Family Planning ... Chinese Zodiac Style

The recent Chinese New Year marked the start of the Year of the Dragon. Children born this year, according to the Chinese zodiac, are supposed to be smarter, stronger and more successful. That's why some Asian American parents are pulling out all the stops to get pregnant. Host Michel Martin speaks with Los Angeles Times reporter Rosanna Xia.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Chinese communities around the world recently rang in the New Year. January 23rd marked the beginning of the Year of the Dragon in the lunar calendar. The dragon is often considered the most auspicious of the Chinese zodiac characters. And so, children born in the Year of the Dragon are supposed to be more successful, more intelligent and lead easier, happier lives.

So, perhaps it should not be surprising that many couples who embrace the Chinese calendar want their children to have Year of the Dragon birthdays. And the most motivated among them are using every method to improve the chances of having babies this year.

Rosanna Xia is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and she recently wrote about this and she's with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

ROSANNA XIA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, tell me about why the Year of the Dragon is such a good time to have kids.

XIA: Well, to start, I mean, the dragon is the only mythical creature in the Asian zodiac, which is a cycle that has 12 animals that each embody a unique characteristic. So, a dog is loyal, a rat clever. But all the other 11 animals in the zodiac are real animals you can find on earth and they say that the dragon can both swim and fly. So, this symbolizes a life with no obstacles because it can go through the oceans as well as heaven. And...

MARTIN: That sounds good to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So how is this tradition carrying on here? And, you know, at first, I have to say, Rosanna, when I read your piece, I thought you were pulling my leg. But people really do carry this on if they think, well, you know - if you're kind of on the fence, you think, well, this would be a good year or...

XIA: So, what's interesting - yeah. What's interesting is it's a story that runs every 12 years, I think, in Asian media, in Chinese and Vietnamese communities, particularly around the world. It's pretty much fact that each dragon year means a new wave of super-dedicated families eager for said dragon baby. So...

MARTIN: But there's actually some data on this point. For example, you found that some of the in vitro fertilization or assisted reproductive clinics are actually reporting an increase in people requesting and using their services this year.

XIA: Exactly. What was interesting for me was to look at kind of the U.S. side and how Asian-Americans have also carried this belief with them from Asia to the U.S. So, one L.A.-based IVF agency I spoke to told me they had a 250 percent increase in Chinese and Vietnamese clients just in the last two months. And they were thrown off by it at first, but figured it out pretty quickly.

MARTIN: Why do you think that this particular - I don't know if it's, what would you say - practice or belief has stuck?

XIA: Tradition.

MARTIN: Tradition. Tradition. Thank you. Has stuck, even though others have gone by the wayside.

XIA: I think it's because the dragon legend is that one story that's really remained consistent and been passed down generation by generation, unchanged since literally the beginning of Asian history. And according to the legend, the wife of the earliest, earliest emperor could not carry a child. And she finally gave birth to a son, who was believed to be a descendent of the dragon and he was brought to earth to rule all of mankind.

And from there, the dragon really became a symbol of royalty, of power, and up until only about 100 years ago, only the emperor's closest circle could wear dragon embroidery on their robes, have any form of the dragon symbol hung outside their house, on their paperwork. Otherwise, you know, the mainstream people were executed.

MARTIN: When you talked to people just in the course of your reporting, just talked to regular folks or individual families, what did they tell you?

XIA: Well, first off, no one appeared surprised when I brought the topic. What was interesting is when I started talking to maternity wards in the San Gabriel Valley, which is predominantly Asian-American in the L.A. County, they weren't surprised at all.

They didn't have hard numbers or estimates like the IVF agency that I spoke to, but they're expecting a surge in birth rates. And they have heard their patients talking about it and...

MARTIN: But did you talk to any couples who said, absolutely, we're going for it this year and this is why.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

XIA: Definitely, yes. I mean, I spoke to one couple who are both 36, they're both dragons themselves. And, you know, they were both very career-driven and very successful with their career. I believe they were pharmacists. And they said that, you know, finally, this was the right time to kind of bring a child into their family. And they started actively planning in October and they're like, OK, this is the time to have a baby. And her mom is so excited. And she has a sister who is also now expecting a baby in the Year of the Dragon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Did you - I don't know that you'd ever find anybody to admit this, but did you find anybody who was persuaded to have a child this year, even though they weren't really ready because they thought, well, if I don't do it this year, then, you know, my luck is going downhill?

XIA: I didn't speak to anyone specifically persuaded or forced into it, but everyone I spoke to kind of laughed about how their grandparents or their aunts or their moms, the elders all kind of if you're at that age where you're having - you're ready - you should be having a child, in their eyes, it's definitely - this is the year that it kind of gets pushed a little bit more.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: What's next year, by the way? Just in case somebody doesn't quite hit it this year, I just want to know if I can offer them any comfort. What's next year?

XIA: It is the year of the snake, which is considered a baby dragon by some. And February 9th of next year, 2013, would be the last possible day to be a dragon baby.

MARTIN: OK. Well, just circle that date on the calendar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Rosanna Xia is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She recently wrote about the expected baby boom in this, the Year of the Dragon. And she joined us from the studios of the L.A. Times in Los Angeles. Rosanna, thank you.

XIA: Thank you very much.

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