The Diplomat and I were delighted to welcome the newest member of our family this past week. A healthy enough son at 6lb 9oz (couple of weeks early) which to us was a little on the smaller side of the average Canadian/British baby, but to the Thais was “very big / yai mak”. – Joshua lay there as I gazed through the bulletproof glass into the car showroom that was the nursery. The hospital has a long gallery for people to gawp at humanity’s latest entrants, you see. It was early morning, mid-week. We had a new child. Half British, half Canadian, born in Thailand.
Perhaps we should have named him Cosmo (politan).
The entire process was conducted at Bumrungrad International Hospital. Located on Sukhumvit Soi 3, this is considered one of the finest hospitals in Bangkok. Truly cosmopolitan, it is right next to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and you’ll not see a more eclectic mixture of nations passing through its Starbucks entrance-way anywhere else in Thailand. It is known as a farang medical centre and peoples from everywhere – Western, Asian, Middle Eastern – stream into its asclepian halls each in a variety of dress that denotes beliefs, nations, discomfort at the humidity. Inside the Thai staff at Starbucks refuse to speak Thai, eager to practice that common language – English. It is a private hospital that boasts florists, toy shops, a bank, a MacDonalds, an Au Bon Pain and much, much more.
We have been going to see an OBGYN at the Women’s Center on Floor Two for the past nine months. A genial man, Dr Nopodal, educated in the West, he has a relaxed, familiar manner, exudes calm and professionalism and fully gets the nuances of British humour. He also runs a trekking farm/holiday business and sells us free range eggs from under his consulting table. 150Baht for 40 of the freshest free range this side of the Indian Ocean. Boil them, a sprinkle of rose salt and you’ve got a perfect protein hit.
So..we turned up at the hospital, fully accepting now that we had to go through a ream of bureaucracy (everything in Thailand screams ‘red tape’ – something I learned with my trip to get a vehicle registered last year). The Diplomat was very keen to get her hands on our new son as soon as possible. Something we were reassured would be completely fine.
Yet, the “Yes, yes” smiling Thai face had that telltale blankness to it which we should have picked up on. Thais don’t say “no”. They just nod pleasantly, agree with you and then do their own thing. We were too caught up in the moment to spot it.
At 09:15 on Feb 12 Joshua duly arrived and we hopped on the carousel. Now…when Isla was born we were subjected to the NHS. Everyone has a different experience, of course, but the post-natal care was ‘missing, presumed dead’. ‘NHS staff shortages’ – the usual media reported excuse from an institution with a GDP greater than most nations. OK, that sounds a bit harsh; to be fair, the care in the UK was good….when we got it. I think it can be summed up with the following conversation:
“Can we move to a private room?”
“Of course, but we don’t recommend it.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“The rooms are too far away from the nurse station. Quite frankly, we’d not hear you and you’d be missed. We’re short on staff at the moment.”
Exactly. A discussion on the merits of the NHS is an emotive subject amongst Brits. I’ll leave it at that.
Bumrungrad was the polar opposite – which was also mildly frustrating. Our room was fantastic – big TV, dining area, kitchen, sofa to gaze over manicured garden walks etc….
…the entire sixth floor is given over to newborns. It exudes tranquility. The place is cleaned every hour. Neo-natal classes happen regularly, you can order in food from the restaurants downstairs, your baby is whisked away and cared for on request so new mothers can get some sleep. It’s all about Recovery. And of course, hitting those Health Insurance companies for as much as possible. Totally different to the NHS. Having had the “little help” experience in the UK we were gently ushered into the “over-care” world of Bangkok. This is not to denigrate the Asia birth process. No siree. In fact it highlighted that the snobbish Western approach has it flaws. For example, there is a tendency in the West to be precious about “firsts”. You know… baby’s first bath, baby’s first sh*t, baby’s first diaper change, etc. The theory is “skin-on-skin”, of a modicum of cleaning so various gunk on little Tom or Alice can do its “natural thing.”
Not here. Joshua as bathed twice a day; at the end of the first few hours he “gleamed”. His hair was washed and gently brushed. Isla had blood matting in hers for at least a week. He dropped into the Diplomat’s arms with a sweet smell of…
“What’s that?” sniff, sniff
“Is that Jo Malone scent? By Jove I think it might just be!”
It got to the point that the Diplomat was getting irate with the propensity of the Thai nurses to reclaim our son to give him yet another bath. She (and I) just wanted him with us…get to know him kind of thing, not have him prepped for a Kodak Moment. Talking of which, there is a glorious “four-minute-after-birth” photo of the three of us but, believe me, it was choreographed. I had to remove hats and mask, the Diplomat’s brow was mopped gently, the baby arranged just so…before clickety-click here’s your Hello! magazine moment. They may as well have shoved us in front of a green screen. The process thereafter went contrary to our wishes. I was permitted to go with Joshua to a monitoring room for one hour whilst the Diplomat recovered. Then he got to go to her for 15mins (I wasn’t permitted – something I can understand because the hospital deals with a lot of Middle-eastern women whose culture refuses point blank to allow men anywhere near women at this time and it was a multipurpose recovery ward) whilst I was sent packing up to the room for 90mins to drum my heels. Joshua was whisked away from either of us for two hours; the Diplomat arrived upstairs and we eventually had to go demand our baby from the clucking nurses.
Once we had him, the Diplomat was subjected to teaching courses. A nurse would arrive clutching a bunch of brochures, beaming happily.
“Sawadee, ka. How are you and babeee?
“I here to help you with breastfeeding.”
“No worries, I’m fine.”
“Ka. Now let me check latch. All good.” A fifteen minute laborious read through of the brochures gets underway. Bear in mind the Diplomat is hooked to an IV so is a trapped audience.
“This your first babeee?”
“Oh, ka. So did you breastfeed your other?”
“Ka. For how long?”
“Ka.” you can see the light dawning. “So you know all about how to feed the babeee, ka?”
“Yes. Have a nice day.”
That’s pretty much how it went most of the time. I wasn’t allowed to take him into the corridor “for safety of babeee, ka”. I was allowed to buy a McDonalds and bring it up to the room. Talking of the room, we had 72 channels that clearly catered for all clientele. I discovered Yemen TV, Syria National TV, heck even Sudan TV. That was an eye opener. Not that I could understand a word but when Al-Jazeera is the closest you ever get in hotel rooms to foreign news channels, then this was a treat to watch with the sound off. There was also the usual BBC/CNN, HBO films, Sports etc..
Outside, running the length of Soi 3 was an exquisite garden. About ten metres wide it was nearly one hundred metres in length from corner to corner offering colourful plants, epic views, bubbling fountains, the warmth of a Bangkok sun, peace and tranquility.
The Diplomat was there for four days. A very good four days, full of expert help, superb doctoring, a very special environment. If you’re having a baby in Bangkok you won’t get better than this. Of course you’ll pay through the nose, but if you’ve got the insurance do it. It’s different to the West which seems to have an attitude of “get on with bonding with your baby”. That’s a good encouragement, but new mothers need downtime to recover from the exhaustive process of child birth. Bangkok takes that recovery to the other extreme, you find yourself chafing to get hands on your child. That said, they even think of the partner. Food was delivered with a sticker firmly declaring it was “For Relatives only”.
The Diplomat and I agreed the perfect birth experience would be somewhere in the middle of the two…but everyone’s different, of course.
So, Hi Joshua. Get used to tagging along for the ride. Traveling with a Diplomat is always going to be interesting.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?