Woman in the USSR or Why in the maternity home the panties were forbidden

My mother-in-law had three sons. She gave the birth to the first, the oldest son, in the delivery room of the rural medical assistance and midwife centre. My mother-in-law was 19, the child was too big and when the delivery had started, the midwife took tongs. She broke the child’s head. The child was buried, the mother-in-law was sent to the home. She was said, “you’re young, you’ll give birth again”. What they wrote in the report – it’s unknown, but the worldview of the rural medical workers didn’t change.

The friend of my mother went to do abortion to the regional centre. To the doctor’s home. Mother’s friend had two children – the older boy and a one-year-old girl. She never came back home. She died from bleeding. Half-alive she was taken to the hospital. The doctor got scared and called the ambulance. There’re some litigations, the doctor was temporally suspended. But then she blissfully worked in the regional hospital until retirement. Mother’s friend was 30 years old.

My mother came with a toothache to the dentist in the rural hospital. He said that the tooth must be pulled out urgently. Well, then the teeth were commonly pulled out, no one bothered with treatment. If only my mother understood at once that the dentist was drunk!… He started pulling a healthy tooth out, damaged the half of the jaw. The mother screamed as never before and after. He said anyway the tooth must be pulled out because it couldn’t be left like this. Brought some kind of chisel, my mother recollects. A healthy tooth was pulled out of a mouth. My mother fainted several times.

One woman from my native village complained that she has many female diseases and problems. “You’d only know how many abortions I’ve done in my life!”. I was ashamed to ask. She herself told. 32. THIRTY-TWO ABORTIONS for one woman life. HOW?! It happened so. And what about your husband? He didn’t know about the half. How is it possible? “I with my friend went to the bus stop in the morning, sat on the shuttle bus, went to the regional hospital, joined the queue for abortion. When it’s your turn, you climb the gynaecological armchair – and suffer. The main thing is not to scream. Because the nurse is cursing, calling your names. Painkillers? No. Nothing. Then we came to the bus and my friend watched me over not to lose consciousness on the way. The blood flows and you want to get home quickly. At home, you drop a snifter to pass out sleep for several hours and then go to do household chores. Inside me, there’s a bloody butchery, the uterus has fallen out, you know?! Thank God, I wasn’t ashamed to confess to my daughter, she brought me to the hospital, and I was operated. And I felt like a newly born”.

Poor generation of our mothers and grandmothers. It was them who soothed a toothache with the salty water, angina with hooch compresses and potato steam, the lower back ache was treated with burdock and the joint pain with kerosene.

But there was free medicine in the Soviet Union. Do you remember those pervasive metal and “gold” teeth of the older men and women? Do you remember horror stories about delivery as a torture – often with minimum painkillers with humiliation and devaluation of a woman?

My mother delivered me three days. The conviction was – to force a woman to deliver a child on her own. I asked my mother – why hasn’t the C-section been done? She doesn’t know. She wasn’t told about that. She writhed from pain on the floor, on the bed, she was advised to tolerate pain because “everyone delivers like this”.

I gave birth after a month of the monster decay – the Soviet Union. Everything was better with me. More due to my job in the regional newspaper, the place of work was mentioned in the health record and the press was treated with caution then. And the times were changing, the new, not yet seen processes started.

It was my husband who brought me panties to the maternity home. They turned a blind eye to it. Do you remember that the panties were forbidden in maternity homes? Why? It seems that because of the danger to infect the pregnant woman with the panties. That’s why they gave the shreds of fabric, boiled in the water (it was the method of disinfection then) with the badly washed blood smudges. It had to be twisted in the form of a ball and clenched between legs. This postpartum pace is known to every woman who gave birth in the Soviet Union.

And know about the painted windows on the 2, 3 and 4 floors of the maternity homes. What for? For people not to see from the streets the ripped halls, linoleum with bumps and blankets with holes. Why have hospitals in our country for a long time looked like some kind of getto with stinky toilets, angry and annoyed personnel, with hatred for the sick?

I, for example, in the maternity home talked to my husband like this: went to the toilet, climbed the window sill, reached up on my tip-toes, reached out for the shutter, opened it – and in this manner we managed to communicate.

My daughter gave birth abroad. Together with everyone – with husband, mother-in-law, who almost accidentally dropped over. A separate room, two TVs, nurses who treated her as a treasure, epidural anaesthesia, armchair like a spaceship. “Mom, relax”, the daughter soothed me down on the phone. “Don’t worry, it’s not your traumatic Soviet Union. I have nurses next to me all the time. They’re cool, they call me pumpkin!”. Needless to say that after delivery she was brought to eat, ice-cream and coffee as well. No one was booted out or forced to wear shoe covers.

We could also have had it. If the whole country hadn’t been robbed of the right of several generations for a dignified life.

Zoya Kazanzhy

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