Outside temperatures in Riyadh dipped down, making life inside the villa bearable. The door stood ajar and the brown plastic window remained cracked, both bringing a much needed breeze but also giving another point of entry for lizards and cockroaches. After six weeks in Saudi, life had improved dramatically but it still seemed we were living a make shift existence, one that I assumed had been left behind in Seattle. See See and Foof ran around the villa playing made up games, bed pads were stacked to make forts and reinforced with pillows and blankets. The older boys attended Arabic school, struggling with the language and behavior of both students and teachers. I walked down the street to pick them up at the end of each day, listening to stories that fueled my frustration and posed the question, “why had we come to this place?” Contractions came and went as I tried to make sense of cooking, cleaning and living this new life. My belly, feet and legs ached and the only relief to be found was while sitting on the blue plastic chair that stood in the corner of the empty room. No phone numbers were available in Riyadh and no mail came in or out. I had spoken to my folks one time at a local call cabin, standing among the drivers, maids and workers who waited to have contact with their loved ones. A visit to the doctor had not given answers and only pushed me further into a state of panic.
I put both hands in front of me on the floor, steadying myself as I struggled to stand. A steady stream of warmth could be felt trickling down my leg and onto the rough black carpet. As I stood, a stabbing panic came over both my mind and body. I made my way to the bathroom and stood before the mirror not believing that this must be it. Contractions came and went as they had for weeks but this time accompanied by other signs that signaled labor. The children had fallen asleep after school and still remained sprawled out on the floor of the villa. I had already given birth 4 times and knew that I should be careful and delivery could not be delayed too long after this point. I woke him and we headed to the hospital where he would drop me off and take the kids to stay with friends.
As I approached the OB ward I was greeted by nurses who inquired about my personal details. Their tone changed from harsh and impersonal to soft and compassionate when I could not answer them in Arabic. The nurse asked me gingerly where I was from and when I said “America” she held my hand and accompanied me to a room. Within the hour, the doctor I had seen weeks before entered the room. She checked my dilation and spoke directly to the nurse telling her to start an enema, IV and medication. I understood most of what she said as she reeled these terms off in English. A new panic set in as I tried to discern what would be happening to me and most importantly the health of my baby. I called her by name “Excuse me Doctor”, she stopped and looked back as she headed for the door. I asked her about my dilation, the baby’s safety and my water leakage. At first her face clouded over and she seemed shocked that I dared to ask about my condition. She stood looking blankly at me and said “You need medication to start your labor”. I told her I would like to wait a couple of hours to see if my labor progressed and that I had never been given an enema and did not want one. She looked highly agitated with me for questioning her orders and continued on her way, making herself unavailable for hours to come.
He arrived to the hospital and assured me that the children were settled in with an old friend who I had known in Seattle. He was not allowed on the women only OB floor, but after much debate and a threat to move to a different facility, the nurses broke the rules and allowed him into my room. I spent that night from 5 p.m. on, waiting for the doctor to return and assess my situation. An answer by each nurse who entered my room of “just wait mama” was given as the hours ticked past. I thought of my children and how they must be feeling in a strange country and now sleeping away from me. I missed my mother and the safety of her medical advice and the sweet smell of the house on the hill. He sat in a chair watching t.v. falling in and out of sleep, and peeking from the door to see if the doctor had arrived.
Shortly after noon the next day, the doctor returned to my room. She spoke to him, looking past me as if I were insignificant in these circumstances, a mere woman who had brought this on herself according to my gender and selfish whims. She addressed him angrily and discussed my failure to follow her orders, stating that medication was needed. After almost 24 hours of waiting I agreed to whatever she prescribed and waited for labor to pick up where it had stopped when I entered the hospital. She administered medication and left to make her rounds and attend to her patients. Contractions took hold once again and although they lacked intensity it seemed things were back on track.
Several hours later she reappeared, once again informing me that I had delayed this birth and should have listened to her. She injected something into the IV and with the swishing sound of her lab coat against the door she made her exit. My body immediately changed, a pain and urgency I had never felt before in childbirth had begun and was unstoppable. The nurse came and held my hand but warned me not to push. It was as if my whole body was under attack and pushing became involuntary. My body heaved and shifted, coursing in agony as the bed was quickly wheeled through the hall. The nurse called out for the doctor and pushed us on into the delivery room. As I struggled to regain my composure the doctor stood over me, berating and yelling, “If you had taken medication this would not have happened “She continued with her tirade throughout the next few minutes until my son was born. I ignored her and did not speak a word, gathering him up and holding him close, vowing to never let him go.
I sat in the hospital room, waiting for him to return with the children. I had not seen them for 30 hours which was the longest separation we had ever been through. When we left the villa I had neglected to bring any clothing and now struggled to pull myself together before they arrived. I made my way to the bathroom holding the hospital gown together while navigating to the toilet. Each time I stood or moved, blood seemed to run at an alarming rate, as if a faucet had been turned on. I limped back to the bed quickly returning to a position that would alleviate this problem and tried to assemble myself. Behind me little drops of blood dried on the floor, leaving a trail and reminding me of the events that had passed. Moments later he arrived with the children who sat next to me, in between and at the foot of the bed, chatting and admiring little Abude, snuggling up as we always did on our make shift beds in the villa. I turned to him, hoping for some sign of love and approval, but noticed he was glancing at the floor. He edged closer to the bed and angrily whispered in my ear, “You left drops of blood!”