Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Experience With Maternity Leave In China

A pregnant woman sitting at a desk. Image source.

I recently got pregnant and had a baby in China, while also working a full-time job. Everything went really well with maternity leave and with the company giving me support during the pregnancy. China's policies about this are very good. 

Here's a summary of how it went for me:

When I started my job

When I started this job, the HR set up my salary so that every month some money is taken out for the Chinese social insurance (社保). This is how the system works for all Chinese employees, and I think international employees are also supposed to, but other companies I've worked at in the past haven't taken money out. The rules are unclear to me.

Anyway, the government uses this social insurance money to pay for maternity leave, disability, unemployment, health care, and retirement. And because I am paying into the system, I am entitled to the maternity leave benefits. So I'm glad about that.

First trimester of pregnancy

So I got the positive pregnancy test, and then a week or so later my manager wanted me to go on a business trip. And I felt fine, no morning sickness, no problems caused by the pregnancy, so I agreed to go.

So I went on the business trip, and it was fine, until the last day I suddenly started feeling nauseous. That turned out to be morning sickness. Then when I got home, the endless parade of throwing up came into full swing. :/

A few days later, I told my manager I was pregnant. He turned out to be very nice and helpful, and helped me cobble together a schedule of sick days, vacation days, and working from home, so I could get through the first trimester. (Company policy says we can only work from home 4 days each month, but my manager and his manager both said it doesn't matter, I can work from home.)

Also, he didn't ask me to go on any business trips throughout the whole rest of the pregnancy. So that was nice.

(And according to Chinese law, it is illegal to fire a pregnant woman.)

Third trimester of pregnancy

HR told me that starting from the 28th week of the pregnancy, I am only required to work 7 hours each day instead of 8. Apparently this is a law in China. So I started only working 7 hours, and really liked that. :)

Starting maternity leave

In China, women get 98 days of maternity leave when they have a baby. If you're in Shanghai, you get an additional 30 days- and other cities will have their own policies of how many additional days you get. If you have a C-section, you get an additional 15 days. (Also you get a certain amount of paid leave for an abortion or miscarriage, but I don't know how much it is.)

I heard that typically, people start their maternity leave maybe 2 weeks before the due date. And if you get a doctor's note, that can count as sick leave, so you're not actually using up your maternity leave days. (But the sick leave is paid at something like 80% of your normal salary- not 100% like regular sick leave.)

HR told me to just submit my plan for maternity leave whenever. I told the HR manager that I want to start 2 weeks before my due date, and what general date I would like to come back, and she made a plan for me for how to arrange vacation days and sick days at the beginning and end of the maternity leave days in order to maximize the total amount of time. (Because the maternity leave is counted as consecutive days which include weekends, but vacation days are just work days, so you can do some playing around with weekends and stuff to get a slightly longer amount of time off.) That was super helpful.

Getting paid during maternity leave

So for some reason I forgot that in China, everything is a pile of bureaucracy and paperwork that's way more complicated than it should be.

Maternity leave is paid at 100% of your salary. (There is some math about what part the company pays and what part the government pays, and if your salary is lower than the average salary then I think you get paid the average salary instead. I'm not really clear about all the details.)

Anyway, to get paid, I had to go down to the social insurance office with a bunch of paperwork, and then they didn't have a clue about how to handle it because I'm not Chinese, and the people working at that office had never done this for an international mom before. So then I had to go to the local HQ social insurance office, and then the managers or whoever had to discuss if it was valid that I had a passport instead of a Chinese ID card, and blah blah blah. Eventually I got the money; they sent it as a bank transfer about 1 or 2 weeks after I submitted the paperwork.

One of the things that was required in order to get the money was my marriage license. Which brings up the question, what about women who aren't married and have a baby? Do they get paid maternity leave, or not? I have heard from some other moms in this situation, talking about how there were additional hoops to jump through, like they had to get some official paper that said they live together with their baby's father. But ... well like what if you don't live with the baby's father? This is really not cool that it works like this.

Coming back to work

Coming back to work was fine. Everyone was happy to see me- they were all like "welcome back!" and "how is your baby?" Oh but then the first day I was only able to work a half day because my baby didn't want to drink his bottle so I had to rush home and feed him. But we solved that problem within a few days, and then things were fine.

Pumping breast milk

According to Chinese law, moms with a child under 1 year old get an extra 1-hour break every day, for pumping milk. (It doesn't matter if you're actually breastfeeding or not. You can use the break for whatever.) At some companies, you can just come to work an hour later, or leave an hour earlier, and at some companies you take more breaks during the day. So basically, from the third trimester of pregnancy until the baby's first birthday, you only have to work 7 hours a day.

At the office where I work, breastfeeding moms use the storage room for pumping. There's a table and two chairs in there, in addition to, like, a ton of boxes full of our company's important documents. I feel like it's not exactly ideal, but whatever, it works fine.


So everything has gone extremely well for me. I'm really glad my manager and the HR at work have been so flexible and helpful. HR informed me about the fact that I'd only have to work 7 hours/day in the third trimester and helped me make a plan for when to take maternity leave. And my manager has been so nice, always telling me he understands if I need to take extra time off, and how I have to balance work with taking care of my baby. (I told him I totally intend to keep doing my job like a normal employee.) 

This is the law in China. It's extremely supportive towards pregnant women, and I'm happy about that.

But there are always companies trying to get away with not following the law. I heard stories from other pregnant women about how their HR is claiming that the company doesn't need to do this or that, claiming that international workers don't have rights, etc. If you're working in China and you're pregnant, know your rights. For me, everything has gone very well though.

Friday, December 25, 2020


1. The 1611 Project (posted December 3) "There’s been a great deal written about how the presence of those Bibles shaped those English-speaking Christians’ attitudes toward slavery, but far less about how the practice of enslaving others shaped the way those English-speaking Christians taught themselves to read, study, and interpret those Bibles."

2. So I have some things to say about China. First of all, these links:
The Wuhan files: Leaked documents reveal China's mishandling of the early stages of Covid-19 (posted November 30) 
No ‘Negative’ News: How China Censored the Coronavirus (posted December 19)

I am in China, and I have written on this blog about how I believe China has done a good job controlling the pandemic. Way way better than the US, pfft, no question, it's not even close. We are basically "back to normal" here- we go out, we do stuff, we don't social-distance- but we wear masks and people don't travel as much.

This has changed me, politically. I now see that it's SO NOT TRUE that the US is "the greatest country in the world" or whatever. I am safe from COVID in China. I would not be safe from COVID if I was in the US.

Okay, but look, here are 2 articles about the Chinese government mishandling the pandemic. About news being censored and numbers underreported. And yes, that absolutely should be brought to light. There's no excuse for it. It's very much not okay that China did that.

Let's bring it to light, and let's do the US next.

3. 7 awe-inspiring photos show Jupiter and Saturn as 'double planet' in Great Conjunction (posted December 23)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

If We Literally Stopped Spending Billions on Christmas... Well Basically That's What COVID Lockdowns Are

A piggy bank and Christmas decorations. Image source.

I want to address a particular line of reasoning I've heard charities use in their appeals for donations. I guess I should mention, as a disclaimer, that most charity advertising isn't like this. But this argument has always stuck out to me as being all wrong from a math/economics perspective, and now that we are actually experiencing the economic effects of COVID-19, we see real-world proof that yep, those charities were indeed wrong about the math. All right, here it is:

"Americans spend x millions of dollars on Christmas. It would cost y millions of dollars to provide clean water to everyone in the world. Let's stop focusing so much on consumerism, and help the world instead."

I've heard a lot of messages along these lines- mostly in church, but also from charities. (Here is one example.) How we spend so much money on all these things that aren't really important, but what if we redirected that money to poor people in other countries.

And I always thought, but, if people really did that- if Americans just cold-turkey stopped buying Christmas gifts and donated all the money to charities working in other countries, WOWWWW there would be huge effects on the US economy and it would NOT be good.

And then COVID happened. And we see the real-world effects of shutting down everything that's not "essential."

Isn't that what those charities were telling us to do- for years and years before COVID became a thing- with their "we spend x million dollars on Christmas" messages? They wanted us to stop spending money on things we don't really "need", and donate it instead. As if the math would work thusly: You get fewer Christmas presents, but nothing else is affected, and then a village in Africa gets clean water.

No- the COVID shutdowns show us that the math does NOT work like that. If people stop spending on "non-essential" things, that DOES NOT mean suddenly everyone has a ton of extra money to donate to charity. Instead, it means millions of people who work for "non-essential" businesses lose their jobs. It's really not good.

What if we phrased it not as "Americans spend $x billion on Christmas" but "$x billion of Americans' salaries comes from Christmas-related consumer spending"?

Maybe you'll say I'm being too literal. When a charity makes a video that says "we spend x billion dollars on this and that, imagine how much good we could do if we donated that money instead", they know that there is NO CHANCE that people are really going to go from "x billion" to zero and then donate "x billion" to their charity. They know that that will NEVER EVER HAPPEN, and that's not their goal- their goal is for people to donate a nice amount that's not too terribly different than the charity's normal budget. And indeed, if people donated "a nice amount" rather than "x billion", then there would not be much effect on the US economy. And the charity could do some good.

So all of this makes me wonder about systems and large-scale economies and how to really make a difference. 

People throw around numbers like "it would cost $x million to end world hunger"- there's actually a twitter account called Has Jeff Bezos Decided To End World Hunger? which says "Jeff Bezos has a net worth of $200bn. The IFPRI says it would cost $11bn to end world hunger per year. So, has Jeff Bezos decided to end world hunger today?" I think this is ridiculous. It doesn't work that way. I don't know where this $11 billion estimate comes from, but it definitely does NOT mean there's a store with a product called "end world hunger" which has a price tag of $11 billion, and Jeff Bezos can walk in there, stick it in his shopping cart, and swipe his credit card, and problem solved. You need more than just money- you need political leaders to negotiate and agree on a plan, and you need time to hire people and put the plan into action. There are systemic issues that are extremely difficult to change- maybe even impossible.

And also, Bezos doesn't have billions of dollars in a regular old savings account- it's invested in stuff, and if he decided to just cash out those investments, it would have a huge negative effect on the businesses he invested in.

Maybe I'm being too literal. Maybe everyone knows it's not literally possible to end world hunger by just having $11 billion. Maybe the point is that Bezos should at least donate a bit more, not necessarily that he should donate billions RIGHT NOW.

So I have questions about systems and economies. But I VERY MUCH believe this is NOT a zero-sum game. It is definitely NOT TRUE that if I give money to charity, the employees of the "non-essential' company where I would have spent that money suffer an equal amount to the benefit that the charity's recipients gained. No, definitely definitely not a zero-sum game.

But it bothers me that charities talk about millions and billions of dollars- if we literally did donate that much, tons of retail workers would lose their jobs. These aren't just numbers not connected to anything- when you spend money on Christmas gifts, that's not "wasted"- it pays someone's salary.

It's NOT a zero-sum game. Don't take this to mean "well there's no point in donating money, because American businesses will then suffer." But if we're talking about the big picture, it's much more complicated than "let's stop spending billions on A and spend it on B instead."



Sunday, December 13, 2020


1. World’s first 100% complete T-rex skeleton found locked in battle with a Triceratops (posted November 20) Wow this is incredible.

2. Wow I feel this (though yeah, I'm extremely privileged compared to other immigrants):

3. Watch penguins take over an NFL field (posted November 24) Adorable!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

So I Got the Epidural

A pregnant woman in a labor and delivery room, with her male partner and 2 nurses. Image source.
During my pregnancy, I read a lot about what happens during labor and childbirth. Hendrix and I went to labor and delivery classes. And I learned about getting an epidural, which sounded really super scary and unpleasant.

An epidural is a procedure where anesthesia is injected into the space around the spinal column in the lower back. This way, you don't feel pain in the entire lower half of your body, but you're still awake and present. It's extremely common that people have an epidural while they are in labor and giving birth.

And I really didn't want it. I don't like needles, I don't like medical procedures and drugs in general because I don't know how they'll affect my body, and I feel like I'm not in control. The uncertainty is really scary. Plus it's a huge needle. (Yes, they first give a local anesthetic so you don't feel the huge needle, but still. It's a huge needle.)

So during the prenatal appointments, I told the gynecologist (let's call him Dr. A) that I don't want an epidural, but we'll see how it goes and maybe I'll change my mind later. I felt like, if I don't need it, then I'd rather not have it. Just because everyone else gets one doesn't mean I should too.

I told him "I don't want the epidural, but I might change my mind" and asked at what point I would need to make the decision. Dr. A said there's always an anesthesiologist on duty, so I could totally decide whenever I want. No rush.

So anyway, fast forward to when I'm in labor and the contractions are coming 3 minutes apart, and I'm at home trying to eat lunch, and I have to keep stopping to just moan and scream and endure the pain every time a contraction comes. And I start thinking to myself, all right let's go get that epidural.

We got to the hospital and went to the labor and delivery room, and I still told them I don't want an epidural, not yet anyway, haven't decided yet. But wow. Every contraction just hurt so bad.

I felt like, wow, I'm already tired of this whole thing, and I'm not even close to being done. If I keep going on like this, in so much pain, for hours, I won't be able to focus when it comes time to push the baby out.

So I decided, well I'll just talk to the anesthesiologist and tell them my concerns about the epidural, and then make a decision.

So the anesthesiologist came (let's call him Dr. B) and he was very nice. I told him I haven't decided yet if I want the epidural, because it's a big needle, and I don't like needles, and what if it doesn't work, and all that. And he did a great job answering my questions.

I told him on the 1 to 10 pain scale, I'm already at a 10. He said after the epidural it would go down to a 1.

So yeah I decided to do it.

The process of setting it up and putting the needle and flexible tube in was scary. I didn't like it. Weird sensations, feeling pressure from the fluid going into my back, feeling really shaky, feeling all numb in my legs... But then the next contraction came and I didn't even notice it at all. There was no more pain. And after maybe 15 minutes or so all the weird sensations stopped and I felt fine- just really numb in my legs.

And after that, I just had to lay there and the contractions didn't bother me, and everything went well. Getting the epidural was definitely a good decision.

I felt a little weird about it, just because I had told Dr. A several times at the prenatal appointments that I didn't want the epidural. What if people laughed at me, what if people thought I was silly for saying so strongly that I didn't want it and then changing my mind later? What if it was like "see, you don't know what's best for yourself, you should have just gone along with what other people said you're supposed to do, you're not able to make your own decisions"?

But no. No, I still think I was right to initially say I didn't want the epidural. It was a GOOD decision to wait til I was actually in labor so I could understand how bad the pain was and weigh that against the unpleasantness of needles and medical procedures.

And I'm really happy with how the hospital handled it- not pressuring me, answering all my questions, reassuring me that it was my decision. (This is an expensive international hospital in Shanghai, by the way.)

I don't want my reason for getting an epidural to be "over 90% of people at this hospital do, so this is what you are supposed to do." I want it to be something I actually decide for myself. And having never been in labor before this, I didn't have enough information to make that decision. In order to make sure it would really be my decision instead of something I just got pushed into, I had to clearly tell the doctor that my preference was to NOT do it. Otherwise, people might just assume I'd be getting one, just because everyone else does.

Getting an epidural during labor was the right decision for me. But nobody could have known that beforehand. I was right to initially say I didn't want it but leave open the possibility of changing my mind later.