There is a long-running stigma about the medical system in Mexico. North of the border, the general impression seems to be that if you visit a Mexican doctor for any reason, you will exit the clinic with a butchered spleen. Essentially, we believe that Mexican medical establishments are inferior to those of the U.S. From experience, I will say that in Mexico we may not see all of the bells and whistles we are accustomed to in the U.S. But in spite of uninformed jokes and fears about the quality of medical service, I’m soon going to wish I still had Mexican medical treatment available. Why? Because it is much more straightforward, practical, and affordable than it is in the U.S.
My husband and I recently learned that
our family of three will soon become a family of four (please save the applause until the end of the post, hehe)!! I am still pretty early in the pregnancy game, but [Edit: …we have miscarried, but…] I am already pondering all the ways in which this [next] time around will be different. First, Aron will be able to be with me in the hospital and see his second child born. Second, we have a much broader and more intricate network of support from friends and family here in the U.S. Third — although we are far from winning financially — we are in a much more comfortable, stable spot here in the U.S. But there are all sorts of moments that will be distinct from those we had during pregnancy with D, and here is a good place to reflect and appreciate those times.
Aron and I were living in Mexico when we found out we were going to have our first child. After unclear results with two home pregnancy tests (even though we already knew, you know?), we finally went to get a blood test done. Aron accompanied me to a tiny medical analysis clinic which was sandwiched between two auto parts shops on Avenida Colón, nearby where we were living in La Moderna. For about 100 pesos (just under $8 USD), I had the blood test done. We were greeted and attended by professional staff, and we sat in the front waiting room for about an hour after the short test, until they delivered me the result in an envelope — positive! We walked out of the office beaming, and filled with emotion. We went home and shared the news with Aron’s mom right away.
At the time, I was apprehensive about the whole pre-natal process in general, and even more so, concerned about the quality of treatment I would receive in a Third World country. Since as a foreigner I did not have insurance, Aron and I went to a public clinic on Felix U. Gomez, which is also just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our home. I paid 25 pesos (less than $2 USD) for my first appointment with a family doctor (incidentally, I found out from our cousin’s girlfriend Xochitl — pronounced “SO-cheel — that, unlike in the U.S., there would be no pelvic exams until birth, unless there was an urgency that called for one). The receptionist at the clinic provided me with my own carnet de citas — a small, plain-paper appointment booklet with the doctor’s information stamped on it. I was instructed to go down the hall, check in at the appropriate desk, and wait. I had no idea that the family doctor to whom we were assigned would soon become one of my few sources of inspiration and understanding during some really tough moments in Mexico — though I won’t divulge all of that right now.
Doctora Mayra was a tall, middle-aged woman with eyeglasses, healthy long hair, trendy but professional attire, and high heels. Any other person we’d talk to would describe her about the same way. Dra. Mayra’s warm demeanor put us at ease from the start. Her patience always astounded me; as I was still in my first couple of years of learning “real” Spanish, I had trouble communicating. It is one thing to know classroom Spanish, another thing to know household Spanish, another to know street Spanish, and yet another to know jargon for any specific situation like being pregnant for the first time. I had a plethora of questions, and when my words would not come out right, I would turn to Aron to help me explain what I was trying to say. But Dra. Mayra constantly prompted me to speak to her directly, no matter how difficult it was for me and how choppily the phrases left my mouth. She would make Aron feel comfortable as well, always sure to address any of his concerns at any time. Aron went with me to all of my appointments, except for the few times that his work schedule prohibited it.
At the end of each appointment, we would schedule our next visit. Dra. Mayra would jot down the date and time in my carnet de citas, and we would be on our way. That following visit, providing we were keeping the appointment, we would not have to pay a cent. We would simply check in with the receptionist and walk into the waiting room.
Before proceeding with the usual pre-natal appointments, Dra. Mayra sent us downtown to Unidad Radiodiagnóstica Siglo XXI (which she simply called “Siglo veintiuno”) so that I could have an eco (ecografía)/ultrasound, and so that we could all begin to see the progress of our little one’s growth. According to their current website, it appears that prices have risen, but when we went for my eco, Aron and I both remember only paying about 100 to 150 pesos (somewhere around $10 USD) for the ultrasound. We did not have to make an appointment, and if we arrived early enough, we didn’t have to wait very long. The doctor/technician was friendly and professional, and even cracked a joke or two each time we went (we only went twice; he remembered us the second visit, though, which was months later!). I remember him saying that he hoped the baby would have my eyes, because Aron’s were ugly. That is Mexican humor for you: straight to the point and not intended to offend. So for the low cost, we got a thorough ultrasound session, questions answered, and a printout of the little one (only two images at the first visit, but that was all we needed). I remember the exact date we found out we were having a boy. We had been hoping for a boy. It was my sister’s birthday, and I sent her a text with the good news just as we were leaving the Siglo XXI office.
Back at my pre-natal appointments with Dra. Mayra, she would ask her questions, Aron and I would ask ours, and she would assess my measurements and discuss every important bit of information with us about D’s development. I remember being relieved speaking with her because she was one of the only people around who stuck with my insistence to continue running as part of my exercise habits (but of course, no contact sports… sigh… but I could give up soccer for a while), since I had been doing a lot of it prior to pregnancy. Her advice was similar to that of other health care professionals: listen to your body, eat well, drink lots of water. Before long, my body would not be able to balance as well, so walking would be more suitable than running. I trusted her instruction, and I am so happy with the attention and care I received.
I returned to the U.S. when I was five months along. The U.S. denied my husband legal entry at that time, so I came back by myself, and went back to work for the same company for whom I had worked two years previously. I went to normal OB appointments and got pelvic exams later on in the pregnancy. Yuck. But they say it’s necessary. Had more blood analyses done. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork for insurance. Although I had had record of all blood tests done in Mexico, and could have had them translated, the clinic here went ahead and re-did the tests for a cost of around $800 USD. Whaaaa…? I may be mistaken, but I think they were altogether like 60 pesos at the clinic; even if they were 600 pesos, it still is not much comparatively. Also, I was sent to do a third ultrasound, here in the U.S., which was fine and certainly exciting — and complete with a cd of all of the baby’s images. After sending Aron copies of the most recognizable ones, I haven’t looked again at the billion images. We saved them to our external hard drive, but I have no clue what most of that imaging/information is, so it is not of much use to me. I just wanted to know our boy was going to be alright.
Aron and I Skyped almost every night, as our work schedules would allow. He took video snapshots of my midsection, admiring from a distance as our baby continued to grow. I was aching to have him with me in the hospital, but my mom was a blessing, as she stayed with me the whole time I was there. Shortly before D was born, I found out that, due to Aron’s absence, Aron’s name could not be on the birth certificate unless we had a marriage certificate… in English. Ack! So I rushed to process the translation of our Mexican marriage certificate by a kind Spanish professor at the local university, who had it notorized and ready for me just in the nick of time. I was in the hospital bed and my dad went to pick it up for me. Phew. All turned out well. Healthy baby boy who has grown into a healthy, loving, little boy who is turning into an excited big brother.
If I had it my way, I would probably do it the same this time. That is, I would love to spend my first several months of pregnancy in Mexico, knowing what I know. I am happy to pay every single cost of pre-natal care in Mexico. It is no wonder that many folks north of the border are going to Mexico for health care and medications. The system just works down there. Of course, you may have to settle for hospitals and clinics with little to no waiting space for non-patients, no fountains or flowers at the entrance, chipped floor tiles, and a burnt-out light here or there (and see toilet tips 2 through 5 here)… but for quality service, that is a price I will pay.