Rob and I piled into the 1990 mauve sedan with a Kiwi, a Brit, three ukeleles, two guitars and a mandolin. The car pointed southwest for the three-hour drive from Auckland to Tauranga, windows down, keeping time with our own clapping and strumming since the radio didn’t work.
We were mid-stream through the Rob-entitled “Baby Picture Mission.” This road trip was neither short nor impromptu – the planning began in early November, after I peed on a stick to confirm I was knocked up. The trip itself kicked off on February 3rd aboard a tiny plane carrying us away from Vava’u, our Tongan home for almost six months. The goal? To get to some first-world medical professionals for my first trimester pregnancy testing.
You can’t get an ultrasound or a blood test done in Vava’u. Hell, I couldn’t even get a urine culture done when I had an infection at 8 weeks pregnant – they had to send it 100+ miles away to Tongatapu. That meant we had to figure out a new country and a new medical system, pronto.
Let me make a big, bold note here: Rob and I are not usually planners when it comes to traveling. We like last-minute, see-what-happens kind of adventures. No booking hotels in advance. No renting cars or buying bus tickets months ahead. Just go.
But we spent hours and hours planning ahead for the Baby Picture Mission. We called midwives and doctors, radiology centers and pathology labs, trying to get price quotes and procedures for non-residents. We booked tickets and contacted everyone we knew in New Zealand to try to find housing.
Here’s what we learned: the test HAD to be done between 11 and 13 weeks. No exception. Which, based on flight availability, weekends and lots of random public holidays, left us with a two-day window to get all the visits done. And we also learned that doctors and midwives don’t like to see patients for a “one-off” prenatal appointment. In New Zealand, the government pays for all health care costs, but that isn’t the case with non-residents. We create an unnecessary headache for medical professionals used to doing things a certain way.
We decided to do the tests in Tauranaga instead of Auckland, partly because we finally found someone willing to see us there. And partly because a friend of ours offered us her parents’ house as a base camp in Tauranga, since they were traveling the week. Perfect.
We settled into road trip mentality as we lifted off from Vava’u. Unfortunately, our 4pm flight was one of the hottest, most uncomfortable plane flights ever experienced. Not only was it a 12-seater mini-plane dating from 1964 with no air conditioning, it was also full of Tongans – the humans with the highest body mass ratio on the planet. This did not help the heat situation in the plane. No one passed out, luckily.
Next up on the road trip: spending the night in a hostel in Nuku’alofa, the capitol city of Tonga, since the mini-plane didn’t arrive in time to catch the daily Air New Zealand flight. Rob had a fever all night from a coral-infected cut, making it almost as hot in the shitty bed as it had been in the plane. Our arrival in Auckland had us drinking in the cool southern breezes like camels in the desert.
Phase two of the road trip involved meeting up with our friends, Billy and Magenta, and driving from Auckland to Tauranga the day after we arrived in New Zealand. Enter the Mauve Mobile and musical instruments. Everyone was jolly and excited, ready to see the baby on the big screen … until the message came in a few miles outside of Auckland. “So sorry, Bri, but you can’t stay at my parents’ house anymore.” Screech!
The music halted and jolliness ceased as our foursome discussed options. None were great. I was stressed. Tears were starting to leak. We stayed at a hostel (again) in Tauranga instead, adding another $100 to the bill. And then another $75, since we decided to lift our spirits with dinner out for 4 at an Indian restaurant, which refreshed our Tongan-weary palates.
The next morning, bright and chipper, Rob and I walked to our doctor appointment at 8:30 AM. Only they had NO record of our appointment. At all. And the ultrasound was scheduled for 10:00 AM, which can’t happen without a doctor’s referral. I was stressed. More tears leaked. Rob remained calm. We happened to be in the lobby of an “Accident Health Care Center.” A pregnancy could potentially be considered an accident, right? First come, first serve, said the sign. We were first. We forked over $80 and went in to see the unsuspecting Dr. Scott.
He was slightly confused, but obliging. After a quick blood pressure and urine check, along with the requisite “don’t drink or smoke while pregnant” speech, we walked out with two referrals in hand: one for the baby picture and one for blood work.
Billy and Magenta picked us up in the Mauve Mobile, swooping us over to the radiology center. Giddy with excitement, all four of us piled into the itsy-bitsy scan room. The Kiwi radiologist was less than impressed with our giddiness. She made Rob turn the camera off, and glared at Billy every time he made me giggle, since it bounced her wand off my uterus. Magenta asked how big the baby was, and got a frigid stare , along with the clipped answer, “I will tell you once I accurately measure it.” Rob broached a tentative, “So, um, can you tell me what, exactly, we’re looking at here?” He was answered with her exasperated sigh along with a contemptuous, “The baby, sir.”
We persevered through her disdain, crying and laughing and exclaiming over the alien chicken in my belly. It sure looked, um, cute? But, seriously, it was miraculous and mind-blowing to see the baby moving inside of me. Truly surreal, and worth every penny of the $226 fee.
It was also quite a relief:. At almost 13 weeks pregnant, no one had actually checked to make sure that I was pregnant yet. (Besides that one made-in-China pee stick I bought at the only pharmacy in Tonga.) The baby picture team members high-fived outside the office. We saw it! It worked! Only one task left: get the blood work finished so they could send the scan and the blood in for a statistical analysis of the likelihood of chromosomal diseases. Except … you guessed it.
Something went wrong.
Dr. Scott didn’t order the right blood tests. So, back we went to see him. And waited for an hour while he called all kinds of people, trying to figure out what form he needed to sign “in triplicate” for the test. Then we had to drive to another medical center to get the correct form, since he didn’t have it, and bring it back for him to fill out.
I was stressed. Tears were now deluging. The team was running in circles trying to calm me down.
I sent them all for kebabs while I waited (and waited) for the blood work. My name was called, and I handed in my form … only to be told it was the wrong form. Dr. F-ing Scott had filled out the wrong part of the triplicate form. I was stressed. Tears gushed forth. My story of woe came out in a rush, and convinced the very nice grandmother taking my blood that she would take matters into her own hands: she forged the doctor’s signature. Thank the lord. Four vials of blood and another $220 later, I was eating my own kebab and staring at the picture of the baby.
“Thanks, you guys. That was not an easy day, and I appreciate all of your support,” I said to Rob and our friends. “Check it out – the baby totally has Rob’s nose.”
“Rob, is there something you wanna tell us?” asked Billy, in mock seriousness.
“Yeah, Rob,” said Magenta. “Are you an alien chicken, or what?”
“No, but you are,” replied my mature husband.
And we were back to road trip priorities: practicing what it’s like to be a five-year-old so that we’re well-rehearsed when we have one of our own.