Pregnant in Thailand – and my doctor doesn’t speak English!

Many people have asked me about my experiences with health and medical centers here in Mexico, and in other countries. It’s no secret that the US medical system is by far the most costly and for the cost not necessarily offering better health care. There are dozens of articles that speak to this. Here is just one: https://www.focusforhealth.org/healthcare-costs-high-usa-versus-countries/

That said, I’ve had some terrifying experiences with the lack of adequate health care in some countries, and also some great experiences. Now having decided to settle for a time in central Mexico where medical care is affordable and can offer great quality, I’ve decided to take on some of those more daunting mid-life exams. I’ll tell you all about the process in real time, but this first blog installment goes back a bit further, to the time I first discovered I was pregnant with Aiden.

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I learned I was pregnant while completing a certificate course in Bangkok, Thailand. To say I was surprised was an understatement, and until I could emotionally process this information myself, I certainly didn’t want my course colleagues – professionals in the field of conflict and law enforcement from a number of African and Asian countries – to know.

I suspected my pregnancy right away. I had a level of physical/hormonal discomfort and constipation that didn’t feel right, and I had recently visited a former love in Lebanon. It was meant to be our romantic forever goodbye. I was in fact en route to a graduate program in Bologna, Italy. It would be a new life, a new start. Which brought me to the motto of this “new life”, that famous John Lennon quote: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

me and Nadeem
The Great Goodbye

My first visit to the hospital in Thailand was a disaster. It was a big American place that perhaps was trying to be too American. I was afraid to mention to the doctors that I thought I was pregnant, and since my main concern was ongoing constipation, I was quickly given a bag of laxative pills and told to go home. I had failed, and they, in their rush-them-in-rush-them-out-US model, had also failed.

I don’t recall if I couldn’t find a home pregnancy test in the market places or if I was so deeply sure of my state that I figured I may as well go directly to the hospital and begin prenatal care. With one failed medical attempt under my belt I decided I had to try again. This time at a popular Thai hospital.

My closest confidant in this program was a beautiful Liberian man named Rich, who thought I was surely kidding him when I asked if he might come with me to the hospital as I thought I might be pregnant. After some loud guffaws he saw the look on my face and knew I needed some support. But who? And when? And why? And wow! But he happily signed on, calling himself — to this very day — Aiden’s African Godfather.

So Rich joined me on my next outing to the hospital down the street from our University. It was a big place that came highly recommended from school officials — but no one spoke English. I considered walking out and finding another American medical center, but this was already a difficult process for me and I needed to soldier ahead. So I didn’t mention any constipation this time. Standing in front of the receptionist, I drew my hands in a bulge over my stomach, miming the fact that I thought I might be pregnant.

She nodded in understanding and sent me directly into an examination room. A sweet and lithe doctor came in and kindly said hello in Thai “sah wah dee khrap!”. He clearly didn’t have a lot of English either. I did the same hand motion over my belly, telling him about my pregnancy suspicions. He also nodded understanding then mimed that he was going to take a picture of my belly to see if there was a baby. I laid myself down on the examination table. He returned some moments later with what looked like a long and thin dildo with a condom draped over it. I froze. I’ve since learned that this is a common tool used for vaginal ultrasounds but I had never seen such a thing. He read the terror on me face and mimed again his taking a picture of baby, clicking his finger as if he had a small Nikon in his hand. I let the air out of my chest and relaxed into my exam bed. Within minutes a blurry image popped onto the monitor and there it was: a little peanut moving in my belly. The exam with imaging was $25 so I went back several times over the next few months — far more than I needed — just to see my peanut growing, and to smile and nod at my kind doctor, who still couldn’t tell me if I could get folic acid anywhere in Bangkok (my dear friend ended up fed-exing me a care package of prenatal vitamins).

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 10.20.24 AM
Not as common in the US but frequent use abroad.

I considered staying in Thailand to have my baby and decided that despite the incredibly low cost and kind people, I’d rather have the support of my mom through the end of my pregnancy. Graduate school, at this point, was put on a back burner, and I went home to New Mexico after the Bangkok program ended (and to this day can hardly stomach the smell of fish sauce). I made sure Rich took a big, happy photo of me and the doctor and all the nurses in the office. The fact that I had my first trimester of prenatal care with them instead of heading back to the expat hospital was as surprising and delightful to this team as it eventually was for me. Now if I could only find that photo…

Because I had no job or home at this point, once back in the US I was approved for medicaid and my entire pregnancy was ultimately paid for. If I hadn’t been approved, I would be in debt $10-20 thousand dollars, particularly as I had to have a C-section and stay in the hospital for several days. But the Medicaid process was unbearable, humiliating, and often left me in tears after wait times that stretched into near full days. The worst day might have been after one 6-hour wait, when I was told the person I had come to meet wasn’t in the office; it was her day off. “Why didn’t anyone tell me this when I arrived 6 hours ago??!” I said, immediately tearing up. “Oh, the person who told you to wait must have been messing with you because you’re white; she doesn’t like white people.” I walked out of the office and crumpled onto the sidewalk sobbing.

Indeed I was the only white woman in any waiting room I came to occupy during the time of my pregnancy and just following. I didn’t hold a grudge for this reverse racism; it just gave me insight into what others have experienced for years at the hands of racist officials. And I took it as the necessary form of payment – its own kind of cruel, full-time job — for the blessing of this beautiful, healthy boy.

 

IMG_9636
What is the cost of Childbirth in Your country? This is the most expensive new hospital in San Miguel de Allende. Prices for regular childbirth and C Section, $570 and $700 respectively.

 

Me and Aiden
Love at first sight

 

Please follow this blog for more installments on healthcare experiences and travel!

One thought on “Pregnant in Thailand – and my doctor doesn’t speak English!

  1. It’s so sad that discrimination is so alive and thriving in all races. My husband is white and people of other races think it’s so easy for him, but that’s not the case. I won’t get into that here. I’m thrilled after it all, you have a beautiful healthy child! 🙂

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