Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The room was dark and there was a flimsy divider that blocked off the
patient from the view of people passing in the corridor. I perched on
the edge of the table with my hand on Jennet’s leg as the doctor
spread cold jelly onto her protruding stomach. As the doctor pushed
the wand around, the fuzzy image began to sharpen on the television
screen. There is the head. Do you see it? Yes. There is an arm.
Do you see it? Yes, but are there two? There is a leg. Do you see
it? Yes, there are two legs also. Jennet, you have a girl! I let
out a muffled laugh as I caught Jennet’s eye, which I hope the doctor
didn’t interpret as indifference or mockery. First, let me take you
back a few months.

Last fall I was Jennet’s bridesmaid. This event was perhaps the most
remarkable and memorable of my entire Peace Corps experience, but with
the news of Jennet’s pregnancy, I realized that the wedding was just
the beginning. Her pregnancy has been difficult, and she has had
plenty of volunteers offering their advice, extra multi-vitamins and
knitting skills to make petite baby socks. Before I left for America,
Jennet asked me to help her during her birth, and I accepted but
quickly realized that I knew next to nothing about the real birthing
process. Despite having a mother who had my sister and I at home
without any painkillers, I have not bothered to ask her much about the
technicalities of giving birth. I realized how much Hollywood and
feet stirrups played into my idea of birth, both probably not really
applying to Turkmenistan very well. Back in the US, I perused the
birthing and baby book aisle not without a few furtive glances in my
direction. The book I finally settled on has recently been my go-to
resource more than any of my TEFL (teaching) books. If Jennet has an
ache in her leg, I dash to the glossary and find the most plausible
cause. Her nieces and nephews have taken interest in the book,
particularly in the live birth pictures, which caused an awkward
moment until their mother said that she didn’t care. Jennet had been
waiting for me to come back to go get an ultrasound. On my first day
back, we jumped in a taxi and went to the big hospital in Turkmenabat.
As far as I know, this is the only ultrasound machine in the entire
welayat (region). I had heard horror stories about lines out the
door, and pregnant women passing out from the congestion and hours of
waiting. We were lucky and our wait was two hours, and we spent most
of the time looking at the birthing book and talking to the other
women about exercises and healthy eating habits. They were all
fascinated by the book, and it made me sad that they don’t have any of
this information available to them. Practically every Turkmen woman
will have at least one child, and they go through pregnancy and birth
relying mostly on the advice of other women in their family, which
often can be outdated or inaccurate. For example, Jennet was
experiencing pain in her joints, and she was told by a family member,
who is a doctor, that she should drink vodka to get rid of the
infection. I practically screamed when I heard this, but was relieved
to know that Jennet ignored the advice and has not been taking shots
of any kind of alcohol. As we were waiting on the hard, wooden
chairs, we agreed that we didn’t want to know the sex of the baby.
Jennet has been wanting it to be a surprise, but in the excitement of
seeing the baby, both of us forgot to mention this important request
to the doctor. Woops, and it’s a girl! But both of us were grinning,
and quickly lightened up at the news. The baby is healthy—two arms
and two legs, about which Jennet made sure to ask. I hope Jennet’s
husband doesn’t get wind of my blog because he still doesn’t know the
sex of the baby. Actually, only Jennet and I, and now the entire
world wide web community if they so care, know about it. Jennet has
named me the Godmother of this baby, in another touching outreach of
her faith in me and in our friendship. I was secretly hoping for a
girl because in addition to being named the Godmother, Jennet told me
that she wants to name the baby after me. Her name will be Enejan, my
Turkmen nickname. Ene means mother in our dialect of Turkmen, and
–jan is the suffix to create a diminutive. So, in essence, Enejan
means, darling (or dear) mother. This might seem like a strange name
for a newborn baby, but adding the diminutive –jan onto words like
mother, father, grandmother and grandfather are common names. After
the ultrasound, Jennet told me that when he asked about the sex of the
baby, she told her husband that she didn’t know. Then when he asked
about baby names, she said that he can pick the boys name and she can
pick the girls name!

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