Friday, October 18, 2013

Chapter Seven: Life Back in Moscow

Not long after we arrived back in Moscow, there was a state coup. On the night the defenders of “democracy” set up barricades before the White House (the affectionate name a l’ americaine for the Russian government building) and tanks roamed the streets, Ivan was there in the midst of it all. When he came to see me late that evening, he said I would probably have to leave the country. If the Communists regained the upper hand, life in the Soviet Union would become unbearable, it would mean the return of the Stalinist labor camps with all the ensuing consequences. This, as usual, was the black way Ivan painted life. I was filled with apprehension. I would not be sent away and I did not want Ivan to talk this way. Could this life I had so desired be so abruptly and rudely snatched away from me? But by the very next day, it was clear that Yeltsin and the “new democrats” had triumphed. The Communists had been driven from power, the country would now pursue a democratic path of development. There was universal jubilation.

Two weeks after this, Ivan came home with news that he had been to see a doctor. He had been fitted with a special intravenous capsule that was incompatible with alcohol. If he drank, he would die. This is what he told me. I was relieved that he had taken the initiative and only informed me of his decision after the deed was done. He did not drink for three years.

While they were at the Black Sea, Jason was supposed to be looking for another apartment. As convenient as it was for all of us to live together, I felt that now I had a new baby and wanted Ivan to live with us permanently, it did not seem quite right for us all to be living under the same roof. Ivan seemed inhibited by it and still spent most of the time at his mother’s, where he had his workshop, only coming to visit when he had some time off from sewing for his clients. He had not yet risen to the thought of moving his sewing machines to my apartment.

Time passed. I continued doing translations for Progress. Some of the members of the Black Sea expedition also contacted me to ask for help with translations into English. As a native speaker I was in demand. So I had plenty to keep me busy. Michael thrived and grew, but he did not talk. He had one word, “Mam,” that he would use for every occasion with different intonations. I always knew what he wanted to say, so he had no need for other words. Ivan was not around enough to really bond with him. He did not talk to him in Russian, and I only spoke to my children in English. Ivan joked that he would learn English along with Michael, but that never happened. Thus began my role as “interpreter” and “go-between” in the relationship between Michael and his father.

Jason found another apartment to live in and also a job. On Sundays he preached at an evangelist church for Russians. This was where he met Julia. Some time later, they got married and he moved in with her and her mother and brother. They even found an English-speaking school for the girls; the School of Tomorrow run by American missionaries. It seemed like a dream come true. Until then, while the girls were staying with me, I would attempt to school them myself using the Waldorf material I had brought with us. I enjoyed the times of creative pursuit, coloring with beeswax crayons, painting, sewing felt gnomes to use during math lessons, using my imagination to make up fairy stories. I also continued to set up the festival tables on special occasions. But I was having my doubts about the wisdom of homeschooling, especially in Moscow where I had no support group and the girls would be so isolated. So I openly embraced the idea of the girls going to the English school. It was close to where Jason and Julia were now living. So it made sense for the girls to live with them during the week and come to visit me on weekends.

By this time I was pregnant again and considering the possibility of a home birth. I was not seeing a gynecologist and had come to doubt the professionalism of T.S., so I did not want to contact her again for assistance.

When I was about seven months along, I decided to go for an ultrasound, since strange things were going on in my womb and one friend had commented that I looked as though I might be having twins. And indeed there were two! And they were breach. A home birth was out of the question. Ivan made arrangements through his doctor friends for me to give birth in a hospital. They agreed on a price - $1000. The head physician was planning to travel abroad for some treatment himself and needed the dollars. The hospital was at the opposite end of Moscow, which was par for the course. I went for a checkup in February. All was well, only there was talk of my being admitted a month early in order to keep an eye on everything more closely. This I could not accept. I could not leave Michael for that long.

The next time I went for a checkup I was eight months along. Another ultrasound confirmed the term – 36 weeks. Again the doctor talked about early admission, but did not insist. I went down to see the nurse for my routine checkup. My blood pressure was high and I had some edema, swollen ankles and fingers from excessive water retention. The nurse said I would have to be admitted as soon as possible, meaning right now. She called the doctor to get his instructions, but he had already left. So she told me to go home and call first thing in the morning. She would arrange everything with the doctor. I should come in the next day expecting to stay until I gave birth. My whole being resisted. This just could not be.

The next morning I got up as usual and went out to the store with Michael to buy some milk. On the way home I felt the familiar cramping. There could be no doubt, I was in labor. I woke Ivan and told him we needed to get going. It was 1993, there were fuel shortages and you couldn’t just go to the gas station and fill up when you wanted. Ivan kept a supply in his garage. But the garage was near his mother’s apartment in the northwest of the city, while the hospital was in the northeast. After traveling the whole length of Moscow to get gasoline for the car, we then had to travel the whole breadth to reach the hospital. So once more I found myself in a car and in labor – for the third time in a row – with Claire on the way from Ocala to Gainseville, with Michael on the way from my apartment to T.S.’s apartment, and now with my twins. By the time I was admitted and being examined by the doctors I was fully dilated. There was no stopping the birth now, even though I was one month early. They would have to go for it. And the babies were still breach. At 2.00 pm, Tom came into the world feet first – never had I felt such pain, never had I screamed so loud, I saw him lying on a metal tray as they took him away. He’s alive, was all I heard the doctors say. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but I had the second one to deal with. He was now lying crosswise. The doctor managed to turn him, but again with his feet down instead of his head. They decided I would not be able to deliver him independently a second time, so they sedated me. I felt as though I were floating somewhere down a river, I knew I should be helping to do something important, but I did not know what. When I came to out in the corridor, the nurse told me I had two fine boys – 3.75 kg and 2.50 kg. Both weights were quite acceptable for single babies, never mind premature twins. What if I had kept them in the oven for another month? They may never have made their way out so easily. How grateful I was to that doctor – I had been allowed to give birth vaginally and with the minimum amount of medication even though I was having twins and they were breach. I must have been born under a lucky star.

The day, a week later, when Ivan came to pick us up and take us home, Michael acted very strangely. I came out with two swaddled bundles and Michael did not smile at me or greet me with any joy. Ivan had left the bassinet in the car and went out to fetch it. Michael made a beeline after him. He did not want to be left with a mother and two strange bundles, particularly a mother who had abandoned him for a week without letting him know. We bundled the two red-faced parcels into the bassinet, then into the car. Michael and I sat in the back seat with the bassinet. Michael was dour-faced and would not look at me or smile at me when I tried to speak to him. Eventually I just talked to him, pouring out all that had been going on since we last saw each other, apologizing for not being able to tell him where I was going for so long. It had happened so quickly and he had fallen asleep in the car on the way to the hospital, so I had been unable to say goodbye properly and tell him what was happening. But now he had two new baby brothers, I had had to stay away so I could bring them into the world. And look at how cute they are. Michael stared at the two doll-like figures in the bassinet, they really did look rather funny, all wrapped up in swaddling cloths, their faces squished and red. Slowly a grin began to spread across his face, I smiled back, he looked at me and I smiled into his eyes, he looked at the twins and his smile turned into a chuckle, then into a full-fledged laugh. We both laughed together. We were friends again, he had forgiven me.

My daughters met us at home. They immediately ran out, shouting “Which one’s mine?” Seeing their mother again was not as exciting as having a real live baby to look after and what a piece of luck that there were two and they could have one each. Ursula took Tom, the older one, and Claire, Greg, who was fifteen minutes younger. Oh it was so perfect. I had these two wonderful helpers. Ursula would take Tom and burp him while I fed Greg, or the other way around. Having twins seemed so much easier than any of the other three put together. They were peaceful happy babies.

The twins were born on 23 March, 1993. Not long before, on 9 February of the same year, Ivan and I officially married, going through the formal registration procedure at the Bureau of Vital Statistics. For the second time, I appeared before Russian officials with a swollen belly. This time the woman attending to us looked at us with a certain amount of pity and doubt as she wished us a long and happy life together. Little did she know how strong and lasting this bond would be.

No comments: