Pin It
Monday, August 1st, 2011

Giving Birth Naturally in Hong Kong, the Land of the Lucky


In a country where women routinely consult the Chinese zodiac to determine the most auspicious date for the caesarean delivery of their babies, I was preparing for a natural childbirth in a private English hospital on the top of Hong Kong’s highest mountain in the days just after the British handover of the colony to China.

The handover had taken place in July, but in September, the lights from the handover celebration that drew millions and was watched on television all over the world, still bathed the city in brilliance. It seemed as if it were just yesterday that the Royal Yacht Britannia sailed out of the harbor, with a nostalgic Prince Charles aboard, bringing an end to colonial rule over the tiny island of just under seven million.

Many on the island were apprehensive, tense and unsure of the future. How would they fare under the new government? Would democracy be curtailed and economic growth stifled? Until my pregnancy, these questions had concerned me. But now the mood of gloom could not touch me. I was ecstatic; I was having a baby—my first child. It seemed as if the lights that shone as the night fell were shining for me.

My husband and I had attended birth classes at the hospital where I would deliver our baby, and we had met many foreigners who, like ourselves, had chosen this private hospital because of its openness to every possible approach to giving birth. We discussed breathing and meditation. We talked about the benefits of “tens,” an electronic device used to help with pain. We learned of the large birthing tubs that could be provided if I decided to give birth “underwater.” Midwives were available. In this hospital, it seemed, the birth plan had attained the status of a legal document. No one dared violate it.

But where were the Chinese parents-to-be? Many Hong Kong Chinese, I knew, could not afford a private hospital. But there were others, many others, much more affluent than we were. Where were these affluent parents-to-be?

As the birth of my own child drew near, I spoke often to two pregnant friends, both foreigners, who planned to give birth in Chinese hospitals because they were more affordable than private ones. Both had lived in Hong Kong much longer than I had and both had given birth to other children while living there. They spoke in anxious voices about their deliveries. Would the doctors respect their birth plans? “Why would they not?” I asked. They looked at me as if I had just arrived from another planet—the planet of the naïve foreigner.

Among the Hong Kong Chinese, they explained, natural childbirth was not popular. Instead, delivery by caesarean section was scheduled for an auspicious day chosen by the parents in consultation with an expert in Chinese astrology. The mother even planned her annual holidays (all of the Chinese women I knew worked) to coincide with the days before and after the birth.

My pregnant friends, I soon learned, were worried that a caesarean, so popular in Hong Kong, would become their doctor’s delivery of choice if the birth presented the slightest bit of trouble. Caesareans were the norm in Hong Kong hospitals and resorted to at the drop of a hat.

My due date was September 19th, but I had asked my mother to come to Hong Kong earlier. She arrived on September 11th. The next day, the doctor decided to induce labor. The baby needed to be delivered, he said. I was nervous. Was this my first clue that he was considering a C-section?

The labor began early in the morning. And by the time the lights of the city below began to glow, it had not progressed significantly. The hospital had run out of linings for the birth tub. I would have to use the bath tub instead. An amah came by to give my husband a toothbrush and to ask if he wanted his shirt washed. It looked like we were in for a long haul.

I thought of those Chinese mothers who chose not only the day but also the hour of their child’s birth–a day and a time that, they believed, would enable their baby to join the ranks of the forever lucky. All I could hope for was to be lucky enough to get through this birth without all the pain-killing and labor-quickening drugs I had pooh-poohed only a few weeks before.

As the hours progressed, however, such drugs were looking better and better. So were the caesarean births of my Chinese colleagues. They knew when to take time off work. They knew when to schedule the visits of their mothers. They even knew when to plan a “welcome into the world” party for their little one so that family and friends could come and pay homage. And to think that all it would take to guarantee a blessed and happy life for your child was to make sure he or she was born at the right hour on the right day of the year, according to the Chinese zodiac.

It sounded so easy. No parenting books. No qualms of conscience about whether or not you had handled beastly behavior well. No worries about passing on your own baggage to your child. Just pick the most auspicious day and all would be well.

The next morning came and went. Then the afternoon. The lights of the city began to glow again. The nurse took my husband aside to speak to him. I could not hear what she was saying. But I was so dazed and sleep-deprived, I probably would not have understood even if I had. I fell into a waking dream in which I was sailing away, perhaps with Prince Charles, on a large yacht at sunset, far away from this mountain, this island.

The doctor decided to give me something to speed up the labor. I had always liked this mild-mannered, reserved Australian man. But now I suspected him. Was it time for the caesarean section to begin? Was it time for me to get lucky and get this labor over with? He examined me, then took me into the delivery room. I was about to have the surprise of my life.

Another hour passed. I begged him to do something, anything to end this labor–I would leave it up to him. But he responded to my pleas with a dispassionate stare as he calmly said, “I will follow your birth plan. Just hang on. You can do it.”

At that moment, I knew no caesarean would be in store for me in the land of the lucky. I would have to make my luck and my daughter’s some other way. It was dark and the city below was ablaze with the lights from the recent celebration when, at last, it happened–not suddenly, not quickly, but quite finally, my daughter was born. And in defiance of my own cries for help, my doctor held firmly to my birth plan, even refusing to use forceps in the delivery.

When I held her in my arms, at last, I knew this was and would forever be the luckiest day of my life. I hoped that someday she would view it as the luckiest day of hers, too, the day she came into the world, naturally, in Hong Kong, the land of the lucky.

© 2011 – 2013, Sandra Lynn Hutchison. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Arranged Marriage 101

Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

Language Resource Library for Raising Bilingual Kids

The most comprehensive list of language learning resources

The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

How the West sleeps is different from the rest

How I Made My Forgotten Native Language My Child’s Strongest

I started off by speaking dodgy Cantonese. No word for remote control? No problem! ‘Pressy thingy.’


Sandra Lynn Hutchison is the author of two books: a book of poetry, The Art of Nesting (GR Books, Oxford: England, 2008) and a memoir about living in China in the prelude to the Tiananmen incident, Chinese Brushstrokes (Turnstone Press, Winnipeg, 1996). Her poetry, stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including the Oxford anthology of stories about China, Chinese Ink, Western Pen (Oxford University Press, 2000). She serves as poetry editor for Puckerbrush Review. She lives with her husband and daughter in Orono, Maine, where she teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. They are raising their daughter Baha'i.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsSaturday Surfing — Au Coeur   |  Saturday, 06 August 2011 at 7:39 pm

    […] Giving Birth Naturally in Hong Kong, the Land of the Lucky, InCulture Parent — Marvelous birth story for a foreigner living in China.  Who knew that most Chinese babies are born by planned elective c-section?  I never would have thought. […]

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Tradition and Parenting