After two years of blissful, carefree living as child-free yuppies, we came up with a wild and crazy idea: Let's make a baby!
Living Amongst the Axis of Evil
We had just arrived in Vietnam and our new embassy to which I was assigned as the first American political counselor since 1975. The embassy building was a towering maze of state-of-the-art communist bloc construction and esthetics, yet another monument to the State Department's galactic incompetence. But I digress. Pending the completion of the lovely art deco villa in which we were to be housed, the embassy put us into the Van Phuc diplomatic compound. Van Phuc was one of those guilded ghettoes where communist regimes love to cram foreign officials, the better to keep an eye on them. Our neighbors were Cubans, North Koreans, Russians, Iranians, Libyans, Iraqis and a hodge-podge of other Axis of Evil miscreants. Novosti News Agency, a notorious nest of KGB spies under flimsy journalistic cover, had its offices there as well. Most definitely not a Pleasantville clone. And State's "no-contact" policy with the officials of hostile foreign powers posed an obstacle to chumming it up with the neighbors. Need to borrow a cup of sugar in a pinch? Can't ask the Cuban Garcias -- there's an embargo after all. Nor the North Korean military attache -- he might kick your teeth in. Tough it out.
Van Phuc had more concealed surveillance devices than a Mars probe. You just assumed the Vietnamese monitored every movement, phone call, conversation and loose fart. And god knows what our lovely neighbors may have had going on their own. New to such regimes, my Dutch bride needed tips on how to carry on a private conversation with the radio jacked up loud and what to do when funny electronic noises intruded into her phone chats. And on a very sensitive matter, how to go about making babies with the assumption our bugged bedroom was in all likelihood a covert porn set, care of our host government's secret police.
Quack, Quack, Quack
We soldiered on nevertheless. And voila! We conceived a Van Phuc baby!! First order of business: see the doctors. The embassy had a contract with an Israeli physician's small clinic. He was an engaging man. Took good care of us. And later was revealed not to have graduated from medical school. Somehow the State Department's due diligence in checking him out wasn't very diligent after all. Then there was the Belgian obstetrician who was one of the revolving door foreign doctors who practiced at Hanoi's SOS Clinic, another embassy contractee. Something about this woman's disco dolly wardrobe and evasive answers regarding her background left me with nagging doubts. Anyway, she did the ultrasound and declared all was A-OK.
State Dept as Nurse Ratched
But it wasn't. As the weeks passed, Tosca's belly became very tight, making her unusually uncomfortable. The State Department's regs stipulate that our diplomats may give birth only in the U.S. or other approved countries with advanced and reliable medical establishments. Vietnam is not one of those. We chose South Africa, home of Tosca's parents. Tosca's discomfort grew to the point where our embassy's own doctor submitted a formal request to State's Medical Unit that she be upgraded to business class for the fourteen-hour airplane travel time from Hanoi to Cape Town, citing her heightened risk for an embolism. Ever alert to protect the lives of its people as well as the unborn, MED denied the request, accusing me of attempting to bilk the system. I shelled out the extra dough to get my pregnant wife a business seat on Singapore Airlines. I later filed a formal complaint to MED's chief regarding the accusation. I received an apology but still no compensation for my wife's airfare.
Not only that, but State would cover only two-thirds of the cost to fly to South Africa. And to top it off, as policy, it provides zero stipend for the husband. Yes, Mother State views its male diplomats as mere sperm donors, unworthy of support to be with their wives when delivering babies. Another out-of-pocket round-trip plane ticket, economy class for myself to join my wife two weeks prior to delivery.
South Africa's medical practitioners and hospitals are among the best. They pioneered the heart transplant. They immediately diagnosed what Dr. Disco Dolly had missed, a very obvious complication. Tosca's belly hurt because she had an overproduction of amniotic fluid. She required urgent relief in the form of draining of some of the fluid. It got worse. To make a long story short, Tosca had to give birth by a scheduled C-section. The baby's esophagus was blocked. Our newborn required major surgery in her second day of life. In the hands of one of South Africa's most renowned surgeons, our baby girl came through after the long operation and ten days sedated in the pediatric ICU.
The ob-gyn physician who had delivered our baby, another one of the country's top-flight specialists and also a great guy, needed to get paid. State wasn't coughing up the money, with no explanation. Doctors there must cover the operating room expenses. It's a huge outlay for them. Our doctor was out of pocket for months. He finally got paid, but informed the embassy that he would no longer treat its personnel.
When our daughter required follow-up surgery two years later, State's Medical Unit accused the surgeon (the same man who had saved her life just after her birth) of overcharging and refused to pay. This surgeon was beside himself and terribly embarrassed. My aggressive interventions got that reversed. Yes, another world-class medical professional who now refuses to treat U.S. diplomats and their family members thanks to Dickensian functionaries who have cold hard steel in place of hearts and shit for brains.
There's a dual irony in this: the State Department merely fronts the money, to be reimbursed by the employee's insurance company later; and one can get top flight medical care in South Africa for a fraction of the cost stateside. My insurance company paid State back promptly and in full, more than glad for such a bargain deal.
End of a Career
Fortunately, our second daughter's birth, also in Cape Town, went quite smoothly. But it was Mother State's heartlessness and unfathomable incompetence that hastened my departure from a career I had loved. No way would I again risk the lives of those dearest to me by being in the employ of Mengele's heirs.