Friday, October 18, 2013

Chapter Six: Michael's Birth

Perhaps this was the clincher, although I had not planned it this way. Of course, I was thrilled to be bearing the child of a man I loved, but everything was still so precarious. I already had other translation work from people on the side, that is, nothing to do with my main work for Progress, and the money was much better working freelance, so I knew there was a demand for me in Moscow, and whether or not Progress could keep me on permanently did not seem to be a major issue. Ivan was supposedly working on getting an apartment of his own, so housing did not seem to be an insurmountable hurdle either, although I do not remember thinking or worrying about it much. I felt lousy physically at first, cried a lot, complained to Ivan that I did not have the energy to work. But a child from a man I truly loved was a precious gift, so although I complained about my physical discomfort and mental anguish, Ivan never allowed me to wallow in self-pity, he did not comfort me, but always tried to give me some practical advice. If I cried, he told me to go into the bathroom and wash my face in cold water and not come back out until I was calm. Maybe this was unfeeling, but it was the treatment that served me best, it served the knowledge that I was in charge of my own life and could not blame or hide under the wings of anyone else. I also understood that Ivan responded this way for his own reasons. He responded from the place he was at and if I wanted to be with him, I had to accept that.

We were still at the second stage in development according to Relationships and Higher Purpose: “Marriage in the second stage often will reflect higher personal standards and goals but is nearly always beset by the fact that the people involved have not yet built their foundation upon Knowledge within themselves.”

I contacted T.S., my midwife acquaintance who advocated natural childbirth, and that was a boon. She invited me to attend her childbirth classes and also participate in the trip she and her husband and other like-minded friends were planning for that summer to the Black Sea. I would give birth to my baby in the waters of the sea in the presence of dolphins. Might my dream really come true?

In March of the following year Progress supplied me with a larger three-room apartment in the same building. Jason, I, and the girls were still all together, and Ivan would come over whenever he could. We all managed as one family. My girls would fantasize for a long time about us all living together in perfect harmony and mutual understanding in the same big house.

Jason and I got a divorce in May, 1991. I was eight months pregnant and stood in the court room before the judge with my swollen belly. Jason brought along an interpreter. After listening to the reasons we came up with for needing a divorce—different life views, incompatibility, irreconcilable differences—the judge charged us both 100 rubles (about $30 at the current exchange rate), saying we were both equally to blame. I for allowing myself to get pregnant by another man, Jason for allowing me to get pregnant by another man. Jason’s main requirement was that neither I nor the Soviet authorities would do anything to prevent him from taking his daughters out of the country should he so wish. The authorities assured him it was his private affair. I assured him I would not interfere with whatever he and the girls wanted. That was the least I could do for the pain I had caused him. It never entered my head to act otherwise.

I arbitrarily calculated the date my baby was to be born from the date of my last period; it was to be the first week in July. In early June, Ivan and I went fishing. He took me to the lake outside Moscow where he had been going every summer with friends for the last ten years. This was where he had been last summer when I had called from Tinsley and talked to his sister. She had told me that he had gone fishing and I had seen a vision in my mind of him in the woods, water sparkling through the trees, I had seen him so clearly, although it seemed he was in a drunken stupor, but I could feel the power of nature all around him and could feel his presence within me. We camped in a different spot along the shoreline of the lake, but I recognized the place and lake from my vision. This spot was to become a place very near and dear to my heart, it had a special energy that drew me back over and over again. It was to play a significant part in our future life together, we would continue to fish and camp at this same spot on the lakeside for years and years to come.

My pregnancy was drawing to its end and plans were in full swing for traveling to the Black Sea to give birth. We had train tickets for the afternoon of June 24, 1991. In the evening of the day before we were due to leave, I was at home packing our cases. Ivan was at his mother’s apartment doing his own packing and sewing the cloths we would use as diapers for the baby—pelyonki. The train was due to leave at 2.00 pm the next afternoon. I called to say goodnight to him and went to bed. Around 3.00 in the morning, I awoke with severe cramping. I knew that feeling, it was birth contractions.

Michael made his entrance into the world at around 10 in the morning in the bathtub at T.S.’s apartment. Ivan and I had arrived there in the early morning and giving birth in the bathtub was the closest thing, in the circumstances, we could manage to an underwater birth. All went well and Michael was born with no complications, a large, healthy baby weighing over 9 lbs. The only thing disrupted was our plans. The rest of the party left for the Black Sea without us. But we were not deterred, we had paid for the trip, so there was no turning back now. We changed our train tickets and set off the next day for Novy Svet on the Black Sea with Ursula, Claire, and newborn Michael in tow.

The Black Sea

We managed really well on the journey. I was so glad we had a compartment to ourselves, the five of us together, we were all cozy and happy. Ivan helped me with Michael, accompanying me on trips to the toilet to change his diapers. The first real stumbling block did not arise until we arrived in Simferopol. The courier was there to meet them, but without the promised car. We would need to find a local driver to take us to the campsite. Eventually we found someone willing to take us. The scenery was just breathtaking, it reminded me of the California coast, Highway 1, where I had studied in Monterey, but it was even more beautiful and wilder somehow, absolutely stunning. We stopped along the way to buy fresh cherries from the roadside vendors, there was fresh fruit galore.

The next surprise came when we were dropped off at the place we were to stay. A steep craggy cliff dropped away from us down to the sea, our destination lay at its foot, a rather precarious downward scramble awaited us. With rucksacks on backs, cases in tow, a two-day-old infant cradled in my arms, and two small girls to watch, we began our descent. Gravel and small stones slipped out from underfoot making it necessary to sit down and scramble along on our behinds at times, but slowly we somehow managed to wind our way down. At around the half-way point, we came upon a flat shelf-like area in a clearing. Some of the party had set up tents there and suggested that we too stop there to camp, the remainder of the way down to the beach was even steeper than the first half of the journey. But we decided it would be easier in the long run to be down on the beach with most of the crowd than have to scramble back and forth. The girls slept in the small tent and Ivan set up a canopy for the two of us and Michael to sleep under. Michael slept under it during the day when the sun was hot and beat down mercilessly on us, but at night it was better to sleep out under the stars. It was warm enough, the air soft and mellow, the nights gentle and caressing. These were the best times, lying under a canopy full stars, the warm waters of the Black Sea lapping gently close by.

Despite the pleasure of being in the bosom of such a beautiful and caressing natural environment, it was not an easy time; and I learned a lot during those two weeks. I learned about how unproductive it was to have expectations, I learned about listening to my own body and healing it by changing my thoughts. I felt I was impatient with my girls. I was not caring or loving enough, my thoughts were always elsewhere. I wanted Ivan to act in ways that fit my expectations, but he did not. He would often go off drinking with the video operator, who was staying in a tent further down the shore. Or he would keep needing to take trips into town to buy return tickets home. There were a number of problems to take care of and Ivan always had to be busy doing something constructive. So I was frequently left to manage the children on my own. And I fretted until I could fret no more.

I decided I would not depend on Ivan for anything. I would manage on my own. When some of the party decided to take a trip into Novy Svet, visit the local sights, and have a meal in a restaurant, I took the girls and went with them, leaving Michael with some of the other women on the shore. Ivan did not want to go with us and had some other business to take care of, although he was around to keep an eye on Michael too. I would have liked us to take the trip together, but this was just not something Ivan could do. I understood this at some level and did not push it, but my heart felt heavy. There was so much still in our relationship that baffled me, but I was learning to accept that I could not change him, I could only change myself and accept him the way he was, if I wanted a life with him. Live and let live.

Many years later I found this piece of writing stowed away in one of my old diaries. It was written in my mother’s hand but I did not know where the actual quote came from. My mother must have given it to me even many years before that. It struck such a chord with me and I realized that these words must have long been etched on my soul and resounded deep within me.


After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining the soul and you learn that love does not mean leaning and company does not mean security; and you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises. You begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child; and you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans, and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight. After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much, so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

Eventually Ivan managed to buy us tickets for the return journey. The day before we left he was drinking all night. So he slept most of the way in the train home, leaving me to my own devices. This time I managed the trips to the toilet to change Michael and wash diapers on my own.

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