After five days in the Ostrovets Central Regional Hospital, my wife Marina called to say that she was in labor. The time on the phone clock showed to be around 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The skies partly filled with mostly stratus clouds that had been moving by very fast across the skies since the start of the morning, when I took Albina to her nursery school.
When talking to her, I found it hard to figure out what to say to Marina. What are the right words to say to someone you admire when she is about to go into what is perhaps the hardest physical stress that she is likely to ever go through in her life? I struggled even to find an old favorite, the old “Ne pukha, ne pera,” or the Russian version of “Break a leg,” that stage actors would tell each other before their most important performance of a play that they are in.
Outside on the streets of Ostrovets, life went on as normal for the third day of school. Boys and girls wandered the sidewalks in school uniforms, adults were darting home for lunch, and in the store, the clerk was doing her normal pricing of items just put on the shelves that morning. I pondered that this could be one of the top five most important days in my life, and possibly that of Marina’s life. For me personally, my own day of birth, the day I finally met that someone I wanted to spend the rest of your life with, the day I committed to that fate, and the date of birth of our daughter served as the other four. You don’t always know the importance when it happens, particularly the date when you meet that someone you eventually marry and have kids with. But you figure it out eventually.
Four and a half years ago, when the sky was sunnier and bluer, and the ground was cold and white instead of wet and green, our daughter Albina’s birth was actually somewhat similar. Had we waited instead of agreeing to have the birth induced, she might have come out a day later, on the fourth, like our little boy was trying to do in September 2013. Labor was induced early in the day around 7, during which time Marina was put to sleep for most of the day. She awoke well after contractions began, about the time that I arrived in my nerve-wracked state at 3:30 in the afternoon. I managed only to really get on the nerves of the nurse on duty in mid-afternoon, and by 6:22 p.m., they finally got up the courage to lie to me, telling that everything had gone okay and that I should go home. When I got home to Sveta and Valera’s place (Marina’s cousin and her husband), I found out that only after another 33 minutes had reality finally caught up with that fib, ending 12 hours of labor.
This time, Marina made sure I wouldn’t do the same sort of wait-and-annoy thing by telling me to go get a cake for the midwife and her assistant. It was admittedly probably a better thing to do as the 30-minute errand took the edge off my nervous energy. But then I and my mother-in-law Irina were to wait for her phone call when the labor finally ended. Two hours passed, three hours, and then four before finally both my mother-in-law and I lost the nerves to be patient. Marina’s mom started calling the hospital asking for any news about the birth. While I got ready to pick up our daughter from nursery school, she suggested that I go pick up some milk for Marina.
After collecting her from the play yard outside the school – the weather had improved for the first time in days so that the kids could play outside – we went to the store across the street from the hospital. We found two of the ladies who had been awaiting labor with my wife there buying supplies. I quickly asked them how Marina was doing. They said the labor wasn’t over yet. Crestfallen and growing ever more worried, I made our purchase and took our daughter to the hospital grounds.
A good many popular comedians today, many of whom I find entertaining, reject the idea that there is a God up in heaven. In contrast, I, myself, long ago rejected atheism. Though the concept makes some logical sense, there is still a strength to be found in the belief that you are being watched over, that if you ask, then you will receive, and that there is even greater strength in the acceptance that everything will work out as it is supposed to, no matter how things work out. Some of these things don’t require a belief in God to accept, but belief is how I learned to find that strength. So I took the opportunity to teach my daughter Albina how to tap into this strength, to pray and to find comfort in difficult times by asking God for help. The time was about 5:25 p.m.
We got home and settled in, and as I sat down to wait for our weekly Skype visit between my daughter and my American parents, Marina called. Her voice was weak, but she said the magic words, that we have a son. My relief was beyond description. She passed along to me the important information about our new addition: his weight – 4,080 grams (almost exactly 9 pounds), his length – 55 centimeters (about 21-1/2 inches), and the time of birth – 5:25 p.m.
Albina responded to the news that she has a brother with a “Wow!” My mother and father echoed the sentiments in turn on Skype. My mother-in-law and I shared three toasts to our little miracle before I brought our “thank you”, in the form of a cake and a bottle of liqueur for the nurses. I also brought for my wife supplies, including our pocket camera.
Our internet birth announcement drew almost instant responses from an incredible line of respondents. With only a few exceptions, they were almost all people with whom I had the honor of knowing over the past decade since graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was a beautiful way of catching up with people from my past.
The next morning, my wife surprised me with having the first set of pictures ready to export from the hospital. Copies of the six shots, shared in this blog entry, were instantly sent to my parents in the United States. They finally had both a grandson and a granddaughter. I felt, as my parents’ only child, as if I completed an obligation.
Our baby boy, tentatively named after his father (the fourth in a line to carry the name), came to us on the day before the Jewish New Year, or so said many of the fellow curators on Geni. He’s Catholic, but perhaps there will be some sort of significance in that fact about his birthday. Hard to say. Belarus was at one time the home of a large number of Jewish people, the result of Catherine II the Great’s policy of settling the Jews of Russian within the Russian part of the partitioned lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Perhaps he waited until this date to join the world in order to express this important part of his homeland’s character. Again, hard to say.
But one aspect of our son’s birth was particularly noteworthy. The doctor who oversaw the birth was none other than the one with “international experience,” the one that the previous weekend left the women in the maternity ward feeling as if they were being held hostage. Although she wasn’t “paid in advance”, she took an active part in helping my wife to give birth. Other women’s experiences may have been different, but my wife reported that she performed her role as a professional, and was truly worthy of our thanks in our son’s delivery. To some, He may not exist, but God really seemed to come through for us this day, inspiring the best to come out in those who truly could make a difference.