Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Poked, Prodded and Spiked by Kate

The Spanish ante-natal system has now clutched me to its starchy white-clad bosom and my overriding feeling is that it's a good job I'm the one carrying the baby and not Theo. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Our first appointment with the obstetrician in our local clinic was best characterised as perfunctory. No leisurely hour-long chats with a friendly midwife here - at least, not yet. We were given a list of matronas and we assume we choose one, but we're still a tad confused about that part. Anyway, with minimum hanging around we were ushered into the consulting room where the obstetrician and nurse worked as a team. While the obstetrician asked questions and took notes, the nurse busied herself taking my blood pressure, weighing me, then ushering me round a screen and motioning me to bare my midriff. Once I had done this, the obstetrician came in, slapped on a load of cold gel and proceeded to scan me with breath-taking efficiency. Theo hovered at the back and managed to get a glimpse of our unborn daughter, but I wasn't so lucky. After less than a minute, the obstetrician nodded and gave me the briefest half-smile (she was far too business-like for a full rictus), said “Todo bien” (“Everything fine”) and handed me a tissue to mop the gel off my tummy. Apparently we would have to wait another three weeks for a full scan before we could take a proper a look at what was in there. When I asked Theo how she was looking, he replied, “A bit fat,” which was slightly worrying. Maybe I should cut down on the chocolate biscuits.

A few minutes later we were dismissed with a sheaf of forms, a pregnancy advice booklet and strict instructions to go to the medical centre at San Blas the next morning before nine with a urine sample and absolutely no breakfast (me - Theo was excused that part).

When we arrived at a quarter to nine prompt, we found the waiting room choc-a-bloc with a numbering system policed by a dour looking male nurse who periodically barked out the next five numbers and shooed their owners through a door. We never saw any of the patients come out again, which was slightly worrying. As an “embarazada” (pregnant woman) I was excused the queueing system and was instead told to wait until I was called. While perching on a moulded plastic chair I noted a number of other women with assorted tummy bumps and urine sample-shaped pots wrapped in various bags or bits of foil. Clearly I wasn't the only embarazada at this party.

“Embarazadas!” called out the dour nurse and about twelve of us heaved ourselves out of our chairs and crowded round the door. The nurse herded us into an ante-room where another medic gave us a brief lecture about what we could expect. From what I could understand we would be subjected to various tests, the last of which assessed us for possible diabetes and involved a wait of an hour and an absolute prohibition on eating or drinking anything except water. We were each given a sheet of numbered labels and bidden to queue up at the reception desk in another room full of tables with white-suited medics waiting expectantly behind them. While we waited our turn, the dour nurse abruptly changed demeanour and started cracking jokes, which I smiled at dutifully, despite a total lack of understanding of the punchlines.

When my turn came, an orderly took my urine sample and stuck my stickers on a bewildering variety of colour-coded vacuettes, handing them to me and motioning me to one of the waiting nurses. I sat down and watched in growing amazement as she rapidly took one blood sample after another out of my torniqueted left arm. I counted twelve. When she had finished, she wound on a compress and sent me back to the ante room where I waited, feeling the teeniest bit faint from lack of blood and exchanging glances with the other embarazadas, who were also looking slightly shell-shocked by the experience.

Once we were all assembled, another nurse came in and started handing out plastic bottles full of a suspicious-looking orange liquid. This we were instructed to drink - all of it - and then return to the waiting room. It tasted like a fizzy vitamin drink, only twice as sweet. Spanish people have quite a sweet tooth, but most of the other embarazadas grimaced a bit as the full sugary force of the glucose drink hit their taste-buds. Obediently, we all swallowed the bottles' contents and were released back to the moulded plastic chairs.

Throughout, Theo had been waiting patiently for me having foregone breakfast in a gesture of solidarity. It was a good job he hadn't been invited into the sampling room as I dread to think what effect a room full of medical blood-letting would have had on him. He was also astonished at the amount of blood taken and wondered aloud whether the medical centre was actually a front for a local detachment of vampires. We settled down with some marking to pass the time.

When the hour was up, there was another call for embarazadas and we all trooped back into the testing room. Numbers were called out and as ours came up we were sent to another of the tables and ordered to bare an arm - the other one this time. Thankfully, we only had to give a single sample and I was jabbed, blotted, told to go home and have breakfast, then sent packing again in the space of about ninety seconds. By now feeling somewhat light-headed from a combination of blood-loss and hunger, I gratefully returned to my dutiful husband and we did exactly as I had been told.

So that's that, for another few weeks. We've been informed we'll be notified about my next appointments by post or telephone and in the meantime, we aim to do a bit of research about the business of finding a midwife and choosing a hospital for delivery. On the language front, I'm pleased with myself at having managed a bit of pregnancy chat with some of the other embarazadas, including how far along we were and who was having a girl or boy - or twins in one case - and possible names. It made me feel like a little less of an outsider. Language barrier and unfamiliar systems aside, we are all in the Bump Club.

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