A Chinese Perspective on Having a Second Child
Most modern Chinese women only give birth once.
I am now pregnant with my second baby.
Needless to say, the response of the average local person to the news of my second pregnancy has been mostly predictable – a slight look of surprise, a knowing smirk at the recollection that all foreigners have lots of children (right?), and a rhetorical question about whether or not my country restricts the number of babies a woman can birth. These responses are followed by an inquiry into just how many children I plan on having. Of course, there’s the occasional look of scorn – a “you-foreigners-have-too-many-babies” look – never voiced but always communicated subtly by the same repertoire of questions asked with a distinct note of contempt.
The attention eventually shifts from me to my daughter – “You’re going to have a little brother!” they exclaim, completely ignorant of the actual sex of the baby-in-utero. They offer this verdict with great confidence.
My own response to these lively encounters is mixed. At times, I only feel sheepish embarrassment and a sincere discomfort at being entirely different from those around me. These are the moments in which I truly feel my foreign-ness.
And they feel it, too. It must seem to them that I am always pregnant and that I will be pregnant as many times as I darn well please. No, my country doesn’t limit the number of children I can have, nor does it tell me when or where or how I can have them. Yes, I come from a home where the buffalo roam and where you can drive for miles without seeing a single soul. People never talk about “population control” in my country.
Most Chinese have no paradigm for the breadth of my freedoms.
But at other times, I feel a true sense of sadness over the local reaction to my pregnancy, especially the comments about having a son. I think of all the precious little girls I see around town, and I feel sad at the thought of them ever feeling less valuable than their male classmates and friends. Sometimes, this sadness turns into anger. I clench my teeth and remind people that it is also quite possible that I am pregnant with a little girl.
Despite my moments of anger, I know, deep down, that people mean well. Their words are ones of politeness – for them, to have a son is a matter of status, of reputation. “It’s really embarrassing for a family if they don’t have a son,” a close friend once explained to me. Though now, most people laugh about this old-fashioned way of thinking, the desire for a son still runs deeply in the hearts of the Chinese people. Of course, nowadays, sons cost a Chinese family much more financially than daughters do (the family of a son is expected to purchase a house on his behalf, as well as pay for all of his wedding expenses). But sons are still prized for their ability to carry on the family name and for the simple but profound fact that they hold a firmly-established position in Chinese tradition as the progeny of choice.
And in China, tradition is everything.
Hence, the well-intentioned grins and confident assertions that I am pregnant with a son. After all, I already have a daughter. This one must be a son.
“…or a daughter,” I say quietly. And I leave it at that.
It is not until later, in the quiet conversations with my closer Chinese friends, that I discover that not all Chinese fit the profile of the average person I meet on the elevator or on the street. In fact, I have many Chinese friends who either have, or long for, multiple children and who view both male and female babies as equally precious. And despite the common Chinese attitude that “one child is enough,” children in China are still highly prized and valued. Chinese parents love their children just as much as those of us from the West do – they simply express that love in a manner that is altogether unique to the world in which they live and raise their families.
And with all of its limitations, that Chinese world also has a wealth of beauty and a commitment to family that would put most overly-independent Westerners to shame.