We had been in the villa for three weeks, and while life was lonely and difficult we had at least settled into a routine and acquired some basic appliances. I continued to cook on the electric, swap meet stove that shocked me and heeded his advice of using a wooden spoon while cooking. When he announced the arrival of a used washing machine this was cause for great celebration. Workers lugged it up the stairs to the roof where clothes would be washed and hung to dry. Washing laundry in the bathtub, ringing it out and carting wet, heavy baskets two flights up, was wearing on my pregnant body. Living in this harsh and unrelenting place was like walking a tightrope. Days were spent sitting on the floor, opening the brown plastic window to catch a glimpse of air, waiting eagerly to leave the villa and walk two blocks to retrieve the boys from school. Cooking meant working with a short list, a large pot and frying pan to make something that reminded us of home.In the back of my mind still looming was the fact that I was 8 months pregnant and needed to find a doctor and hospital for delivery!
When I agreed to move to Riyadh during my 8th month of pregnancy, my mother pushed me to wait until after delivery. She brought up questions about medical care, qualifications and standards in facilities, something I knew little about. She was the Vice President of patient care services for two hospitals, this was her field of expertise. At this time in life I could not be deterred by anything and felt an urgency to follow him. I had heard many things about Saudi from my sister and felt that delivery would be fine, even better than in the States. As we stood in the New York airport saying our last goodbyes her face must have mirrored what she was feeling inside. My mother, my mentor and best friend, broke into tears, her face looked worn and tired, the signs of aging that had never been evident now flashing in between her sobs. I hugged her and told her that everything would be fine as I moved through the gate and boarded the plane.
My ideas of delivery had been shattered upon entering the villa and understanding our new living conditions. His words were clear “I want you to live the hardest life possible” and so my anticipation for this birth was now no longer frivolous, maternal excitement but sheer panic and fear. I had made several attempts to make an appointment, calling from Um Abdullah’s downstairs phone only to have the parties on the other end hang up each time. It was finally decided that a visit to the hospital was in order. I stood at the counter as people walked past and were checked in for their appointments. I patiently waited, smiling and nodding at conversations although I knew none of what was being discussed. I used my American body language to indicate a need for service but somehow as 15 minutes passed I had grown no further to meeting this goal. The receptionist’s face was fully covered by a black piece of material, except for her large brown eyes that peered out from two small slits. She looked at Saudi women and men, helped them make appointments and laughed as she spoke to her counterparts. I didn’t understand how I could possibly be missed, but waited until the last person walked away. I spoke to her but she continued to avert her attention and finally after my inquiry about an appointment she said “NO“. I looked to the men’s waiting room where he sat with my older boys, giving him a nod and a curious look. He approached the woman at the counter, speaking kindly to her in Arabic. I was then given an appointment and told to sit and wait. I walked into the women only area with the little ones and took a seat. I looked around and saw what would become a normal scene for years to come. Madam sat holding her expensive designer bag, leafing through magazines, as if totally unaware of her children who fussed, cried and jumped from one chair to the next. A small framed lady who appeared to be from India, held a newborn, wiped toddler noses and tended to the numerous children scattered around the room. They looked at me and stared, an American woman, black abaya and scarf, small blonde girl seated on my lap chattering away, another toddler holding onto my abaya and two boys who were not allowed in the women’s waiting room but who continually stood at the entrance asking for mom’s attention. Finally after an hour of waiting a lady appeared and called out loudly “Madam Leen, Madam Leen”
I was ushered to a plain, small room where a lady sat behind a brown desk. Her white lab coat indicated she must be the doctor, although she did not bother to introduce herself or inquire as to my name. She spoke in an abrupt tone, Investigations?? She didn’t glance at me but repeated in a dull monotone voice,“your investigations!” I was tired, nervous and could not imagine what that meant. I looked at her trying to grasp at any small grain of compassion in her face, she repeated again,“I need your medical investigations!” It then occurred to me that she needed the files from my OB in the states. She called the nurse, ordered several tests and stood to leave the room. I sat in the chair looking at her lab coat as it made a swishing sound against the door and that is the last time I saw her until my water started leaking and I entered the hospital 3 weeks later.