“Au, ra kaiaaaaaaa,” I said, marveling at the delivery room’s beautiful interior. For some reason, my image of these places has been mostly defined by that one video we saw in health education, and Hollywood. I expected ugly hospital beds, cramped closed-in walls in hideous hospital colors, doctors walking around with surgical masks and dead eyes… except, take all that, and Georgianify it – so like, add exposed plumbing and nicotine stains on the doctors’ gloves.
Instead, the room was spacious, painted a beautiful light red, and filled with reassuring things like Pilates balls and sunlight. There was a bed and a bench and some stools and a bathtub and a sink and some medical equipment and something called an “infant warming station” which if you’ve ever seen a hydroponic garden, it looked like that except instead of water and plants you put a baby in it.
“Ra kaia” was repeated. Opening with Georgian, and a compliment, had made me popular with the nurses. I told them that I was from New York, and that we were expecting a boy. They wanted to know what I did in New York, before I came to Georgia. “I don’t understand the question,” I said. Really, I just didn’t know how to answer. Actually I am perfectly capable of saying “nothing” in Georgian, as well as “living with my parents,” but these sorts of answers only seem to confuse matters. So I said “ar vici, ver gavige” and I smiled and I nodded and they smiled and they nodded and that was that.
This was the best maternity care center in Kutaisi. My wife’s doctor in Tbilisi was afraid to let her come here to deliver – she seemed to view delivering in Kutaisi as only a very small step above delivering in a cave (although to be fair they have some really beautiful caves in Georgia) but financially, living in Kutaisi was much more doable than living in Tbilisi, and taking a 3 hour marshutka trip is sort of off the table once your water breaks, so we tracked down a reputable doctor. Our neighbor delivered her baby at the same clinic just a month ago – an adorably regal baby girl – and she gave it rave reviews.
In Georgia, the government pays for some prenatal care. Several standard doctors’ visits and routine tests are paid for by a voucher than any woman can get by going to one of the friendly, efficient civil service centers throughout the country. When we went for our voucher – last spring – I dreaded the trip; imagining something like a cross between the DMV and my mom’s HIP visits which I very dimly remember, twenty-odd years later, as being super boring. Instead the entire venture took about fifteen minutes. They had apparently decided to abandon the “take a number” system and delegate the task of sorting who went where to a gigantic, abrupt fellow who had far more than enough authority and raw organizational talent to oversee an unending stream of Tbilisians coming to be civilly served. The man was a miracle worker, brooking no nonsense and maintaining, in memory, a queue of who was going to which desk in which order.
If you’re sensing a theme, it’s that Georgia’s whole health care system has been amazing. I’ve posted before about the ease of going to doctors with TLG’s medical insurance, and about how medicine is cheaper and more accessible here than in the US. It turns out that government-run medical voucher programs also go much more smoothly than you’d expect. It turns out that Georgian delivery rooms – even ones in Kutaisi – can aspire to, and achieve, greatness. Two years ago I thought that if I ever needed serious medical care, I might go to a neighboring country, like Turkey, to get it. I’ve heard horror stories, but somehow I’ve never experienced them. I love medicine in Georgia.
My wife’s labor was quick. We weren’t expecting the baby for at least another week. She called me during my fourth lesson of the day – at about 12:20 – and said that at her routine checkup her doctor discovered that her water had broken. I told my coteacher I had to go. “Is everything okay?” she asked. “I think my wife might be having the baby,” I said. My wife and coteacher are family friends from way back. She sent me off with her best wishes.
At 3:00, the doctor’s phone rang while he was examining my wife. I won’t get too graphic but just try to imagine what an examination entails during a delivery. Because we are, after all, in Georgia, the doctor took the call. I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew at that moment that I had the trump card, the story to win all conversations about Georgians and their cell phones. Forget teachers taking calls in class – this was a doctor measuring cervical dilation with one hand and pushing “talk” with the other. And it happened twice! I guess I have to admire his nonchalance in that situation.
People here seemed to have the idea that I would either not want to be present at the delivery, or not be able to. Apparently the expectation is that Georgian husbands cannot handle the pain and blood and screaming that happen in deliveries, and apparently this is a fairly new phenomenon, because in past centuries Georgian husbands did attend deliveries. Feel free to weigh in on this bit of cultural trivia if you feel you know different. Anyway, my own father has told me countless times about how he attended my birth, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss my son’s. I want to tell him the same stories one day.
I’ve already written two letters to my son. One back in April, and the other just last week. Partly in case anything awful should happen, and I can’t be around when he grows up; partly just because I think it’s often really awesome and meaningful to receive communications from the past. I want him to understand where he comes from in a way that I might not really be able to reproduce in fifteen or twenty years. I want him to understand his background, the context of his birth, what it means for him to be American and Georgian, and what the side of me that doesn’t get put on this blog has to say. And partly, I just can’t wait to talk to him.
At 5:00 pm, Georgian Time, our son was born, weighing 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds) and measuring 52 centimeters (20 inches) in length. He has my eyelashes:
[Picture: Giga Edward Zupancic, age: 0]