Pregnancy and Birth in Another Country

If you were to ask me ten years ago, I never would have thought I would be living in Hong Kong, never mind starting a family here and giving birth to two babies.  I always thought I would be having a baby with my partner, a doula and a midwife, but it’s not so easy in Hong Kong.

When we first found out we were pregnant, we made an appointment with the pregnancy guru in Hong Kong to find out more about the public versus private system here.  Her name is Hulda Thorey and she’s the owner of Annerley and also a midwife here in Hong Kong.  She outlined the differences clearly and helped us decide which route would suit us.  The private route is significantly more expensive than the public route but Hulda also explained to us that if were determined to have a natural birth, the public route would probably be a better choice.

We decided that we were going to have our baby in the public hospital with visits to a private doctor so that we could fully understand the stages we would be going through.  We did this with both of our pregnancies.  We decided to find out both times the gender of our babies.  I’m just too impatient to wait to find out!

My pregnancies were quite different.  First time around, I was super nauseous for most of the first trimester.  Second time around, I just had the fatigue.  My morning sickness wasn’t so bad that I needed medication…it helped to have snacks on hand and also LOTS of ginger tea, like a thermal mug by my bed at all times.  Morning sickness didn’t always come in the morning as most mommies know.

At times, the public route was a little frustrating, but for most part, the care was adequate and they covered all their bases.  When they suspected a bigger baby, the requested that I do the glucose tolerance test (which I hated!).  When it came to hospital admittance, my experiences were quite different.  The first time, I went in too early so I had to deal with good and bad nurses at the Queen Mary Hospital which is affiliated with the Hong Kong University and had the best neonatal unit in Hong Kong.  After over 40 hours of labour and no change from 1cm dilation and full on back labour, I was able to request an induction.  I was using the breathing techniques I learned in hypnobirthing classes at Annerley; moving as much as I could by walking through the contractions and getting counter pressure from my loving husband; using the birth ball; and using the TENs machine I borrowed from the labour ward on full blast to help with the pain.  The nurses in the general ward weren’t very helpful.  They kept telling me to use the birth ball.  I think the problem with the public system is that you aren’t allowed any support to be by your side until you’ve reached the 3cm dilated mark.  Until then, you have to leave the ward to be with your partner in the waiting area or if it’s visiting hours which is only between 6 and 8pm.  Because I was finally getting an induction, my husband could finally be with me in the labour ward!  Hallelujah!

I had planned to have a drug free birth so at first I tried the gas to help with the pain, but after 2 nights of no sleep, I couldn’t handle the pain well anymore.  I finally requested an epidural and once they could get a doctor to administer it, I was able to sleep just for a few hours and relax through the contractions.  It took 4 hours to soften the cervix and another 4 to be fully dilated.  My midwives were wonderful.  We had 2 in total that were in charge of my birth because of shift changes.  The gave me some music to help us relax and the mostly left me and my husband alone and only came in to monitor my medications.  They adjusted the epidural and syntocin medications accordingly.  Once I was fully dilated, they turned off all of the medications so I could regain some feeling in order to prepare for the push.  Little S arrived after about 35 minutes of pushing!  We both had a bit of a temperature so she ended up staying in special care for a week with a course of antibiotics, but the care she received there was pretty good.

The difference with my second birth was that I knew a bit more of what to expect and it was a much quicker labour.  I went straight to the labour ward and he was born about 4 hours from being admitted into the hospital.  This time, we got a little advice over the phone from Hulda of Annerley and we took it!  We left before the morning traffic and got to the hospital pretty quickly.  Baby A was born naturally with no epidural this time.  With no meds, I could definitely feel the full intensity and force of labour and my body working!

I have to say that even though I didn’t have the chance to have a doula, I was quite happy with my births.  I didn’t have the continuity of having one doctor/midwife throughout  my pregnancy and birth, but I was able to have very adequate care in the public system.  It might not have been a 5 star hotel experience like some people can receive here in Hong Kong, but I was able to have my babies safely in another country.  I was happy to have a baby as naturally as possible in a country where most women often get pushed into having a c-section or choose one because of auspicious dates or maximizing their maternity leaves which is another blog entry on its own.


About mommyhoodhk

I'm a mommy of 2, a daughter who just is 7.5 (!) and a son who is 6 (!). Living in Hong Kong and raising a little girl and a little boy married to a wonderful man who is supportive of all of my endeavors. Learning new things everyday and trying to be the best parent and wife I can be. I've also recently re-entered the workforce and back at my old clinic, Sutherland-Chan Centre on a part-time basis.
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4 Responses to Pregnancy and Birth in Another Country

  1. Wow, I never knew thew details of your birth stories. It is a good reminder that each birth can be so different. Despite all the things we can do to try to prepare, the best thing parent-to-be can do is prepare to be calm and strong…regardless of the circumstances of the labor. You rocked your births in a system that you saw firsthand could use some improvements. I would like to know the hospital’s rationale for limiting partner involvement until a mother is 3 cm dilated. I needed support and encouragement ALL the way through my labor. Do you think they are trying to encourage women to wait until they have progressed further along into labor? But that wouldn’t make much sense since some labors have complications that require attention before that point. Hmmm.

  2. mommyhoodhk says:

    I think (maybe I should enquire further), that because the population is so big here, there is limited space, especially in public hospitals. Before you are 3 cm, I guess your labour time can vary so much, especially if it’s your first baby. And because of that reason, you are put in a general ward with other women and the system is protecting other women’s privacy. Sometimes, they put women who have already had babies in the general ward if there isn’t space in the postnatal ward so only a curtain separates each bed. That is why the second time around, I was really determined to try not to check in too early. Once you’ve been admitted, that’s it. Each hospital is very different and your experience can even differ at the same hospital because the staff on duty can also affect your time there. I was probably at one of the most expat friendly public hospitals in Hong Kong. Good news is that there is a midwife here in Hong Kong that is trying to open up a birthing centre in Hong Kong…obviously it will cost a bit but not as much as a private hospital.

  3. I came across an article about the tensions created by Chinese mothers using the Hong Kong public medical system to birth their baby.

  4. mommyhoodhk says:

    Yup! This is an ongoing problem. Lot of mainland mothers come to Hong Kong to use the public and private systems and it’s causing a problem for local mothers as there isn’t enough space. Mainland mothers either have so much money they pay extra to private doctors and I’ve also heard some leave without paying at the public hospitals. Public hospitals are now putting a quota on the number of mainland mothers allowed to birth there but private hospitals are not really going to because they make so much extra money. There are even agencies in China who arrange for the doctor and hospital for a big fee. They also are known to give extravagant gifts to doctors and nurses in Hong Kong for preferential treatments such as getting better appointment times and such. Not only is it a problem in the hospitals, but some of the children born in HK will get to use the schools here which cause problems of local kids getting into schools.

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