-George will do an echography. Frank’s wife is waiting to examine you. Juan, an internist will make all tests, he knows what he does. The list of experts seems endless; among them, one, apparently, looks better than the others. But, why did I believe it, even at this brief moment, knowing so well the Cuban reality? If Cuba seduces, enchant and a pint with many colours the grey actuality. It’s time to reveal the truth.
The family in Cuba is the most important thing. It’s an absolute priority for Cubans, which won’t be erased with money, foreigners or tourism. The most important parts of a family are the old parents and children. Everyone congratulates you after receiving the news about pregnancy and from that moment on, you can expect a daily group of questions – how is your belly? –Literally: « how is your stomach? » which is the most common question during this time. Sometimes, before anything, the first one is How do you feel? But from that moment on, the belly is considered the most relevant event in our life. The same questions from the same people became omnipresent in our routine and sometimes, people will ask you about the baby, but definitely, there will be time for the little one. Let’s keep talking about the stomach for now.
How is your stomach?
If there is a belly, there is also a touch from anyone. In Poland, there will be social debates as well as on the Internet, concerning the touching or not of a woman’s belly and the discussions transcend our time and find support in the professional literature.
In Cuba no one plays with these conventions: there is a belly, must increase the dimension, ensure that is growing and pass on a bit of softness to the baby.
Another common problem for the future and new mothers is how to deal with not invited advice and dozens of advisers. Not only in Cuba but also here, will none think that advice could be not well received. Everybody will advise you about every single subject: « you shouldn’t wear that necklace? » it’s what an employee of a Tourist Office of the government told me with a big smile on his face. –In Cuba, we believe that if a pregnant woman uses anything around her neck, then the baby may strangulate himself with the umbilical cord. Mmmm … I understand. I removed the necklace to avoid irritation and to keep everything calm. Anyways, a few days later I founded out we have the same superstition in Poland.
Cubans love superstitions. They have a lot of them, and not me surprise they have for pregnancy too. « It is a boy or a girl? » A friend of Havana asks me energetically, like if she had something to tell me immediately. « I still don’t know we have to wait for the ultrasound exam » I answered naively, without knowing what was coming soon.
–It’s a girl! Suddenly she answered. And then, day by day, I realized she was not the only one. Everyone saw in my belly, or more precisely, in my face, a girl in my stomach.
But wait for a second, according to polish expression, a pregnant woman with an ugly girl, to say it is a good manner, or a bit more delicate, the belly is changing. Then, one day I asked our Cuban tour guide, that she neither had doubt about the sex of the child in my belly.
–Miriam, but, Why do you assure it’s a girl? Because in Poland …
No! Here is the opposite! A girl in your belly add you beauty, the skin gets lighting and brightness! Like you! Definitely is a girl! She argued.
That’s fine! As I don’t look worse, we should see what nation is the right one. In Cuba, a girl adds beauty to the mom, in Poland the baby doesn’t take it from parents. Although I have my own premonitions, I rather trust in the ultrasound to identify the baby’s gender.
The beginning of the adventures with Cuban medicine.
Twentieth week of pregnancy and it is time for a mid-echography, a meticulous verification of the internal organs and baby’s size. I know exactly what to expect from this exam. Every single organ’s name, including other very specific terms in Spanish, like principal placenta, I learned them, in order to understand everything.
For the ultrasound, I focus on Havana international Clinic name Cira Garcia, but something made me bet on the Cuban adventure.
At 9:00 AM we are going with a driver to La Palma (The Palm tree), next to Vinales, or rather, nobody out of Pinar del Rio province has any idea where that is. Oh! A very small Cuban town, with a Hospital that it supposes a friend of my family will make me the exams, putting gel and paper during a lot of time to paint a picture. Yes, but is not that obvious, Vinales nowadays lack gel, paper and reactive to analyze blood…
It is supposed the hospital from La Palma was clean, balanced and a honey miracle in general. It doesn’t have any sense to pay to go to Cira Garcia, they argued. All right, let’s try then.
Smokers like in Vinales before we enter. It gets started…First impression? A typical policlinic in Cuba, instead of windows they had tin sunblind, very dark the inside and the walls were very irregular, a prison, not a hospital with good harmony. There is no poop but is not madness either.
George, a friend of the family, full of enthusiasm invites me to enter the room. A sheet in the bed and as you can see the purity and freshness are gone for a while « Don’t worry, is from the gel »-He tries to calm me when he perceived my view straight to the spots.
« Put up your dress and I cover you », he said and he looked at me surprised. – Do you understand? He asked with sympathy and incertitude not to offend the Yuma (Cuban slang for tourist).
-Well, not really, after all, we have an ultrasound to do, why do you have to cover me?
-Ah, no! I will cover only your underclothes to see nothing but your belly.
-Aaa! I wasn’t waiting for that, but you can see more bodies every day in a Cuban street! – I made a joke.
-Yes, yes, but we investigate this way, look, the vaginal ultrasound we do it the same manner, you don’t see anything but the screen, he explained very seriously.
Ok, we continue with this subject. The machine is turned on, gel in my tummy, underclothes cover so we start the exam. I look at the screen and I got surprised …I couldn’t see anything at all, nothing! But George with a particular enthusiasm he lets my heartbeat and told me: ah! There is a hand in here and I can see the fingers, there is a leg, a face and eyes and legs are too joining… The baby doesn’t want to show what he has or what he hasn’t… that’s what George said.
-Do you like to eat nuts? He asked me to continue the exam.
-Hmmm, yes- I answered, wondering myself at the same time if I have had any and he was seeing it in my stomach.
-Well, let’s do this … Alexander (George’s son) is going to buy you nuts, you eat them and the baby will turn around and we should practice another exam. That is my secret from a Venezuelan doctor, he added. The secret did not surprise me, because that’s exactly what we do in Poland. Caramel nuts are sweet that’s why they will wake the baby up. It is very hard to find another kind of candies in Cuba so that’s his way.
Around 40 minutes later we went back to the echography room. One sheet on me, I was on other, gel and we start. George operates the camera but he still sees very little. Finally says that probably is a girl. Michel was very happy, what a surprise, but my intuition told me something else.
« If there was a boy, there were three grains of rice,» says George while he continues moving the camera on my belly.
« Wait, wait … one, two, three…there are tree seeds, It’s a boy! » Ja, maybe 1: 0 to polish adagio? It is difficult to guess. I’m not completely satisfied with this ultrasound because definitely, I saw more in Poland in a revision for 12 weeks, but for the moment it should be enough. Any size of organs was out of the discussion, but George declared very confidently all was in the right place and the boy he promised should be tall because he saw a very long leg. You can start the exchange of boy names.
Bodyguards and Nurses.
We spend the month of December in Vinales so I don’t want to lose my time trying to make a blood exam here. My mother in law arranged an appointment with a friend in a hospital to be there at 7:00 AM, with the right gift of course, because I am a tourist after all.
7:00 AM we made it! In time and ready for the exam, but there is none behind the window. Well, let’s wait a quarter of an hour, this is Cuba. The door starts to get open and close. A big man is getting in and out and I heard voices saying he is a watchman from last night shift, there is none else.
The number of people waiting in the anteroom is increasing very fast. Everyone knows each other, they gently kiss each other and nobody wonders about been waiting for so long. Everyone complains and sit in silence and talk. It has passed a quarter of an hour. It is 7:45 and I see a dark skin colour lady walking very slowly from one foot to the other. I don’t think she will show any regret, not even when she is 45 minutes delay. She opens the window and starts giving away some exam cards. I stand up and I go to the room with my own needle and syringe. It results in the presumed bodyguard collect the blood. Or is he a human orchestra? During the evening he watches over the hospital and in the morning, he does the same, but with patients. It is said the results of the exam we pick up the same day around 12:30 pm, very fast for Cuba. My enthusiasm is getting high again, but not for so long.
« Everything is fine, everything is fine »
I already have an idea about reading morphology, a long list and numbers. I was in shock when I saw the result of the exams in Vinales. I was able to read haemoglobin but the rest will always remain a secret of the laboratory.
But… I have no reasons to be worried. My mother in law has already checked the results with a very friendly doctor who is a friend of the family. Everything is normal, everything is fine, and I take the word for that. The zeros are probably the parameters when there are no reactions because most numbers are zeros, but if everything is fine, there is nothing to be worried about. Let’s continue whit this.
« Cuban divination »
– Barbara, Do you know if she has a boy or a girl? She asked a neighbour in Vinales that I had visited before Christmas.
– The results of the ultrasound suggest that it’s a boy, but I don’t trust that much in the ultrasound, he answered a little bit irritated.
– I am going to calculate it for you! He shouted out very happy and rapidly he prepared a piece of paper and a pen.
The method of Omar is based on a calculation of « new blood », which is set every 3 or 4 years and it depends on the birth date of the woman or the man.
– It is a girl! « I have done this over 370 times », he explained, writing the number on a sheet of paper to convince me of his experience in the subject, and I have never been wrong, he said.
All right, the method of Omar is as trustworthy to me as the ultrasound we did in La Palma, therefore we still have the same dilemma. At this moment we have half and half.
« Cira Garcia »
Time to go back to Havana; finally we will do a solid investigation. I’m trying to make contact with the famous clinic Cira Garcia. After several calls and uncountable people by the phone, I gave someone a very well detailed explanation of my case (Half pregnancy according to an ultrasound), it was told me I had to be there personally for a consult and exam and there was no need for an appointment, just show up and make the line out.
We go to Havana immediately. Full of hope I walk over the clean and white hall of the international clinic. The Nurses smile kindly; certainly, we are going in the right direction. I feel increasing that I will see my baby very soon; he has been digging nicely for weeks and now we should find out his gender and if he’s fine.
-At the Reception: A not natural blond guy, very hard hair full of gel. Unfortunately, he is probably one of those people who change the phone when you call, because he doesn’t know anything at all. I have to wait for a nurse that will take me to a consult (25 CUC to pay) and she will tell me what to do next. All right, we are waiting. Suddenly, came out one of those smiling nurses and I explained to her what was happening so she seems to understand perfectly the situation agreeing on whit the head. She looks to be the first person to know the kind of ultrasound I want to do. So, very calm she informs that for sure, everything is correct; you have to do that thing, but… not in Cira Garcia. Could none have told me that before after all the phone calls? The nurse invited me to enter a room to confirm it with a doctor that seemed very efficient, so he confirmed that actually they don’t practice that specific exam but, in 21 streets, at Gomez Coro Hospital, there is a maternity room for foreigners and that’s the place I should visit. Well, the enthusiasm went down again. I just confirmed my theory that whatever you wish to do in Cuba, including the discovering of nothing at all, you have to do it personally.
Then we go to the other Hospital, an international branch office for tourists. The best maternity hospital of Havana where all pregnant women desire to go, I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel again.
On a good day, you obtain a list of services and prices. As a matter of fact, they do the genetic echography besides a medical consult obligatory. What’s the price? $240.00 CUC, Do I have another option? No. Well, possibly it will be attached to divinations, unread investigations and guarantees that everything is all right.
It’s been organized a visit to Gomez Coro. Next morning I will be waiting for a nurse who will take care of me for a few hours and during that time they will practice me a consult and the echography.
We arrived early in the morning and first, a lot of paperwork and then we go to the next building where they do the exam. I feel fear, anxiety, curiosity, but also anger for all Cuban misunderstandings and I hope this time everything will be done properly.
My personal nurse doesn’t step forward or backwards. She waits with me the commencement of the test, she gapes a bit and when you ask her if she wants to sleep, she answers « Oh, yes, none wants to work during these days » and I understand, for Cubans, the end of December is a moment of celebration, not of work. At the same time, she is probably the kindness and charming nurse I have ever meet in my whole life. In the Cuban language, she touches me, caresses me and embraces me, so rapidly she establishes a close connection.
We entered the room. The green crystal doors reflect a pleasant light. Three women are in the room, the first one is learning, the second one is filming and the third one is doing the ultrasound. I have to lie down in the bed. My nurse takes my pant off from my stomach; she puts a sheet to avoid my clothes getting dirty with the gel and she stays next to me during the exam, with a face like mine. We start the echography. The sculptural face of the exam enumerates each individual organ and its dimensions. Everything is in the right place. Well, the others had a reason, « everything is ok ». What a relief. My happy nurse continues next to me like a loyal follower.
-Do you want to know the gender? The sculptural face of the ultrasound finally asked.
-Yes! I answered very impatiently.
-Is a girl.
-A girl? But, are you sure? I asked very incredulously.
-Yes, definitely. Look, now she is showing everything and what a beautiful profile she has. -She added.
I’m surprised because it is supposed that it will be Bruno, Javier or another Leonard. The last ultrasound we did it for nothing and Omar’s divination proved to be correct. This is Cuba: Everything is possible, nothing is certain, not even to know a baby’s gender.
We return to the room with the nurse, where we are still waiting for a consult. It takes another hour, maybe more. The doctor is going to explain to me, in detail, how should I eat, wash me here and there with appropriate prepared water and how to live in general. This is like the first and not the sixth month of pregnancy. Both ladies will invite me to take a sit in a chair to examine me covering my belly with a sheet as if I was ready for childbirth. All the above will take place in a very comic scenario, but very professional. After almost four hours, we came out of the hospital. I breathe in a sigh of relief because finally I know where I am and actually I can take a break in Cuba. Let’s start over the interchange of names, this time for a girl.