Having journeyed across the ocean, escaping from a world apart from ours, a refugee couple from Afghanistan were facing a new worry. The wife was pregnant, and they had nowhere to turn.
But as they drove down a street one day, our vibrant teal van caught their eye as it sat in the empty parking lot of a church. Though they could read little English, they recognized the word “pregnancy” plastered in bold letters on the side. Taking a sharp right into the parking lot, they stepped out and asked about our services. The husband spoke in halting English of his concern for his pregnant wife.
Without money, they didn’t think anyone would be willing to confirm a pregnancy. As well as we could, we told them we could provide the tests they needed, and that everything was free of charge.
Though slightly confused, the husband grew hopeful, and we asked if they wanted a pregnancy test. They accepted with bobbing heads, but the husband’s face was still creased with anxiety. As they sat inside the van waiting for the results of the pregnancy test, the husband’s knee bounced up and down. He cut off any attempt at conversation with tense silence. His hands clasped together in front of him, elbows on knees, he stared at the floor.
The nurse came out from behind the partition, holding her clipboard and wearing a soft smile. The test was positive, but when she told them, they didn’t understand right away. Repeating herself, simplifying her words, she was finally able to make it clear.
She could tell he understood when his knee jerked to a stop. When we asked what they planned to do, they couldn’t tell us. They didn’t know what they wanted. They were fleeing from another country and could barely afford to take care of themselves–how could they take care of a baby?
All of our training was nearly useless, since we could say next to nothing that made any sense to them. There are few times a language barrier can be quite as frustrating as when you’re trying to defend a life. But we were able to schedule an ultrasound for the following week, and hoped that images of their baby would help where words failed.
But when we helped the expectant mother onto the exam table, and our RN performed the ultrasound, any hopes we had formed of speaking to them through pictures was quickly crashing down. She tried pointing out the intricacies of the little life on the screen. The baby was there, but their blinking, emotionless looks clearly showed that the couple wasn’t grasping anything the nurse was trying to show them. Their untrained eyes saw nothing but black and white.
After exhausting what little English they knew, she looked at the screen herself and searched for something they might understand. English hadn’t been her first language either, and she racked her brains for something universal, something that everyone knew, no matter what language it was spoken in.
She positioned the ultrasound probe and put a hand on her chest.
“Heart, heartbeat,” she said, tapping her chest again.
They looked from the nurse to the screen, peering closer.
“Heartbeat,” she repeated.
The husbands eyes widened. His mouth hung open. The nurse tried talking to him further, looking for a response, but he sat motionless. After a few seconds of silence, he uttered a word under his breath in a thick accent. He turned to his wife. “Heartbeat!” he said in a different language.
Her smile widened tentatively with his. Clasping hands, they stared at the screen in wonder. When they left that day, we thought the happy ending had closed the curtain between their lives and ours. But two weeks later the couple returned with a surprise for the mobile crew.
Instead of asking for our services, they served us. Wafting from the take-out boxes in their hands were delicious, spicy smells. Between them, they carried a four-course Afghani meal and presented it to our staff as a gift.
They had seen that our mobile clinic was operational that day and, without skipping a beat, hurried to stand in line at the food bank truck, gathered the food they needed, and prepared a special meal in their own kitchen, just for us.
In their beautiful accent and broken English, they explained that this was the only thing they could give to say thank you for the free services we had given to them. Though lunch that day was marvelous, knowing this couple had seen and acknowledged the beauty of life was the greatest gift to us.
Though born on the other side of the world, these two people stumbled upon our mobile clinic at just the right time. Barred by language, limited by resources, our nurse found a way to help them see the truth.
And now three lives have been changed for the better because of one, simple word.
This story is from our affiliate, Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Sacramento, California.