When I awoke, I felt as though I’d been asleep for hours. I immediately looked at the clock and saw that it was 5:55am. I’d been asleep for a little less than 2 hours, and it was time for me to get Jasper.
Despite the pain, I almost jumped out of bed, put on Charlie’s slippers and my robe and walked down the hall to the nursery. The nurse saw me walking in the door and motioned for me to come into the room where the babies slept.
Apparently it was time for eating, because all I could hear were babies crying, so I rushed around the corner to grab Jasper.
As I walked into the room, my eyes immediately found Jasper among the 12 or so other babies lying there. I was amazed to find him lying in his bassinet sound asleep while every other child in the room was wide awake and crying. The nurse walked over to him and looked at me, smiling. “On speet,” she mouthed at me, as she was also clearly surprised at how peacefully he was sleeping in that room.
She brought him over and laid him in my arms. I thanked her and carried him, still sleeping, back to our room. He barely opened his eyes as he quietly and easily began nursing. As I held him while he nursed, I (once again) began to cry as a flood of gratitude washed over me. I don’t think I had felt such peace and joy in my heart since we’d moved to Russia.
A few hours later, the lady from the kitchen came in and told us breakfast was ready.
As I walked out on my way to the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes were almost swollen shut and there were little red lines on my face due to broken blood vessels from my crying the night before. Also, my dehydration and exhaustion had become much worse through the night and I was feeling very weak and sore.
However, as I walked through the hallway and into the room with all of the other mothers, I truly felt that no one minded my appearance. As a matter of fact, I think having them see me that way that made it more possible for them to accept me as one of them, and not just as “the rich American staying in the paid room”. I also noticed that the shame and condemnation I’d been feeling since I’d arrived was gone. I began to wonder if God may have had a desire to use me in that place beyond the birth of Jasper.
After eating breakfast and drinking a cup of hot tea, I called Charlie and asked him to bring me bottled water when he came for visiting hours that day. He showed up with 2 2-liter bottles, one of which I’d almost finished before he’d left.
During his visit that day, Charlie also told me about his experience after he’d left the rod dome the night before. In order to visit the rod dome, vehicles were required to go through a gate with 2 guards and to tell them for whom they were there. When Charlie had come in the day before, he’d told me that upon learning he was a new father, the guard said something to him in Russian, which Charlie had assumed was congratulations. Charlie had simply thanked the guard before driving on through the gate and in to see us.
However, when Charlie tried to leave the facility after his visit, instead of just waving him through, the guard stopped him again at the gate and asked him to roll down the window.
“Seechac?” – “Now?” the guard asked Charlie. Charlie said, “Sto?” – “What?” The guard told Charlie to park the car, which Charlie did. When Charlie got out of the car, the guard motioned for him to follow him into the guard house, which Charlie did – nervously.
When Charlie got inside the guard house, there were two other guards there sitting at a table on which sat an open jar of homemade pickles, a package of salami, a half-empty bottle of vodka, and several coffee mugs. As they walked in, the first guard exclaimed loudly to the other two, “This man has just become a father!”
“Oh, congratulations!!” they said as they shook Charlie’s hand and offered him a seat at the table. “Devochka eelee malcheek?” – “Girl or boy?”, they asked. “Boy,” Charlie answered, at which they all cheered, “malcheek!!”
Then one of them poured a shot of vodka into one of the mugs and handed it to Charlie. I think on any other day Charlie would have probably said, “No, thank you”. But on that particular night after leaving me and Jasper at the rod dome for the 2nd time, I think Charlie saw this as a little concession from God. So he graciously accepted the mug, pulled a pickle from the jar and took a moment to relax. While he was there, the guard brought in another man who’s wife had just had a little girl. It soon became apparent that inviting new fathers in for a drink after visiting hours at the rod dome was a common tradition at the guard house, and it was one that Charlie easily came to appreciate very much that evening.
On the morning of the 3rd day, I was expecting to receive my fourth and final dose of oxytocin. However, when the nurse came in, she only performed a check-up regarding my recovery. She gave me no shot that morning, nor did I receive any other medications after that time. I was elated!
Later that morning, during a phone call with Charlie, he once again brought up the fact that he did not want to have to go get the required chest X-ray in order to bring us home with him on Tuesday. This time, however, after listening to his frustration about this requirement, instead of trying to be patient and understanding in what I knew what a very difficult time for him, I reacted very much out of concern only for myself and became very upset and rude with him. I asked him how, after everything I’d been through at that rod dome, could he expect me to understand why he didn’t want to go get a simple X-ray. Then I hung up on him.
Now for the past 8 months Charlie had done everything he could to help me throughout the pregnancy, while also dealing with cultural and logistical issues for the family as we were settling into Russia. I knew that he was going to do whatever he had to in order to be sure things went as smoothly as possible for Jasper and me, and I knew that included getting that X-ray. I could see clearly that he was going through a significant amount of culture shock in those days while I was in rod dome, and that he simply needed to be able to let some of it out. But I chose not to let him do that at that time. Instead I chose to criticize him and to lash out at him for complaining to me.
A couple of hours later, my phone rang. I picked it up and saw that it was Charlie. For a brief moment, I considered not answering. Then a shining hint of maturity kicked in and I flipped open the phone.
“Hello?” I said.
“Look out your window,” Charlie answered.
“Go look out your window.”
I climbed out of bed, put on the slippers and waddled as quickly as I could to the window.
“Can you see us?” Charlie asked.
As soon as I looked out the window, my eyes rested on my precious Isabel, standing beside her daddy in the snow holding a large cardboard sign that said, “WE LOVE YOU!” I started laughing and crying and said, “Yes! I can see you!”
“Where are you?” Charlie asked.
“Look through the three large cables running from the building, my window is just through them.”
As soon as he saw me in my window, he pointed me out to Isabel. When she saw me she began jumping up and down and screaming, “Hey, momma! Hey, momma!” I picked up Jasper and held him up to the window for her to see him. It was so amazing to see them standing down there in the snow. At that moment I felt my first sense of the four of us being together, even if only through the window, and felt certainty that the Lord had been with us and would continue to be with us through the next 2 nights, when Jasper and I were going to get to go home. That day God truly used the brilliance of Charlie’s grace and strength as husband, father and head of this household to bring His light to each one of us.
After learning during my check-up that morning that I would be receiving no more oxytocin shots, the nurse stepped over to my neighbor’s bed, for whom she had 3 different shots prepared. As they only spoke in Russian, I never fully understood what was happening for my neighbor, but it was clear after her first night that she had begun to struggle both physically and emotionally. Like me, before she would stand up, she would hesitate a moment and take a deep breath. Even after turning over in her bed I could hear her trying to catch her breath from the pain.
Several times over the course of those days I heard her crying silently as she laid in her bed. A couple of times in the middle of the night I was awakened hearing her talking and crying on the phone, I assumed with her husband. Every day he was coming to visit her during visiting hours, and just as for me and Charlie, those precious hours when he was there she clearly felt more at ease.
But as on my 3rd day I had begun to feel a little better, her condition only seemed to decline. She was trying to nurse her daughter, and at least twice a day had her on the changing table giving her a full sponge bath with a wash cloth and then putting baby oil on her entire body with a cotton ball (something I was not doing at all with Jasper, but which is a common recommendation among Russian pediatrics for babies). But every evening after visiting hours she asked that the nurse take her daughter to the nursery for the night, and she would become very sad.
Throughout those days, I became very accustomed to seeing mothers in the hallway of the rod dome with swollen eyes from crying, particularly in the hallway for non-paying patients. At the entrance to that hall stood a round table. Each morning there would be bags on that table with names on them. These were items that had been left at the entrance of the rod dome for the non-paying patients by their families, as those ladies were not allowed visitors at all. I learned during my time there that, as Charlie and Isabel had done for me, often fathers and families would drive up to the side of the building where the rooms were for those patients, climb up on their cars, waving to the mothers through the windows, blowing them kisses and yelling out beautiful things like, “Thank you for the birth of my child! I love you!”
On my 3rd night there, Jasper again was having a difficult time going to sleep. But I was feeling much better physically on this night. Because she knew that I wanted Jasper to stay with me, the pediatric nurse came into my room with a bottle of sweet water and, as I lay in my bed so he couldn’t smell my milk, she stood over his bassinet with her hand on his chest, holding that bottle until he fell asleep. With only a couple of minor exceptions, the staff of the rod dome was very gracious and warm with both the mothers and the babies.
Despite these things, however, inside that facility there remained a clear sense of shame and embarrassment among the mothers that I never could fully explain.
On the day before discharge, both Jasper and I were required to undergo our final procedures. All mothers were required to submit to a blood test and an ultrasound to ensure… something, I’m not really sure what to be honest. Fortunately, Natasha was there to translate for me when the nurse told me about this, and the only thing I wanted to confirm at that point was that, beyond a needle for drawing the blood, no pain would be involved. I explained, “I’m okay with pain. I think it would just help me to know that it’s coming.” The nurse laughed and confirmed that I should not be expecting any more painful procedures.
Unfortunately this was not the case for Jasper, as he was required to have an immunization shot for TB. This was something I was not expecting, as in the states this immunization is not routinely given. However, at the time of his birth, Russia – and most of Europe – was experiencing a TB epidemic. Hence the reason for Charlie’s required chest X-ray and the legal requirement for Jasper’s immunization.
This was also the reason that we were not discharged until Tuesday, as we were required to stay overnight so that Jasper could be observed for 24 hours after receiving the vaccine.
So that morning before breakfast, I stood in line with the 4 other mothers who were also to be discharged on the next day in order to have my blood test and ultrasound performed. According to the gynecologist who performed her final check up on me later that evening, everything showed up “normalna” – “just fine”.
Then I took Jasper down to the pediatric nurse station, where he received his immunization shot for TB, which he handled like a pro. As a result he now also has the tell-tell scar on his left arm, which Charlie, Isabel and I do not have, but which all Russians we know do have. Upon seeing that little scar on his arm, more than one Russian has said to me, “Ahhh, I see he IS a Russian!”