Cantonese restaurant

Chinese mothers of new babies struggling with parenthood in pandemic



The pandemic has hit new moms in Ottawa’s Chinese community particularly hard, as many find themselves halfway around the world far from their own moms and the help they could have given.

In China, grandparent support is the norm, said Hongyan Han, an early childhood development worker who provides resources for Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking mothers at the Somerset West Community Health Center.

According to cultural practice, babies and mothers stay home for at least a month after birth “to make sure new moms can recover well and to make sure the baby can develop,” she says. .

Grandparents often come to Canada to take care of the family and to do the cooking and cleaning, while mothers are treated “like a queen,” Han said.

But with borders closed and one-year restrictions in place, mothers of newborns feel isolated.

CBC asked two moms from the Chinese community to share their experiences. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Yuanyuan Zhou, who gave birth to her second child last summer, was separated from her family in China when the pandemic struck and had to do without much of the support she normally relied on. 1:09

This first-person chronicle is the experience of Yuanyuan Zhou, who gave birth to her second child last June. Originally from Shandong, China, she studies early childhood education at Algonquin College. For more information on CBC’s First Person series, please visit the FAQ.

My original plan for my pregnancy was to give birth in Ottawa and then bring the baby back to China to spend time with the family. Damello, my seven-year-old son (in Chinese, his name is Yuntao Bai) lives there with my parents.

When the pandemic happened, it was really difficult for us. My husband had just arrived in Canada in February and could not work. Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t either. We spent as little as possible.

When I gave birth in the hospital, I had a hard time understanding things, especially expressing what I needed. I prepared a few key words to communicate with the doctor, but it was still difficult. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, my husband had to wait outside the hospital. Everything I faced on my own.

Yuanyuan Zhou’s son was born in Ottawa in June 2020. She also has a seven-year-old son with her parents in Shandong, China. (Francis Ferland / CBC)

Now I take classes during the day and it’s busy as I often have to stop to change diapers or feed the baby.

My 7 year old is now playing happily in China and I am happy that my parents are taking good care of him. We video chat twice a day. Every day he asks us when we are coming back to treat him.

After 9 months my husband got a work permit. He is still learning English. He got a job in a Chinese restaurant.

I thought I would be depressed, but I don’t have time to have this feeling.

Every plan has been destroyed due to COVID-19.– Yuanyuan Zhou

The good news is we have to stay home, I have the whole day to spend with the baby and watch him grow. It gives me hope. Every day I see him and I say, I have to be healthy and have the power to take care of him because I am his mom.

When my seven year old son tells me, “I miss you,” that also gives me power. My greatest wish is to go back to China and see him. Then after my studies I would like to find a job in Canada and family to be together here.


Yuanyuan Zhou’s story is featured on a CBC holiday special about people living in Canada with deep roots beyond our borders. It’s called The Same Boat and airs May 24 at noon on CBC Radio One.

During the first month of her daughter Chloe’s life, Min Hui did not leave her home in Stittsville. Now they sometimes venture into a nearby park. (Submitted by Min Hui)

This first-person column is the experience of Min Hui. Originally from Shaanxi, China, she gave birth to a baby in Ottawa last July.

My husband and I moved to Canada in 2018 and found out I was pregnant at the end of 2019, before the pandemic. When COVID-19 started, the biggest thing I was interested in was the safety of the baby and making sure he was healthy.

Then came the day of his birth. It was scary having my first baby in another country.

Without my parents – especially my mother – by my side, things were difficult. My husband was there, and the doctors and nurses were attentive, but it was still difficult.

I was hoping my mother would come for a year to help us. We applied for a visitor visa for her at the end of 2019, and now it’s 2021. We finally got the visa in early April.

During this time, I had to miss school because I cannot take care of a nine month old baby and go to school at the same time. I was planning to graduate from Algonquin College in May, but this is postponed.

Min Hui says she struggles with the lack of interaction during this time as she can’t go to the stores. (Submitted by Min Hui)

Not being able to go anywhere makes me anxious and upset. I need to interact with people, maybe just the supermarket cashier, but I can’t.

At the start of the pandemic, the government told us that it was not necessary to wear a mask, and Asians were the only ones doing so. It scared me of being attacked, but I didn’t want my baby to get the coronavirus because I wasn’t wearing a mask, so I did.

When I interact with people on the outside now, I won’t get very close to them. I don’t want them to see my Asian face. I’ve never been attacked and everyone I interact with has been friendly to me, but it still makes me nervous.


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