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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Gives Birth to Expat Baby Boom

You can see them any day of the week: The British father toting his infant around the aisles of Stockman's; the heavily pregnant American woman reading magazines in the American Medical Center on prenatal Thursdays; the French couple looking for something more stylish at the Mothercare store.


More and more foreigners are deciding that Moscow is safe enough, and convenient enough, for them to have children while they are living here, and the result is a minor expatriate baby-boom.


Evidence of this boom can be found on the waiting lists of prenatal courses, in the growing availability of formulas and baby wipes, as well as in an increase in the number of obstetricians and pediatricians working at Moscow's Western-style medical clinics.


And even though the number of Western women actually delivering their babies in Moscow is still small, that number is also increasing.


The reasons for the baby-boom are not hard to find. In part, it is due to a change in perceptions concerning the city's medical services. In part it is because Westerners settling in Moscow now tend to be older than the cowboys and girls of the old days, ready for the business of child-rearing. And in part it is because in Moscow, it is still possible to find competent nannies at affordable rates.


The big decision that faces would-be expatriate parents in Moscow is where to have the baby -- here or back home.


Traditionally, that was a quick and one-sided debate. The lack of familiar, understandable, Western-style maternity facilities in Moscow meant that virtually all expectant expats flew home for the delivery. While this remains the rule, more foreigners are now opting to stay in Moscow.


According to Dr. Gennady Saenko, deputy director for medical services at the American Medical Center, 63 babies have been delivered through the AMC in the past year -- 70 percent of those have been expatriates.


"I've worked with AMC for five years," Saenko said, adding that the clinic currently has a pediatrician, an obstetrician and a midwife on staff. "We almost always used to send women to Finland. That is changing now."


One of the main reasons for the change is the two-year-old mother and child clinic which started a partnership with the AMC over a year ago. According to Saenko, it is a Western-style facility that offers ambulance transport and insurance against complications for $3,600 -- or $4,200 for non members -- in addition to basic delivery.


"It's very nice," Saenko said. "There is a good doctor who speaks English. There's a suite room so the husband can stay during delivery. You can even take some film. And if the child is normal, it can stay with you in your room. They have nice French equipment."


But not all Moscow-based doctors agree that a Moscow delivery has become an advisible option. Down the hall from the AMC, at its competitor the European Medical Center, medical co-ordinator Dr. Jean-Marc Beauviaux urged women to leave Russia to give birth.


"For a foreigner it's very easy to go abroad," Beauviaux said. "It's my opinion. The standards here are just not as good as in the West. For any pregnant woman, having a baby here could be a catastrophe. If there is no problem it's O.K. But if there are complications it's a problem."


Nevertheless, in January, the EMC is bringing a full-time gynecologist and obstetrician on board because of a growing demand for these services.


"We have to modify," said Beauviaux "to have more specialists." The EMC too hopes to enter into a partnership with a Western-standard Russian hospital for deliveries.


"I was here in 1989 and if I compare that time with now it's a huge improvement. But it's still not the same as in our countries," he said.


Most pregnant expats seem to agree with Beauviaux. Marya Flanagan, from the state of Maine, has been in Moscow for 3 1/2 years. She is currently four months into her second Moscow pregnancy and five weeks before she is due will go back to the U.S. to give birth.


"When you're pregnant, you get nervous about everything that could go wrong," said Flanagan, 34. "Everybody without fail asks you whether you're having the baby here. You hope for the best but if something did turn out to be an emergency you'd be in much better shape in Europe or the U.S."


Pernille Kardel, a Danish diplomat, is carefully weighing the opinions of both Saenko and Beauviaux. She says it is not the standard of medical care that concerns her most, but the language and cultural barrier.


"I don't speak much Russian," Kardel said. "If everything is normal then I don't need to worry but if something were to go wrong -- the language issue is a big concern. The other issue is cultural. Various countries have various traditions -- is there a midwife, a doctor? Are you regarded as a sick person? Is your husband allowed to be there? Do they take the baby away?


"In Moscow, I'm sure safety standards would be acceptable. Safety is not the main issue for me. I'm sure the expertise is there -- but can we agree on terms?"


Others were more blunt.


"O.K., 200 billion trillion women have given birth in fields for centuries, but there was a lot of infant mortality," said a working mother in Moscow who asked not to be identified.


"And the horror stories of what they call miscarriage and how quickly they'll pronounce the baby dead. If there's any complication, you want the best care possible. It's very easy to go to London."


Once back in Moscow, some of the infrastructure that helps new mothers to cope in the West has begun to sprout here, although by no means all.


Moscow now hosts a chapter of La Leche League -- a group that promotes breastfeeding through monthly informational seminars. Pauline Arredondo, the certified leader of the group, said it has about 20 members, most of them foreigners. And she says if women breastfeed their babies, having them in Moscow poses few inconveniences.


"Having a baby that's breastfed is easy here," said Arredondo. "But if the mother is bottle-feeding -- they have to make sure they have sterilized the water, they have to buy expensive formula."


Arredondo added that she had not yet spent a winter in Moscow and there are some aspects of breastfeeding that might prove challenging here. "It may be difficult to find a warm place where you can lift your blouse and nurse," she said.


Over at the American Medical Center, prenatal courses given by registered midwife Elizabeth Bradford are held Thursdays. The course is limited to 10 couples. Bradford currently has 15 couples on the waiting list for her November course.


"Midwifery is very English," said Bradford, who is from England. "A midwife is a nurse who is solely trained to give care during internatal, prenatal, interpartum and postnatal periods."


Bradford said there is "definitely an increase" in the number of expatriate women getting pregnant and raising their infants here.


But there are challenges to raising a baby in Moscow. Several women interviewed for this article complained of feeling isolated on their return.


Barbara Isherwood, who works for the British embassy, ran an informal mothers and toddlers club a few times in the past few months because finding activities for the children was always difficult.


"There's not a lot really going on for mothers and their babies," Isherwood said. "There's a few bits and bobs. Friends I've made are on the other side of town. There was a toddler gym but they moved because the rent got too high. There's a Mothercare [store] but it's expensive. It's little things like lifts breaking down, or trying to find a clean, private place to change your baby. There are no baby-changing facilities in Moscow."


There is at least one -- at the Mothercare store. Isherwood went there when the store opened. There were entertainers and balloons. She was in the changing room when a man came in with a monkey.


"I was changing Sophie and he started washing the monkey's bottom in the sink," Isherwood recalls, laughing. "It should be a highly sterile environment and the monkey started throwing things around. I just thought, 'Only in Moscow.'"


Working mothers face an added challenge raising children in Moscow. While most mothers were thankful for their Russian nannies who offer the kind of constant care for a child they might not be able to afford back home, they said arranging educational activities took time -- time that fully-employed parents do not necessarily have.


One group at Sad-Sam, a housing complex full of journalists, started a play group about four years ago. They have informal dance and music classes, for about 15 expatriate children on a regular basis.


"Most of these are working mothers and it was started by working mothers. The IWC doesn't encourage nannies to go to their play groups, they want the mothers to go -- we can't," said one working mother who sends her child to the Sad-Sam group and asked not to be identified.


"Carpools do not exist. We have to have a driver for our child -- that's ridiculous. And unless you can afford a Volvo they're going around in Moskvich -- it's dangerous."


Raising a child Western-style in Moscow can be expensive. "If it's high quality I don't mind paying high prices," she said speaking of goods new parents need -- like baby carriages. "And babywipes -- O.K., on one hand they're a luxury but on the other you really can't live without them."


But there is another segment of expatriates trying to start families in Moscow who never get the chance to struggle with the particular problems Moscow offers new parents, because they have suffered miscarriages or fertility problems.


One Western expatriate woman who asked not to be identified has had two miscarriages since coming to Moscow. She is convinced it would not have happened had she gotten pregnant at home.


"Eastern Europe has none of the environmental controls that we have in the West," she said.


"And yes, I do think this is a city that is not conducive to good health. I'm not medically trained, but basically when a woman is pregnant her body goes into overdrive. Pregnancy is a time when one hopes for optimum health conditions. I've heard of so many women here who have had miscarriages and problems with their pregnancy.


"As for my miscarriages, I think it had an effect. I will always think of Moscow as having something to do with it."