Posted by: Sam Olsen | May 2, 2013

Birthing: HK style

It’s the post you’ve all been waiting for… would the hospital food kill me even if the ferocious midwives didn’t? Would the baby actually come out looking Chinese and cause the biggest marital upset in expat HK? Would an unscrupulous mainlander steal Olsen jnr from the ward nursery and sell the little mite into the white slave trade?

The answer to all these questions is of course… No! We are pleased to report the arrival of young Dominic Richard in the family, on Sunday 21st of April 2013. The story began last summer when we discovered we were expecting while in Dorset with the family. Upon returning to HK, I immediately consulted my health insurance package for details. The Matilda is the renowned HK hospital-come-hotel where any self-respecting expat books in for a birth.  The first hurdle was that ‘Here for Good’ does not automatically equate to Here at the Matilda, and the health insurance stretched to a meagre HKD10,000 vs the accepted HKD 100,000 for a normal birth with no complications. I consulted a friend who’d delivered at the public hospital, and was pleasantly surprised to hear her story. As the daughter of a proud and life-long public health service employee, I decided to give it a go. So my ‘care’ was cobbled together from the man who did scans in the floor above the bank Compliance department in Central, a team of bonkers but wonderful European midwives operating out of another office building, and the hospital itself.

All progressed smoothly until week 37 when I was finally due to report back in at the hospital. The doctor, the indomitable Diana Chung (appearance = 25 years), noticed I had a cough and immediately put two and two together with the report of a strange, albeit dormant, lung condition on my notes. She instructed me to be admitted To The Ward immediately. I refused; it was the Friday afternoon before the Rugby Sevens – Sam was in no fit state to be doing childcare all weekend! So we agreed on the Monday, and I got my first taste of two days relaxing at the Queen Mary Hospital on the ante-natal ward. Silence reigned amongst the 12 of us or so in the ward. In my wing, the other two women lay listless on their beds until visiting hours. Hours which were, incidentally, highly regimented; 3 per day, no kids allowed. If anyone was in labour, it wasn’t noticeable!  The food was pretty grim; Fan Yuu I accepted (fish and rice). The evening’s indiscernible offering was urged against by my fellow patients and fortunately the doctor released me to come home and sleep (and EAT) in my own world.

Released from hospital the following day, the waiting game began; Easter, followed by the due date, came and went. I spent the time crawling around on all fours or bouncing on my ball. Induction? Ten days after due date, they threatened. This seemed reasonable for the so-called ‘regimented’ HK healthcare system. But nature played a fair hand and after a false start on the Thursday evening, Sam headed out to the cinema on Saturday night, almost a week after the due date. I stayed at home watching…. Victoria Wood and Julie Walters (attentive readers, namely MS, may recall the role that Acorn Antiques played in the arrive of Lawrence). By eleven pm, I realised something was afoot, but didn’t bother to call the Icelandic midwife since we’d rather disappointed her earlier in the week!

By 4.30am it was time to wake Sam and make that call; “Go to Hospital Now”, came the response. Downstairs, trying to call a taxi; Daai tou po (Big tummy lady) I told the late night doorman whose English was worse than my Cantonese, gasping between contractions. (Sam was upstairs getting the car keys). No taxi in sight, so into the trusty Mazda 5 we climbed, up the hill, over the numerous sleeping policeman in the car park at the hospital. Then the longest walk through hospital corridors. Walk interspersed with clutching of stomach while on knees that Sam later reported was a bit over-dramatic. No-one around to see it anyway; peace reigns after hours at QMH!

I shall spare the general public the gorier details, but here are a few highlights; the midwives – all be-masked of course (and one even be-spectacled in some of those glasses people wear for DIY), Pamela, Jennifer, and Maggie, were a force to be reckoned with. Yes, NHS pundits, there were three of them there, just for me, for the two or so hours between us arriving and D appearing. Maggie in particular clocked me as quick as a flash… ‘Will somebody help meeee?!’ I shouted, grabbing her hand. ‘STOP squeezing my hand, you are hurting me’ she commanded, knowing full well that if I relaxed my hand I may well relax the rest of my body. Eventually they grew tired of my weak westerner howls and filthy language and told me that the baby would come out quicker if I shut up. Hmmm.  At one point a doctor made the mistake of entering the room. “This is the obstetrician” announced Jennifer with tangible disdain, “If baby doesn’t come out soon she will use ventouse, forceps, episiostomy….”. The said Dr. Mok (appearance = 17 years, honestly), took one look at the scene and fled.  Back to Mags, Jen and Pam and the piece de resistance of their approach: ‘Now time to try traditional Chinese squatting pose’. Well, I’d recommend it to anyone, but like I said will leave out the gory parts. Expectant mothers feel free to get in touch.

Dominic appeared shortly afterwards, as the sun rose over Telegraph Bay on the western side of HK island. It’s a stunning view from up there on the delivery floor!  An hour or so later I was marshalled to the ward by a series of rather lumpen orderly/nurse types. Thereafter followed 48 extremely relaxing hours, visited by dear husband during visiting hours, handing over the little one to the nurses whenever I wanted a sleep. Their attitude was a refreshing; ‘Baby not always need to eat, sometimes good just to cry and exercise lungs’ as he was marched off to the nursery area with the other tiny babies. The Chinese visitors came in floods; it is considered quite rude not to turn up the day of the birth, quite the opposite of the Western way.

Two days later, I was safely installed back at home, and Lawrence was introduced to his little brother. They think each other totally smashing already!

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