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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Birth in Moscow: A Mixed Blessing

"Pregnancy is not a disease." With these wise words ringing in our minds, my partner Sergio and I decided to have our first child -- in Moscow.


We wanted to be together during the entire pregnancy, and were unable to spend enormous amounts of money traveling back and forth from the West. So, despite some trepidations, we decided I would give birth in a Russian institution instead of going home for the delivery.


Giving birth in Moscow has its ups and downs, but on the whole I would recommend it to expatriates with decent language skills and a lot of fortitude. With the proper support and preparation, having a baby here can be a relatively positive experience.


Most of my prenatal care was done at the American Medical Center and once I entered the latter stages of the pregnancy, I began to research maternity facilities. After investigating a few different birthing centers, we made an appointment at The Center for Family Planning and Reproduction, which cooperates with the AMC.


The center is only a year and a half old, so the equipment and building are new, modern and Western. We were told Sergio could be present during the entire delivery, that there is an in-house pediatrician and that neo-natal special-care facilities are also available. Then we met with Dr. Tatiana Viktorovna, who immediately made us feel comfortable and safe. In short, we were sold on the place.


Finally, after months of waiting, it was time for the baby to be born. I was in labor all day on Jan. 12, 1996 but waited until late in the evening to contact Dr. Viktorovna.


She told us to come in and we decided to drive to the hospital instead of using an ambulance so that Sergio would be able to get himself back home.


Once we arrived, we went through the delivery preparations and were guided to the delivery wing. It was a busy night and I had plenty of company. Despite this, Dr. Viktorovna spent a lot of time with me. We waited. And waited. And waited.


The baby was especially large and after a few hours I ended up having a caesarean delivery. Under normal circumstances, I might have been nervous about undergoing surgery in Russia, but the incredible relief I felt after the administration of the epidural anaesthetic left me rather carefree. Sergio wasn't quite so lucky.


I was wheeled into the operating room feeling giddy while Sergio was ordered to stay behind. Although it had been agreed that we could be together during the whole process, neither of us felt able to argue the point at the time. The nurses then prepared me for surgery and I was probably given some anaesthesia as I fell quickly asleep. But as soon as I heard the disgruntled cries of our newly delivered baby, I immediately woke up. My first sight was the nurses exposing him quite proudly to dispel any doubt that he was male.


I cannot say if it was the emotional upheaval or perhaps the hormonal changes one experiences after having a child, but upon awakening from the delivery, the charm of giving birth in Russia was completely gone.


First of all, I was in terrible pain after the surgery but the nurses would not give me any pain relief medication. In addition, I was kept in the recovery room and apart from my baby for 10 hours until they brought me to my private room.


What's more, Sergio had been ordered to go home right after he had seen and held the baby.


Although Sergio and I both converse comfortably in Russia, I acutely felt my language handicap during the hospital stay. I found it rather difficult to think clearly in English, let alone muster up anything coherent in Russian. The hospital staff brought the baby to me once I was settled in my room and the in-house pediatrician filled me in on his health. Or at least I think he did -- I was so wiped out that it was difficult to be sure I was really understanding Russian.


Later, a milk specialist came in to give me breast-feeding information, but that was also difficult to absorb. Luckily I had done my own research on breast-feeding before I came to the hospital.


Had I not had the caesarean, it probably would have been best to go home straight away after the birth since I found many of the nurses quite brusque, lacking any courtesy or compassion.


I ended up having to keep the baby in my room during the day after I discovered they were bottle-feeding him against my wishes, sometimes even just before bringing him to me to nurse.


I had to change my own bed sheets and was chastised at 6 a.m. on the first morning after I gave birth for the "disorder" I was creating in my room.


The disorder I was commanded to rectify consisted of an open duffel bag, a big stuffed animal and a vase of flowers.


I had to supply my own beverages and, after they removed the original dressing to my incision, my own bandages. I was also scolded for undressing my baby and letting him sleep on my chest.


I felt sorry for my neighbor and another new mother I spoke with, both of whom were having no success with breast-feeding. It was no wonder when the nurses constantly fed the babies between feedings, especially with bottles that did not encourage breast-feeding.


It is only very recently that in the United States people have started to pay special attention to the bonding that takes place between the mother, the father and the baby in its first hours and days of life.


Consideration for this bonding has not developed in Russia, and I was very aware of how completely fathers are left out of the picture.


Visiting hours were between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. After an hour-long infraction the first day, a guard came every subsequent day at exactly 7 p.m. to escort Sergio out. This meant that I spent most of my time entirely alone with my son.


Despite some of my difficulties in the birthing facility, I kept my spirits up thanks to the support of Dr. Viktorovna. She remained sincerely concerned about my care throughout my stay, and when she found out about some of my discomfort she arranged for an early release.


Despite the abrasiveness of the service provided by the nursing staff, I still have generally good feelings about the delivery.


The facility itself was medically well equipped, I had my own room, and unlike the "drive- thru deliveries" of the United States, I had plenty of time to recuperate.


Perhaps had I known more in advance about the way deliveries are done in Russia, I would have been better prepared.


I would certainly suggest that other Westerners, even those with very good Russian language skills, go through the process with a Russian friend nearby to help with communication in times of stress.


A year later, I look back on the experience as one that was not ideal, but not deeply flawed.


More importantly, we are now the proud parents of a beautiful, healthy baby boy.