While Mother’s Day has just passed, being a mom is not a one-time gig. It is a full-time job. Only a mother truly knows how difficult it is to juggle children, housework, self-care, and often work-life balance.
Every hardship, however, immediately melts away when a mother sees her child smile. Hongkonger Hebe, is one of the mothers.
“Truthfully, being happy once I became a mother was much easier. Whenever you see your children playing together, helping each other, witnessing their growth is enough for me.”
Hebe, being a mother of five, has been carrying her sixth child, and it won’t be long before the baby comes into the world.
Initially, Hebe thought five children were already an abundance of joy. Suddenly, no. 6 arrived unexpectedly. Hebe and her husband accepted heaven’s blessings with ease, as they both believed that every child was a gift from God and should be thankful for a new life’s arrival.
Hongkonger Hebe, her husband Michael, and their children spend their Christmas in the festivity in Belgium. (Courtesy of Hebe)How The Love Sprouts
Hebe and Michael met online, and things were heating up fast. Michael quit his job and traveled to Hong Kong to meet Hebe.
Six months later, they got married and had their first child, a baby girl. Hebe, at the time, was 24 and decided to be a full-time mother. Hebe remembers how she and Michael enjoyed being married.
Hebe believes to this date, she met Michael, who turned out to be a family man, at the perfect time.
After living in Hong Kong for eight years with their three children, In 2017, Hebe accidentally became pregnant with twins and decided to relocate to Belgium. As she cares for children and watches them grow, so has Hebe’s hobby, baking.
Hebe now also owns a small online business baking decorative cookies. She also goes back to school to learn French, slowly blending into the local community.
Hebe, a mother of three, unexpectedly became pregnant with twins in Hong Kong. Her family decided to relocate to Belgium. (Courtesy of Hebe)Cutting The Cord
In April 2023, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its latest annual report on world population and reproduction. The fertility rate of women in Hong Kong sits at the lowest in the world, with an average of only 0.8 children per person.
The data is based on economic situations, high real estate prices, education, and other social factors. There are also changes in women’s views on marriage and childbirth.
Hence, caring for six children is a “mission impossible” in today’s society. Hebe believes that raising children is a family responsibility.
To Hebe, it does not matter in what circumstances she becomes pregnant, as Michael and she mutually agrees that the child must be born and raised. Abortion is never on her mind.
“A baby is a gift from God. It is our responsibility.”
A photo of Hebe and Alyssa, Hebe’s oldest daughter, at her primary school graduation. (Courtesy of Hebe)
Hong Kong, one of the most expensive concrete jungles in the world, is not a child-friendly place. So for Hebe, having three children in Hong Kong means tripling the living needs.
Can you imagine five people living in a New York size apartment?
When Hebe had her first child, she lived with her parents in Hong Kong. But after the second and third, they had to move somewhere bigger with two bedrooms.
Thankfully, there was a park in the apartment building where Hebe lived in Tung Chung.
“At least there is a place for the children to run around when they were younger. They did not take up so much space.”
The little magical beans would all become the Giant Beanstalk in a shoe box if they were any bigger.
While Hebe is a homemaker, Michael is not having an easy time either.
He worked two jobs to provide for the family in Hong Kong. It was a very stressful time. Hebe did not hire a maid at the time to take care of her children, mainly because she thought her children would be better off with her educating them. Besides, there was not much foot space to provide the extra room needed for a live-in helper.
The Unexpected Twinning
The news of having twins caught both Hebe and Michael by surprise. They knew they had to move as soon as the news came.
Hong Kong is not a place for six little peas. It will be too costly for the family. It took the Hebe’s only three months to prepare for their move.
“It was so rushed when we left. Because if my tummy becomes too big, I might not have been able to get on the plane. We also know that it is infeasible to raise five children in such a crowded space and stressful economy. That is why we decided to move to Belgium and give birth there.” Hebe explains.
Hebe’s twins were born in Belgium. (Courtesy of Hebe) Big sister Alyssa holding her baby brother. (Courtesy of Hebe)Belgium Loves Children
Belgium encourages fertility and childbirth. For one childbirth, the family receives a time allowance of HK$10,000 and monthly milk money of about HK$2,000. Other subsidies are available, such as education until the child becomes employed.
Additionally, it is free to study in public schools, and multi-children families get tax reductions.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, lacks all of the above.
In the Time of COVID
The pandemic affected people worldwide, as they felt stuck at home during the lockdowns. However, Hebe adjusted swimmingly. The pandemic was not much of a transition for her.
While the children did not need to attend online classes, they still had an everyday social life. “It is better for their mental and physical health,” Hebe adds.
Michael, Hebe’s husband, spends his birthday with the children. (Courtesy of Hebe)A Surprise From The Sky
Hebe was becoming more comfortable with the local life after migrating to Belgium for five years.
She thought she could finally take a breather, as her twins were healthy and would attend primary school soon; Alyssa, the eldest daughter, would soon be a high school student.
As quickly as her break came, something took her breath away again: Hebe and her husband learned about the sixth pregnancy. “I was feeling really blue when I first found out I was carrying our sixth child. After three years of being in a pandemic lockdown, I thought I could finally go back to Hong Kong to visit my family in October 2022.”
But she could not. Her many plans, including returning to Hong Kong, suddenly had to be paused. Once again, it felt like her planned itinerary was suddenly not so well-planned.
She quickly gathered herself, and her husband came to the rescue when Hebe needed him the most.
Hebe not only appreciates her husband’s stepping in to help around the house, Michael’s close attendance to Hebe’s feelings and needs makes life easier for her.
“Whenever I travel, he will see me off and pick me up at the airport. Because of the children, he will leave work early to help me. There was a time he would go to work at 5 a.m. because of us.”
Hebe’s heart is as warm as it was when her husband showed her what unconditional love meant.
Hebe’s sixth child will arrive soon, and she decides to take photos at 34 weeks of pregnancy as a souvenir. (Courtesy of Hebe)Little Helpers
The five children are over the moon that a little sister is on her way. Every morning, they have to say goodbye to their mom and little sister while rubbing their mummy’s tummy before leaving for school.
Hebe’s children are also very mature and responsible. They take turns looking after the housework and Hebe whenever they see her exhausted.
Alyssa, the 13-year-old sister, would often pick up her little brother from school so that Hebe could stay home and rest.
Hebe’s heart is warmed by everything her loving husband and children do while she is pregnant.
Every day is Mother’s Day for Hebe.
But this Mother’s Day was different. The entire family was looking forward to a new arrival.
Hebe’s home life with her family and mother-in-law. (Courtesy of Hebe)When Foreign Languages Are No Longer Foreign
While being in a foreign country may sound exciting, language barriers can significantly challenge any newcomer. It was no different to Hebe.
Dutch, French, and German are the official languages in Belgium. Michael’s family lives in a little town called Court-Saint-Étienne, a French community. English is rarely used, even when you go to a hospital.
Being in a small town means you have to be self-sufficient with transportation.
Unlike Hong Kong, where primary public transportation such as cross-tunnel buses, trains, trams, and taxis is convenient and connects to various districts, Hebe suddenly felt like a fish out of water in a foreign country.
She could not understand people. She could not go out independently since she did not speak French.
Hebe could not live or go anywhere by herself at all.
Hebe is thankful that Grandma, Michael’s mom, has taken good care of the five children since she arrived in Belgium. (Courtesy of the Hebe)
It is scary for a newcomer like Hebe to rely entirely on others.
“I was handicapped. I did not speak a word of French. I had to rely on Michael and Grandma. I could only stay at home.” Hebe remembers as clear as day.
The Grandma was also the only one she depended on to educate three children. Their teachers would discuss student progress, but she did not understand a word of what the teachers said.
Grandma was the one the teachers spoke to. Grandma was the translator.
At some point, defeat and guilt overcast Hebe for failing her responsibilities as a mother.
Another cloud over Hebe was living in a small town.
Hebe had to find ways to overcome her feelings and isolation as she moved from a bustling city she knew so well to a quiet little town. Hebe had to start from ground zero, again: New environment, new language, a new level of loneliness she had never felt.
Interestingly, loneliness was what Hebe had to face the most at first.
Homemade frosted cookies made by Hebe. (Courtesy of Hebe)
After moving to Europe, Hebe returned to Hong Kong once. And she wanted to learn some handicrafts while there. So she signed up for flower weaving and cookie-making classes.
Not long after, she knew what she enjoyed more: Cookie baking.
When she went back to Belgium, she began spending more time making cookies with adorable shapes for her children. The children loved her cookies so much that they shared some with their friends at school.
Then Hebe’s cookies became a gift in demand for school events and birthdays. The rising of her popular cookies also fueled Hebe’s confidence and perhaps cured her loneliness.
When Hobby Becomes Business
Aside from being a full-time housewife, Hebe becomes an entrepreneur with an online business selling her cookies. Speaking to different people and customers has been joyous for her.
Hebe no longer feels alone or isolated. Baking cookies resuscitated her from baby blues and loneliness. Hebe is once again a social butterfly.
“When you are alone in an unfamiliar, foreign place, opportunities to explore and be recognized are little to none. I now get to meet and speak to different people in the community through my small business. I can also practice my French.”
It makes Hebe happy to make new friends through her small baking business, even though it is not a profitable one.
Hebe, the mother of six, bakes adorable boba cookies and steamed buns in the shapes of carrot and bunny. (Courtesy of Hebe) Hebe makes teddy bear bento boxes for her children. (Courtesy of Hebe)
Ever since her move to Belgium, Hebe had been learning French through essential daily communication. Until last year, Hebe enrolled in a local French language learning course.
At first, Hebe studied in a small beginners’ class along with nine other students. Most of the students came from Ukraine. The teacher taught in French. She had to attend three long classes weekly.
Hebe obverses that since the breakout of the Ukrainian-Russian War, many Ukrainians escaped and made Belgium home. Hebe also made friends at the language learning center, expanding her social circle.
She was already pregnant while at school. But she never wanted to give up learning because of the pregnancy and taking care of her family.
You must realize how much pregnant women experience mentally and physically while carrying a baby for nine months to fully appreciate the drive and strength Hebe has to finish her course.
“I made some frosted bear cookies for my teacher and classmates with their names to celebrate completing the course.”
“They did not want to eat the cookies as they looked too adorable to be eaten.” Hebe smiles.
Hebe makes frosted bear cookies with pink roses for her classmates and teacher to complete the course. Blue hearts and everyone’s names accompany the teddy bear cookies. (Courtesy of Hebe)The Migratory Journeys of Hongkongers
Just like animal migration, the migratory journeys of Hongkongers are becoming more common. The journey is also a hard, taxing, energy-draining expedition.
For mothers like Hebe, who migrates with not one, but five children while being pregnant, it is a mission impossible. Your body needs to acclimate to a new environment, habitat, lifestyle, and often a new language.
The stress will take a toll on your body and mental wellness.
However, Hebe does not believe she had it more challenging than others.
“I think Hongkongers having to start from the ground up are braver than I am. At least when I first arrived in Belgium, I had my husband and mother-in-law to care for me. Other Hongkongers have to begin again within themselves. No matter where I am, I will always remember why I first chose to move away from Hong Kong. In the end, it is essential to learn inclusion and acceptance in a new space.”
Soon Hebe has to adapt again, with her sixth child arriving soon. New sleep patterns, sleeplessness, juggling five children, a newborn, and fluctuating hormones will be challenging.
But fret not, Hebe is the ultimate “one-woman band.”
Reminders to Hongkongers on Migratory Journeys
Leaving a comfort zone is never easy.
As long as you persevere, you will slowly make the new environment adapt to you too.
Hebe and Michael often take the children to enjoy fresh air in nature. (Courtesy of Hebe) Hebe leaves Hong Kong and moves to Belgium for her children’s future. Although it is difficult to adjust to a new environment, Hebe perseveres and makes Belgium her new home. (Courtesy of Hebe)