There has been no shortage of sharing about our little baby being born in Hong Kong. You’ve heard about my sweaty pregnancy check-ups, the trials and tribulations of my blood type and blood pressure, and finally(!) Campbell’s birth. What I didn’t really address – and what lots of people have been curious about – is what it was like to give birth in a Hong Kong public hospital. Here are all the nitty gritty details!
I’m certainly no expert in giving birth, this being my first baby and all. I have nothing to compare it to personally in Canada, but I’m pretty sure that the way things are done here in Hong Kong aren’t quite the way they are done elsewhere. That being said, the care in Hong Kong public hospitals is absolutely world class, and had we chosen to have our baby in a private hospital and run into any complications, we would have been transferred to a public hospital anyway. Everyone we spoke with who had given birth at Queen Mary Hospital, or other public Hong Kong hospitals, had good things to say. This gave us a lot of peace of mind. As far as Queen Mary itself goes, I have no complaints. It isn’t fancy but it’s certainly functional. It’s old by clean, stark but organized. Of course it’s not without its quirks, though.
The very inexpensive and basic public hospital expects you to bring several things that you are going to need during your stay for yourself and for your baby. I have no issue with this! My hospital stay was dirt cheap, so if they want me to bring a few hundred HK dollars worth of goods along, that’s fine by me. The thing is, nobody told me that I needed to bring supplies…I only found from researching random Facebook posts. And when I found out what I needed to bring, I didn’t understand what some of it even was.
Also keep in mind, when I visited the public hospital for my pregnancy check-ups, while sitting in the waiting room every once in a while someone would come up to a podium and talk about the we were allowed to bring while holding up a bag no larger than a child’s backpack. This, apparently, was the maximum size bag I could bring along. Even the items listed below wouldn’t have fit into that bag.
Let’s talk about each of these items:
- a cup – the hospital provides water but no cups; you must bring your own. For whatever reason this really didn’t appeal to me, so I had visitors bring me bottled water from the 7-Eleven downstairs. I drank a LOT of water in the hospital.
- accessories for morning and evening toilet – I think this means supplies for getting ready in the morning and before bed? I’m not too sure what they think we’re up to in there…I brought a toothbrush and some chapstick and that’s all I had time for anyways.
- tissue paper – Toilet paper? No idea what this is about. I didn’t take toilet paper, nor did I need to.
- slippers – I think they mean flips flops. If they didn’t, they should. If they actually mean fluffy slippers, they should take that off the list straight away.
- maternity pad with loop 2 pack and belt or mesh pant – ummmmmm WHAT? I don’t know if this is a Hong Kong thing or 1970’s thing? I bought the maternity pad with loops (at Mannings) and used these and I STILL don’t know what’s going on. After I gave birth a nurse literally assembled me down there and must have used this. OMG. The belt DID NOT happen, but the mesh pants did. Actually loved those.
- brassiere – WHY? Maybe it was just me, but between the pink pyjamas and constant breastfeeding a bra was the least of my worries.
- absorptive underpad 10 sheets – Another lovely BYO item that was unfolded and spread underneath me at every opportunity. They actually make a lot of sense.
- coins or telephone card – I never saw a pay phone so I have no idea what this is about. Take your smart phone, obviously.
I didn’t bother to bring anything for myself or the baby to wear in the hospital. The hospital issue pyjamas were fine by me and allowed me to change into a fresh pair whenever necessary…let someone else do the laundry! I wish they came in another colour than bright pink.
For the baby they have the tiniest little gowns that I used. Again, leave the laundry for someone else to do. I also used the hospital issued blankets but they’re all pink. In all his first photos anyone would assume Campbell is a girl. Oh well!
The Packing List
I read so many cute hospital packing lists on Pinterest with suggestions like “handheld massager” “music” and “warm socks”. Nonsense. I have no idea when any new mom would have spare minute to squeeze in a massage, if I had played music the 4 other women in the ward would have killed me, and the temperature was at least 26 degrees at all times and I was sweating profusely (hence the deoderant I added to the list). Here’s my packing list, updated to include a couple things I wish I’d brought along and eliminating a couple things that turned out to be unnecessary.
As I explained in Campbell’s birth story, after spending two nights in the pre-delivery ward, when it was time to have my baby I was moved to a private delivery room where Braden was able to join me. The room was ours alone until after Campbell’s birth, and almost always occupied by at least one midwife or nurse who was monitoring me and the various machines. Doctors came in from time to time to assess my progress. Braden had a seat beside me and was for the most part a silent (somewhat bored) onlooker. His starring roles occurred when he took over the rhythmic massage of my legs (without rhythm – huge fail) and when he held a little paper dish for me to vomit into (huge win). Honestly, he was so incredibly encouraging and calm, I cannot imagine going through any part of the process without him by my side. My memories from the couple hours of intense pushing are pretty fuzzy, but I can clearly recall his consistent encouragement and developing excitement. Without a doubt it was his support that kept me going.
It was commented on by several nurses how supportive Braden was, and how atypical this level of support is from a husband. UM, EXCUSE ME???? Apparently the nurses see most husbands just sitting silently beside their wives through the entire birthing process, with little to no interaction. THAT IS MESSED UP. I don’t care if it’s a cultural thing OR WHAT but if ever someone you care about IS EXPELLING HUMAN LIFE THROUGH A SACRED ORIFICE I would expect a highly committed level of compassionate involvement NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
The Post-Delivery Area
A couple hours after Campbell’s birth I was transferred from the private birth suite into the post-delivery ward. This is about as no-frills as it gets. I was in a bay with four other new mothers and their babies, each of us separated by a colourful striped curtain. We had one bathroom, with a shower, toilet and sink, to share.
I was fortunate enough to have the bed right next to the window. It had a great view of Pok Fu Lam and the islands beyond. The access to natural light was amazing and the window sill was a nice little spot to display cards. Space was so tight I could barely squeeze between my bed and the bassinet but the cozy quarters made it easy for me to reach everything easily.
Looking back at Campbell’s first few days in quite a noisy hospital, I think part of the reason he’s such a good sleeper and just adaptable in general is because he’s been exposed to noise (and not just consistent white noise) from the very beginning.
The Visiting Rules
This was my least favourite part about my hospital stay. We had been warned by friends who had their baby at Queen Mary that they are very strict about visitors. They weren’t kidding! I was only allowed to have guests between 12 noon and 1pm, and 6pm to 8pm, including Braden. Daddy did not love that he could only visit his new baby for 3 hours each day!
As soon as visiting hours started, the ward was flooded with guests bringing food and wanting baby cuddles. Promptly at the end of the visiting time a nurse paraded back and forth through the corridors carrying a portable speaker blaring a very loud message in Cantonese, presumably something along the lines of, “Get the hell outta here so the mamas can rest and babies can sleep,” but only served to put the mothers on edge and wake any babies lucky enough to be dozing.
Honestly, as limiting as the visiting hours were, I can see how it makes so much sense. The chaos was contained to a few hours each day and the rest of the time I was forced to lay down, relax and bond with my little baby. In hindsight I’m sure this was a big part of the reason I healed so easily and quickly.
Just…wow! Probably some of the least appetizing offerings I could imagine. I got the “Western” option which, as far as I could tell, was just the same thing as the Chinese version but with mashed potatoes substituted for rice. It was bleak.
One night I thought my neighbour was using a bedpan; turns out it was just the dinner being delivered on the other side of the curtain. After sampling my food the first evening in the hospital I ordered a burger via Deliveroo and it was maybe the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
Breakfast every morning was an orange, a hard-boiled egg and a bowl of runny oatmeal. The first morning I was in the hospital, before Campbell’s birth, I tried a spoonful of the lumpy sludge, turned my nose up and then popped down to the Pacific Coffee to grab a muffin. Of course after he was born, “popping” anywhere was no longer an option. The morning after Campbell’s birth they brought me oatmeal again. I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and had delivered a baby; it tasted pretty good given how hungry I was. The next morning as soon as I woke up I was starving and man that oatmeal tasted good. By the third morning I started to get excited as soon as I heard the rattle of the breakfast cart down the corridor. Breakfasts were manageable but even after Campbell was born I still had my family bring me food for lunch and dinner.
I don’t know whether there have been mix-ups in the past, but baby security is top notch at Queen Mary. Any time Campbell was taken away from me (ie for a hearing test, bath etc.) and brought back, my HKID number was matched with his bracelet. He also had a little tag on his ankle to sound an alarm if he exited the ward. Hi-tech stuff!
Everyone spoke English at the hospital (some to varying degrees) but it was never an issue. I quickly realized that I need to ask lots of questions to clarify and confirm. For example, if I was told, “you will go home on Thursday,” instead of just accepting that, I realized I needed to ask several questions to understand the context and options. I started to ask, “is it possible to go home earlier?”, “why do I need to stay?”, “who is making this decision?” so I could be more informed. While the information was readily available if I asked, it usually wasn’t offered. I also learned to repeat what they had said to make sure I was clear. It was a bit tedious but totally manageable.
The Baby Care
We got into a bit of a routine after a couple days. Bath time was in the morning, starting at 6:00am. Nurses collected the babies and lined them up in their bassinet for their quick bath by a nurse. Why they couldn’t come collect them one by one I will never understand. The nurse, in her crisp white uniform and starched cap, wouldn’t let me take any photos but made an exception to allow me to watch Campbell’s first bath. Doctors rounds commenced around 8:00am and before we knew it – a nap and a feed or two later – the morning was gone and visitors were arriving at noon.
Personally I feel that the care at Queen Mary Hospital could not have been better and there’s a reason it’s a world class hospital; I would recommend it to anyone. That being said, Thursday September 8 – when we were finally able to go home – couldn’t come soon enough. They gave me all Campbell’s discharge papers, he was seen by the paediatrician, they removed his bracelets and security device, gave us the bill and off into the big wide world we went.
For the entire hospital experience (my 2 night stay pre-birth, delivery and epidural, the 4 night stay afterwards for both Campbell and I, all Campbell’s test and my medication (panadol)) the bill was $650 HKD or around $110 CAD! Braden paid with his Octopus card! The reason it was such a reasonable price for us is because we are Hong Kong residents; the costs are highly subsidized by the Hong Kong government. If a non-resident had received the same care and treatment as me, the cost would be upwards of $90,000 HKD or no less than $15,000 Canadian.
The Final Verdict
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Queen Mary Hospital to anyone who is considering having their baby in a Hong Kong public hospital. Just be sure to bring lots of food provisions and be prepared to clarify communication and stand your ground if necessary. We got our beautiful baby boy delivered safe and sound, with the good folks at Queen Mary Hospital to thank.