Sunday, September 4, 2011


They write down the names I’ve heard every month for months, or years. There’s the little boy who was born just two weeks before my son was born—though he looks half Evan’s age. Then there’s the little girl born two days after mine. She’s walking now and so cute. Another girl—the one with the big eyes—looks just like her mama.

I’ve come to this neighborhood clinic almost every month for the past five years. I started coming back when I was terrified to help—overwhelmed with the fast conversations in my second language. Back when I didn’t really understand how to properly weigh babies in a cloth sling that hangs from a tree. Back when I would dread going, knowing how I would sweat and fight a headache from the effort and confusion from being out of my element. Back when the clinic met for its monthly session on a neighbor’s front porch.
I didn’t have kids yet, and I helped back then, even though they didn’t really need it. These other Indonesian women from my neighborhood knew their jobs well—the weighing of the babies, measuring of the kids, charting their figures, the welcoming of the nurses who would immunize. But they welcomed me, too, giving me a chance to be involved, to be part of the neighborhood.

Eventually, I became pregnant and the women were excited and full of advice and ready to weigh me and measure me and give me shots, too. Evan was born and I walked each month to the clinic, not as a volunteer, but as a mom with a baby to be weighed in the sling that now hangs from a roof support beam. The clinic moved into a one-room building the size of my living room, but with a concrete floor and windows without glass.

I met the other ladies with new babies, too, and we talked about late night feedings and crawling and teething. These women are different from me—struggling to pay bills, wearing head coverings, and clinging to old wives’ tales. But we had babies, so we could share life in this free monthly clinic. That baby of mine—Evan—now plays with the other kids who weren’t yet born when I first came.

Soon I joined the next bunch of pregnant ladies as we talked about morning sickness and backaches. The midwife from the government clinic used basic tools to examine my belly as the other women waited just on the other side of the curtain. Now little Renea can walk and soon my hands may be free enough to place littler babies in the sling to be weighed.

I still don’t catch everything in the conversations at the clinic. And I’m still out of my element and can still see the dirt and can picture the germs and still shake my head at the beliefs you’d never find in a medical book.

And they still don’t really need my help. But I go, living more comfortable with being uncomfortable. I take my kids to get weighed and we chart the growth—both theirs and mine.

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