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July 19, 2011

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Double happiness a mixed blessing

DESPITE the one-child norm, the law permits a second child in some cases when both parents are only children. So are four couples excited about their extra bundles of joy? Yao Minji finds out.

Liang Zhiling, a 29-year-old former financial consultant, always dreamed of having three children like the Seavers in her favorite childhood TV show "Growing Pains," until she passed through her own pains and learned that her dream violated China's one-child population control policy that applies to most Han people.

When Liang got married in 2006, she heard that the policy had been slightly adjusted to allow couples who are both single children to have a second baby. Chinese traditionally love big families, so would the floodgates open?

"I was so excited. Although it will be two rather than my dream of three, it's still much better than one, considering how lonely I was during my childhood," Liang tells Shanghai Daily.

"I didn't realize another baby would bring so much change. Of course, I don't regret having two children instead of one, but it means both more happiness and tears." And, of course, a lot more money.

For young Shanghainese like Liang, who was born after Shanghai implemented the one-child policy in 1976, it was difficult to imagine how life would change with an additional baby, until it actually happened.

The policy was amended in the mid-1980s, first for rural families who needed help on the farm, and then in 2000 it was amended to allow two children if both husband and wife were single children in their own families, but they had to wait for four years after the first was born to have the second.

There was no big rush to procreate in the cities, even after regulations were clarified in 2004, and the four years of required waiting time deleted.

It didn't make a significant change in the number of newborns in the first few years, according to Zhou Haiwang, associate professor at the Institute of Population and Development Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS).

Zhou's research in 2008 showed that the percentage of one-child families among those having newborns always maintained steady, around 96 percent, even after the policy was adjusted.

Very few of the one-child couples decided to have another baby.

In 2008 Shanghai Daily intended to write about these families with a second child, but it was difficult to find people to interview. Many people said they were considering it; most hesitated for economic reasons.

According to research in 2009 by noted sociologist Xu Anqi, from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the average cost of bringing up (through university) a child in Shanghai's Xuhui District was 490,000 yuan (US$77,670). She said that was on the low side and costs would only go up.

Along with rapid social and economic development have come many more things that children "must have," such as cell phones, computers, computer tablets and various high-tech toys, which are expensive. These are considered "must haves," and the cost of child rearing rises accordingly.

Moreover, in addition to lower cost, the one-child policy confers benefits. Parents with one child get a monthly stipend of 30 yuan (recently raised from 5 to 30) in Shanghai. In the 1980s, a greater amount of money (several thousand yuan) was awarded to DINK (double income no kid) families at retirement who had never had a children. However, with Shanghai's population going gray and the birth rate going down, the incentive was cancelled years ago.

There are no major financial incentives for having a second child.

One reason a second child is encouraged in some cases is the graying of the population, especially in big cities, and the expected shortage of young people in the labor force. There are other social reasons: It's difficult for one single child or a couple of single children to take care of four sets of in-laws.

Demographers warn that the single-child policy and traditional male preference have skewed China's sex ration, eventually making it difficult for poor men to find brides. The loneliness of single children and the well-known "little emperor" and "little princess" mentalities do not make for young people who are used to sharing and thinking of others first.

Population experts have made numerous proposals to authorities, urging them to allow two children in all families.

Guangzhou in Guangdong Province became the first city to apply to the central government for permission allowing two children in families where only one parent is single child.

This request was made in June; central government approval is required.

For this article, Shanghai Daily went back to people interviewed in 2008 about the possibility of having a second children. Many who were thinking about action now have a second child.

Here, we interviewed four families with two babies; each parent is a single child. All the four second babies are around a year old, which means the women weren't even pregnant back in 2009.

All eight parents are in their late 20s and early 30s, they are local Shanghainese and typical white-collar professionals. Their two-family income is between 12,000-20,000 yuan a month. All get babysitting help from their parents - it's grandparents' traditional role to help bring up children - though the amount of help varies.

For everyone, the second baby has brought emotional and economic challenges of varying degrees.

Liang Zhiling, a 29-year-old financial consult, quit her promising career to stay at home and care for her children - something she had never imagined she would do.

Zhao Yun, a 28-year-old employee at a children's museum, is worried that her husband is under a lot of stress since their daughter was born. He opened his own business after the birth to make more money for the family. His temper is getting worse and it flares up from time to time.

Wang Yajun, a 29-year-old journalist, had to send her older son to her mother's for care after the second baby boy was born; weekends are family days when Wang and her husband see both children.

Amy Wang, a 31-year-old boutique store owner, admits that she hasn't had sex for nearly two years, after giving birth to her second child. They've been too busy, financially and personally stressed, and it's difficult when parents traditional let a newborn sleep in their bedroom, so mom can get up at night and feed him or her.

Liang and Wang Yajun have adapted fairly quickly, while Zhao and Amy Wang are apparently under a lot of pressure.


When Liang and her husband were planning to have a second baby, now an 11-month-old girl, she was 27, the youngest associate in her company and a rising star. She had a model husband and a delightful son.

She was considered by family, friends and colleagues to be the perfect someone, highly admired and respected and enjoying both a successful career and a happy family.

Her mother-in-law helps out greatly by caring for the boy during the daytime, but after work Liang and her husband try to spend as much time with the child as possible.

"With our first child, there were a lot of changes, so we were prepared for the second one, part of my dream of a bigger family," Liang says.

She never thought of being a housewife.

"I was probably too naive, I never thought I would be forced out of my job," she says.

Liang thought it was only right to report her pregnancy to her team leader when she was five months along.

"When I had my first baby, everyone was happy for me. But with the second, it was completely different with my colleagues and bosses," Liang recalls.

"They said, wow, how surprising, wow, how brave you are, wow, so now you have finally opted for the mommie (instead of the career) track?"

She was shocked. To her colleagues and bosses, both men and women, having a second child was equivalent to giving up a career.

"Everybody in the office just expected me to quit at some time. They were waiting for my letter," Liang says bitterly. "It got to the point that I just couldn't work there anymore; everyone was disappointed in their expectations."

The office atmosphere was so uncomfortable that she didn't even find a chance to explain and she got slightly depressed.

She had a long talk with her husband and decided she might as well fulfill everyone's expectations, and quit.

"After I figured that out, everything became rather easily. What I had struggled with so much at work meant nothing anymore. I was happy to spend all my time with my two cuties, and nothing is more important than that," she says.

The process was even easier for reporter Wang, who now has a three-year-old son and another one-year-old son. The little prince was not an intended pregnancy, the couple had been undecided. But there he was.

"I kind of wanted a second child, since we were both single children, but our parents were opposed to the idea, mainly due to high additional expenses," Wang says. "It is so expensive to raise a child in Shanghai now."

As a reporter, Wang has a rather flexible work schedule, which allows her to take care of one child in the mornings, but it was too much work to care for two children herself. She asked her mother to help out and took the older boy home with her on weekdays. On weekends Wang and her husband pick up the old boy and they all spend the weekend together.

The economic pressure hasn't begun to bit yet. Wang's parents take care of his expenses. She breast fed the youngest baby, so they have saved the major cost of milk powder.

Stressed out

Zhao, who works at a children's museum, now has a 10-month-old princess, an unintended pregnancy. The couple had just decided against having a second child for economic reasons and because they both felt they didn't have enough energy to handle a second one.

This was especially difficult for Zhao, since she had just passed her job advancement interview for the museum when she discovered she was pregnant.

"I think they did take into consideration that I already had a son, so it might look bad if I get pregnant again just when I'm getting a new job," Zhao says.

Her parents were against a second child for the same reason, her career.

Zhao and her husband decided to take up the responsibility. In order to make a good impression (or to control the damage), she worked up until two weeks before the baby was due. She also took a short maternity leave.

Unlike reporter Wang, who hasn't felt much change yet, everything Zhao and her husband worried about came true.

Their older son entered kindergarten last August, adding 1,500 yuan of monthly tuition to their spending. And Zhao can't breast-feed her daughter since she has to work extremely hard at the new job to a good impression. That's another 1,000 yuan for milk powder.

"My mom and mother-in-law have helped greatly taking turns, but I feel really bad having them do this, especially because my mother is recovering from tumor surgery," Zhao says.

She and her husband want to ease the burden on their parents as soon as possible. Thus, her husband started his own business in the culture industry.

"He's very stressed, I barely see him and we really don't communicate," says Zhao.

That makes her feel very lonely because they used to stick together all the time. "And now he's much more irritable because of stress from the baby and his stress at work."

The stress is similar in the case of boutique owner Wang, who got pregnant in the fall of 2009. Although the pregnancy was planned, her husband became panicked about additional responsibility, both as a father and as a breadwinner.

"Now he's working like a robot, going on business trips all the time. I only see him around twice a month," she says.

"We haven't had sex in around two years."


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