JAPSER’S ARRIVAL (Beware – A few details may not be for the squeamish!)
In the first week of January, the week Jasper was due to be born, it began to snow in St. Petersburg. Now we had heard from many people that St. Petersburg really didn’t normally get a lot of snow, especially in recent years. “The winters here are mild,” they said.
Well, maybe if I’d been born in Siberia. However, for a Georgia girl who spent the majority of her first 5 years of life barefoot and shirtless running around Hacklebarney, GA (don’t look for it on the map, you won’t find it), when it starts snowing and keeps snowing for 3 days the week you’re due to have a baby, a little bit of anxiety (or “angzitey” as we say in Hacklebarney) sets in.
That week St. Petersburg saw record levels of snow, and the city was almost completely shut down as a result. The roads were blocked, the sidewalks were impassable (especially if you were 9 months pregnant). Charlie was continuously going out to the car we’d rented that week to clean the snow off and dig a clear path in case the time came for us to go to the hospital. I was nervous. But it seems that Jasper was also aware of the weather conditions, and so chose to delay his arrival a few days.
On the morning of January 8th, at about 4 am, I woke up wide awake feeling the best I’d felt in months. I was so excited and at peace, I couldn’t believe it! (I found out a few weeks later that at that exact same moment in Georgia, my mother was lying in her bed crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason. She told me that at that time she had no idea why she’d become so sad, and that it wasn’t until she got the message from us the next morning that she understood what must have been going on.)
After about a half hour of thanking God for how good I felt, I fell back asleep. A few hours later, Isabel came into our room to wake us up. I told her to climb into bed with Charlie, that I was going to use the restroom (something to which we’d all become very accustomed by this time). As I was climbing out of bed, my water broke.
Now it’s important to point out that while I was in labor with Isabel for about 6-7 hours, she was actually born about 10 minutes after my water broke. So as soon as I realized what had happened, and given the weather we’d been seeing, we knew we needed to leave for the hospital as soon as possible.
Charlie made phone calls first to the two amazing ladies God used to care for us during the next few days, Liza and Natasha. Liza had been sitting with Isabel while we had our Russian classes, and Isabel loved her. She had agreed to stay with Isabel when the time came for me to go to the hospital. Natasha was another dear friend of ours who’d agreed to interpret for me during my time in the hospital. Both ladies had been waiting for this phone call for several days.
While we waited for Liza to get to our home, I decided I wanted to take a shower and fix my hair and makeup. Seemed a little strange at the time, but in a couple of days I would be very grateful for this decision.
Once Liza arrived, we took off for what we expected to be a fairly difficult trip to the hospital. However, it happened that this was the last day of the Christmas holidays in St. Petersburg. It also happened that there had been no more snow for the previous couple of days, so the major roads had been cleared pretty well. For these two reasons, our trip to the hospital was almost flawless, with very little traffic and perfect road conditions (for St. Petersburg anyway)!
Once we arrived at the hospital, the nurse checking us in had me change into a gown and gave me a rolled up cloth to sit on given my water had broken. At the time I assumed the cloth would be a temporary thing and that I would be given something a little more sterile or comfortable once we got checked in.
After check-in, I met the doctor who would be delivering Jasper. He did an exam and said that we did not have to worry, this baby would not be coming in 10 minutes.
Then the nurse announced that it was time for my “shave” and my enema. And so began the surprises in store for me during those next 5 days…
Jasper’s delivery was perfect. We paid extra so that Charlie and Natasha could both be with me the entire time. The doctor and midwife were wonderful. While I was laboring, I was able to sit and listen to Charlie and Natasha talk and laugh. To kill the time (I guess they got a little bored), Charlie started an internet search on his phone to find out who else had been born on January 8th. Those who know him can only imagine his joy at discovering that the list included both David Bowie and Elvis Presley! This even excited the doctor, who began telling everyone who came into the room that our baby was going to have the same birthday as Elvis.
When the contractions began to be so that I was no longer laughing and talking, the midwife came in and asked if I wanted to sit in a warm shower, which I did. (I had only brought my fuzzy bedroom slippers to wear at the hospital, and did not think that I would need slippers to wear in the shower. So I had to wear Charlie’s plastic slippers and he got to wear my fuzzy slippers, as you never wear outside shoes inside in Russia.)
The shower stall was about 5 feet long, and I sat at one end on a stool while the warm water ran over my belly. On the other end stood both Charlie and the midwife. There wasn’t room for anyone else, so Natasha waited outside in the hallway.
Honestly, my memory of the 10 or so minutes in the shower is very blurry. I remember how wonderful the water felt, and that because of it I began to believe again that I could make it. I also remember that each time a contraction ended, Charlie and the midwife were both telling me to open my eyes and focus on them.
Apparently, between contractions I was beginning to behave as though I might pass out. I remember the midwife asking me specific questions about what I was feeling – for example if I felt like I needed to go to the restroom, or if I felt like I needed to start pushing. She actually came into the shower stall with me at one point to keep my attention between contractions and she was asking if I felt like it was time. The first time she asked, I told her that I did not feel it was quite time. Then, a few minutes later she asked again and I said, “Yes, I feel like I need to push.” At that point, she turned off the shower, helped me up, changed me into a dry gown, gave me a new cloth, and led me out of the shower back to the delivery room.
Looking back, what I remember of the conversation I had with the midwife during those few minutes was that it was completely in English. I don’t remember hearing or speaking any Russian. I don’t remember having to translate anything she said to me. I just heard her questions and answered. However, what I wondered about later was the fact that I knew the midwife was not able to speak English. So how could that have been?
I asked Charlie later if Natasha had actually been in the room translating what the midwife was saying and I’d just not noticed her. He confirmed to me that Natasha had not been in the room, and that he’d stood there and watched me have this conversation with the midwife completely in Russian. The first time I remember hearing Russian again and not understanding the midwife was after the shower, while she was helping me into a dry gown. As soon as we walked out of the shower Natasha was there again, interpreting everything the midwife said.
Charlie and I both know now that it was the Lord who’d been in that shower stall, interpreting for me during that time. I remember the conversation being as clear as if I’d been speaking to my mother. All of our preparations couldn’t have prepared us for how vital that shower was going to be for me, or for the fact that my interpreter would not be able to be there in those precious minutes. The Lord just took care of it perfectly, as He does.
When the time came for the delivery, the midwife helped me up onto the delivery table, and I told myself, “OK, OK, it’s time. I’m ready to hear Natasha say ‘Push!’”. But Natasha didn’t say “push”. Through all of the chaos and voices in the room, I was trying to focus in on Natasha’s voice as she was interpreting the midwife’s instructions, and she just kept saying, “OK, breath through this next contraction, don’t push!”
“Don’t push?!!?” I thought. “She’s kidding me, right? Is something wrong? Why can’t I push yet?”
As a few more contractions came and went with these same instructions, I started saying (in English), “Please, please let me push!”
Then suddenly the midwife said, “He’s got blond hair!”
“What?” I thought. “How does she know that?”
Then I realized what was happening. As each contraction was coming, the doctor was standing beside me pushing down on my belly. He was pushing for me as the midwife was delivering!
I heard Charlie say to Natasha, “As soon as they tell her to push you yell it as loud as you can!” And she did.
As soon as Jasper’s head was out, the midwife gave me the ok and Natasha yelled, “Push!”
And that was it. I literally delivered Jasper with only one push.
Of course those first few moments after Jasper’s birth were wonderful. There were lots of pictures and tears, I could breathe again, and I got to speak to my mom on the phone (my amazing husband is gifted at the art of communications). Then after a few minutes, the nurse took Jasper from Charlie’s arms and put him back in the bassinet next to the delivery table where I was still lying.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but then they asked Charlie and Natasha to leave the room, and closed the doors. A nurse came in and began to prep me for surgery. Now after Isabel was born, I’d needed a few stitches, and I assumed I’d probably need that again. I did think the prep was a little overkill for a few stitches, but I wasn’t concerned – I just assumed this was the way they did it in Russia.
Then the doctor came in and sat down. I took a deep breath because I assumed there’d be a little sting.
In fact what I felt next, however, was a pain like I’d never felt before. There were cloths over my legs, so I couldn’t see what they were using, but I could tell that the doctor was jamming something pretty deeply into the very tender and sore area from where Jasper had just come. And he did it again and again.
I tried to use the breathing I’d just been using during the delivery to lessen the intensity of the pain, but it wasn’t working. I was trying to keep still, but my legs were flailing. There was one nurse on each side of me holding down each leg. My hands were gripping some metal pieces on the bottom of the table. The metal was digging into my hands but I couldn’t let go.
I started crying. I kept saying, “Eezveneetsay – Ya ne znayu sto vwee delayete.” – “I’m sorry – I don’t know what you’re doing.”
I tried to call Natasha, but I didn’t realize that she couldn’t come in the room. She was trying to explain to me what was going on, but I couldn’t understand her through the door. I found out later that Charlie tried to open the door, but they stopped him from coming in.
Finally at one point I got a glimpse of the sharp metal object, about 8 inches long, that the doctor was apparently using to probe my insides. Finally, after a few minutes, they did put in a few stitches, did a couple of additional “probes”, and then the doctor said, “vso, vso.” – “that’s all, that’s all.” After it was finished, the nurses helped me put my legs back down and opened the doors. I was shaking all over.
But looking back at it now, I think that the hardest part was that I was aware the whole time that Jasper was lying there next to me, hearing me go through this. I know that he was only a few minutes old, but I can’t help but to think that he must have been aware of the distress I was under and to wonder how that might have effected him.
Natasha asked the doctor what they’d done, and the explanation was that this was a routine procedure used to ensure there were no tears on the uterus wall. He said they’d found a couple on mine and did a couple of precautionary stitches.
I chose not to share with the doctor the words that were in my head at that time, you know, being a missionary and all. But I shared them with God, and I’m certain He was fine with everything I had to say.
THE HOSPITAL STAY
All public “rod domes” (“birthing homes”) in Russia provide free delivery and hospital stay. Of course, if you’re able to pay, then you receive certain “upgrades” regarding your time in the hospital. For example, women who received the free care were not allowed to have anyone with them during delivery, nor were they allowed visitors during their 4 days in the hospital after delivery. Also, those women stayed in a room with 3 other women and their babies. Because we were able to pay, I was allowed visitors from 3 – 7pm each day and was assigned a semi-private room with only one other bed.
Charlie actually asked if it were possible for me to have a fully private room. The doctor with whom we discussed accommodations told him that this would be arranged.
After the procedure had been completed and Charlie and Natasha were back in the delivery room with me, the midwife brought me a plate of chicken cutlet (it’s like fried meatloaf made from chicken – kind of) and oatmeal, with a slice of rye bread. This is standard Russian fare, and was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. She then laid Jasper between my legs on the bed, and she rolled the two of us down the hall to our room.
Our room was painted a kind of orange/peach color and had not been updated in some time. It was clean, but did not feel sterile the way the hospital room in the states had felt when Isabel was born. It had in it a sink, a metal changing table, two beds both up against the same wall, a bedside table at the foot of each bed, a metal-wire bassinet beside each bed, and a few chairs, one of which was broken. There were also 2 robes hanging on the door, one of which I was required to use whenever I left the room, and a couple of Russian Orthodox icons (small pictures of saints) in the window.
One thing I also noticed was that nothing in the room was disposable. Under the changing table were 2 shelves, one with white cloths on it and the other with pink. Beside the changing table were two plastic, covered trash bins. Each bed had a plastic covering on the mattress, then a sheet covering the plastic, and then another sheet folded and laying across the middle of the bed on which the recovering mother was to lie.
When the nurse came in to move me to my bed, she first took one of the white cloths from its shelf and gave it to me to replace the one I’d been given earlier that day when I’d arrived. It was only then that I realized that for the next 4 days, all I would be allowed to sit on would be those white cloths. I was instructed not to wear anything restrictive like underwear, to change the cloth at least 4 times a day, and that I would be shown later where the “used” cloths were to be deposited for washing.
I was then instructed that the pink cloths were for Jasper – as a sheet for his bassinet, as a burp cloth, as a cover for the changing table when I used it. Those were to be deposited into the trash bin on the right for washing. The trash bin on the left was for trash only.
After I’d been moved into my bed, and Jasper into his bassinet, Charlie, Natasha, Jasper and I were left alone, as there was still about an hour left for visitation by that time. This was a quiet hour. I could tell that Charlie was beginning to face the moment he’d obviously been dreading for weeks. In a few minutes, he was going to have to walk out of that room, and out of that birthing house to go home to Isabel, leaving me and Jasper there without him for the first time in months.
When the time came, Charlie kept looking at the clock and the door for a nurse to come kick him out. I think he actually considered trying to stay there unnoticed – maybe by sleeping under my bed. Finally, at about 7:05, with tears in his eyes he finally kissed me and Jasper on our foreheads and walked with Natasha out of the room. I’m quite certain it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.
THE “ROD DOME” – My First Night
After helping me into my bed, the nurse told me that I could not walk or even sit up for 4 hours. This was hard for me to understand at the time, because after Isabel was born I was up and walking within half an hour. But I obeyed, and after Charlie and Natasha left, I laid in my bed, looking at Jasper, listening to the footsteps on the tile floor and the Russian voices that occasionally passed by my door.
After about 2 hours, it occurred to me that I had not used the restroom since I’d arrived that morning, and that all of the sudden, I really needed to go. This presented quite a dilemma, first because I wasn’t supposed to get up, and second because I didn’t know where the bathroom was. I thought about trying to get a nurse to help me, but I knew that I’d never be able to wait through a process like that. I considered my options for about 30 seconds before I settled into the fact that I was not going to be able to use a toilet, and found myself suddenly very grateful for the fairly thick white cloth the nurse had given me to sit on a couple of hours earlier.
When the 4th hour of lying down had passed, a nurse came in to help me out of bed and to give me a tour of the facilities. As I began to sit up for the first time since Jasper’s delivery, I immediately learned why I’d been required to lay for so long.
Sitting up, and then standing, sent such a pain throughout my lower abdomen that I had to catch my breath.
I’d had no such pain after Isabel’s birth, and could only assume that it was the result of the procedure that had been performed shortly after Jasper’s delivery. Before I took my first step, I took another deep breath in order to relieve some of the pain. Then slowly, breathing deeply through every step, I followed the nurse out of the room.
Our first stop was the bathroom, which had in it a bench, a sink, a toilet with no seat, a bidet (a toilet with a faucet attached for washing), and three large trash cans. Because I was in a “paid” room, I shared this bathroom with only the other women on my hall. The “non-paying” bathroom was around the corner.
The nurse told me that I was to use the bidet to clean myself after each trip to the bathroom. I was not to take a shower for the first 3 days, but I could use this bathroom to give myself sponge baths.
The first large trash can was for large trash items that would not fit into the trash can in my room. The second trash can was where I was to put my dirty gown each day – I would be given a clean one to change into each evening. The third trash can was where the used white cloths I would be sitting on for the next 4 days were to be deposited for washing.
Then we went a little further down the hall where she showed me the eating area for the mothers. Since visitors were so restricted, mothers were encouraged to get out of their rooms and walk the halls, eat together, etc.
Finally, I followed her to the last door of the hallway to the shower room, which I would not be using for 3 days.
Then she walked me back to my room. On the way she showed me the two nurse stations – one for the gynecological nurse staff and the other for the pediatric nurse staff – in case I needed either. I found I was having a difficult time keeping up with her, given the pain I felt in my abdomen with each step I took and given the fact that I was also having to hold the white cloth up between my legs as I walked. Having delivered only a few hours earlier, walking without it would have been a disaster.
I had not had anything to drink since that morning before we left our apartment. Additionally, as with most buildings in St. Petersburg, the heat to my room was controlled from the basement. So my room was very warm and I’d been sweating all evening. Once we returned to my room, I asked the nurse what time they would be serving dinner. She hesitated, and then said that dinner had already been served for the day. She said she could bring me some oatmeal and something to drink. Normally, given my southern traditional background, I would have said no to such an offer, but I was feeling pretty famished, so I agreed.
A few minutes later the nurse returned to my room with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea. I had known better than to expect a glass of cold water, as everyone knows you don’t drink the water in St. Petersburg before it has been boiled. I let the cup of tea sit for several minutes so that it would cool a bit, and then drank every drop.
Around 10pm, the nurse came in and asked me to turn onto my side so that she could check the stitches I’d received earlier that day. I was lying on my side with my eyes closed when suddenly I was surprised with the prick of a needle as the nurse gave me a shot of something into my bottom.
I looked over at her and somewhat abruptly asked, “Sto eta?” – “What is that?” “Oxytocin.” she answered.
“Pochemoo?” – “Why?” I asked. She explained that the oxytocin would help to increase the contractions of my uterus and speed up the healing process.
And increase the contractions it did. I’d heard to expect the “after pains” to be a little more severe for my second delivery than for my first, as this was fairly common. But within about 30 minutes after receiving that shot, I could not believe the cramping that I began feeling. Further, given that breastfeeding also causes the body to create oxytocin, when I would feed Jasper I would – once again – have to use the breathing I’d used during labor to relieve some of the pain of the cramping.
At the rod dome, the nurses worked 24 hour shifts. This meant that at night, everyone laid down for sleep. So at midnight, the gynecological nurse came in to check on me and the pediatric nurse on Jasper one final time. She asked if I wanted to put Jasper in the nursery for the night. I told her that I wanted to keep him with me. Then she explained that no one would be coming back in until 6 am, but that they would be available at their respective stations if I needed them.
After she left, I nursed Jasper for a few minutes, put him in his bassinet, rolled over – making sure the white cloth was still under me – and closed my eyes.
Apparently both of us were pretty tired, because we both fell asleep within minutes and didn’t awaken until almost 5 hours later.