Like millions of other Chinese women, Wu Ying wanted to have a baby. She ended up paying for that irresistible urge with her life.
Doctors had warned the 25-year-old that giving birth could put her life in jeopardy because of her history of heart disease.
But when she looked at her friends’ children, Wu was determined to be a mother.
“I am clearly aware of the risk,” she said. “But I’d like to take a gamble on it.”
In May 2017, the dream came true. Wu gave birth to a 1kg (2.2lb) boy by caesarean section. But she never saw the newborn. Immediately after the delivery, Wu was put in an intensive care unit. Fourteen days later, she was dead.
Wu’s story was highlighted in the latest episode of Life Matters, a medical documentary series co-produced by Shanghai Municipal Health Commission and Shanghai Television Station and broadcast online.
Its release on Tuesday triggered an intense internet debate over the merits of women giving birth when their health is at stake.
Like Wu, the expectant mothers depicted in the programme said they had been warned they were putting their lives at risk by having children, but still chose to do so. The consensus was that a woman was “incomplete” if she failed to have a baby.
But Wu was the only member of the group to die after giving birth.
Lin Jianhua, the director of Shanghai Renji Hospital’s obstetrics department, said in the programme that she frequently saw women with medical conditions risking their lives by getting pregnant.
“Their reasons vary, from love for their husband, completeness of their family, or pressure from the society,” she said. “They told me they knew there were high risks, but that they had the right to decide whether they should have a baby. We can’t make people have an abortion.”
In the film, Wu, who suffered from congenital heart disease and pulmonary hypertension, was described by doctors as “absolutely not suitable for pregnancy”.
She had miscarried twice before becoming pregnant again in 2016. Her husband Shen Jie said he urged her to give up the baby when she got pregnant again because of the danger she faced, but she would not listen.
“She stuck to her decision,” he said. “She cried and protested in front of us. Finally, I agreed.”
Wu’s mother, Yuan Caixia, and her in-laws also failed to convince her to abandon her dream to have a child.
“Many people said I’m stubborn. But it didn’t happen to you, so you couldn’t have that feeling [as me],” Wu said in the documentary.
“My friends were persuading me, but they have their own children. When I looked at their children, I wanted to have my own.
“I’m clearly aware of the risk, but I’d like to take a gamble on it.”
Reflecting on how things turned out – Wu finally managing to give birth and then succumbing just two weeks later – documentary director Li Wen said filming the woman’s story left him with mixed feelings.
“On one hand Wu Ying was so young,” he told Qianjiang Evening News. “On the other, we hope other women can learn from her case and follow doctors’ advice and not put their lives at risk.”
Some internet users took Wu’s side, saying she had little choice but to follow her maternal instincts.
“[Life for] a woman will be very, very painful if she can’t give birth,” a Weibo user wrote. “I had that pain in the past, so I understand Wu’s desire to have a baby. I feel sorry for her that she passed away so soon. [That she left behind] her son is so sad.”
Others were less sympathetic.
“I think her conception that a woman’s completeness is achieved only by having a baby is outdated,” one person wrote. “Women should depend on themselves and should be good to themselves.”
“Your husband and your parents also need your company and your love,” wrote another.
Xia Xian, head of the obstetrics department at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, said in an interview that doctors can usually talk women into terminating their pregnancies if they have medical conditions that complicate the process or put their lives at risk.
Although most women took their doctor’s advice, a small number – usually from rural areas – chose to ignore it and continued with their pregnancies, she said.
When then happens, “we will ask the pregnant woman to sign a waiver, and we report the case to the hospital authority”, she said.
“If she insists on continuing with the pregnancy, we will try our best to ensure her safety. But in many cases, it’s out of our control, especially when the pregnancy is at the mid or late stage.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.