On one side of our oversized sofa, amongst the camera magazines, borrowed books, TV guide, Sunday Newspaper and a council booklet, lives a small, yellow leaflet. ‘Planning a baby?’ it questions me every time I pull something out of the pile and it happens to fall in front of me, displaying a badly drawn cartoon of a baby and a teddy bear in dungarees, swinging from a rope.
I’ve already looked through it. It’s not even helpful really and since the answer to that question is ‘not right now’, I guess I could very easily dispose of it to make room for other leaflets or take a step towards tidying up the place. But I still let it live there, despite its uselessness and the annoyingness of it being a constant reminder of my fast-ticking body-clock.
The reason I keep this leaflet is that it has big historical significance for me. For me this is a reminder of the day when my transition from an Iranian in limbo between England and Iran, to an Iranian who lives in England and only visits Iran to see family and friends, was finally completed.
Previous to that day you see, I had always visited Iran to see loved ones of course but once I’d got there, there had always been things that I needed to do. But little by little, over the years, many of those habits had either been dropped altogether or swapped for British versions. For example over the years I had built up an extensive collection of handicrafts and so had no need to visit the Big Bazaar downtown anymore. I was no longer a student and so did not need to spend days queuing by the Melli Bank to get that thousand dollars at low price that government would give to students. I had decided to renew my passport over here. We had discovered internet and so no longer needed to make trips to Jomhoory Street if we needed cheap, electrical goods. And so on and so forth. Two habits however still remained; every year on my trip to Iran, I paid a visit to the dentist and to the gynaecologist.
By the way this is going to get a little graphic so if you’re a child reading this, please stop now and be a good boy/girl and go blow some heads up on your Play Station or rob a granny or whatever it is you kids do these days because I don’t want to be responsible for robbing you of your “childhood innocence”. Others who I do not recommend to read on are: people who are easily offended, those who are a bit squeamish, my father and those who do not appreciate stories about gynaecologists and women’s er… let’s call it downthere shall we?
As I sat in the Family Planning Clinic’s waiting room, playing with the ‘Planning a baby?’-leaflet that I had absentmindedly picked up, I thought about the great significance of that day. Having already registered at the dentist the previous month, I knew from the moment I walked into that room and dropped my pants, I would only ever visit my homeland as a tourist. I couldn’t help feeling like a traitor. Like I was turning my back on Iran. And literally, my front to England!
I also felt like I was turning my back on my mum. We had always done this together you see. Over the years, going to the dentist and having my downthere looked at, had somehow become vital mother and daughter activities for us. We would make a day of it, you know; in the morning I would have my teeth drilled while my mum covered her eyes and ears and did panicked laps of the dentist’s waiting room, shouting, ‘Is it finished? Oh I can’t bear to watch.’
Then after she had gotten an earful from the dentist for not being able to handle her child being tortured by him, and me a mouthful of gauze, we would go out for a little stroll and some carrot juice which to the delight of onlookers, I would mostly pour down the front of my Islamic uniform, on account of my lips still being numb. Oh what a laugh. And then for the grand finale, we would pay a visit to the gynaecologist for me to have my downthere looked at and my insides poked and prodded.
The doctor who had been my mum’s doctor for years and also knew my dad and my uncle, would always insist of my mum coming into the examination room for a chat that would usually continue all through him actually examining me. ‘How is Firouz?’ he would ask my mum while putting on a new pair of plastic gloves. ‘Oh very well’ my mum would happily shout back from behind the curtains.
I would be lying there trying to block out their conversation. Maybe it’s just me but when I’m lying on my back, bottom half naked, legs up in the air, the last thing I want to think about is my uncle.
‘Well say hello to him from me when you see him next.’ He would shout back at her and then turning to me, he would repeat, gynaecologists’ favourite catchphrase, ‘Relax’
‘Excuse me?’ my mum would say from behind the curtain. ‘No I wasn’t talking to you.’ He would shout back at her, ‘I was telling your daughter here to relax.’
‘Oh for the love of god’ I would be lying there thinking just before saying to myself, ‘This is the last time I ever come here. From now on I will have my smear test done in England, by people who neither know my dad, nor have any interest in knowing what kind of business my uncle is into at the moment.’ But somehow every year I found myself back lying on that bed.
The straw that broke the camel’s back however had finally come the time I had gone there to amongst other things, have my IUD removed as it had started to hurt me.
As I laid there thinking about how much like Russian dolls my mum and I where to this doctor with him having looked inside us both, I listened to my mum shuffling inside her bag (no doubt looking for her list of our mother and daughter activities to see if we had time for the next fun item on the list like having my nails pulled or whatever).
Their conversation had ended a few moments earlier and amazingly neither had initialized a new one.
Suddenly I noticed the doctor staring at me from the bottom of the bed. He was holding pliers-like instrument in one hand and wearing a coalminers’ type flashlight on his head (to my relief I noted that he was not holding a cage with a canary in it).
We stared at each other for a few seconds. In his eyes he had a look of horror mixed in with uncertainty. It made me think of a man, about to walk out onto a minefield, ahead of everyone else. ‘Tell my wife I love her’ his eyes where saying. Even his moustache, which seemed to have a life of its own, and always seemed to look happy despite of the mood of the man himself, I noticed was now looking somewhat contemplative.
He dived in. A muffled sound followed (gynaecologists’ second favourite catchphrase), ‘You may feel a slight discomfort.’
Again I feel that this too, like with the case of the “comfortable stilettos”, depends entirely on your idea of comfort. If one’s day job is to test the bite of none-venomous snakes to grade them in order of painfulness for example, then yes I guess this feeling could be described as a “slight discomfort” or maybe one would even find the whole experience to be “quite pleasurable”.
This is not the case with me however who spend most of my time sitting on comfortable chairs or walking around slowly or lounging around on the sofa. A slight discomfort for me is a cushion a little out of place behind my back or a wet patch on the sheets. I’m afraid a man rummaging around inside me with a pair of pliers, looking for a small missing T-shaped object, swiftly moves away from the “slight discomfort” zone, swims right through a “total nuisance” stage and very quickly becomes a “real pain in the neck” borderline “ouch”.
But to tell you the truth I didn’t really care about any of this at the time, I just wanted him to find the bloody thing and get out of there. And that’s when I said to myself if this man finds what he is looking for in there and I make it out of here in one piece today, I will definitely go and register myself at our local Family Planning Clinic as soon as I get back to England. It was not that this doctor was bad or that he was doing something wrong or anything like that. He is actually a great doctor. It was just that I could not stand the thought of ever going through another similar experience again with my worried mum sitting behind the curtains and aging five years for every minute of it.
Finally the doctor resurfaced, looking quite dishevelled. But before he had even opened his mouth, to tell me how he thought he was going to have to send me to the operating theatre, his moustache told me that they had found what they were looking for and everything was fine.
‘Would you like to come in?’ a smiley, soft speaking lady said, holding the door of the examination room open for me. I shoved the ‘Planning a baby?’ leaflet in my bag and marched into the room. ‘Sorry Iran’ I thought, ‘I still love you.’
We talked about Iran, Israel, nuclear weapons and the state of Iraq. I found these to be much more agreeable gynaecologist topics of conversation than my uncle’s business.