertility problems started after my first child was born," Jian says, giving a lone name to guard her privacy. "I need to stay here for a month before going back home to ensure that all's well with my pregnancy."

  Although China has had a long and successful association with assisted reproduction, many remain sensitive to the topic and prefer to share just their surnames.

  A block from Jian's rented house, Liu, 35, and Su, 28, two women from the respective towns of Changda and Yiyang in Hunan, are seen watching a show on a video streaming website while sharing a meal of fish. A branch of Yangtze, the Xiang River flows through Changsha providing the city with fish and a pretty night view.

  Liu has taken an indefinite leave from her job at a polytechnic institute in order to pursue her IVF cycles in one of Changsha's hospitals. Following a few useless trails, Liu is finally pregnant but her return home will depend on the successful completion of her first trimester.

Making babies

  Sperms preserved inside cans of liquid nitrogen at Lu¨s hospital. [Photo by Zhang Wei / China Daily]

  She is likely to spend more than 70,000 yuan in rents, medical bills and food in the three months. For example, procedures such as egg extractions from a woman's ovary can cost up to 30,000 yuan. The mixing of eggs and sperms in a laboratory thereafter hikes the bill.

  But Chinese doctors argue that rates at more than 100,000 yuan for IVF cycles in the United States are still higher than China.

  "My parents worry I may not have a baby if I wait longer," says Su.

  She is among the younger enrollees for the assisted programs, but after her marriage of four years she is faced with social pressure to have a child. Unlike Jian and Liu, who came unaccompanied by their respective husbands to Changsha, Su's husband is by her side.

  Of the 90 million Chinese women able to now have second children if they wanted, half are between the ages of 40 and 49, the central government estimates.

  In its latest report, the China Population Association said 12.5 percent of the country's population - within the reproductive age bracket - is likely infertile. The percentage, four times higher than two decades ago, translated to about 40 million individual cases.

  The conventional international approach on reproductive populations is to look at people from ages 15 to 50, but doctors in China as in many other parts of the world, say it isn't easy to precisely measure infertility rates as the calculations are complex involving a host of factors from social to environmental.