LOVE AND DEATH: The 'Madonna' Myth Meets End in Moscow

Recently I had a run-in with a dachshund, Sally, who lives on my floor. Like many Muscovites at the tail end of a long gray winter, she was eager to go outside and enjoy the sunny weather, a desire she expressed by snarling ferociously, with a slight foam buildup, at my ankles.

When the elevator arrived, Sally's owner waited for me to formally invite them to enter. "Aren't you afraid?" she asked, indicating her cranky friend, who stood approximately 20 centimeters at the shoulder. "She doesn't actually bite, does she?" I asked in return. "Oh, she definitely bites!" the owner said with relish, choosing that moment to come on board. "It all depends on you."

Such tenderness from strangers has become routine in the final months of my pregnancy, an expansive culminant stage that has swelled certain proportions to the degree that Sally is in fact lucky she could fit in the elevator with me. Not that I believe dogs should specifically forego pregnant women in favor of biting other people, but the "interesting condition" of incubation does seem like one of those times you might hope for doors to occasionally be held open in your honor or briefcases to swing less forcefully at your midriff on the street. At the very least, I would like to make it to term without being bitten by a small animal in an elevator.

But the reaction my public appearances most often inspire these days is a sort of pained, now-that's-a-sorry-sight disregard. Men in the bloom of health casually watch me lumber up stairs and creep over icy sidewalks like it's the latest Extreme Sport viewing experience. So in many ways, being pregnant in Moscow is no different than not being pregnant. (The same seems to hold true for being old, tired or otherwise infirm. No special treatment, no matter what.) If you favor the cynical over the sentimental, then this is a fine place to live as a mother-to-be. My husband and I keep venturing out for strollers and booties, but we keep coming home with knife sharpeners and espresso cups. Moscow tips its hat to all virulent strains of denial.

Witness the heartwarming developments at my local rodilny dom, where by day I am privy to the touching scene of friends and relatives shrieking well-wishes up to the new mothers incarcerated within, and by night groups of working girls have begun gathering in earnest. Judging from the blue lights atop the black cars that now nightly clog traffic on our otherwise quiet street, it seems that the proximity of the birth house has lent a certain amount of class to the entire operation. It must do the young mothers good to gaze out between the bars on their windows and see the booming moonlit commerce their maternal presence has stimulated. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye.