Contraception in China

So my parents-in-law have been coming up with lots of theories of why I have not produced a grandchild. The one that they are sure of is that because I once took birth control pills I must therefore be infertile. I laughed at it because it was absurd, but it made me kind of angry with no way to educate them on how birth control pills works. That’s when I realized that their assumption was not entirely uneducated. What exactly is considered “the pill” in China?

A long long time ago, I was a student in Xi’an with a 6 month stock pill of my American birth control pills. I ended up staying in China for longer than 6 months though and did not want to disturb my cycle or hormones by going off the pill. Too bad you can’t refill prescriptions by international mail. So I grabbed one of my Chinese girlfriends to take me to the pharmacy to buy a month’s supply of birth control. Simple enough. We told the pharmacist what we wanted and she handed me a box with one pill. I looked at both my friend and the pharmacist and explained that it was not right. My friend laughed and said that it was the right medicine. “You take this pill once a month and you will not get pregnant.” It took a few seconds for what she said to sink in. In my hands was the morning after pill.

I made a final attempt to see if there was a birth control pill that involved taking one pill daily and to no avail, I went home. In pursuit of finding birth control, I asked around school and met college girls who used abortions as birth control and simply went to the doctor when they got pregnant. Neither of those methods seemed like they would keep me regulated.

They do have regular birth control pills in China, common ones are Marvelon 妈富隆, Yasmin 优思明, and Diane 达英. I had to go to a gynecologist to find them, but the are pretty common now. Just be careful when asking the pharmacist because the words 避孕药 are interchangeable for birth control pills and emergency contraception. Why didn’t Chinese girls know about them?!

So back to my in-laws. If they believe that I regularly took the morning after pill than their fears aren’t unfounded. I do not know if it really does affect fertility or not, the pharmaceutical companies say no, but it’s a common belief that regular use of that pill will make it harder to conceive and the pills comes with warning that it should not be used excessively. I will even concede that having taken Chinese medicine, I cannot guarantee what was actually in there and therefore cannot possibly fully understand the side effects. There are lots of things that my in-laws say that sound absolutely crazy to me. I try to take a step back and understand where they are coming from. I just wish they would stop talking about my fertility so much.

 

 

 

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Contraception in China

  1. Ah, I can relate to this anecdote. Since starting the pill about 3 years ago my (Chinese) mother has been badgering me to go off of it because she’s concerned about the after-effects. I don’t think her argument is sound but for some reason it is always kind of sitting in the back of my mind. But every time I think about it, the pros greatly outweigh the cons so I’ll keep taking them until I feel like I’m financially and emotionally sound to have a baby, whether by intention or not.

    • It is hard! Sometimes I feel like I’m arguing with centuries of tradition when my parents talk about medicine. It’s important to respect your parents, but you have to trust your doctor too. If birth control really did cause infertility, I’d imagine the US population would have dropped decades ago because it is so common. I gave up trying to explain this though.

  2. Laura

    Hi there, this is Laura! I am a Spanish living in Shanghai and I work in the Pharmaceutical Industry.
    Though I didn´t study that at University I did study some in High School, by myself, and I learned through work.
    Some of these pills are indeed used as fertility treatment. The point here is that some women start to use them when they are very young because they regulate their cycle, therefore we could say that they have symptoms of infertility ( meaning that once you stop taking the pill your cycle will be irregular again, appear and dissapear…).

    In easy words, these pills lie to your body and makes it think that you are pregnant, this means that you can even lose attraction towards your partner, let´s say it has effects on your sex drive.

    No long term inpact on fertility, though many risky side effects.

    Now, less serious and from a personal experience, a friend of the family took the pill during 12 years and once she married she stop taking it, right the way! She came back from her honeymoon pregnant of 2 babies.

    This is what I know, it doesn´t mean is 100% true but is what I know, never know, maybe in some years some research shows that they did cause infertility, but till now, no evidence.

  3. Alice Zindagi

    I had the same thing happen when I was in Thailand, although birth control is over the counter there, Yasmin being the most common one. I use Implanon, a technique originally from Indonesia (I think) that involves a hormonal rod implanted into the arm for three years. Now, I wasn’t married or anything, but it was… interesting, to say the least.

    My maids got curious and one day asked me if I was pregnant. In their eyes, it was disturbing that they never saw feminine products in the trash can when they cleaned my bathroom. I laughed and explained to them what it really was. I even showed them the spot and let them feel the rod. They shrugged it off and more or less accepted it, but they kept saying I wouldn’t have babies for 20 years. I think it wasn’t so much the fact that I was on birth control that worried them for my fertility, but the fact that it was stopping my periods.

    Although I do have to say that word apparently, uh, got around, because I had more than my fair share of “admirers.”

    And interestingly enough, when I explained to them that I wanted to have my dog spayed, I couldn’t figure out the Thai word for it, so I had to mime and draw pictures. Once they figured it out, they looked at me like I was Satan incarnate and was trying to slice her nose off or something. Instead they went to the pharmacy and bought her the Depo shot. They put my dog on birth control.

  4. So interesting to read your post (via speaking of china, btw). I was just talking about this with my husband yesterday and I’ve had this conversation many times with Chinese friends. I, like you, brought some birth control when I first came to China, but after deciding to stay I had to buy locally and my boyfriend (now husband) helped me find Marvalon. Everyone seems concerned that I won’t be able to have kids, but I think I’ve at least convinced my husband not to worry. Anyways, I can’t imagine how having abortions is preferable to contraceptive pills??

    I do have to admit, a little seed of doubt has crept in the back of my mind as it does whenever Chinese people admonish me for choices I make that are “endangering” my health (Bare feet! Drinking cold water! Staying up past 11pm!). These beliefs come from somewhere and sometimes I wonder that there must be, in some way, truth or logic behind them. . . idk.

    • You hear it enough and really start to believe it. The fear of the pill just seems to be superstition because I have yet to have someone explain why it would cause infertility but I have had plenary of people explain why it has no effect on fertility.

  5. ashkaufen

    Heya Shandongxifu,

    You are one tough girl. I don’t know how on earth you put up with your in-laws being in your business like that. I’m a relatively newly-wed myself. And though I’m in Taiwan, the same expectations of daughters-in-law prevail. If I were you, I would just stick to my guns as far as doing what you want to do for yourself. Sure they will have their ideas about what you should do, but does that match up with your own objectives in life?

    What I mean is, for godsakes don’t have a baby if you don’t want one. As for the old folks, 沒辦法 méi bànfǎ! You sound like you truly and sincerely want to make them pleased with you, which is of course up to you. And of course everyone around you (in the realm of Chinese culture) is going to encourage you to do right by your in-laws. Otherwise you interfere with the filial duties of your husband.

    Of course I don’t want to presumptuously assume that you are disinclined toward child-bearing. If it is in fact something you would like to do, perhaps they also have fertility specialists in China? Regardless of what your in-laws think “the reason is” is besides the point. Ultimately, what you need to determine if having a child is something you are eager to do.

    Once that’s sorted out, take action. If you don’t want to have a baby, use birth control by all means if you can obtain it! Don’t let them dominate your decisions. You are, I’m assuming, not Chinese. Exercise your liberty. Not everyone is so lucky to be mentally liberated. I can tell you that within this cultural context if you try to understand “where somebody is coming from” you won’t get anywhere. I hate to be so deadpan and possibly even insensitive, but most people in this part of the world are not independent thinkers. Or, at least they don’t act out on their independent thinking.

    Not being an independent thinker has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s just a result of being socialized in a certain way! So, your in-laws are probably kind, well-intentioned people who you might get along with very well. In which case, wonderful! My in-laws are kind people, too. Like you, they have a lot of ideas about a lot of things that strike me as unusual or in some cases kind of crazy! But I don’t let it bother me that much because I won’t let another person dominate my decisions in life.

    I wish you the best of luck! It sure sounds dodgy getting birth control in China. But at least now you know it’s available. As far as the in-laws and “giving them a grandchild” is concerned, follow your heart! YOUR heart!

  6. glad you posted this. super helpful!!

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