Friday, March 10, 2017

experiencing pregnancy in Taiwan

I am literally bursting at the seams I am so excited to meet my kid! I am 30+ weeks pregnant, so we have about nine weeks to go before Ruby makes her grand entrance into the world. We now have a lot of baby things in our apartment like a crib, changing table, baby bathtub, and a lot of really, really cute baby clothes, but we still have a fair amount to do still like buy a car seat, stroller, and carrier and try to figure out how the heck we want to set up our apartment for both the arrival of Ruby and my mother who will be staying with us for 10 weeks starting in early May.

A lot of people have been asking me questions about how Taiwan deals with pregnancy. While I still do not consider myself and expert on this matter, this is what I can tell you:

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maternity leave
I just crossed my t's and dotted my i's on my maternity and parental leave paperwork. What am I entitled to here? As a teacher, I get paid August to July of each school year. This year, despite the fact I will take my leave starting on April 21st, 2017, I will still receive full compensation for the months of April, May, June, and July. Then, I will receive partial compensation (I am expecting a little more than $600 USD per month) during my parental leave, which I will take August, September, October, November, December, January, and part of February. I am actually entitled to 3 years of parental leave; however, because of our savings aspirations, I will only use 6.5 months of it. I am able to claim these benefits because I work for the Taiwanese government essentially; after all, I am a public school teacher. I know other foreigners who are entitled to much less because they work for private schools or businesses. I count myself very lucky to get to experience the same benefits as the average Taiwanese citizens because they are so much more than what most American women in my shoes receive back home.
healthcare costs
In the first and second trimester, I saw the doctor every four weeks. Now that I am in the third trimester, I see the doctor every two weeks. In around 5 weeks, I will see him every week. Since Taiwan has national health insurance, the fees are ridiculously low. Our co-pay to see the doctor is 150NTD, which is less than $5 USD, and it is the only fee we pay at each visit.

At every appointment, I get a urine test for protein and sugar, an ultrasound, and a consultation with my OBGYN. We have been so lucky; I am in my 7th month of pregnancy and we have gotten to see little miss Ruby 7 times. It is always the best part of our month! Further, I have had extensive blood work done on multiple occasions. The only thing we had to pay for in addition to the co-pay was the optional blood test for possible birth defects or conditions. That cost us less than $30 USD. I have had multiple prescriptions too for medications to help with heartburn, pain relief, and insomnia, all of which were free and completely covered by my health insurance. Most families, local or foreign, with national health insurance end up paying less than $200 USD after a 3-5 day hospital stay for an uncomplicated child birth.

Crunching the numbers, it is far, far, far cheaper to have our baby here in Taiwan than back in America, especially considering we don't have any health care at all in America.

The only complaint I have? The baby of two foreign parents won't receive health insurance for the first six months of its life. This was also true for Sean when we first arrived since he was not working. For regular baby wellness check ups, this is fine. The cost will still be ridiculously low, most likely between $10 - $20 USD. However, if there is any kind of serious complication or NICU stay after birth, costs could skyrocket. We have saved $20,000+ in the past few months just in case anything happens out of the ordinary. Still, the cost would be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than any hospital bill would be in America for complications or an NICU stay, especially given the fact that neither Sean nor I have health insurance in America.
seeing the OBGYN
Because Taiwan has national health care, the system is organized differently than it is in America. Here, I visit my OBGYN at the hospital. The hospital is not like a hospital in America. The hospital is where all kinds of doctors have their offices and practices. The OBGYN and infant care is on the second floor of the hospital along with the dermatology department. Of course, hospitals still serve as a place for surgeries and emergencies, but that is not their sole function.

I am enrolled in an automated system that makes my appointments for me at the right time. I am given a date and number. I chose to enroll in my hospital's evening clinic, which opens at 5:30pm and goes until 8:30 pm. We usually head to the hospital around 6p.m. and leave by 8-8:30p.m.

First, I take the urine test. Then, I record my own weight and blood pressure. After completing those three tasks, I register with the nurse. I show her those three items, and she prepares my file. She then gives me a number. I drop off my number and paperwork with the ultrasound technician. We usually wait around 20 minutes. When my number is up, we head back to the ultrasound room. We share a room with three other women who are all separated by curtains. Sean is allowed to come in. We usually spend 10-15 minutes in the ultrasound room and are given a picture. The ultrasound tech always walks us through what she is looking at and measuring (and yes, she does it in English). We are then sent to the doctor with our picture. We knock on the doctor's door and leave the picture with the doctor's secretary. We then usually wait 20-30 minutes until the secretary calls my name. Then, we meet with the OBGYN. Depending on how many questions we have, we spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes with him. Then we leave after the automated system schedules our next appointment and after we paid our 150NTD co-pay.

It's definitely a little more complicated than going to the doctor's in America, but we still receive quality care for a ridiculously low fee. I do feel the need to point out that every employed Taiwanese person pays into the system, including us. However, monthly, we each lose about $50 USD from our paycheck for healthcare.

I still cannot wrap my mind around how humane and well the system works!
Taiwanese attitude towards pregnancy
Here, people treat pregnant women pretty darn well. I have random people clap their hands when they see my belly, and strangers at the mall or on the metro are rude to others if they don't give their seat to me. There is priority seating practically everywhere in Taiwan-- in any waiting area, on trains and metros, at malls and restaurants-- and people are really good about making sure the seats are open for the elderly, injured, or pregnant women.

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While I am not going to say that my pregnancy has been a walk in the park, I will say that it was relatively easy to figure out what to do in Taiwan as an expat. At first I was really overwhelmed, but now the system seems normal and easy to manage. I still have a few anxieties about giving birth, but I don't think a single one of them has to do with the fact that I will be doing it in Taiwan. 

Spending an entire pregnancy in a foreign country can be a bit overwhelming. I am lucky that in Taiwan pregnancy is very affordable and not looked at as an inconvenience by my employer. 



1 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have just stumbled upon your blog and I really enjoyed this post. I had never considered the practicalities of being pregnant in another country so different to the West. Glad to hear you are being well looked after!

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