Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being a kid

I was looking at pictures that a girl from the orphanage had posted on a social networking site, and was seeing this weird dichotomy, but couldn’t put a finger on where it was coming from. The pictures represented her as your average teen girl who aspires to be on a magazine cover…13 going on 30.

I guess I wouldn’t have thought twice (though it makes me sad) if I hadn’t known her in a different context. This was the girl who dreamed of being adopted. She had a loving grandmother, but the grandmother was getting older, and put her in the orphanage.

Lena desperately wanted to go visit an American family for Christmas. She had been interviewed and was on the list, but she didn’t actually find out until the last minute that she could go.

Fast-forward to a few months later, where I saw her again in the orphanage, and this time she had an album full of memories of her “American vacation.” I guess I have mixed feelings about whether or not these trips are good. I’m always glad to hear that one of the visits led to adoption, but for this girl, it didn’t.

Fast-forward again. She left the orphanage at 14 or 15 and was supposedly in tech school, but seemed to be enjoying a little taste of “independence,” staying out all night and such. I happened to be around when she dropped by the orphanage one day...out of grocery money, it seemed. Then the other day I was sitting there looking at some new "beauty shots" she'd posted and remembering another photo album, the one with her host family. And it dawned on me what the family visit had done…it had given her a chance to be a kid. 

Lots of teenagers experiment, go to parties, try to spread their wings a little…but the difference is that they go home at night. The most sophisticated 15 yr old you know? At the end of the day her mother probably still does her laundry, or maybe makes her hot chocolate, or whatever.

I could see Lena in a family…sure, at 13 she was already attracting boys and trying that whole scene. But I could also see this spirited young lady bickering with her siblings, rolling her eyes at her dad’s jokes, bellowing “M-o-o-o-o-m!” when she needed something. But that wasn’t the reality she got.

She didn’t have a chance to be a kid. Sometimes we criticize parenting styles, thinking that kids are experiencing too much, too early. Too much homework…too much looking after younger siblings…too much loss of innocence. They grow up too soon. Do any of us actually know what that’s like? The thing is, the orphanage does give them a lot of the experiences of childhood. They have toys to play with, movies to watch, people protecting them. But childhood is more. Coming “home” to Uncle Boris the security guy (no matter how kind) and Sasha the watch dog is just not the same as coming home to a mom and dad.

I've analyzed the plight of Russian orphans to death on here, it seems. Maybe there is nothing left to say. But every once in a while I see one of their faces and think "But she's really a KID," and wonder if she'll ever actually be treated that way, as someone's kid. Because being a kid isn't about being a certain age or having/not having certain's about being SOMEBODY'S.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lessons, Part 4

On falling in love with a child...

While I loved David from the start, I do not remember feeling “in love” with him during the early days. In the beginning, he felt like a stranger. He didn’t seem to know me, and I didn’t feel like he was my child. It wasn’t like I felt unprepared and was expecting his “real” mother to show up. I just didn’t feel very bonded. However, when he seemed upset or in danger, I definitely felt a motherly instinct kick in, and I guess that’s how I knew that I loved him.

People talk about cherishing those first moments and snuggling with the baby a lot. Well, he was not very able to be snuggled for the first week, as he was in the NICU. We were actually allowed to hold him, but it wasn’t the coziest environment. And we had to “scrub in” each time, wear a smock, etc.

Once at home, it seemed like he wanted to EAT all the time. Whenever he was done eating I would generally hand him off, because I was afraid that being near me would make him want to eat again! Supposedly they can’t see very far, but I swear I would walk by and he would suddenly lift his head up and start looking around. I called him “beady eyes” because it was like I couldn’t hide from him!

We got one of those wraps for babywearing, but it was summer, and again…the minute I’d get him in it he would start fussing and acting like he wanted to eat.

So I really didn’t do a lot of cuddling in the beginning. I wanted to, but I needed to do other things in-between feedings, like brush my teeth and try to otherwise take care of myself.

At some point things changed. He started sleeping longer at night and I would miss him and want to spend more time with him during the day, even standing over his bed admiring him while he was asleep. He started eating a little less often and it wasn’t as awkward to hold him once he could hold his head up. He can actually be quite snuggly these days! Though I still need to put him down if I’m going to get anything else done, I love holding him for longer. He gets more and more interactive. It’s an ego trip, in a way, when a little person is just so easy to please (most of the time) and so excited to see you.

When I started enjoying him more, I knew they were right about “it gets better.” Sleeping through the night is overrated, but watching a child grow and develop is a pretty special way to spend your days, or even just a few moments. I found myself pondering what fun it must be to be a grandparent. ;)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons, Part 3

On "survival mode"...

Seems I used this analogy not too long ago. To medicate a cold, or not to medicate? Either way it will heal in about the same time.

Well, this time it’s about new babies. As it turns out, the same rule applies here. You can either try a myriad of remedies, or you can wait until it goes away. This is true about things like post-partum healing, learning to breastfeed, learning basic newborn care, and baby sleep habits.

-Once you’ve figured out how to sit comfortably, you’re almost better.
-Once you’ve found the perfect nursing garment, you’re used to doing it in regular clothes.
-Once you’ve figured out how to entertain the baby while changing his diaper, he’s not scared of it anymore.

And then with sleeping, babies seem to be ready at various ages for sleeping longer stretches at night. Do all the routines, swaddling, “sleep training,” and other advice make a difference? 

It was really helpful to hear about newborn babies not being susceptible to "habits" or "spoiling." While I don't know about the science behind it, it was nice to know that if we just did whatever worked for those first few months, we wouldn't be stuck with those particular routines.

I read a lot in those forums about what everyone's bedtime tricks are. After a few days of giving David a bath at different times (it made him hyper), trying to give him opportunities to nap more (to avoid him getting overtired) or less (to tire him out), talking to him quietly as it got later (he would giggle), trying to keep lights and noise down (he would usually end up on our laps in the fully lit kitchen as we tried to eat dinner), we didn't notice any real patterns. He would still wake every 3 hours or so at night. So we just went with the flow and eventually one day I woke up to my alarm instead of the baby and realized that he had slept for a long stretch.

Just like when you're pregnant and nibbling on crackers and the unborn baby is growing in leaps and bounds, the same happens here. As long as the baby's basic needs are met, he grows and develops, mainly without any help from us! 

What was most surprising was to find that "survival mode" wasn't just about surviving until the next day because things were so bad (though they were sometimes). It was/is more about not wasting time and energy finding the perfect solution, because today is today and tomorrow could be completely different. Not bad or better, just different.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Explain that again?

Advent! After drawing up some ideas, my husband executed a Jesse Tree banner from the felt we had bought together. I’m glad he did such a good job because now we can use this every year. In fact, we are thinking of making more for other times of year because we like the look of the felt banner so much. (The emblems are another story as painting on felt has proved to be difficult...we may need to make new ones next year)

Andrei asked a good question, though: Why did they choose these specific passages?

As I mentioned before, I don’t like Advent readings that aren't obviously related to Christmas. So what does the call of Abram, for example, have to do with the Incarnation?

To me, the typical Jesse Tree passages that I've seen in reading schedules are just bursting with the harmonious thread of the Gospel that runs throughout the Old Testament. I remember the first few times doing the readings with my then-roommate Jenya, and just being newly in awe about how God fulfilled His promises to His people.

It’s a bit like the “5 (6?) Degrees of Separation” game. How do you get from Genesis 12 to Christmas? Abram is called to go on a mission. He takes a step of faith that leads to him receiving a promise from God that he will have many descendants, one of whom turns out to be Jesus.

Couldn't you just take any Old Testament story? Technically, yes…they’re all connected somehow. But the stories featured are usually from the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew.

In a way, it IS a crash-course in the Old Testament, covered in less than a month. It would be exciting, though challenging, to read through the whole OT during this period. I've never tried. But I like to think the selected passages give a similar effect. The theme of the Fall of Man and our need of a Savior is traced from generation to generation until we get to the birth of Christ.

What about just going through all the prophecies about Jesus, up until his birth? That would be fine, too. But then the “family tree” illustration wouldn't really apply. And to be honest, I lose the historical context and sense of sequence when I read the Prophets.  But that would be another thing to try one year.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lessons, Part 2

Another thing that was surprising was how many times I had to hear certain pieces of advice in order for them to stick.

One example was when people would say that my main job was “to feed the baby” or “keep the baby alive” or something similar. It took me weeks and weeks to be able to adjust my daily expectations.

One day at a time...
The problem is that I kept thinking my plans were fairly modest and reasonable.

Was it too much to ask to be able to brush my teeth before noon, take a shower every once in a while, cook a simple meal? Everyone was saying “no (new) mother can do it all.” Well, I wasn’t trying to do it all. I thought I had planned pretty simple activities, and they were still too much to handle.

I have to admit that social networking played a role here. Mothers, I’m not blaming you, but the newborn photo shoots are hard to look at! Not the photos themselves, but the idea of it. You got the whole family dressed and dolled up and maybe even out the door to a studio somewhere, and the baby behaved himself, and then you probably even printed some up for a Christmas card. I know there is more to the story, but that’s what I see when I look at the finished product. Just a moment of weakness for me.

I wrote up a list of important yet manageable tasks and put them on the refrigerator. I still didn't always do them and I still wanted to do big projects like unpacking everything from our recent move. But the list was supposed to have a sort of authority, commanding me to STAY ON TASK.

It took a long time to realize that there wasn't a deadline for this kind of life. Well, you CAN be too late to perform certain acts of love, I suppose. But the dishes will still be there tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Around the Table

Andrei and I purposely sought out an apartment with a kitchen that was big enough to SIT in. Of course, in Russia, people will squeeze into a kitchen of any size-that's where the best conversations take place! But here we have an actual dining area. We have a living room, too, but often just end up in the kitchen. Maybe it   feels cozier.

Nina and Vladimir and the psychedelic wallpaper...

Andrei is a big fan of the works of Francis Schaeffer and of the L'Abri idea. Our small group has been meeting at our place recently, but it's been a little disjointed. Out of the many members, only a few show up each time, and it's a different few. We're happy to see those who come, but where is everybody else? We're not really doing a formal study at the moment. Either we read a book of the Bible and have some free-form discussion, or sometimes asks a question about faith in daily life, and we discuss that. And then pray.

I'm inclined to enjoy the moments when the group is small and each person gets to speak his/her mind. We were nearing the end of our gathering last time, when I realized that we were having a "L'Abri" sort of experience. Though professed believers, none of us has it all figured out. It was good to ask and answer some questions that we all ponder at one time or another. We encourage regular church attendance, but sometimes people come and go, or choose a different church to join. So it's good when each encounter can be edifying, because the next one, if it happens, is always different.

Lessons, Part 1

Some surprising (to me) observations about the parenting experience…

After a baby joins the family, the mother will go through a certain emotional reaction. Of course the father has his own emotions, but all the hormones and everything are happening to the mother.

Soo…a few weeks after a baby has been born, the mother may experience the “baby blues.” For me this was a feeling of intense sadness mixed with disappointment that my status as a heroine had dwindled and that all energy now needed to be focused on the baby (just quoting my journal here).

Lots of crying. New parents may feel emotional for different reasons. What surprised me was that I began to think a lot about death. While struggling with feeling like I had been abandoned (though surrounded by loved ones 24/7), I began to think about future milestones in the baby’s life. I think partly I was trying to give myself some bright moments to look forward to.

I pictured him growing up and going to school and going off to college and getting married. But instead of thinking of these as accomplishments, I pictured myself growing older and my life coming to an end. When I was single, or even when we were first married, it felt like there was a lot of living left to do. There wasn’t really anything to mark how old I was. Age really was “just a number.”

But having a child made me think more about my mortality, in more than a wrinkles/gray hair way. Yes, that particular emotional period is over, but I’m still changed forever through this experience. When I think about the future, I have much to look forward to, but I also have to remind myself of the Gospel daily. I just can’t imagine approaching death without that hope.

I know this may sound depressing, but I wanted to share.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Our Advent

We got to church today (over a snowy terrain) just in time for Andrei to open the service by lighting the first Advent candle.

From the back of the room I saw a seat up in front occupied by a friend of ours who just finished his year of compulsory army service (it was 2 years back when Andrei was serving). His mother entered the room a few minutes later, beaming with joy. What a blessing for him to be home.

Looking around, it took me a few minutes to realize that about 50% of those in attendance were children, and also that I didn't know many people in the room. Nope, I wasn't at the wrong church service. A local Christian children's shelter had arranged to visit on this, the first Sunday of Advent. A few of the kids did a little musical act and their counselor later did a presentation on how their ministry is going. And other people were just visiting, I guess...I never did find out!

In front of me, two boys (non-visitors) were fooling around all through the worship and opening prayers, their fathers standing nearby and telling them to knock it off every few minutes or so. I resisted the urge to make a loud shushing noise. Then something in my heart changed. I looked at the two boys with their arms wrapped around each other and I thought, they are growing up in church together. May their friendship be long-lived! I usually sat with my parents as a child, but there was a period when I sat with friends from youth group in the back row (oooooh), passing notes and whispering. Maybe we didn't get the "church" part of it right all the time, but it still laid the foundations for deeper fellowship once the time came.

Poor Little David's peers are all girls, but hopefully they'll be great friends anyway!

Friday, November 23, 2012


I was trying to figure out why I had time for blogging while in Estonia, and I remembered that we didn't really know anyone there. Back in Russia, there is lots of visiting to catch up on.

For example...

Babushka bought me a new toy!
1) We had another family over, who got married a month or two after us and had a baby about 6 weeks after us as well. Of course that gives us things to talk about, but to tell you the truth, I love spending time with people of all ages and life situations, so that wasn't really the main draw. We actually had an interesting conversation with them about church fellowship.

2) On Wednesdays we have our "small group" Bible study meet here. I guess it is sort of a "young adult" group, pretty large, but this time we had only 2 guests. Secretly I like when very few people come, not that I don't miss the others. My mother-in-law has come over a few times to help with David so I can catch a bit more of the discussion.

3) My in-laws come over about once a week and bring us meals and groceries. And of course we share a meal together and David gets some grandparent love.

4) Andrei hosted a planning meeting for a series of round-table discussions that will be starting at the end of the month. They are often literary but other ideas have been suggested, such as scientific or current events. The format features a presentation by an expert in the field and then discussion, with refreshments.

Wish I had more photos to illustrate. I do have plenty of the baby...what can I say, he's the most photogenic around here!

Friday, November 16, 2012

What are you doing?

It’s time to think about Advent!

I would love to hear what you are doing this year. Of course I will share what we are doing, if we ever decide! J I think my favorite idea so far has been the Jesse Tree: a trip through the Bible (via selected readings) and God’s promises in one month, with a neat visual presentation.

Out of this category of ideas, the most eye-popping one I tried was the circular calendar. And then of course, there was the interesting tree I sculpted one year at my parents.’ One year I simply made a calendar with little paper pockets and left surprises for my roommate. That was fun, though not necessarily Christmas-related. We had a reading schedule for spiritual content.

Of course there are ways to observe this time of year that require less preparation: readings, candle-lighting, bringing out the figures of a nativity scene out one by one, opening the windows of a pre-made calendar…
I’m hoping we will at least find a good reading schedule. I like ones that don’t require you to scratch your head wondering how the verses relate to the Messiah.

Leave a comment and tell us what you’re doing! What materials are you using? Any visual aids? Is it a kid-friendly tradition?

Monday, November 12, 2012

They are 8

Maybe I've mentioned this before, but these two girls were born the fall I moved to Russia. Every once in a while I look at them and think, that's how much my life has changed.

While they were being transformed from infants into the savvy schoolgirls they are now, I did a lot of growing, too.

When they were babies, I was a college graduate in a strange land. The one on the left is Nastia; her family lived near one of the orphanages and I would visit them sometimes. My Russian was limited but the young mother would always pray with me. They had very little money, but she would always feed me and it was always delicious. Their family has become very dear to me and they recently had a baby in the spring, who shares my name.

These two were once the littlest pupils and we made a special Sunday school group for them. Now they are with the big kids.

They both got to be flower girls in various weddings. By the time I was getting married, Uliana (on the right) had a little sister. We asked Uliana to carry my train and Sasha to scatter flower petals.

By next year they will be even taller and wiser and prettier. And maybe I will start to measure milestones by how big David is. But I will always remember those girls and the early years.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A family affair

This year's bureaucracy season is coming to a close, though we will have to continue on in our quest of getting David and me the proper documents to stay here long-term.

The final pressing need was for me to pass inspection for my temporary residency permit. The whole family worked together to help me pass.

My father-in-law Vladimir walked my mother-in-law Nina to the metro as soon as it opened in the morning, so she could go get us on The List. The Immigration office hadn't opened yet, but lists were forming. Then she was the List-Keeper for the next few hours as the office opened and they began letting people in.

Andrei, David, and I got there about 30 minutes after it opened and it was already our turn! As we were getting close, I had this feeling that I was going to either pass out, throw up, burst into tears, or something similar. I half-hoped there would be a new inspector because I have so many negative associations with the usual one.

Celebrating with burgers at 10:00 am!

Andrei stayed with David and the stroller while Nina went into The Room with me. Same inspector as last year. She told me to get out my documents and began to look over my forms. A few questions came up, but I was able to answer them. She rolled her eyes at a few mistakes I'd made, and of course it was a huge no-no that I'd written the date a week before, when we'd planned to come but I'd gotten a sinus headache and David hadn't given us the chance to sleep very much the night before. We were sent out to redo that form and make a photocopy of a certain page of my passport.

It was much the same as last year, though it seems like they ask for copies of different documents each time, go figure. No unpleasant surprises this time!

So I passed inspection for this year and now I have less than one year left on my residency permit. It can't be renewed, so I should probably try to apply for permanent residency in the near future. We may meet with a lawyer first and get some advice. We also have to decide if we're going to go ahead and apply for Russian citizenship for David.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Glimpse of Christian Youth in SPB

It's been several years since I participated in any sort of street evangelism, Christian skits, camp sessions, etc. I look at something like this and think "I'm way too old," but whether that's an issue or not, my eyes fill with tears as I see these Russian believers (young or not) trying to reaching their city for Christ via a flash-mob.

This is a Protestant effort; I would be curious as to what kinds of activities young Orthodox believers are involved in.

On another note, I heard that the government wants schools to implement a new "Patriotism" program.....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tests and a resolution

I don't know why it had to be so hard. Of course, "hard" is relative and it could have been a lot worse. But our recent trip to Estonia felt like it brought test after test. We had days with endless solution-seeking that felt like waves of labor pain (I'm allowed to say that now) with no baby in sight.

David's visa was due to be ready on Friday, and we were planning to leave that very day. We thought out all the possible scenarios. The city where we were staying (Johvi) is just a few hours from the border, but we had to go into Tallinn first for the visa and then go back the same way we had come, toward Russia.

So in order to fit this all into one day, we needed to take the 6:00 am bus again. But we had done this several times already and knew the drill.

That is, until we had the complication that nobody counted on...


Those of you in the U.S. that were hit by last year's October snowstorm may be able to relate. But for us this was yet another link in an almost month-long chain of events. I had left Russia during a period of mild autumn weather, with just 1 or 2 changes of clothes. And here we were suddenly heading into winter. Andrei and I both piled on sweaters and David was fine in his snowsuit.

We left the apartment we had been staying in at a little after 5am and prepared to walk to the bus station. We had worked out how to carry everything, but we had a suitcase on wheels and that wasn't so compatible with the snow that had fallen overnight. Luckily, this was Estonia, and they clean things, so once we got on the main road, it was easier going.

I was tired after about 10 minutes (Andrei may have been too but didn't broadcast it), and lo and behold, a city bus pulled up. We hadn't ever caught a bus during our stay, so here we finally got a break. We rode the rest of the way and got to the station 15 minutes early.

As we rode along towards Tallinn, the roads got icier and the snow heavier. Meanwhile, it was gradually starting to get light outside. At one point we were on the highway, and the bus was having a little trouble, and as we looked up ahead there were frightening accident scenes: jackknifed-tractor trailers, cars scattered across the road and in ditches. No one had been prepared for wintry weather and had chosen to travel anyway with their summer tires.


A few stuck cars sat there with their wheels spinning as their drivers desperately tried to break free. On at least one occasion our driver went outside and fiddled with something. (In these situations, I often remember the train explosions between Moscow and St. Petersburg, when people were left stranded in the countryside in sub-zero temperatures. ) Looking out the window, I thought to myself, "this is a matter of life and death." I let my plans go and prayed, "Lord, thank You that we are ALIVE."

Even though I had let go of my expectations, our plan had been to hit the morning hours at the Consulate from 9-10, and make a 1:45 bus back to St. Petersburg. We were due to arrive in Tallinn at 8:30.

8:30 came and went and we weren't even in Tallinn yet. But as we got into Tallinn, it was a mess with traffic jams everywhere (there were also rumors of rams on the loose due to a Muslim holiday). We sat in traffic, inching along. 9:00 came and went, as well as 9:30. It was nearly 10 am when we pulled into the bus station, and the Consulate was perhaps 30 minutes away. One of us could have hurried and gotten there a little faster, but we had an infant and all our luggage in tow.

Why not take a taxi? Under normal circumstances, this would have been an excellent idea. However, it quickly became clear that taxis were not only few and far between, but that they also were subject to the same traffic jams. We dragged everything over to a corner where one was stopping, and a woman pushed in front of us (not seeing the baby/luggage?) saying "I was first!" But the taxi had another assignment and drove off.

A block ahead were the tram tracks. The wind was cold, but the bus station was under construction and there was nowhere to take shelter, so we started toward the tram. On the way there, we spotted the bus ticket office and decided to see about changing our tickets. In the ticket office, they said they we could cancel our reservations and get 50% of the price back. That seemed like better than nothing, although I wanted to argue about the baby and the weather and maybe get a better deal. We asked them how their buses were running and a sales representative said "on time" in sort of a snippy voice. Then it turned out that they could only return the money in the physical location where we had bought the Johvi, from where we had just traveled 4 hours by bus! We thought about having a friend pick up the refunded money for us, maybe give it to the church as humanitarian aid...but something told us not to cancel our tickets just yet, especially if nothing was guaranteed in return!


We got on the tram headed toward the center, somehow ending up in opposite ends and separated by crowds of people. We kept looking at each other to see which one of us had an inkling of where to get off. Eventually I recognized where we were and gave Andrei the signal to get off.

McDonald's was just down the street! I can't tell you how many times we've taken refuge in McDonald's, oddly enough. I sat down with the baby and all our things and Andrei ran to the Consulate. It was 10:30, half an hour past the time their window closed. I imagined the bars on the doors and windows.

Andrei was back in what seemed like no time. At first he feigned disappointment, but then he reached into his pocket and pulled out an American passport. I realized that it was David's passport, with the visa in it! The Russian Consulate had given us a lot of trouble, but this time they had listened to Andrei's plea and made an exception.

It didn't seem real that we actual had David's visa and were free to leave Estonia!

We took a taxi (now they were plentiful) back to the bus station and boarded our next bus, this time bound for St. Petersburg! Only a mere 6 hour-ride separated us from our own apartment with our own bed.


But the buses were not "on time" as the girl had boasted. Though we left on schedule and the border crossing   was painless (aside from our screaming baby), the roads were snowy and icy and it started to get dark again. A few hours from St. Petersburg, we got into some bad traffic jams. On one "highway," the line of traffic going the other way was at a standstill for several miles. This particular road had just two lanes and there was no breakdown lane. There was no way to turn around and seemingly no way for emergency vehicles to get through. We listened to the sound of spinning wheels. Those people would likely be stuck until morning.

At least our lane was moving ahead, slowly, but surely. We were tired and poor little David had had enough. For the last 30 minutes or so, Andrei and I sang Christmas carols to him to keep him from crying.

We finally arrived about 90 minutes behind schedule, which doesn't seem like much. But it concluded perhaps 12 hours of bus time that day, longer than it takes to fly from the U.S.! And, of course, a few unplanned weeks of sojourn in a strange country.

We learned that there HAD been fatalities, including on a bus like ours. At least for me, the trip was difficult psychologically because we kept encountering so many setbacks. And seeing people in a form of distress as we entered Russia was sobering.

And so, having traveled so far, we are overjoyed to be back.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Good shepherds

This time in Estonia has been a journey of "good news/bad news"!

Good news: they gave David a visa.
Bad news: It's only for 30 days.
Good news: We can apply for another kind.
Bad news: It will take another 2 weeks.
Good news: It will be ready soon.
Bad news: Andrei has to leave Estonia before David's Russian visa is ready.
Good news: The Estonian authorities extended his visa.

The nice thing is, the Good Shepherd has constantly provided us with shepherds who look our for our needs.

-Our pastor in St. Petersburg made sure David and I had a ride for one leg of our trip here
-Missionaries in Tallinn drove us the rest of the way and let us stay with them
-Another missionary friend provided us with a place to stay while waiting out the visa
-The local pastor got us a stroller to borrow while we're here
-Someone gave us a ride home from church on Sunday

These acts of kindness were all unsolicited, just brothers and sisters in Christ responding to our needs!

While taking the bus from Tallinn, we keep seeing rainbows. The first time was a regular rainbow and there was rain hitting just one side of the bus and not the other!

The second time, there was a double rainbow in the sky. I like to think this was another sign of God's mercy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birth Story

WARNING: Gynecological-related language.


When I was "preparing" for childbirth, the main books that helped me were "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" and "Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds." I read lots of information and changed my mind several times. And of course, there were many aspects of labor that were different from what I had expected.

At first I read a lot about natural childbirth, and it turned me off from the way hospitals handle childbirth. I started to get nervous that my labor would stall as soon as I set foot on hospital grounds, and that I would be subjected to various procedures against my will.

Then I ran across some stories about "home births" gone wrong, and I decided I would feel better being in the medical setting of the hospital, even with its sterile environment. As it turned out, David needed help breathing when he was born, so we did need medical intervention. But then again, who knows if my labor would have been as long as it was in a different environment. In any case, we are all alive and healthy.

Now for the details...
read more/-


I had a fairly uncomplicated pregnancy, except for a few weird things they found on ultrasounds, like a bi-cornuate uterus and an umbilical cord cyst. By the time I was in the U.S. at 33 weeks being examined, they couldn't see either of those.

Meanwhile, I found the "dating" system confusing. Ultrasounds, OB/GYN visits, and my own calculations all yielded different results. They kept saying growth was "behind" by 5-6 days, but since it was so consistent, I wasn't worried.

The baby was breech at one point, but then turned head down. However, the doctors seemed unable to tell me what his position was, other than that. And when I felt the baby moving around, I found it very hard to tell what was what!

I also had very few signs that labor was imminent, so I fully expected to go past my "due date" of July 6th. I felt fine and didn't have any contractions.

Due to things I had read, I felt that regular cervix checks were unnecessary and inaccurate in predicting when labor would start, so I refused them a few times, until my 40-wk appointment when I was found to be 1 cm dilated.

I will say that I appreciated not feeling rushed by the OB-GYN practice I used. They didn't force me to accept certain procedures and they didn't mention inducing labor or there being anything wrong with my not having labor symptoms. They mentioned that the baby seemed smallish, but didn't make any comments as to how much weight I had gained, what I should/shouldn't eat, do, etc. There are times when you want more feedback, but it was nice not to feel judged.


Friday evening, July 6th: When I went to bed, I was having cramps and it felt like the baby was having a party in there. I couldn't sleep and felt very restless and uncomfortable, all night.

Saturday: The pains got down to 6 minutes apart. Books I had read said to "ignore" early labor, partly to save pain-management techniques for later. Of course I was like a watched pot (so to speak) at this point, so it was hard to act like everything was normal. I went to the grocery store with my mom and of course we ran into tons of people we knew, while I was sort of in the "zone." I think my mom managed to whisper to everyone that something was happening. Of course to other people it was exciting, but to me...yuck.

Saturday evening: I had managed to get through the day sort of "ignoring" symptoms while keeping a vague idea of how regular cramps were happening. I decided to try to sleep.

Sunday morning: Things had slowed down overnight, so I was glad I hadn't gotten my hopes up. Then the cramps slowly started intensifying again. At first I still had a good appetite and felt pretty upbeat. Then a couple things started happening over the course of the day, like losing the mucus plug and going to the bathroom a lot. And then by dinnertime I didn't want to eat anymore and felt pretty nauseous.

Sunday evening: It was looking like I was in labor. The main symptoms were the cramps, but it didn't feel like the baby was dropping at all. And my water hadn't broken. I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible, because I could have a while to go and I didn't want to get to the hospital too early and be "on the clock" and pressured to be induced or whatever.

My sister was calling to see if she should come up from Connecticut. I wasn't able to talk on the phone at that point but decided that I wanted her to come, even if I wasn't really in labor yet. Having a toddler, the childbirth experience was fresh in her mind, and she could help me cope.

Now my birth support team was assembled: my sister, my mom, and Andrei. I tried to remember all the advice I had heard/read. I tried walking around, but my feet hurt too much carrying all that weight. We couldn't figure out the counter-pressure and all I could really do was lie down. I tried to eat to keep my strength up, but wasn't hungry. Contractions were down to 4 minutes apart or so-I don't really remember, but they were regular.

Sunday night: Around 1 am we left for the hospital. I think I was just ready for doctors to assess me, and to get the car ride over with. We headed out to the car, and a skunk had done its nightly spray...yuck.

I was just starting to get pukey at this point, and had to bring a bag with me in the car. When we pulled up at the hospital, I was in the middle of a contraction/vomiting. Fun.

A nurse from labor/delivery came down to meet us. On the way up, she was asking some questions and I was sort of aware that I was being assessed as to my demeanor, etc. I don't think I actually had any contractions on the way up there, of course that always seems to be the case.

I got put on the monitors right away. I had planned on sort of avoiding the monitoring as much as possible. But now that we were at the hospital, I didn't care. I think in many cases it's best to just do what you're told so that the medical staff can be calm and in turn help you stay calm. But the monitors did get annoying later on.

The monitors showed that my contractions were very regular, but when the doctor checked me, I was only 3 cm dilated. She was completely unemotional and said, "You've got another 10-12 more hours." I could see my mother and sister reacting sympathetically.

Coping with the pain

Well, who needs to look at the clock anyway? I tried to avoid doing so myself. The first method to try was the birthing tub. We got it all filled up and I climbed in, but to be honest it really didn't help with anything.

Every 90 minutes or so I got hooked up to the monitors again.

I tried to walk around, but it was too painful. I tried sitting on a birthing ball...nope.

I tried to keep drinking liquids so I could avoid an IV. However, I got to the point where I was throwing up during/after each contraction. I was really thirsty, but just couldn't drink enough to stay hydrated. So eventually I had to get the IV, which obviously restricted my movements....

Here I had come to the point which they warn you about in the natural birthing literature. Once you get hooked up to an IV, you can't move around, labor doesn't progress...blah blah blah. Well, that may have been true, but my thinking was that I wanted to still have energy to push my baby out. I hadn't planned on throwing up so much during labor and it prevented me from staying energized without medical interventions.

A few more hours went by; it had probably been 8-9 more hours by this point. The doctor came by to check me before her shift ended, but I refused a cervical check. She said the baby was still really high and definitely posterior. Thanks.

Failure to progress?

Eventually another doctor started his shift and checked me to find that I was only at about a 5. At this point the talks of inducing labor began, except that they don't call it that, of course. He said he could break my water, or maybe start me on some Pitocin. I was torn as to what to do, and he said he could give us 30 minutes to think.

Now if the doctor gives you time to think, you know that you're not in an emergency situation. I thought that on the one hand, I could go on laboring without intervention for several more hours, and let nature take its course.

On the other hand, the IV fluids didn't seem to be helping much. I felt really thirsty and weak, and when I thought about several more hours of contractions PLUS pushing, I felt that I needed some help.

Also, I can't remember when, but something was going on with the fetal monitor and sometimes the nurses would rush into the room to check. I didn't want to end up with an emergency C-section because the baby was in distress. I have heard that the readings can change due to contractions or the mother's position, but there is still a risk of something happening that many hours into labor.

I decided to go ahead with the doctor breaking my water. Meanwhile, he had warned that contractions would pick up after the amniotomy, but they had ALREADY been intense for 10 hours or so. Therefore I agreed to some painkillers via IV.

Crazy medical staff

It really is how they describe it...the nurses are in your face too much and the doctors are elusive when you're giving birth.

In the wee hours of morning there was a shift change and we got a new nurse. For some reason the night nurse didn't do registration and the morning nurse did, so now that my contractions were worse and I didn't feel like talking to anyone, I had to answer a barrage of questions. The first round included questions that I had written on the forms. I couldn't understand why the nurse couldn't just get my information from there. Then there was a round of very odd questions such as "what is your learning style?" This was in the MIDDLE of contractions. I basically would ignore the nurse and shoot a look at one of my support people to help out, or answer "No," when the nurse asked, "Can you tell me....?". According to hospital protocol, medical staff should regularly ask the patient for his full name/birthdate. I suppose it can confirm lucidity and also confirm that medication is being given to the right patient, etc. But it is not something you ask of a woman in labor! There was a point there when I did not want to be answering questions, and I didn't want anyone else in the room to be discussing anything, either!

Too much pain!

I thought I had heard that having the doctor break your water was no big deal. Well, I found it fairly uncomfortable. Afterwards, they kept turning me from my back to my side and back again and changing the pads under me as everything got soaked. Very messy! I heard the doctor saying that there was meconium in the waters, and that the baby would need to be checked when he was born.

The contractions did get more painful, and there was this confusion with the doctor being in a C-section and needing to be tracked down to approve the order for painkillers. The nurse had promised to put the order in, but I never really felt relief. Meanwhile, they had supposedly given me morphine and I didn't remember what the effects of it were supposed to be and I didn't have time to find out. I suppose it may have made me sleepy between contractions, but I'm not sure.

My support people were taking turns napping one at a time while the other two would help me breathe through contractions. It seemed like everyone had his own rhythm, though! Also, the contractions on the monitor didn't necessarily correspond to what I was feeling. Sometimes one of my support people would start doing the breathing before I felt the contraction! Or I would hear "here comes a big one," uh oh!

The pain really felt unbearable at this point. I can't remember if I was still vomiting, but I started to raise my voice more, and I had a sore throat for several days afterward. I didn't want people touching me except in certain ways (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean). The nurse usually violated these orders and would sometimes do something like press on my abdomen in the middle of a contraction. I remember yelling, "my stomach!" However, there was no swearing or yelling at my husband that I hated him.


After a few more hours, I was fully dilated! Of course it was good news, but I didn't have any urge to push, whatsoever. But the good part about pushing is that you have something to do during the contraction, other than just survive it.

Here again I was hoping to try an alternative method, something more intuitive, less painful, more effective, whatever.

But I didn't have any inklings as to what would be best! The doctor actually said I could do whatever was comfortable, and I started out on all fours. After some practice pushing, he said it wasn't a good position.

So I asked the doctor for his opinion as to a good position, considering the baby was posterior. I thought I had heard something about a squatting bar, but somehow that never made an appearance. I ended guessed it, on my back with the stirrups. The doctor claimed that it would help gravity do its work. Really? Okay.

I pushed for about 90 minutes. I really gave it my all because I was so ready to be done! Some people like it quiet at this stage, but all the encouragement of my support people was really helpful. We had just gotten a new nurse and she was standing up by my head looking into my eyes and saying I was doing a great job. And I believed her! But I REALLY couldn't have done it without my husband. Whenever I felt like I was pushing my hardest, he would tell me to push just a little harder, and we would make progress.

It was a little disappointing each time I pushed because I kept hoping this would be it, and then it wasn't. Over and over again. But everyone's encouragement helped me keep going.

The room was bustling with people prepping the room for delivery. I think the pediatrics team even came and introduced themselves.

Finally one of the pushes was "the one," and there was this huge fountain of poop-tainted fluid that splashed all over everyone! Then David was whisked away, where his dad and aunt watched the doctors work on him and my mom stayed with me. I've already written about that here.

David was 8 lbs 2 oz, and I have to admit I was a little proud for carrying that around, especially after my doctors had kept saying he was on the small side.

They brought him over to me all swaddled and all I got to do was give him a little kiss before they carried him off.

Meanwhile, the doctor was still working on me. I heard him tell them to add more painkillers to the IV as he worked on fixing me up. The placenta was detached or something and he had to go in there and remove it manually, pretty unpleasant, but successful.

When it was all over I just lay there and the nurse would come periodically and change the pads under me.

My mom called my dad to come meet his namesake. Arrangements were being made for David to be transferred to a NICU in another hospital. They explained that they can't usually arrange for the parents to stay there too. We could have tried to work something out, but decided to just spend the night in our hospital.

When David was all hooked up to a machine and ready to go in the ambulance, they brought him in so I could say "goodbye." It wasn't as upsetting as it could have been because I was pretty out of it. Andrei later showed me a little video of David lying there crying in the nursery, and that was sort of upsetting considering I couldn't be there with him, but I guess you could say our bonding was just delayed a little.

Eventually everyone left and things quieted down and some friends came by to congratulate us, and then we had our hospital dinner and went to our room.

Oh, David was born at 3:35 pm and we had gotten to the hospital at 1 am.

Maybe I will write the postpartum story later. For now, at least I've gotten this far!

Monday, October 15, 2012

How I left for 10 days and stayed a month

It has been quite a week!

Last Tuesday, we learned (at the end of the business day) that David was approved for a 30-day tourist visa instead of a 3-year. Slight difference there! The woman at the visa agency had not done a good job of checking our documents, and we had thought we were one week into a 15-day processing time, only to find out that we were ineligible.

We spent all day Wednesday making phone calls and discussing various options. Going back and forth between the visa agency and the Embassy who keep giving us different answers. We are staying 2.5 hours away in another city, and the Russian Embassy is only open from 9-10 a.m....

Pick-up slip #2
On Thursday Andrei and David and I set out at 5 a.m. to catch a 6:00 bus to Tallinn. We brought with us a new invitation, for a guest visa. First we had to go to the visa agency and cancel David's tourist visa in person in order to get his passport back to start a new visa application. We didn't get any money back for the 30-day tourist visa we hadn't wanted in the first place (although, prior to the new visa rules that would have been the only option for a 3-month old).

The visa agency put in an inquiry to the Consulate and we waited all day (from about 10am-5pm) for an answer. Turned out the Consul was on vacation and no one wanted to make decisions without him!

We decided to spend the night in Tallinn, so we phoned some friends who helped us find accommodations (might I add, we don't drive...this was mainly on foot or public transportation).

Friday: This time we went straight to the Consulate, where they tried to redirect us to the visa agency again, NO THANK YOU! Andrei explained everything and got them to look at our invitation, which was almost perfect. decisions without the Consul. Wait until Monday.

Monday: David has now been approved for a 3-year homestay, so he'll be able to come and go during that three-year period, with no stay on Russian territory exceeding 6 months.

Of course I am disappointed once again by Russian bureaucracy and its inability to provide the right information in a timely manner! It was truly a wild goose-chase. We started out 2 weeks ago at the Consulate, where they sent us to the visa agency...and here we are, having applied for and paid for two visas, and hoping the second one will truly work out...once it is ready after another 11 days.

The homestay visa is more appropriate for David anyway, though we could have added some more touristy activities to his schedule. ;)

Might I add: we will likely get David's visa on the exact day that Andrei's Estonian visa runs out. Believe me, we didn't plan for things to happen this way!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Quick break from bureaucracy: bilingual parenting

Back before we were expecting David...let's see, that was actually when we were engaged-I downloaded a book to read called "Bilingual By Choice: Raising Kids in Two (or More!) Languages," by Virginie Raguenaud.

Reading it on my Kindle made it harder to flip through and mark my favorite sections and take notes. I regret never having written that book review, because I really enjoyed the book.

The author writes from her own experience. She grew up speaking 3 languages and is raising her twins in French and English. I loved reading about her childhood memories, as she did her homework in one language and then would check her answers with her parents in another language.

I think the book's title (Bilingual by CHOICE) is key. Any family could promote bilingualism in their children, but it takes planning and intention. Although kids are resilient and learn fast, they can lose a language just as easily if they aren't given a chance or a reason to use it.

At the end of the book is a lengthy list of language-promoting activities to do with kids: things like going to the zoo or even observing a construction site and learning all the associated vocabulary.

The book contains a lot of good ideas, though there is no guarantee that what worked for the author would work for others as well.

I would love to hear how Virginie Raguenaud's children are doing now with their two (or more?) languages. I want to go back and read the book again, as well as the other one I liked, "Raising a Bilingual Child.." (read my review).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My little Russian

I think David looks like his American side of the family in the previous post, but when I put this little hat on him, he turns into a Russian baby!

This little hat has squirrels on it!

I can't stop taking photos of him while he's sleeping because it's just SO cute!

When the hands are up, he's definitely asleep!
Andrei is joining us in Estonia on Saturday and we will be a complete family once again!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

David's visa journey


The changing Russian visa laws over the past several years have required missionaries to make tough decisions about continuing their work in Russia. Whether choosing to live in Russia only part of the time, leave for good, or get a different type of document, it all changes the way we do ministry.

For me, choosing to pursue a residency permit has been a long journey that has left me unable to spend so much time doing the same things I did before. It's affected me physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and has taken hours and hours of time. But for me, fighting to stay in Russia was what seemed right.

Now, we've come full circle as visa laws are being "relaxed" once again. Will missionaries start to come back? Is there work for full-time missionaries in Russia, or is that era ending?

Over and over again, getting certain documents processed has caused a chain of events that send me on wild goose chases, trying and trying and trying and trying until something works. Usually the solution ends up being the least convenient/practical. For example: we could only get a tourist visa for David and then just a few weeks later, the visa laws changed. Lack of organization, or just Murphy's Law working against us? I prefer to see it as God sending us through His refining fire.

We could have given birth in Russia, or gotten David's Russian citizenship in the U.S., or waited a few weeks  to get one of the new visas to Russia so he could be there longer without needing to exit. But we had our reasons, and God had His reasons, that it worked out this way.

Getting around Tallinn

I'm not staying in Old Town like last time, but the public transportation is pretty easy to navigate, as long as you can have someone point out where to get off. As a mother and child, we get to ride for free. Some countries will let an infant ride for free, but it's nice to feel taken care of as a mother, too.

Despite having so much forest area, things here are very hi-tech in terms of Internet and cellular service. You pay for things like parking with your cell phone. Lots of malls and shopping centers.

Consulate Hours (please note: Americans do not need to go here, you need to process your visa at a different location, see below)

The Russian Consulate is different from how I remember it. You walk in (to the visa section, not the Consular section for citizens) on the first floor, and the windows are all right there. There is a "kassa" where you pay and then there are a few other windows. I talked to one man who motioned at me through the DO still need to talk to them using a telephone receiver, but I'm more confident of my Russian, 5 years later!

I asked a few questions and he sent me to the Lady who checks visa applications. Maybe she's the same one from last time, I don't quite remember.

The answer is: Americans shouldn't show up in person anymore at the Consulate but should use a third party (like the Russian Consulates in the U.S.). The one appointed for Estonia is called the "Russian Visa Center" (Российский Визовый Центр).

At the center, I glanced at the girl's nametag and saw that she had a Russian name, so I asked if Russian or English were more comfortable for her. I don't speak Estonian and many people here have Russian roots, but it's probably better not to assume. She said Russian was okay.

They accepted everything with no problem after checking to make sure we could apply for one of the new 3-yr visas. Once again we got some information "too late": David could have gotten a homestay visa since the invitations are totally low-key now. I had searched for this information online but hadn't found it...turns out a link from a link on the Russian Embassy site (in Russian) will get you there. Oh well, hopefully he'll enjoy his 3-yr tourist status!

We paid there and got the receipt that we'll use to pick up the visa, at the same location. No need to set foot in the Consulate.

3-yr visas

Here is the Russian version:

If you go to the English site of the Russian Embassy in the U.S., click on Consular Section, and choose your type of visa, then you will see the updated requirements. For example, a homestay visa:

Main differences:
-good for three years
-holder can stay for six months at a time, but can reenter after exiting
-more expensive (currently $180)
-takes longer (up to 15 calendar days)
-still need an invitation, but might be more casual (check your visa type)
-the Consulates claim they have the right to ask for additional information like bank statements; not sure if that will be enforced at all

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blogging from Estonia (on a visa run)/The new Russia/U.S. visa agreement

David and I are in Tallinn!

I was reading a blog entry I wrote after the last time I got a visa in Tallinn. I'm really glad I have that record, but a lot of that information is outdated now!

So I'll be writing a new set of instructions this time around, and it might help someone in the near future, although it could change again very soon.

If you have Russian connections you might have heard that there is a new visa agreement between the U.S. and Russia. Though I haven't spoken with any Russians applying for visas to the U.S., this certainly can affect travel plans from both sides, hopefully in a good way!

David might not get Russian citizenship for 6 months or more, and up until now I could only get a 30-day tourist visa for him, so we're talking several months back-to-back of traveling and renewing visas. However, the new 3-yr visas have just become available, so we were able to apply for one for him.

The length of stay with the new visas is 6 months (maximum) in a row. We're not sure exactly how that works, but even having to exit for a few days would be easier than constantly applying for new visas.

More to come!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making plans

Soon after writing the previous post, my husband and I sat down and looked at dates and realized we couldn't get him a visa to Finland as planned. Most Russians we had asked had told us it was much easier than getting into Estonia (people get a Finnish visa and use it to enter Estonia). Come to find out, a Finnish visa takes nearly a MONTH to process.

Bottom line, I still have to leave Russia with the baby on Sept. 30th, but Andrei can't go with us. We can't extend David's Russian visa, nor can we expedite a visa for Andrei to enter a neighboring country.

I have missionary friends living in Tallinn (Estonia) currently, and the wife is traveling back to Tallinn from Russia on the exact date we need to leave, so we can even get a ride with her, and her family has graciously offered to help out me and David.

Other friends offered us their flat to stay in as a family, should Andrei make it into Estonia.

After making a new round of phone calls and inquiries after ruling out an Estonian visa, Andrei was able to find an acquaintance who could issue him a visa to Estonia. So he's been getting the documents together and will go apply in person tomorrow.

I feel a little more confident having traveled once already with David. It's exhausting, but we'll live. Maybe we'll even have a good time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I feel a bit apprehensive about the approaching Bureaucracy Season. I have to keep telling myself that the God who got me through it before will be with me and sustain me.

Two years ago, I was battling sickness as I turned in my residency papers just in the nick of time.

One year ago, I stood in line while in the throes of morning sickness, nibbling on my crackers and hoping for a miracle.

This year, I have an infant, himself holding tourist status. I don't know how I'm going to work out standing in line for my own documents in-between feeding and caring for him. And then next year, I'll be doing it with a toddler. Each year the mountains seem too high, but now I have my little David to remind me of how a man of God defeated Goliath. I have to believe it will happen for us, too.

You can read about my journey with Russian bureaucracy in the posts mentioned below.

-The adventures began about when I started this blog back in 2007. We were required to leave the country every few months, for at least a few hours, and then come back in and re-register. At the time it seemed like such a hassle, and even a bit nerve-wracking!

-2008: Next came the new laws, requiring us to leave not for a few hours or few days, but for 3 months.

-2009: My first attempt at staying in Russia full-time was to apply for a work visa, but that fell through.

-My next solution was to come in on a student visa that fall.

-2010: While on the student visa, I applied for a residency permit.

-I got the residency permit about 10 months later.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Post-Soviet Pediatrics

I find the cultural differences in approaches to medicine so fascinating! The "common cold" argument attracts a lot of discussion, but there are other aspects, like sterilization, that are very interesting to compare. I read a book about Soviet medicine that I reviewed awhile back and it explained a LOT. Let me know if you can recommend any other sources on this topic, because I just find it interesting in general!

Meanwhile, I had a taste of culture shock taking our son to the Russian pediatrician for the first time! Here are my quick American observations: 1) They want to fix everything. 2) They don't give you a choice. 3) You have to go to see specialists for things that a general practitioner in the U.S. would take care of. 4) Private clinics like to milk all the money they can get out of you!

We went to a clinic that a friend had recommended; in fact, she even gave us a ride!

When we went through all the Russian rituals of taking off our outer clothing and putting plastic booties over our shoes, we made our way into the examination room. The doctor asked me to lay the baby on a table and then said "We're getting undressed."

To give a command, Russian sometimes uses the "we" form. In fact, this is true when talking about children in general. "We're 1 month," "We're learning how to walk," etc. Even when you have one child.

So I thought to myself, "Well, I already took off my coat, so she must be talking about the baby." And I started undressing him.

David was perfect the whole time even though he was due for a feeding. He smiled, showed off, didn't pee/poop on anyone, and then nestled into Andrei's arms and went to sleep after the examination was over.

So now for the diagnoses.

-If his feedings are taking a long time, I must "not have enough milk." I was sort of waiting for that one, but at least she didn't recommend supplementing.

-...Then we weighed him and he had gained a ton and was above average. Ha! It was interesting though that by American standards he was considered 30th percentile for weight and by European he's over average! Same with height, but he was already 80th percentile or something in the U.S.

-If we're inside too much/don't take Vitamin D we might get Rickets. The doctor told us we should be outside for 2-3 hrs each day.

-His oozing "outie" belly button is horrific and must be fixed so it looks like everyone else's. I was starting to get defensive about needing to fix an outie belly button, but the U.S. pediatrician had said it was borderline hernia. He is supposed to get more tummy time+we are supposed to buy an exercise ball and roll him on his tummy or whatever. Plus an antibiotic powder to fix the oozing.

-His cradle cap is due to Mommy's diet. What is Mommy eating? Mommy needs to go on a diet so he doesn't have any allergic reactions. Mommy needs to take some pills and powders to get rid of toxins.

-His blocked tear duct needs to be flushed out several times a day and treated with drops and massage.

-Most of these issues (outie belly button, cradle cap, tear duct) were things the American doctors had noticed, but were not alarmed about. They had said to give it time. And most of the books I'd read about them said they were perfectly normal and would be "gone by the end of the first year." But Russian doctors seem to be more proactive. If you have a cold, you don't "let it run its course." You gargle and wash and drink and dab and swab, etc.

-Visits to the neurologist, orthopedist, and oculist are in order.

-He needs to be immunized against tuberculosis.

About overspecialization:

At least in Soviet times, professions fell into fairly narrow categories. It's hard explaining that I have a BA in "Russian Studies." I'm not an expert in any one area.

In my experience visiting private clinics in St. Petersburg, I kept getting referred to different specialists. The first time was several years ago when I had a persistent scratchy throat. The general practitioner didn't see anything and asked if I'd wait for the ENT specialist to arrive. When he arrived, he didn't see anything either and just prescribed some topical medications. I was charged for two separate consultations costing $100 each, very expensive for Russia, but not uncommon for paid services nowadays. Though I had signed a release form upon registration, I never imagined that I'd be charged for two separate examinations lasting about 5 minutes each!

When I went to my first prenatal visit at a different clinic, the doctor went through my whole medical history and wanted to send me to a different specialist for each symptom. I managed to keep it limited to a physical exam with the general practitioner and avoided seeing their in-house orthopedist, eye doctor, physical therapist, etc.

The pediatrician wants David to see a whole list of doctors to test for various things that can go wrong in infants. While I don't know if there's any harm in just looking, it's certainly a different way of doing things. In the U.S. it can be so hard to get in to see a specialist, while in Russia (if you have money), the general practitioner seems to act as a triage unit who sends you off to separate specialists for each symptom.

My poor husband was very brave to witness all of the procedures I went through in the U.S., which took place in a different manner than he's used to.

So here I am trying to follow all the pediatrician's instructions: a list for David (morning, afternoon, evening), and a list for me. On the plus side, it gives some structure to my day. Plus, getting out into the sunshine for daily walks isn't a bad course of treatment.

P.S. I forgot how the hide/expand feature works with my blog template. I'll have to go back and review.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Your thoughts?

So the deal with blogging is that most of my computer time nowadays happens one-handed. While I compose interesting emails and updates in my mind, they're just not getting written. I've been trying to schedule in five minutes of writing time each day just for sanity and creativity's sake, but most posts are longer than five minutes' worth anyway. "Maybe tomorrow" is my current motto.

In the meantime, feel free to post here links to any reading material or even audio content that you think I'd enjoy checking out. If you're a mother, is there anything in particular you do/did while nursing? Or was it all about the baby?

-sermon audio?
-Bible commentary?
-language learning?
-books on Kindle?

I like missionary and "mommy" blogs, but I try not to get into a comparing myself rut, so I aim to keep a good balance. Just anything uplifting that you'd like to share, I'm open to! (Ugh, just butchered the English language)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A little bit of green

Our apartment complex is fairly typical, but there's a bonus: we have some green space!

Normally a plot of land doesn't stay empty for long and in other courtyards you might see a preschool, grocery store, playground, or at least another dumpster or parking lot! I don't remember what the story is, but whatever was supposed to be built here didn't get built.

There aren't any benches, but I've come to regard that as a good thing, as they attract loiterers; smokers and the like. That means less noise as well as less trash. Here it's just people going to work or school, or simply taking a leisurely walk. The long, paved sidewalks allow for bikes, rollerblades, and strollers. While dogs bring their own messes, it's fun to see them frolicking on the grass.

Beyond the next building, there's a playground, teeming with kids and their parents and grandparents; a mother snapping at her daughter (tired after a long day?). Maybe I'll have to take my turn there one day, but for now, I'll stick to the peace and quiet!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bureaucracy Season

It’s that time of year! Actually, I will have to start thinking about my documents in October, but September is the time for David’s documents.

He is currently registered in St. Petersburg as an American tourist. Yep, it’s true. We get until the end of the month to figure out something more permanent (preferably dual citizenship) and then I will have to exit with him into another country and get a new visa for him.

My heart hurts for families who have to be separated for short or long periods of time because of citizenship issues. What if I chose Russian citizenship in order to be in Russia with my husband without threat of deportation? Then I’d need a visa to go back and visit my parents!

I have to admit that I have a little bit of a double standard in my head. I don't like having to wait in line and go through the same processes as all those other foreigners (who came here for silly reasons like making money to support their families). And my marriage is a real marriage, so shouldn't I get special rights here? Somebody? Maybe I have an American (missionary?) superiority complex.

The latest information is that David's application will have to be reviewed for 6 months, so we will indeed need to travel to another country at least once during that process in order to get him a new visa to be in Russia.

Of course we (the baby and I) could just take an extended vacation, but...I'm up for inspection in another month, so I need to be in Russia.

This is going to be interesting...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Summer of David

My husband and I were reflecting on the summer, or rather, I was probably worrying about something and he was trying to get me to see the other side.

There was soooo much I didn't get done. Printing wedding photos (from last year)? Getting together with friends? Taking the baby with us to the park on a picnic? Introducing my husband to more of my favorite hometown people and places? Blogging???

"This was the summer of David," my husband said. It wasn't the summer for any of those other things. I had to take care of my health, then we had to travel to the NICU, then we had to (try to) resolve breastfeeding issues, while tackling medical insurance details and obtaining all the papers that David would need to travel to another country at 7 weeks of life.

There was essentially one thing I could get done each day-one phone call, one form, one e-mail. Other than that, each break consisted of taking care of the basic tasks I needed for survival: This is the break when I eat breakfast, next time I'll brush my teeth and get dressed, maybe after the next feeding I'll have lunch...oops, it's 5pm and the business day is over.

Another thing that happened was all of the siblings gathering for the first time in several years. At my wedding last year we were missing Nastia and Masha, but they made it this time. So David got to meet all of his aunts and uncles and cousins.

My older sister with the "twins"
In addition, David's little cousin Alexander made a surprise early entrance (at 9 pounds, 9 ounces) less than a week before our departure, so we got to meet this new precious blessing!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Along the way

At church last Sunday I realized that I hadn't been in a "corporate" worship setting in a long time. It had been a rough night, but we decided to go anyway.

I hadn't made it to church the last few times before David was born, and the times we did show up with him, I went to the nursery right away to feed him. That meant I pretty much missed the worship time but was able to listen to the sermon.

But this time, there were a few worship songs at the end. When I began to sing, I realized that I hadn't been able to sing in that setting for what seemed like a long time, even if it was only a month. There is something powerful about being able to proclaim those words of faith. And I have to admit, they sometimes reach deeper in one's native language.

There was a girl there who had just lost her mother that week, but she was singing to the Lord.

Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering; when there's pain in the offering, blessed be Your name...

There are many ways to worship, but singing is one of my favorites, even in the midst of imperfection.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Biggest little boy in the NICU

Going backwards a little bit here.

Little David was born with a SPLASH of meconium! I think everyone attending the birth got a little shower, never heard of that before. There was no "delayed cord cutting" or "skin-to-skin" bonding that are the trend in birth plans nowadays. When they broke my water, they saw meconium and knew that he would need to be checked out as soon as he was born.

Pretty hefty compared to the preemies!

Up at my end of the bed, I was barely aware of what they had actually done with the baby once he was out.

 I saw the pediatricians standing around the warming bed working on something, so I knew he had to be over there somewhere.

At some point a little later, a member of the staff explained that the baby would be transferred to another hospital that had a CPAP machine, a special ventilator not available in our hospital.

They put him on antibiotics in case of infection, so his first week of life was spent in the NICU.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coming up for air

Baby David was 1 month old last Thursday. Not that I was waiting for him to be a month old to write an update or anything like that, just finally finding the time.

Please, please, please, little boy, stay asleep so I can finish this post.

There are many new and interesting experiences that we have been through in the past few months. Of course I would love to write about them, but find more and more posts staying unfinished. I think I will have to come up with a new system, perhaps taking 5-10 minutes a day to write just a short update.

The other day I was thinking about my English students from this past year; recalling their faces and personalities and the interesting conversations that we had. God only knows if I will see any of them again. Lord, will you bring any fruit out of it? Will any of them be saved?

And of course I can't reminisce about special people without thinking of the orphans. I can picture their mannerisms and the way they did their homework with me-some carefully, some hurriedly...some chatting away and others timid. Many grumbled about having to work on their English, but even their grumbling seems endearing now.

I took it as a good sign that I began to think of these "old" interests (as of a few months ago). The Lord has not taken away my heart for them and I can look to the future, even if it is only one day or one hour at a time.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


It is too hot to do a lot of exploring these days, but we have had some interesting fellowship. Last Saturday we had a visit from my college friends. During the week we attended a church potluck, visited friends, and had an "international" dinner with some people my parents have been reaching out to. A few evenings ago we attending an art opening and heard an interesting lecture.

It's funny noting how many people are connected to Russia in some way, at least when the topic comes up.

A family friend came over to notarize some documents and shared how he and his family had lived in Moscow one year.

If it's someone from the church where I grew up, then many members or at least someone in their family went on one of the trips we took over several years.

Yesterday we celebrated Andrei's birthday! So far the baby has missed sharing his mother or father's birthdays. But that's okay as it isn't his due date yet. July 6th is his (Russian) grandfather's birthday and potential due date. So we'll see if he picks that day or decides to choose to have his own!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

He's here! husband, that is, not the baby!

There were supposed to be a whole bunch of posts between this one and the last one, informative and thought-provoking. But those ones are stuck in my drafts folder.

Since arriving in the U.S. on May 15th I've been doing a lot of resting and preparing for Baby's birth (I don't want to turn this into a pregnancy blog, but for anyone who's curious, flying at 32-33 weeks along was totally fine). There is a certain quietness here as opposed to St. Petersburg. However, there is no running from bureaucracy: medical forms, health insurance, citizenship and spellings of last names are all of a part of the deal.

My sister, mom and friends threw me a baby shower, which was fun, and then once Andrei got here last week, we took a childbirth class and toured the childbirth center.

I've been going to the doctor every week and have met everyone in the practice. Overall the staff have been very friendly. I have to admit I have a slight aversion to all the technology and we did a fetal monitoring session last time that was just stressful. In general they seem respectful of our wishes, though.

Oh yeah, and I had a birthday. Wondering if I should change my blog heading...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Just a pic?

Spring is here! Well, it's still a bit chilly, but so light outside!

My father-in-law (Vladimir), Andrei, Yours Truly

For the record, I'm 7 months pregnant in this pic...just in case you thought I looked a little rounder.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wearing the cross

I arrived at the orphanage not long after Easter and walked into a "conversation" between a counselor and one of her charges.

The boy wanted a cord or chain for a cross pendant he had come across. He felt this would solidify his Christian status.

The counselor, a Muslim (ethnically) had apparently had it with Christianity. Or with Orthodox Christianity. Or with Christian holidays...something had ticked her off. And here she began to rant...about the cross.

It (the cross) didn't mean anything; Christianity didn't mean anything. 90% of "Christians" just went to church to light a candle and say a prayer, then go on with their hypocritical lives.

I could feel the weight of the cross necklace I had put on that morning. I don't wear one regularly; it just feels right sometimes. But I felt awkward to be wearing it at that moment.

If I had heard the comment from a random person on the street, maybe it wouldn't have bothered me. But this counselor is someone I've been trying to witness to. We're friends. I wanted to ask her, "How could you still think that about all Christians?" Not that I've been a saint, but are we all so two-faced? Are our lifestyles so obviously hypocritical?

What about my wedding? I wanted to ask. She had been a guest. The Christ-centered sermon, the church fellowship, the purity of our relationship...didn't it mean anything?

And the American families she had visited a few summers ago...they were Evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. Didn't they challenge her opinion a little bit? Or did she chalk it up to a cultural difference?

She needs to know Evangelical Christians HERE. Even as I write it, it sounds like a diagnosis, as if I could heal someone. No, only God can do that. But I wonder, if I need my social circles to overlap just a little bit more.

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...