I’m back in Bali after nearly four weeks away in sub-polar Lithuania – and it’s cold back here. I expected a mild European summer, but it was 39°C for most of the time. And after bragging about the delightful Bali climate all year round to any Lithuanian who would listen, I came home to 24°C and a chilly drizzle. The rainy season continues apace, with no regard for a calendar that insists it should have been over in March.
My trip was somewhat tinged with sadness, as it was primarily to lay my dad’s ashes to rest in his home country, honouring a promise made to him some time ago. So early in July I left Bali, leaving my barely pregnant pembantu to look after the villa. She seemed in good humour when I left, apart from being mildly discomfited by bouts of morning sickness over the preceding six weeks, but she assured me that all would be well.
But on my return, she seemed a little different. She was stressed, anxious and avoided strenuous exertion. This was unusual for her, as she thinks nothing of hoisting a 20kg water bottle up to head height on to the dispenser. She normally does this with fluid grace and never spills a drop. By comparison I grunt, groan, stagger and splash around veritable lakes while performing the same task.
Concerned, I asked her if her pregnancy was progressing well – and she all but broke down. Even though she was close to the end of the first trimester, her morning sickness was much worse, lasting well into late morning. For me ‘late morning’ is about an hour after I get up, but with her day starting at dawn, the morning nausea had now become a five hour ordeal. Then she told me what was really worrying her.
“My weight”, she said, lip trembling. “Before you leave, 49kg. Now, 39kg”. She was understandably concerned about a 10kg loss in two and a half months, having been told by her mother, sister, aunts and in fact, probably the entire female complement of the village that she should expect a gain of about 2kg during this time. “What about your doctor?”, I asked. “I can not go yet – she told me to come back again in three months, so I can only go next month.” It’s amazing that patients invest such authority in their medicos – to the extent that they dare not question a pronouncement, even when they feel that something is wrong.
As a male, I have always felt it prudent to let womenfolk handle the complex logistics of their pregnancies and the burden of childbirth. Being vastly under-qualified in obstetrics also meant that I was reluctant to reassure my pembantu that everything was fine – when it may not have been. Steeling myself to insist that she see a specialist, I was tremendously relieved when she accepted my offer to arrange a visit to the obstetrics clinic at Kasih Ibu hospital and to pay for the consultation. Given that she is one of those rare types here who asks for nothing and is reluctant to accept gifts, I was surprised, but gratified.
A few phone calls later, I confirmed that she could attend the clinic and charge it to my account, and her appointment was duly set up for that evening. I was just about to order dinner when a call from the hospital informed me that I would have to attend personally as well, “to pay”. “But you confirmed that she could charge my account”, I said, looking at my menu forlornly. “You were misinformed”, said the mildly amused receptionist.
Leaving my bemused waitress, I promptly jump on my bike for an adrenaline-charged Top Gun ride along Jl. Imam Bonjol (Avenue of a Thousand Frights), dodging other two-wheeled projectiles, cars driven by people who believe they are immortal, and monstrous trucks, each reminiscent of a speeding Mt. Agung. I am ready for hospital admission myself when I arrive, preferably one with a psych ward.
We sit in the waiting room for an hour or so, my nervous pembantu cracking her knuckles endlessly, as she does when stressed. Her husband sits beside her, equally nervous – a fish in an unfamiliar ocean. Consultation over, they come back to join me, her staring fixedly at some documents in her hand. She appears stricken, and I fear the worst. But she is holding a sonogram – an image of the foetus growing in her womb. And it is not fear I see on her face, it is wonder, and a dawning understanding that this miracle is real. Here is a new life, and she is the mother. To her, it is not a foetus she sees, but her baby.
I hesitate to spoil the moment and ask: “Ah … and about your weight?” but I do anyway. “Oh”, she says beaming like a lighthouse. “Everything is fine. Doctor weighed me – 49kg. She said my scales at home must be broken! I am so happy now!” Her transformation is complete. From being a nervous wreck to being radiantly happy took a day.
So the ‘weight loss’ was just an equipment malfunction, and her clinic visit was unnecessary. But was it really? Without the concern about weight that led to the visit, there would have been no doctor’s reassurance, and no sonogram. Without the sonogram, there would have been continued anxiety and little chance of that magic connection suddenly materialising between mother and child. Yes, the visit was worth it, if only to see the expression on her face.
Three weeks ago, I left Bali to deal with a sad homecoming for my father – an ending of sorts. I returned, privileged to play a small part in a joyful beginning. The cycle somehow feels complete now.