Posts Tagged ‘Child Birth’



June 2, 2010  |  Comments Off

To say that Ukrainians love their children more than other people love theirs, is a naïve thing to say. But there, I’ve said it. All because I can’t help thinking that there is something to it.

Certainly in Soviet times a newborn represented something beyond the state; a promise of a better future. It gave meaning to adult lives in a country where a man or woman’s potential was achieved rarely, and where other distractions such as foreign travel, or entertainment such as films, literature, and cinema were restricted.

Today, I’d like to share with you three stories of childbirth that I can confirm are true. They provide some insight into life in Ukraine and Russia.

The first concerns a woman who left Ukraine to give birth in Moscow in the belief that the facilities are better there. She signed a contract for several thousand dollars with the doctor who would deliver the child and who would pull together the team necessary for the delivery. Everything looked very professional.

Whilst the woman was in labour, just before the epidural was administered, the anaesthetist shocked the labouring woman by telling her that she wanted more money if she was to remain in the room. The woman agreed and, thankfully, everything went smoothly, and the delivery was successful. As is often the case in Russia the baby was tightly swaddled and separated from the mother for 24-hours. The mother was told that this procedure would give her time to recover her strength.

The second example is of a friend who gave birth in Ukraine. She chose carefully the hospital where she wanted to deliver, and consulted with, and was accepted by the head doctor. There was no discussion of the cost of the service, but it was unambiguous that the mother was expected to pay the people involved in the process, and for any equipment used (which her family purchased from the pharmacy situated in the foyer of the hospital.)

When labour started, she checked into the hospital, and the next day gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Mother and child were united moments after the baby was born. Before checking out, the mother paid all members of staff who had assisted in the process (including those who had cleaned the room) and she also paid for the room where she stayed for 48-hours.

The point that strikes me from these two anecdotes is a point I make in the chapter “Sex and the Soviets” in Among the Ukrainians: in Russia childbirth is seen primarily a population issue, whereas in Ukraine childbirth is a family issue. It’s a small but subtle difference. In the chapter I also look at how this influences the way in which women are seen in the two countries.

My third anecdote concerns a village family in Ukraine. The family’s younger daughter was 3-months pregnant, and so she got married with her boyfriend. When they learned the unborn child was a girl they were overjoyed. They wanted a girl very much. But it was more than that: the girl’s niece-the extended family shared the four room village house-was also pregnant with a girl.

As in second example, they found a doctor that would make the delivery, though their funds were more limited and, therefore, their choice of doctor was limited.

When labour contractions started the girl rushed to hospital, but it was soon evident that she was passing blood. The doctor ordered gas anaesthetic to be administered, whilst a Caesarean operation was performed. When the girl came round, she was told the baby had been born dead, and that she did not need to pay for the room, the doctors or any of the staff. She was given the baby wrapped in a blanket and she buried it in the village cemetery. She was given no explanation as to why the baby had died, and back in the village she received no counselling. Her niece’s healthy daughter is a daily reminder of a daughter she might have had.

Sex and the Soviets

Sex and the Soviets

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

Putting together this chapter – Sex and the Soviets - was one of the funniest and most frustrating pieces of the jig saw.  The ground covered includes the role of women, why women chose prostitution, Masochism, abortion, pornography, childbirth and sex stings. The major part is an eye-opening discussion with two prostitutes; a mother and her daughter. I called perhaps a dozen girls-I won’t go into how I came to have so many phone numbers-trying to get some of them to talk to me about their life as a prostitute. Most wanted nothing to do with me, a smaller number simply didn’t believe I only wanted to talk and tried to lead me on, and finally I found Larisa and her daughter.

Whatever your view of the morality of their work, I don’t think you can read their story without agreeing that together they are a winning team.


Perhaps I’ve read too many books or seen too many films, but I just had to ask if Larissa ever spied on the men she had sex with.

“Only once do I recall something comical happening to a girlfriend,” she said as crease lines appeared on her face. “She was in middle of it — it was a new client — when the door burst open, a man entered, switched on the lights, and took some pictures. Their faces must have shown such surprise.” Remembering this, she rocked with laugher. “Needless to say, she never saw that client again.”

Most commonly, it seems, this sort of client was working for an embassy or was a politician, and the photos were taken as a future “insurance policy.” The information sat in a file somewhere until the important man needed to be coerced in some way. Genuine examples are difficult to come by, but one case involved a plain, vulnerable but intelligent Ukrainian girl, Nora Korzhenko. It is narrated in her book, I Spied for Stalin, and in her husband’s response, a book called A Spy Called Swallow. The books tell the story of Soviet spy, Nora Korzhenko, who in 1942 was assigned to seduce British Embassy naval attache, John Murray and to encourage him to work for the Soviet Union. The young and impressionable Korzhenko (code named “Swallow”) fails to complete her assignment and the two fall in love and flee Moscow for a new life together in England.