Born far from home: Stories of migrant mothers in Hong Kong
There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one.
Pregnancy and motherhood for many women can often be a time of great joy and excitement, however the reality for migrant mothers in Hong Kong can often be extremely challenging.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting PathFinders’ shelter, speaking to some of the most vulnerable migrant women in Hong Kong, where most of them are domestic workers. Many of them have faced their jobs being terminated, or were highly encouraged to leave after finding out that they were pregnant. Unfortunately for the majority, pregnancy rights were something that was not made aware to them, and many had to deal with legal matters on top of lacking the mental and health support during their pregnancy.
However, amongst the chaos of uncertainty, fear and a certain level of helplessness, there is a safe haven nestled within the concrete jungle that they once called home.
Friendly faces and baby gurgles greet me as I walk through the PathFinders’ shelter, well-lit and spotless even with the number of newborn essentials of five mothers and babies in the apartment. I sat down with their case worker, Hina as they go through their weekly catch up, running through their checklist, and making sure the ladies and the babies were well looked after with proper nutrition and the required amenities.
The ladies were shy but very excited to have a visitor. They’ve shared with me that most of them were currently overstaying in Hong Kong, and were waiting for their papers to be approved to go home, however things have been delayed due to the Covid-19 situation. Some have been waiting for over 6 months, with many hoping to return home soon so that they can be reunited with their family.
I spoke with Marlene* who sits and gently rocks her baby boy in her arms, his mass of hair sticking out in all directions like a little doll.
“I was very worried when I was pregnant and found out that my son had down syndrome. His father would not acknowledge him, and there were many complications with this birth - before and after. He’s already had one heart surgery and potentially there will be another down the road. I was very thankful to have been referred to PathFinders by a friend of mine as I was staying in a boarding house before this. The conditions were definitely not ideal for a pregnant woman.” Marlene recalled.
When I asked her what her plans were for the future, and if she was planning to return to the Philippines like some of the other ladies, she shared with me her woes and dilemma.
“I would love more than anything to go home, however there are many challenges. I have another son back home who is older, and I really hope that he would be able to have a good education. If I go back, there will be hefty medical bills with Baby J. The Children’s Hospital in Hong Kong also has better doctors and facilities compared to my hometown. It will be very difficult for my family as we will struggle with our finances. My hope now is that I will be able to continue to work in Hong Kong, and look after Baby J at the same time. This way I am able to support both of my sons in my own way.”
On the other side of the room, the bright and cheerful Sunny* bounces her baby girl on her lap. She tells me that she is very excited to go home and has been waiting for over 6 months. When I asked about how she found out about PathFinders, she shares a little about her story.
“My friend sent me the details over text for PathFinders when I was pregnant, and I reached out to them for help. I’ve been here for a while and have seen 3 other ladies who were in a similar situation as I was, and they have all managed to go home safely with their babies, so I am very hopeful about my case too.
I was so happy and relieved to have found a place where it’s safe for myself and my baby as we had nowhere else to go, we are looking forward to going back.”
Laughter joins us as the mothers make a small joke amongst themselves. Despite their temporary abode, these mothers are full of resilience and hope. They share their stories with each other, comfort and look after one another. I learned that they have a little roster where everyone is assigned duties. Some of them who have better culinary skills were in charge of grocery shopping and cooking, while others took care of the cleaning, laundry and they each took turns looking after the babies while the other was busy with chores.
The term ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ had never made such an impact on me till then. As a mother, I believe each and every one of us strives to do the best we can for our children, and in times of difficultly, particularly during the current pandemic situation, it is more important than ever to remember that every mother matters. Some of us may not have seen our children or our mother for a long time due to lock down restrictions, others may have had to sacrifice family time for work commitments, regardless of the reason, all mothers should be treated equally and fairly, including our migrant and domestic helper mothers amongst us. After all, these women and mothers have left their home and ventured into a new country with hopes for a brighter future for their family and children.
For more details about PathFinders and if you would like to help, volunteer or make a cash donation, please visit https://www.pathfinders.org.hk/en/.
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.