Poetry Archive

Pregnancy Stories of a Chinese Ph.D. Student in the U.S.

Original illustration for Raising Mothers by Laxmi Hussain


In the second semester of my Ph.D.,
my mom started sending me
cute babies’ photos.
It became an eternal topic
for our weekly Skype meetings
across the Pacific Ocean.
“Hurry up! You are almost 30!”

My father-in-law formally talked
with my husband:
“When do you plan to have a baby?”
顺其自(Shunqiziran).”—Let nature take its course.
“Don’t take any contraception.”

“Do you have any kids?”
The seventh time
I heard this question
from my Chinese & American friends,
I knew a due date
truly existed
not just for final papers.

Week 5: The First Prenatal Visit

The baby is 100% Made in USA.
But when I got the sweet news,
I was in my hometown
Shenyang, a big city in northeast China.

“Patient Zhang Kuo, please go to No. 5 consulting room.”
called by an electronic voice
from the queuing machine.

The doctor glanced at my test result.
“You are pregnant.
Keep it or have an abortion?”

My big smile became awkward.
Hastily I said, “I want it! I want it!”
“Then you can go home now.”

As the machine called the next patient,
I complained to my mom,
“She is so rude and cold!!!”

“Why did you say that?
Isn’t it the normal way
a doctor should be?”

Week 9: Back to America

I didn’t tell the Chicago custom official
how my Great Grandpa ploughed
in Shandong Province
with his foot-bound wife.

Nor that
Grandpa braved his journey to the Northeast,
served as a coal miner, then
a local official in the Communist Party.

And that my parents,
like the phoenixes rising from a chicken coop,
became first generation college students after the Culture Revolution,
that they settled down in the capital of Liaoning Province.

Though the official claimed to know all my stories:
Lagos for 8 months in 2010, 4 entries to Beijing,
U.S. state of Georgia 5 times since 2011…,
and how many more years, months and days I can legally stay.

Welcome back!
He smiled,
a smuggler’s passport.

He didn’t know I was carrying
a tiny undocumented immigrant
& U.S. citizen
in my secret garden.

One who’ll speak a language that
belongs to
evil capitalists
in my grandpa’s eyes.

Week 11: The First Prenatal Visit in the U.S.

The front office lady gave me
a small white paper package
and a transparent urine bottle.

“Be sure to wipe before you do it,
then put it in the box on the wall.”

“Uh, do you mean I should wipe…my hands?”

“Oh, no.” The lady laughed.
She put her hand around her privates.
“Wipe here.”

“Ohhh! I see.” I laughed, too.

But still, I missed the latter part of her words.
Holding the bottle full of urine,
I searched around the passage.

“It is just there, on the wall, inside the restroom.”
Another lady helped me out.

Later, I told my husband,
“I really feel I’m stupid here.”

“Don’t worry!
It is just the first time.”

Week 20: Boy or Girl?

It is against the law for a doctor
to reveal the gender
of a baby in China.
But if you bribe
or know someone who knows the doctor,
it’s no longer a big deal.

My parents didn’t know what I was
until the day I was born.
After hearing the “bad” news,
my grandma stayed in hospital.
A lifelong cold war broke out
between my mom and her in-laws.

断子绝孙(duan zi jue sun)
die without sons and grandsons
the most venomous curse to Chinese people.
I am the terminator
who denied my father’s right
to be buried in the ancestral grave.

“Would you like to know the baby’s gender?”
asked by my sonographer.
“Yes, please.”
The proud sign of a male
towered on the screen.
“You see! It’s a boy!”

My parents-in-law got the “good” news
in a Skype call.
“Oh! A BIG Grandson!!!”
They grinned from ear to ear.
如你所愿? (Ru ni suo yuan ba?)”Is it as you wish?
没有啦。(Mei you la.) Nono, boys and girls are the same.”

2 Days after Week 20: A Phone Call


“Hello, this is Athens Regional Midwifery.
You need to make an appointment with Dr. Godwin
a maternal-fetal specialist.”

“??? Okay…I need to see Dr. Godwin?
But, but for what?”

“Our doctor rechecked your ultrasound
and found some problems.”

“Problem??? What problem?!!
They said everything was normal!”

Well, it might turn out to be normal.
But…the doctor found
intracardiac foci, multiple choroid nexus cysts and prominent kidneys.
…So, you need to see Dr. Godwin.”



“O…Okay…So…what is the time and address?”

“It’s at 10 am on Sep. 27th.
The address is 700 Sunset Drive, Suite 301.”

“Sweet? What is sweet?”

“That is the doctor’s room number.”

“How do you spell that?”

“S-U-I-T-E. Suite.”

“Ah…Oh…Okay. Thank you.”

“Do you have any other questions?”

(Yes!!! But is it ridiculous to ask her
to repeat every word slowly?)
“No…I don’t have questions.”



Week 30: Antenatal Education

No music.
No story.
You use Bakhtinian dialogism
to babble with Vygotsky.

You make me feel less guilty
to sleep too much.
We catch up on the papers,
and celebrate co-authorship.

You kick a rhythm in class discussion,
and draw a hill inside my belly.
I know you love the professor’s voice
and art-based inquires.


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Filed under: Poetry Archive


Kuo Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate and graduate teaching assistant in TESOL & World Language Education at the University of Georgia. She gave birth to her son during the second year of her Ph.D. study as an international student from China. She has a book of poetry in both Chinese and English, Broadleaves (Shenyang Press). Her poem “One Child Policy” was awarded second place in the 2012 Society for Humanistic Anthropology [SHA] Poetry Competition held by the American Anthropology Association. She served as poetry & arts editor for the Journal of Language & Literacy Education in 2016-2017 and also one of the judges for 2015 & 2016 SHA Poetry Competition.