We first heard from this mama back in 2020 when she and her husband were awaiting the birth of their first child. A year on, she shares what it was like giving birth in Hong Kong during the coronavirus, navigating the journey of being a first-time parent in the midst of a pandemic, and raising a newborn baby during COVID-19.
I was already a mixed bag of emotions for being a first-time mum, and after being pregnant during the beginning of the pandemic, this made me even more uncertain. I never could have imagined that I would have a baby during COVID-19.
Since my baby was breech, we had scheduled a C-section and I was extremely lucky to be able to give birth in a private hospital which allowed my husband to be with me during the surgery. The procedure went very smoothly and we soon met our perfect baby girl, A. However, due to hospital policies against COVID-19, she was not allowed to room-in with me and had to stay in the nursery. While we understood the reasons for the restrictions, it was a long, heartbreaking 36 hours being separated from her as I was not allowed out of bed due to the anaesthesia and catheter. After 38 weeks of carrying her, I had two minutes to take some photos before she was whisked away. I was devastated.
“My husband was only allowed to see her through a window until she was discharged at 5 days old. When we got home, he held her for three hours straight while she napped on his chest.”
I didn’t expect being separated for 36 hours to make such a lasting impact but the reality is I was not able to bond with her and I felt disconnected. We even struggled to change her first nappy – let alone tackle breastfeeding, understand her sleep patterns and deal with reflux.
My baby blues quickly developed into postpartum depression and I found myself constantly in tears for over a month. I cried so much that my eye swelled up for six weeks (which meant regular visits to the hospital) and I had to take a cocktail of medicine that lead to pumping and dumping. I felt like such a failure. I often wondered how different it might have been if my baby and I were allowed to room-in together from the first minute and hold her skin to skin in the operating room as per my birth plan. If the hospital did not have any COVID-19 restrictions, would my transition to motherhood have been easier?
Having A Newborn Baby During COVID-19: Best-Laid Plans
The plan was for our parents to travel to Hong Kong to meet their grandchild, but the international pandemic restriction had other ideas. Since they could not enter Hong Kong to help, our parents gifted us a maternity nurse and we could not have been more grateful. While it’s not the same as having close family around, our nurse taught us so much from how to clean the umbilical cord to swaddling and bathing. Our original antenatal classes were cancelled due to COVID-19, and there is only so much you can learn through videos!
As the pandemic raged on we felt the impact even more, our best-laid plans of having a newborn had to adapt pretty fast. The first domestic helper that we hired was not able to come back from the Philippines in time due to the delays in visa processing with civil servants working from home. Knowing I only had 12 weeks of maternity leave, we quickly went on another stressful search. Luckily, we found a new helper who fit right into our family and she started less than two weeks before I went back to work. Both of these women who came into our lives were not in our original plan when I got pregnant but, because of COVID-19, they were present during some of my most difficult days and I am beyond thankful.
Daily Life With A Baby During COVID-19
As baby A slowly came out of the fourth trimester, my husband and I were also getting more adjusted to life as first-time parents. I went to a few group therapy sessions (online, as face-to-face meetings were restricted) and having someone at home guide us through how to care for a newborn drastically lifted my confidence. My eye was on the mend and I was able to breastfeed again. I ended up keeping the milk I dumped, as per the advice of my maternity nurse, to use for my baby’s nightly massage and that helped me bond with her. I made friends with other new mamas who lived nearby and we exchanged stories and advice. My husband and I started to learn how to function at work with less sleep.
“It’s easy to see only the negatives of COVID-19, but one benefit I very much appreciate is that both my husband and I had to work from home.”
Our jobs required a lot of international travel, which was now on hold. This meant we were able to give baby A the love and attention she deserves all day, every day – something that I was anxious about not being able to do pre-COVID.
Our household developed a routine. I juggled a full-time job at home while breastfeeding – which felt like another job in itself! I sometimes succumbed to nursing while in meetings – with the camera off of course! Both my husband and I enjoyed breaks away from the laptop by playing with A. As restrictions eased, our helper started to meet other helpers with babies of similar ages and they went for walks around our neighbourhood. We have regular FaceTime chats with our families as well so baby A know who they are. It is so wonderful watching her develop and grow everyday – something I feel I would have missed if my business travels had carried on.
During our weekends and holidays, instead of flying to Southeast Asia as we expected pre-COVID-19 times, we found places in Hong Kong to explore. We have brought our baby to so many local places, islands and attractions to discover the various wildlife and nature we are lucky to have here. Hong Kong has a great food scene and we can share various cuisines from around the world with her too. This has allowed her to appreciate her birthplace and while she won’t remember it, I feel it has made an impression on her.
Too Close For Comfort: COVID-19 Shockwaves In Our Building
All of a sudden, our household’s routine was shaken. A wave of positive cases that started from a dance club swept across the city and we learnt that there was a positive case in our building. The news sent shivers down our spine and I couldn’t help thinking what if we met them in the lift? What if we were also positive (find out where to get a Coronavirus test in Hong Kong)? We cancelled all our plans and stayed home for days.
Soon, there was news of COVID-19 vaccines rolling out in various countries. It was exciting to hear but I was also hesitant because it was so new. My American in-laws were some of the first people I know who received the vaccine. And they all felt fine afterwards. Quickly, numbers globally skyrocketed and hundreds of millions of doses were given. Hong Kong started to offer the vaccine to HKID holders over 18 years old – and my husband signed up for BioNTech/Fosun Pharma.
I did not know much about the vaccine, particularly mRNA ones. I looked at the stats, read some medical articles and I spoke to friends, family, colleagues who had received the vaccine. They all stayed positive and this made me relax. As I am breastfeeding, I read up various countries’ advice on nursing and getting vaccinated too. Once Hong Kong’s health department also approved the BioNTech jab for nursing mums, I excitedly signed up.
Family Planning During COVID-19: Temporary Guardianship
I had read first-hand experiences of children who were separated from their parents due to COVID-19. It made my stomach twist in knots at the thought of the authorities taking our baby away from us if one of us caught the virus. Having no family in Hong Kong, we quickly got in touch with our lawyer and drew up a deed on temporary guardianship but prayed it would never be used.
The Hong Kong Government started to impose sending “close contacts” to quarantine, even if you lived in the same building as a positive case. Since we have had a positive case in our building before, it didn’t seem so statistically impossible. On top of losing the comfort of our home, I can’t imagine how challenging it would be for my baby to be locked indoors for 21 days. Every day she looks forward to her walks – pointing at aeroplanes and giggling at puppies walking past. She would not understand why she was trapped in a place so unfamiliar. While I expected to lose sleep as a mother, I didn’t expect to still lose sleep thinking about the consequences of the Coronavirus while my baby slept soundly all night.
Finding The Positives And Baby’s First Birthday
It’s a cliché, but it is true: the days felt long, but the year felt short. All we did was blink and our baby became a toddler. Of course, our original plan was to have family, particularly grandparents, celebrate her first birthday with us. Even just one out of her four grandparents would have been such a blessing, but it was an impossible dream with borders still closed. With a limited choice of venues, we ended up going to the beach with some of her friends and their caregivers. I was so impressed by how my helper put together an amazing menu and decorations in such a short period of time. It wasn’t the party I was expecting but I truly loved it.
Motherhood is already like riding a rollercoaster and COVID-19 added to that in ways I was not expecting. It’s easy to only see the negatives and yes, of course there are definitely more negatives than positives. However, I advise other parents to find the positive. I remind myself every day that Baby A is a thriving, healthy and happy little girl – and I give some credit to how much love, time and attention she receives from my husband and I because the virus has forced us to stay at home more.
The other positive I focus on is being fortunate to have never been in full lockdown like what many of my family and friends in Malaysia, the UK and the Philippines have had to endure. After the passing of my cousin due to COVID-19, I am even more grateful that our cases are under control. Although, I am looking forward to one day ditching the mask especially during these hot and humid Hong Kong summers! Something else I would suggest to other mamas is to adapt.
“Everyone knows motherhood doesn’t always go to plan – whether it’s your hospital birth plan, always running behind schedule or the truly unexpected like a global pandemic.”
Mamas are already experts at being flexible and COVID-19 forced us to adapt in unimaginable ways through 2019 and 2020. If the hands-on support of grandparents is not available, look for other people to help you. Find ways to provide your baby with other adventures. Accept that life and the world as we knew it will never be the same again.
Parenting During COVID-19: Hopes And Plans For The Future
My husband and I are desperate for the borders to open again. Many family members are already fully vaccinated so we hope that Hong Kong will join other nations in recognising vaccine passports. We also wish that there will be an exemption for unvaccinated children and their current quarantine measures – such as allowing home quarantine or a shorter quarantine period – to make it easier (and cheaper) to come back inside Hong Kong. Daily life with a baby during COVID-19 has been challenging enough, so this would definitely make things less so.
Although I had high hopes for the family to celebrate baby A’s first Christmas, and then wished the same for her first birthday, I will still keep my hopes up that she can meet her grandparents for her second Christmas. I know that when that day comes, it will be so much sweeter than we ever expected.