Mum-of-two Victoria Reeves Samra tells Carolynne Dear why she rejected a private birth in favour of the public system
Sitting in Central with a coffee, it’s hard to follow what mum Victoria Reeves Samra is telling me. Don’t get me wrong, she’s explaining herself beautifully, but I am being continously distracted by her gorgeously beaming six month old daughter Audrey, bouncing around on her mother’s lap while I try to delicately extract the full details of her birth. She is completely beguiling, cheeky grin and all. Her mother smiles proudly.
Born in the UK herself, Reeves Samra moved to Hong Kong eleven years ago, fell in love, and four years ago found herself – delightfully – pregnant with her first child, Everett.
“At that stage I hadn’t even registered with a GP. I’d been working full time and, apart from the odd bout of ‘flu or whatever, had never really needed a doctor,” she explains. “So because myself and my husband had just used his health insurance for a full check up at the Adventist ahead of trying for a baby, I ended up using the same doctor and thus a private, Adventist-based obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). So we were tracking through the private system quite happily, but at around sixteen weeks it became clear that my husband’s medical cover wasn’t going to stretch to the full cost of giving birth privately in Hong Kong.”
At this point, other thoughts were also starting to crowd in on Reeves Samra. She questioned whether she really wanted a caesarian-section, of which statistically there is a higher percentage in the private system.
“I didn’t have any friends with experience of giving birth in Hong Kong, so I had to do a lot of speedy research myself.”
“The other thing that struck me was that if there were to be any kind of complications – and pregnant for the first time I had no idea what was in store – I would be defaulted back to the public system. So I thought, well, we’ll be paying all this money, but it seems the most up-to-date care is actually to be found in a public hospital.”
We’ll be paying all this money, but it seems that the most up-to-date care is actually to be found in a public hospital.
She then discovered a group called Annerley that was offering free information sessions in Central. “The meeting was fantastic. I was handed a lot of information which meant I could go away and start making some good decisions. The session was free and nobody seemed to be pushing me in one direction or another. It was a group meeting and I was able to talk to other women in the same boat as me. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to switch to the public system but using (private) Annerley midwives as a backup.”
Reeves Samra discovered the first drama with registering at Queen Mary was having to do all her medical tests all over again. But she found the system to be efficient and with a high level of care – albeit slightly clunky. “It’s all very streamlined, you register with your HKID card and a proof of address, have the blood tests done and then you’re given an appointment and you’re in the system. But there’s no choice with the appointment times, it’s very much a case of you get what you are given.”
“There’s also no continuity with regards doctors, you are seen by whoever is on duty. And there are no bells and whistles, you have to bring your own urine samples to appointments, for example – there are no special containers provided by the clinic. The most unpleasant appointment was the blood glucose test when you have to drink this revolting sugary drink – the waiting room was absolutely packed. But I couldn’t fault the level of care at any point during my pregnancies. They also dealt extremely efficiently with my rhesus negative diagnosis” (which can cause problems if the baby is rhesus positive and the baby’s blood enters the mother’s bloodstream).
Only one person is allowed to join you on the labour ward – and only if it’s within the visiting hours
When it comes to giving birth in Hong Kong’s public system, only one person is allowed to be present in the delivery suite, and nobody outside of visiting hours is permitted on the labour ward. While staff is happy to accommodate birth plans, there are no water births or home births permitted.
“I’d drawn up a plan with the help of the Annerley midwives. With both babies we opted for private midwifery care from Annerley both ante and postnatal, which I’d highly recommend,” says Reeves Samra.
“I left home as late as I possibly could with both babies, the Annerley midwives were checking on me at home. When we arrived at Queen Mary I was left to labour alone on the ward, which was fine. You’re not locked in! You’re only allowed one birthing partner in the delivery suite, which was my husband. With Audrey, she crowned in the labour ward and I would say you need to be quite assertive about your needs. I knew things had progressed faster and further than the nurses were giving me credit for, and when they discovered I’d reached the second stage they were very surprised and I was rushed extremely quickly into the delivery ward. Looking back I should have been more vocal.”
Reeves Samra also remarked that the hospital was slow to administer epidurals. “It’s not a route I wanted to go down. But if you did want one, you have to have blood tests taken first – which I understand in the private system they take in the days prior to labour – and they won’t set it up until you’ve been admitted into the birthing suite, at which stage it’s often too late. So it’s a pretty slow process.”
Post birth, the nurses were helpful with breast feeding and were happy to take direction from the mother over feeding arrangements. “They were also fine about my husband bringing food in for me – I just couldn’t face any congee!”
She returned home after just one day for each birth. “Which was great,” she says. “If you’re looking for a birth experience with Western food, a dedicated OB-GYN, beautiful rooms and a longer hospital stay, the public system is not for you. But in terms of levels of care, the public system was second-to-none. And you can’t fault settling the medical bill with a swipe of your Octopus card!”
Under the government system, antenatal appointments are free. Two ultrasounds are carried out during pregnancy at a cost of around $300 each. Each day spent in the hospital for the birth costs from around $100. See gov.hk for more details and hospital locations.
Annerley offers non-judgemental private antenatal and postnatal care. Free talks are held every Friday at its offices, 17 Floor, 17-19 D’Aguilar Street, Central, 2983 1558, Annerley