In pictures: Chinese tattooist offers help to cover mums’ birth scars, in nation with one of world’s highest C-section rates

China has one of the highest rates of caesarean births in the world, leaving a lot of mothers with scars they want to cover – and Shi Hailei, a Shanghai tattoo artist, is helping them regain their self-confidence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 11:00am

After trying cosmetic creams and surgery, Wang Jing placed her hopes in the skilled hands of a tattoo artist to make the scar on her belly finally disappear.

“Whenever you try to reach for something, your belly is exposed. It’s not nice looking,” Wang, 46, says of the scar from the caesarean section birth of her daughter two decades ago, a scar that would soon be covered by a kitten tattoo.

China has one of the highest caesarean section rates in the world; it reached a peak between 2004 and 2008 when nearly half of the country’s babies were born using the procedure, the World Health Organisation said in 2010. (Hong Kong also has a high rate, with more than 41 per cent of births by caesarean section, almost double the developed economy average of 21 per cent.)

This has created a niche market for creams, cosmetics and plastic surgery to hide the 10-15cm scars left by the procedure.

Hong Kong mothers who opt for caesarean section at risk if they get pregnant again

Some women spend up to 300 yuan (HK$340) for a 30ml tube of silicone gel that promises to make their scars go away. Others opt for laser surgery costing 2,000 yuan (HK$2,250) for each centimetre of scar treated.

Tattoo artist Shi Hailei says he offers an alternative to mothers unhappy with the results from gels and tummy tucks.

“A tattoo makes a woman more confident. She will no longer feel ashamed to show her abdomen,” says Shi, the 32-year-old owner of Samurai Tattoo in Shanghai.

Shi says he was inspired by Brazilian tattoo artist Flavia Carvalho, who offers tattoos to women physically scarred by domestic violence. He thought tattoos could help improve the self-esteem of Chinese mothers unhappy with their scars.

Shi performed his first free caesarean section tattoo in 2015. His shop now helps up to six women per month and sometimes there is a waiting list due to the demand.

Health experts cite several reasons for China’s widespread use of the procedure.

This kind of delivery is believed to require fewer nursing hours than a natural birth, helping China cope with rising in-hospital births as more people move to cities and put pressure on health services.

C-section baby boom as parents rush to give birth before Lunar New Year

The decades-old one-child policy also led couples to choose a caesarean section, to avoid complications that could arise from natural child birth. Women are also choosing a caesarean section if they are worried about a prolonged labour, doctors say.

Covering a belly scar can be a challenge because the skin is softer than other parts of the body. Each scar is unique and requires careful thought about the tattoo design.

“It could be vertical or horizontal. It will affect the composition,” Shi says.

The women who have sought Shi’s help say they are very happy with their new adornment.

Grace Yuan, a dance teacher with a three-year-old daughter, had been embarrassed about her scar.

“I felt awkward to see my scar when wearing a low-waist dancing dress,” says Yuan, who got a rose tattoo in April. “I can dance freely on the stage now without worries or awkwardness.”

Wang Ruoyu, 37, says her self-esteem received a boost from the winged crown tattoo that covers the scar on her lower abdomen. “All girls want to be pretty and so do I,” she says.