Morning friends. One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to share our experience as an expatriate family living in Qatar. We found it extremely frustrating that there is a dearth of information (regarding important matters) about day-to-day life here. If a single soul is helped, by us sharing our experience…then I would consider my job done……
THE H FAMILY HAS A BABY…….IN QATAR!
EXCITING TIMES AHEAD…
J arrives in Doha, 3 months pregnant. Excited to begin her new life. Thrilled to be reunited with Mr H. She is least worried about the challenges of being pregnant, giving birth or becoming a mother in a foreign land, far away from friends and family. She is convinced that Mr H and his support are all she needs. She does not have her Mum here. She has no OB/GYN to call her own. No friends. No clue really. She has the internet though.
The next ten months turn out to be the most exciting, the most challenging, the most frustrating, the most helpless, worrisome and rewarding months of J’s life and Mr H turns out to be a most supportive, practical, reliable, unwavering, tireless, stoical partner.
THE CHALLENGES BEGIN….
J’s big “move and visa story” has been shared already (https://jaznajalil.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/the-move-part-1/, https://jaznajalil.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/how-to-get-a-qatar-rp-visa-for-your-spouse/). That was the first challenge. The next was finding pre-natal care.
Prior to getting her resident permit, J visited a private clinic. The OB was a pleasant Indian lady and she assured J that everything was well. J’s 19 week scan (anomaly/anatomy scan) showed a perfect, tiny lil girl (the lovely Zoe)! At 22 weeks though, there were slight concerns, J went to the same OB and was advised another round of tests and scans. The results showed there was no need to panic. J was advised more rest, and was asked to take it easy. The medical bills were mounting though. Not that Mr H or J lost any sleep over it . But they did find it hard to stomach especially since they invariably tend to compare it to what it would cost back home.
*For Dohaites reading this blog (I am sure you are pregnant and looking for answers online just like I was!), the consultation fee was 50 QAR and every scan cost me 200/300 QAR. Blood tests cost 300 QAR. Vitamins and iron supplements come up to another 200 QAR. If you do not have a health card, medical care in Qatar is an expensive affair.
Non- pregnant women are never spoken to about the travails of being pregnant. It seems to be an unspoken pact. A taboo. Wonder why? So as to not scare the next generation of mothers and put them off the path of procreation possibly? Or is there selective amnesia post- partum? Do you remember all the fluffy, romantic things (there are quite a few of those! J) concerning pregnancy and childbirth and forget all the terrifying aspects? Once you become pregnant though, the stories begin. Everyone has a story to share. Everyone seems to think they had a more difficult time. “What? Where was all this information and knowledge sharing before getting pregnant?” J thought. The aches, pains, tiredness, clumsiness, sleepless nights…..Can’t eat/sit/stand/walk comfortably….We could go on….Lord!… I do this so often…I digress…… that is not the story here……
HEALTH CENTRE DRAMA…..
J finally got her health card (after several visits to several health centres) ; when she was almost 6 months along. The H family heaved a sigh of relief. Things were finally starting to get better…They don’t have to go around looking for doctors….
Or so they thought…. (There is always a twist in their tales!)
The system here is a bit like the NHS in the UK. Healthcare is almost free (or extremely subsidised) for those with a government issued health card. Expatriates who have a valid RP can apply for a health card for a nominal fee (100 QAR/year). Once you have the health card, you can access your designated primary health centre for routine illnesses and outpatient visits. For emergency care and inpatient services, you are referred to the main government hospital here- Hamad.
J was now due for her next scan and pre-natal appointment. So, one fine winter evening they take their precious health card and off they go- to their HEALTH CENTER. With stars in their eyes and hope in their heart….. (Sorry for the hyperbole but J really was excited!)
This is how things roll at the health centre:-
- Take token at entrance for reception
- Once your turn arrives at reception, state your purpose of visit (really!), you are handed another token to a particular room/doctor (a GP in all cases). You are also given a sheet full of stickers which is bar-coded (so they don’t have to fill in your details in every form)
- Before you meet the doctor, another token takes you to the “vitals room”, where a nurse checks you vitals; notes it down and hands the sheet to you.
- You then wait for you turn outside the doctor’s door (the one assigned to you)
- The doctor, reads your vitals, asks you routine questions, elicits any relevant medical history and then refers you to the concerned specialist.
- J was referred to the “women’s clinic”.
- J takes a bunch of papers and heads in search of “women’s clinic”
- At women’s clinic- J is surprised to know that she cannot see the doctor right away (naïve she was!). A nurse, checks her vitals (again!), fills out more papers…. Hands her a pre-natal “record” booklet and gives her an appointment, a month and a week later. J tries to explain that she is DUE for an appointment. The nurse smiles apologetically and shrugs.
- J has to next get appointments for an ultrasound and blood tests.
- J secures an ultrasound spot in 3 weeks time. Yay!
- Heads to the phlebotomy (blood drawing) section next. Is given two urine sample bottles (eeks…too much information eh!) and an appointment 2 weeks later at 7 am.
- J and Mr H leave the health centre disenchanted. They leave with a lot of papers, tokens, a booklet, some stickers and two plastic bottles.
Mr H asks J if she wants to visit a private clinic again. J is a tad concerned but then thinks about it. Women have been doing this for millions of years. With no scans and blood tests and doctors….and drama. And things were going along fine so far…..for her…. So she tries to appear nonchalant, waves her hand and says “Naa, we’ll wait”.
PRE-NATAL CARE AT HEALTH CENTRE- FINALLY!
They come to the same place, two weeks later to give a blood sample. They arrive at the phlebotomy section at 6:45 am. J buzzes out a token. She is patient no. 45! There were 44 other women (most of them pregnant) before her. Though they were being called in according to their token number, a few do try to talk their way in. Most don’t succeed. Some somehow do. All of them (J included) therefore decide to stand right outside the door and not take any chances. J saw her fill of jostling pregnant ladies, screaming babies, arguing grannies and harried husbands that day. Two or three of the women even ended up retching right outside the door. First trimester and blood don’t mix well.
J was advised the entire gamut of tests that day, including the GTT (glucose tolerance test). It involves sampling of blood at particular intervals before and after having a glucose drink (to check for gestational diabetes). J was done by around 11 am.
The scan happened a week after the blood test. The same process. Take token. Get to reception. Get stickers. Get token. Get Scan. Tra la la lla la……
*The blood tests are done free of cost. The scan cost 50 QAR.
Finally, the big day arrived. The OB appointment. (The token system continues and there is a urine test every single time so be prepared if you are pregnant.) The OB reads J’s chart, fills out some forms. Skims over lab and scan reports. Checks for fetal heartbeat. Asked if J needed prescription for vitamins. Khallas. Over. Done. Finito.
*Drugs are sold at the health centre at extremely subsidised rates. Prescription from doctor is mandatory. Also, no consultation fee at health centre
J now seriously reconsiders her decision to not visit a private clinic…. “Lord, am I making a mistake here”.
Next task- booking another appointment. Mr H and J approach appointment desk. Pass the appointment card. Ask for the earliest possible date (J is in her third trimester by now). Lady at counter nods. Hands the appointment card back. Next PRE-NATAL appointment date- 16 March. J laughs. Appointment lady looks quizzically. Lil Z is due on 4th March…… Hahhahah…
Finally, an appointment is squeezed into early February. Same story as previous appointment. The same drill ….
Token. Wait. Salaam to doctor. Doctor- fill forms. Check fetal heartbeat. Scan looks okay. Fill prescription. Buy supplements….J is a Pro by now!
But this time, J is referred to Hamad Women’s Hospital (the mothership!) for next appointment as she is ready to pop any minute now.
*You register for the appointment at the health centre itself. You then receive a call from Women’s Hospital (in a few days’ time) asking you to be there on a certain date/time. You need to carry copies of your RP, your Husband’s RP, both your IDs, your marriage certificate, your health card and your primary health centre referral form. A one time registration fee of 50 QAR is charged (consultation charges extra). It’s illegal for unwed mothers to give birth in Qatar.
SNAZZY HOTEL OR HOSPITAL?
At 36 weeks pregnant, J heads to Hamad Women’s Hospital. The lobby and waiting areas at Hamad Women’s Hospital are sights to behold. J has worked in government hospital back home. With that experience in mind, she marvels at the scenes she witnesses. No “all pervasive” smell of cheap disinfectant (which characterises government hospitals in J’s head) . No mam. Wafts of oud, Chanel, Dior, Gucci and their like titillate J’s olfactory receptors. J is mesmerised by the gleaming floors, the plush sofas, the airport- like corridors…. Reminds her of a 5 star hotel antechamber. The abayas float weightlessly across the scrubbed- to- perfection floors. High – heeled doctors and patients (some, heavily pregnant!) walk around clickety- clacking.Cool! J thinks. (J loves her heels but she always wore scrubs and sneakers to work!)
It’s all very surreal…..
* Men are not allowed anywhere inside the outpatient section. (Ironically you will find male janitors and doctors inside though.) They can sit in the waiting area at the entrance.
Each consult costs 30 QAR. An ultrasound will set you back by 100 QAR. The routine blood investigations are free.
J gets her urine tested. Her vitals checked. Meets another doctor (her fifth since moving to Doha). Answers the same questions for the nth time. The nurse checks for the heartbeat. The doctor tells J the baby will come any day now. Ask’s J to get one final scan and to repeat the blood investigations (including those done for RP purposes, this would be J’s sixth set of investigations/10th prick in 4 months!). Doc asks J to come back in 5 days with all the results.
But you see, the doc has no control over appointment procedures. The next earliest appointment available was in ten days’ time (a day after J was due!). J did not see the point in trying to talk to the appointment lady. She knew all too well that it would do no good.
As she left the building, she had this nagging feeling that the next time she walked through those doors, she would probably be screaming her head off!
THE ANXIOUS WAIT & THE MYRIAD “UNKNOWNS”…..
J was rather carked the next few days. Not knowing what to expect. So many “unknowns”. So little information. She scoured the internet. Looking for information on labour and delivery at Hamad hospital. It is the largest hospital in Qatar with dozens of births per day. Has the best infrastructure. Yet J had nobody to give her any reliable advice …. The doctors and nurses J spoke to were vague and non committal….
J knew one thing for certain though; you can get admitted at Hamad for delivery only if you are in active labour. Not like private hospitals, where you can pack your bags, check in, hang out in a private, cosy room and wait for labour to start….Nope….
That said, so many other questions rankled J.
Rumour had it that men are not allowed inside the hospital. So will Mr H not be able to see the little one?
What to pack for the hospital? What would (and wouldn’t) they provide?
What about food?
What if she needed a C section?
How many days will she be in there for? (She’d heard it’s less than 24 hrs sometimes)
And hell! How would she know she was in “active” labour??????
All J wanted was some information. She asked around…. Mr H’s boss’s wife…. The nurses at outpatient clinic…. No one had any specific answers….
Finally, she gave up. Decided to cross the bridge when she came to it.
Will she be able to squeeze in another pre-natal appointment?
THE day was fast approaching….
P.S. Remember…..Easy is Boring……
(To be continued…)