China Elevator Stories

Wearing Radiation-Proof Maternity Clothes To Get A Seat On The Subway

Radiation-proof maternity clothes are common in China.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


One weekend after I find out that I’m pregnant, a Chinese friend takes me shopping so  I can find more comfortable clothes to wear during pregnancy.

When we are done with shopping and eat lunch, she says: “You should buy radiation-proof clothes. These are especially made for pregnant women. If you wear a radiation-proof maternity dress, people will offer you their seat on the subway because they’ll realize you’re pregnant.”

illustration pregnancy dress - Ruth Silbermayr

It will take a few more months until strangers will be able to see that I am pregnant. I have to take the overcrowded Shenzhen subway daily to get to and off from work. So later that week, I look up radiation-proof clothes on China’s popular online shopping platform, Taobao. 

Taking the subway in China at rush hour can be a very uncomfortable experience, even more so if you have to deal with early pregnancy symptoms such as exhaustion, general weakness and nausea, which, although called morning sickness, can last the whole day. For me, the nausea is often at its worst on the way back home from work. It could be because I’m exhausted from work, or because I feel stressed by the sheer mass of people getting on and off subways. It could also be because there are just so many different smells.

When I look up the clothes my friend talked about on Taobao, almost all of them are pink. The dresses look like they are made for a little girl, not for a grown-up woman. I cringe at the thought of having to wear a dress that will make me look “cute” and not like a grown-up. I scan through pages of radiation-proof maternity clothes and find a simple dark grey dress. I’m holding on to the idea that wearing a dress like this will get me a seat on the overcrowded Shenzhen subway.

After receiving the dress, I wear it on different occasions to find out if anyone will offer me their seat on the subway. I also pay more attention to other women who wear such clothes, to investigate if they get offered a seat on the subway. Some aren’t showing yet, but are offered a seat. 

Unfortunately, my tactics don’t seem to work. Maybe my dress is just too simple. Or maybe I would have to wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath the dress, just like other pregnant women here do.

Nobody offers me their seat. I assume, it must be either because I don’t wear this dress correctly, or because people don’t associate a foreigner wearing this kind of dress with pregnancy.

Maybe it’s time to look up fake baby bumps online?

Have you ever been desperate to get a seat on the subway as a pregnant woman?

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