Giddy up and get pregnant

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-7 17:58:01

Auspiciousness associated with the Year of the Horse coupled with China's recent easing of its family planning policy have led many couples to give birth in 2014. Photo: IC

Ahead of the Spring Festival, a series of memes featuring pictures of horses carrying various items on their backs has swept Chinese social media. The series, a Chinese play on words exploiting the dual meaning of ma shang for "on a horse" and "in the near future," is netizens' witty ode to the upcoming Year of the Horse.

Money, dollhouses, matchbox cars and even pairs of elephants are laden on toy horses in photos and illustrations to respectively symbolize people's desire for wealth, a home, car and boyfriend or girlfriend. But one of the most popular aspirations is summed up by images of infants on horseback.

Wu Lei, 27, hopes the Year of the Horse will bring her a baby. She and her husband have been trying to conceive for a month, and Wu has joined groups on online chat service QQ for women preparing for pregnancy.

"We talk about our ovulation dates, menstrual periods and body temperatures. When someone gets lucky [by becoming pregnant] we congratulate them. We also share tips on how to increase our fertility," said Wu, a hairdresser.

A meme circulating Chinese social media features babies on horses, which reflects wishes among budding parents-to-be to give birth in the Year of the Horse. Photo: IC

Embracing 'filly-ial' duty

China's recent easing of its family planning policy to allow couples who are both only children to have a second child has raised expectations for a baby boom in 2014. But the policy shift isn't the only reason why many couples are planning to give birth in 2014.

The Year of the Horse is also an auspicious year to be born, particularly considering that it is followed in 2015 by arguably the Chinese zodiac's least desirable sign: the sheep. 

"Our parents advised my husband and me that it's not good to have a baby born in the Year of the Sheep," said Wu. "A 'horse baby' must be born before [the Year of the Sheep begins on] February 19, 2015, which means one needs to get pregnant before May. There aren't many chances left," said Wu, a hint of uneasiness in her voice.

Both spouses' parents have offered sage advice to boost their fertility. In addition to Wu's husband quitting smoking, the pair regularly eats chicken soup infused with certain herbs, massages certain acupoints on their feet and has even rearranged furniture to improve feng shui in their bedroom.

A self-described "modern woman," Wu doesn't believe many of these traditional superstitions will help her become pregnant any sooner. But she also doesn't want to rebel against the older generation's good intentions.

Wu has downloaded smartphone apps to keep track of her ovulation cycle, record her daily body temperature and read up on pregnancy-related tips.

Wang Fei, 31, and his wife Liu Yang, 25, began trying to conceive at the end of November 2013.

"It seems like all of a sudden every couple we know is either expecting a baby or already has one, so we want our baby to be able to play with them," Wang said.

Wang, a photography instructor, and Liu, a nurse, are also wary of having their baby before the dreaded Year of the Sheep.

Getting tested

After their first month of trying to conceive proved unsuccessful, Liu underwent tests at a hospital that revealed everything was normal with her ovulation.

"The doctor told us that we are overly stressed [about conceiving], which might be the reason that we haven't been successful," said Wang.

Before trying to conceive, Wang and Liu both underwent physicals as recommended in a pamphlet on preparing for pregnancy they read issued by the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau.

Wang Weijuan, a gynecologist and obstetrician at Amcare Women's and Children's Hospital in Chaoyang district, advises both parents-to-be to undergo physicals before trying to conceive, especially if 35 or older.

Genitals need to be checked to rule out prostatitis, colpitis and human papillomavirus, while a sperm test might be necessary to check for deformity and motility.

Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption are also necessary to improve sperm and egg quality, Wang Weijuan added.

"Putting on some weight might not cause discomfort, but it can lead to higher levels of fat and sugar in blood that can influence one's fertility," she said. 

Doctors recommend couples exercise more planning to conceive. Photo: IC

Impact of smog on fertility

Altering eating and drinking habits might be within one's control, but a more pressing threat to fertility harder for couples to escape is Beijing's air pollution.

In November 2013, a Shanghai doctor claimed that two-thirds of the city's semen stocks were below World Health Organization standards due partly to worsening air pollution, the Shanghai Morning Post reported.

Wang Weijuan agreed that smog is likely harming fertility rates, but stopped short of drawing a direct link between the two.

"Since air pollution affects one's health, it is of course fair to assume it influences one's reproductive performance," she said, explaining how air pollution is rich in free radicals, or unstable molecules that can damage cell structures, that when in inhaled can affect fertility.

"But we aren't sure to what extent pollution influences fertility yet because there isn't any scientific data to support such theories. [Air pollution's affect on fertility] isn't as conclusive as the link between alcohol and fetal anomaly," she said.

Edible seeds are considered beneficial to boosting fertility based on TCM theory. Photo: IC

Turning to TCM for help

Wang Yuntao, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor who specializes in reproductive medicine, said TCM remedies including herbs, acupuncture and moxibustion and bone-adjustment therapy have long been used to help couples conceive.

"Most couples I see concentrate on being in good physical condition to conceive," said Wang Yuntao. "Sleep, stress and mood are all factors that influence conception. Having expectations that are too high can actually make it harder to conceive."

Wang Yuntao advises parents-to-be to go to sleep each night before 10:30 pm. "Conceiving requires a couple to prepare at least three months in advance. Ideally, the best conditions include a good environment and good mood," Wang Yuntao said.

Regarding diet, Wang Yuntao listed walnuts, goji berries, peanuts and jujubes as foods that can aid the reproductive system. "According to TCM theory, eating seeds and nuts can enhance egg and sperm quality," he explained. 

Even though winter might seem the best time to get busy in bed, Wang Yuntao stressed that the peak months for fertility are August and September because they are "seasons of harvest." 

Gaining a nutritional edge

Wang Weijuan said she has already consulted many couples planning to have a second child in 2014 under the newly loosened family planning policy.

"The matter usually of greatest concern is if a mother is over 35 because of the heightened risk of complications during pregnancy," said Wang. "Mature-aged mothers need to take extra precautionary measures. Besides having regular physicals, they should pay more attention to their blood-sugar and blood pressure levels."

Nutritionist Yang Wenjiao said couples should start to take a daily folic acid supplements ahead of attempting to conceive.

"Zinc is needed in sperm production, so a man should increase his intake of nuts and seafood," Yang said.

Calcium and iron are also vital elements, meaning women should drink more milk and eat more tofu, green leafy vegetables, lean meat and liver, Yang added.

TCM doctors recommend couples planning to conceive step up their intake of goji berries. Photo: IC


What to expect of 2014 'horse babies'

Gong Xiaolin, an expert on feng shui and the classic Chinese text I Ching, shared his predictions with Metropolitan about what parents-to-be can expect from babies born in the Year of the Horse.

Strengths: Because of the element of fire associated with the 2014 Year of the Horse, babies born during this year will be enthusiastic, active and energetic. They will grow up to be honest, reliable, brave, sincere, free and unrestrained. Some of them might become "party animals" because they will be skilled at socializing. True to the Chinese description of a capable person being described as qianlima (literally, "horse that can cover 1,000 miles per day"), babies born this year will be worthy of great respect.

Weaknesses: Subtlety will be a weak point, with some babies likely to grow up as showoffs. They will be a little impatient and restless, with below-average self-control. It will prove difficult for these people to see something through to the end. They will be challenged at fostering good habits, with pessimism a reoccurring thorn in their side.

Likely careers: Politician, military officer, arts critic, photographer, makeup artist, film director, food/beverage manager and secretary.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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