Hulda Thorey, registered nurse, midwife and mother, shares how different it was giving birth in her native Iceland.
Some days I am grateful that I had two of my (five?) kids in Iceland; in a small town where people don't even bother locking their homes, rather than here in Hong Kong.
Back in Iceland, my day would start with a walk around the town with the same pram and the same setup every day: one baby inside and one baby on top of it – my kids were exactly 14 months apart. After walking around the harbour, we would go to the swimming pool, followed by a trip to the bakery.
I would see friends along the way and sometimes we would start walking together. By the end of those walks, if I felt like it, and I could spy a light in my neighbour's kitchen, we would stop in and finish our walk with a cup of coffee with them. Afterwards, my parents would often stop by unannounced -- like everyone else’s parents in that small town - and we would have a quick bite with them in the kitchen.
This kind of lackadaisical lifestyle would probably drive most Hong Kong parents crazy.
Sure, there were breadcrumbs on the floor and dust in the corners. I was often tired and fed up with household chores; always arranging babysitters for my babies, and I would get cold and cranky during the winter when the snow would sometimes cover our front door completely but I was lucky to be surrounded by a village, so to speak.
Life wasn't perfect, but as it was, there were many parents in different stages of parenting in my life which gave me the chance to see different parenting styles and receive input in a casual and relaxed way. I saw these other parents out and about, at their worst with crying babies and also at their best. Living in Iceland also gave my children the benefits of growing up with their grandparents around.
Here in Hong Kong, there is so much to offer with such a different kind of lifestyle. It is mostly wonderful and very positive. People tend to go out of their comfort zone to do and see new things. Also, those that grew up here, and still live here, often appreciate how special this city is. For the most part, we quite like it that way.
The one thing I find lacking in Hong Kong, though, is access to that lifestyle where you can peek into other people's little ordinary worlds, casually observing the ups and downs of fellow neighbours as parents and models. It’s that kind of living that allows us to learn from each other subconsciously and without judgment. We don’t really have that in Hong Kong.
Many mothers and fathers I meet in Hong Kong, to my surprise, have little idea about taking care of a baby. Of course once they take on the role, they do a really good job of it but they are often quite naive before the baby is born.
Some people I’ve met have never held a baby, changed diapers, been peed on or vomited on. They have no concept about where babies usually sleep, how long they need to sleep, or what kind of sounds they make. Many aren't even sure if they can take their babies out or when babies can start going to the pool (the answer is anytime -- babies are born with the inherent ability to swim!)
For me, this is a good thing as I have built my business around helping parents find their way. However, I do feel for the parents who lack the kind of exposure I had to my fellow parents back in Iceland - the sort of exposure that is only available if people are casually being parents around them.
I’m happy to be able to help so many parents in Hong Kong because some of the advice they get from other parents is often very harsh and spoken in absolutes. "Don’t ever..." and "you should always..." can seem like straightforward advice, but when it is conflicting advice, it can get very confusing and very stressful.
These days we live in a world of rules with experts everywhere and, because of that, we forget to rely on ourselves and the people we truly trust. So many parents are following a piece of advice because they read it in a book, a popular blogger said this or that, or all the other mums are doing it. It's endless!
But are we stopping to consider why? If your baby is happy and content, why change what already works?
I believe that for many people, there just hasn't been an opportunity to see how other parents have tackled child-rearing. If you have never been inside a home at 9 pm where there are two children ready for bed with extremely tired parents, you won't realise how important it is to stay calm and give up a little bit of control. Without exposure to the nitty-gritty of parenthood, you won't realise that these pervasive experts and mummy blogs won't be able to tell you all the answers.
There are so many challenges we face as parents, we shouldn't have to be worrying about what advice is correct and isn't correct. You and your baby should just do what you think is right. After a little time with your baby, you will realize that you slowly learn what is right for you.
Most of the time, things aren't perfect. But if you slow down and take it one day at a time, lie down with your baby on your chest and just listen, you will start to find your instincts and the pure joy of being a parent.
Admittedly, I am a busy mum who is a very imperfect parent and I beat myself up about it every day. I am also sensible enough to realize that I am my own enemy when I do that and I become an even worse parent if I allow myself to be like that.
So each day I think about the people that have subconsciously taught me how to be a parent. And sometimes, I even learn something from myself, something that no book and no other parent could have told me. I just learned it because I took the time to sit quietly and listen to my little one, who in a few months will not be very little anymore and will have less need of me.
So now, while I can, I will just hold her very tightly and stay as close as possible.
Forget about all the advice books.
Hulda Thorey is director and founder of Annerley (formerly Annerley Community Midwifery Services and Annerley Midwives), part of OT&P Healthcare. Hulda specialises is continuous midwifery care during pregnancy, although most of her day is spent doing antenatal clinics and consultations for parents to prepare for birth and the baby.