Single mother whose son was born premature then diagnosed with cerebral palsy says more support groups needed in Hong Kong’s hospitals

Ying’s son Jun was born in May 2014 at 25 weeks and weighed just 800 grams and she says more needs to be done as women get married and give birth later in life, with many waiting until their early 30s to have children

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2017, 3:45pm

More support groups have been set up in public hospitals to help parents having premature babies as more women leave it late to get married and have children.

The latest group, founded at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, has helped more than 100 families since 2016, including a 27-year-old single mother who wishes to be known only as Ying.

Ying’s son Jun was born in May 2014 at 25 weeks and weighed just 800 grams. He was “a dark-coloured little thing cupped in a nurse’s hands,” she said.

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It was just the start of her problems. Ying soon divorced and Jun was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and severe hearing impairment. The landlord then forced them out of their home.

One day in 2015, Ying, who could barely eat and sleep under the pressure, collapsed in a temporary public shelter. But when she woke up from a three-day coma in hospital, she was not alone.

Several mothers and nurses from the neonatal intensive care unit took turns to bring Ying and Jun food and daily supplies. They also helped her apply for a public housing flat after she was discharged from hospital.

One of the helpers, Helen Pang Suk-fan, decided in the same year to form a support group at Queen Elizabeth Hospital for parents like Ying.

Pang herself had experience of such problems – her son was born at 26 weeks in 2013.

Pang’s group is named CE9 Parent Support Group. CE9 stands for wards C9 and E9, which provide intensive care for around 300 premature babies born in the hospital each year.

“Parents there were panicked, stressed, worn out and could not pull through without support,” Pang said. Her son was in hospital for 15 months after birth and returned home with two breathing machines and 15 types of medicine.

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The median age of Hong Kong women at first marriage is 29.4 and first childbirth is 31.4, according to official figures for last year. This compares with 25.3 and 26.6 in 1986.

Most women first become mothers in their early 30s – a few years before the recognised cut-off age of 35, which is considered an advanced maternal age.

The College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reports that the preterm delivery rate in Hong Kong is above 6 per cent compared with an average rate estimated by the World Health Organisation of 7.5 per cent in more developed countries.

The trend of late marriage and late childbearing commonly seen in developed places including Hong Kong was contributing to the risk of premature birth, college spokesman Dr Yu Kai-man said.

“On the one hand, [the trend] leads to more reliance on reproductive technology, which usually aims at [multiple babies], and on the other hand the higher chance of gestational diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Yu said.