Hazel Chu: ‘I would look in the mirror and wish I was different’

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Parenting in my Shoes: Lord Mayor of Dublin on racism, skin colour and why she stopped speaking to her daughter in Chinese

“It was hard to decide to have a baby, but then the journey itself was really difficult,” Hazel Chu says. With jobs that involved long and unsociable hours, a childhood that involved bullying, and a genetic condition to consider, it was not a decision to be rushed.

“It took us about a year and a half to decide,” Chu says. Once pregnant however, she suffered with severe morning sickness (hyperemesis). “I was literally running to the bathroom 20 times a day. I ended up being on a drip about once every week or every second week.”

Beyond the severity of hyperemesis, Chu also had the worry that her baby might have the genetic condition that had led to her mother having multiple miscarriages and a stillborn baby.  Chu is a carrier of the gene so she, along with partner Patrick Costello, opted for pregnancy screening tests.

The initial result was positive for the condition. “I didn’t want to have to go through what Mum went through,” she  says.


“We made a decision, and we made the decision in consultation with consultants and doctors about what to do. We decided that we were going to go to the UK. However they were waiting at the time because I still had to do the amnio [amniocentesis].”

With time against them, the couple had to book flights and appointments at a UK clinic while they awaited the results of the test. “It was just horrible. When you spend your whole day already in bits that you’re going to lose the child you were carrying and you were making all these phone calls trying to book flights, trying to book appointments, being told then on the phone, ‘would you like to bring the remains back and if so you need to tell the airline’.”

Campaign trail

Thankfully, the amniocentesis revealed that the couple’s baby did not have the condition. Chu, who campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment, says she shared her story on the campaign trail and was told “surely because your child is completely okay and she was fine it’s an argument that there shouldn’t be repeal, because you would have gone down the wrong road”.

Currently, I'm quite happy with having one child. Will I regret that in future? I don't know

“I always say those decisions were made by me and they’re my choices as a woman and they’re my choice as a mother,” Chu says. “But the thing is, if we had access here at the time, I still would have made the same decision, but I would have been able to get the test and then do it a couple of weeks afterwards.

“It was a relief. We continued on with the pregnancy and the hyperemesis continued and that was fine. She was born and she was perfect.”

Postnatal depression

Chu, however, went on to develop postnatal depression and her experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood have influenced her decision to have children. “Would it put me off having another child? Yes, it did. Does it still now that I’m out of the haze of postnatal? Yeah, I think so.

“I love my kid. For so long I didn’t think I’d be a good mother and I didn’t think I loved my kid and all those horrible emotions. Now I think she’s the most wonderful thing in the world, but I don’t think I can have another one. Currently, I’m quite happy with having one child. Will I regret that in future? I don’t know.”

Chu found the conflicting advice she received after the birth of her daughter, Alexandra, difficult to manage. “Breastfeeding was a perfect example,” she says. “I had five different midwives and nurses, who were all really amazing, tell me five different things.

“After birth you just have no self-confidence. You literally just squeezed a baby through your vagina or someone just opened you up. You’re already feeling kind of broken. You feel so tired. You have a baby crying at you and other babies around crying at you and you feel lost.

“I’m surprised I kept up breastfeeding because the first six months were so awful. A year was fine and a year and a half she just wouldn’t be away from it.” With her daughter now two years and 10 months old, Chu is proud to be the first lord mayor to breastfeed a toddler in the Mansion House. She was, however, initially “shy about telling people” as she was wary of reactions.


“I have some Twitter comments normally saying ‘oh breastfeeding still at that age, what are you trying to do them? This is just the mother being needy.’ Or ‘this is the mother having attachment issues’. If I was the one having attachment issues, I would probably not choose a job that works 12 hours a day and be away from my child constantly.“A lot of people go ‘it’s the mother’s needs’. If you are going to look at it like that you can say it’s the mother’s needs, but the mother’s need is always to protect her child. My need is that I want my child to be happy.

When you're a child and you're growing up in that environment where you are predominantly picked on for your skin colour, that becomes a massive issue

“If one day she decides she doesn’t want boob any more, yaay great, I get my body back,” Chu says, adding that she’s keen breastfeeding is normalised to the extent that “people don’t give a maniacal smile when they realise someone is an extended breastfeeder”.

Plagued by racism throughout her life, Chu says it has also affected her experience of parenthood. "There was a day after I came home from being at a Google protest and I had received lots of emails and twitter DMS and then the phonecalls started where people were breathing down the phone and Patrick found me at home in tears. At that point I said to him: listen, it's not just about you and me, it's about Alex because, let's be honest, she looks like me. If she looked like him I wouldn't be as worried.

‘Really worried’

“The very fact she looks like me and her skin colour is like mine I became really worried about her because an adult receiving crap like that isn’t right, but at least it becomes manageable. You can compartmentalise it, but you can also separate out the fact that some people are complete assholes.

“But when you’re a child and you’re growing up in that environment where you are predominantly picked on for your skin colour, that becomes a massive issue. I did it when I was young. I would look in the mirror and wish I was different.”


Chu’s fears for her daughter meant she even changed how she spoke to her. “I didn’t tell Patrick at the time but it was only later on it came up. I used to speak to Alex in Chinese, because I spoke Chinese and English. I used to speak to her as a child in Chinese but when that started happening and even to the point of more recently, when more trolling started happening, I had stopped speaking to her in Chinese because, maybe in a way in my mind, I was trying to save her from the trolling, the ridicule, the shaming. And I kind of thought, the more I take away from her in terms of diversity, and culture and heritage, the more she will feel more secure that she’s Irish and that she speaks only one language, even though she can’t change what she looks like.”

When Patrick became aware that Hazel was no longer speaking to their daughter in Chinese he encouraged her to reconsider. “I said ‘well you know why I don’t want to anymore’ and he said ‘yes, but it’s not just about you. It’s about her and it’s about her heritage and she will be Irish and she will be loved but she also has Chinese heritage and culture and you need to be able to pass that on to her.’”

While Hazel says she fears her daughter being treated differently because of her skin colour, she says “her father is upset by it”.

“I look at her and go ‘I worry what it will be like for you in the world”. And as I look at these groups, especially the far right groups throwing out rhetoric and throwing out lies and disinformation, that’s where I get worried. Because I worry that no matter how much she tries and how much we talked about celebrating difference that she will end up being on the side that people will always be judging her for her skin colour. They won’t treat her equally and that’s my fear.

“I think it upsets my other half, her father, because he is a white man. He’s a middle-class white man who has always worked with marginalised impoverished communities, so he knows how privileged he is, and when he looks at his daughter he feels even more that her life will never be his life.

“Alex will have to have tough skin,” she says “Whether she grows up being trolled or not, or abused racially or not, she still has to have tough skin. If anything I grew up with a very tough mother and I think that’s what thankfully gave me the toughness on certain days now.

‘If you see that people are being tough in the face of abuse and adversity, you know that abuse is not right, but you’re going to stand up to it if you are the person on the receiving end.

“I want to make sure that she has that and she feels that and she knows that she will always have love and support from the majority of people, and especially her parents and lots of Dubliners, because they all seem to love her. But there will always be people who try to tear her down, and if they do, then she needs to be able to stand up to it.”

Parenting in My Shoes
Part 1: Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit
Part 5: Billy Holland
Part 6: Joanna Donnelly
Part 7: Eileen Flynn
Part 8: Matt Cooper
Part 9: Hazel Chu
Part 10: Ciara Kelly
Part 11: Dil Wickremasinghe
Part 12: Alison Curtis
Part 13: Dáithí Ó Sé
Part 14: Brendan O'Connor
Part 15: Anne Dalton
Part 16: Gary O'Hanlon
Part 17: Paula MacSweeney
Part 18: Stephen McPhail
Part 19: Michelle O'Neill

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family