There’s Clinic and then There’s Clinic

Thursday 3rd July 2014

Tomorrow we are going to clinic at Aga Khan Hospital. Hubby and I. I am reminded of the first time we went to clinic when we were expecting our first baby. I remember the exact date because it’s also my dad’s death anniversary, it was 16th November. Up until that day, we had been very excited about the pregnancy and my husband was of course treating me like an egg which added to the whole very special feeling. But on seeing just how many couples were there, also pregnant, I realized I wasn’t that special. Not like in a bad way but in that way like when you dress up, doll up, and look at yourself in the mirror and think how nice you look and then you show up at the wedding or party and you realize actually everyone is just as dressed up as you are, and they are looking just as fabulous, if not more. It sort of bursts your bubble- not in a negative way but in a way that removes that fizz that you had wrapped yourself in and you start walking on the ground instead of sort of floating above it. So that’s what I felt on seeing so many other expectant couples at the ante-natal clinic. Some of the women were way more expectant than I was, if we can say that, as in, they were much further along. I was showing by then, at 4 months, but only just barely, as in you’d have to have known me before to tell that there was a baby bump. But these women, some looked ready to pop! Certainly gave me perspective!

Anyways, the reason I’m bringing this up now is because this time with this second pregnancy I have been going to clinic elsewhere, at Ole Nguruone Sub-District Hospital. This is a government hospital in rural Kenya and very different from Aga Khan which is a private, sort of fancy (I use this word positively with no sarcasm, hospital in Nairobi, and I have noted many differences. The first difference is that at Ole Nguruone women go to clinic alone, you hardly ever see husband and wife coming to ante-natal clinic holding hands- or post-natal clinic at that. See, at Aga Khan, most people we saw there were couples, young couples mostly, professional (i.e. look like they work in offices or banks), all nicely dressed up, many, I think, having their first or second or at most third baby- and all seeming to be doing quite well financially, or not struggling. At least that was the general conclusion from my (objective, of course, non-scientific, very generalizing, and very assuming) observation. They seemed like middle class, upper middle class and very urban. You see the women carrying fancy water bottles, (which seem to be a fad in urban areas), wearing nice tops and tights, and the men have car keys dangling from their manicured-looking hands. For post-natal clinic, as we also took our baby there after he was born, I would see a mum and a nanny and a baby bag and at times a baby stroller. There were also many dads and mums, or mums who’ve been accompanied by a friend, relative or their own mum- the baby’s grandmother. But at Ole Nguruone I notice that the women come, for both ante-natal and post-natal clinic by themselves. Even the ones who come for baby’s clinic, you don’t see then with a nanny and certainly not with a stroller. Ole Nguruone being a rural area, and also being a government hospital, caters to a different demographic of people than Aga Khan, I suppose.

It’s been interesting for me to see this because it shows just how different the whole journey of pregnancy and motherhood is experienced by different women (and men) in Kenya-and I guess in the world. It’s been interesting to realize how fathers/husbands play a different role depending on where you are. Not to say that all Nairobi/urban fathers accompany their wives (and babies) to clinic- I must admit I realize that I am one of the lucky ones whose husband was able and willing to do so. We would make a date of it and either do lunch before or dinner/tea after clinic, so it was all very romantic, and I realize that this is/was a luxury- and one that I am very grateful for. In the same vain, certainly we can’t say that all rural fathers/husbands don’t accompany their wives and babies to clinic because there are those who do. But I believe it is correct to say that the trends are different.

With these observations, I have come to understand, in a way that I hadn’t before, that love is expressed in different ways. You see, these men in Ole Nguruone and I’m guessing in Londiani, and other rural/semi-rural/semi-urban areas; they are busy at work in the farm, or the shop, or the school, or wherever it is they work, making the daily bread while the wife tends to the business of motherhood. These men are somewhere wearing gumboots and a coat and hat/cap- as it is generally cold in these parts of Kenya- and they will come home exhausted in the evening, not smelling of cologne and the car air freshener, but likely quite sweaty and even dirty/dusty from working the farm for instance. The wife, on the other hand, walks to clinic or goes by bodaboda and if it’s for post-natal clinic, she carries her baby on the back with a leso and takes her/him to clinic with much the same love as that urban woman who goes to clinic in a car or cab or matatu with the nanny and stroller and all other fancy paraphernalia. At the end of the day, this rural couple is just as excited about their baby as the other couple but situations dictate that that excitement is expressed differently.

It may seem quite mundane an observation, but to me it’s been fascinating because it’s opened my eyes to a whole different kind of love language. Even now that we’ve moved from Nairobi, my husband doesn’t come home wearing gumboots and a coat and a wool hat, dirty from the farm- as he is a doctor- but when I see these men walking home with the jembes (hoes) on their shoulders in the evening, or walking with a cane to guide the cattle, or just walking home from town where they were doing some casual work or other, I see that they are doing exactly what my husband is doing. They are showing their love and commitment to their family by working hard to fend for them. Just that some do it in suits in airy air conditioned offices, others do it at construction sites where they get caked up with cement, and some do it in the farm where they interact directly with the earth.

Similarly, the pregnancy journey is not as romanticized for all women. In fact in most cases, the woman is treated with care but she does keep working through the pregnancy (as much as she can) and after having the baby. She will continue with chores like cooking on the three-stone fire as she blows the firewood to fan the fire, carrying water in a bucket from the tank outside the house or from the river to the kitchen, washing dishes in a basin while seated outside on a low stool and going to the market or the farm with her baby on her back. Whereas the urban middle class/upper middle class woman is more pampered during her pregnancy and gets to crave (and get) yoghurt and strawberry donuts and chocolate with nuts, and doesn’t do much manual work- well, going by my experience where I was really pampered by my husband when I was expecting my first baby- both women are going through the same experience of carrying a life and bringing it forward to this world. Just that their experiences are worlds apart.

Getting to see these different aspects of family, motherhood, parenthood and marriage sheds light on how love and indeed life is multifaceted. How similar we are yet how diverse we are. It’s not that any of the two (or more) experiences is better or lesser than the other, but it certainly shows how the sun shines for all of us but shines differently. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a chance to get a glimpse into each others lives? To appreciate how life is expressed and experienced differently? In any case, I look forward to our appointment tomorrow. And I do so with the knowledge that there’s clinic and there’s clinic. And both are clinics.

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