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Edward Seibert, born October 15

Mother-in-law Nadia and I breakfasted in the kitchen on a simple soup – buckwheat, carrots, and squash with a bit of onion.  I’m feeling close to the earth.  Edward was born in that kitchen Saturday night, Oksana attended by a midwife and myself.  She had won out – I had wanted a hospital.  Oksana had called Nadia Sunday morning, yesterday, and she arrived on the first bus.
Last week I read in Stephen Pinker’s recent “Our Better Angels” that “The Child Study movement aimed for a scientific approach to child development and began to replace the superstition and bunkum of old wives with the superstition and bunkum of child-rearing experts.”  Bunkum sums up Oksana’s attitude towards doctors.  They speak with such certainty!  However, if you have been around this world for as many spins as we have, dear reader, you know with certainty how often that certainty changes.
We had a consulting obstetrician throughout the pregnancy, taking blood and blood pressure, poking and probing.  I bought most of her program because I’m used to western medicine.  However, the greatest part of the prescription here as in the west is CYA on the part of the doctor, very little that really needs to be done.  After all, people managed to procreate even before there were shamans to tell us how it ought to be.   I worked up a maximal sincerity as I coaxed Oksana to eat her iron pills, avoid salt, and maximize healthy things in her diet.
Lyudmila was death on any form of quackery other than her own.  In one instance she stoutly refused to approve of Oksana’s taking some black walnut herbal stuff a friend recommended… it wasn’t in the book of approved medications.  She recommended onions as a source of Vitamin C.  She told Oksana to eat raisins for iron – black raisins, not green ones.  I added sternly that she should also eat lots of beef, from black cows, not brown ones.
Come time for delivery Oksana was thoroughly fed up with the medical establishment.  Through a friend she heard of a doctor/midwife, Olga.  She is a charming woman, polnaya, which is how you translate saftig into Russian, with a very feminine yet confidently authoritative manner.  The arguments in favor of home birth are simple.  A woman feels a whole lot better in her own house, with her husband, than being poked and prodded by a parade of strangers in some cold, impersonal hospital.  Beside, in case we needed help, we are five minutes by taxi or ambulance from a maternity hospital.  By happenstance the maternity hospital was conducting tours last week.  Oksana went out of curiosity, and was strongly reconfirmed in her decision for a home birth.
I was busy last week hustling from pharmacy to pharmacy buying all of the (wrong) stuff for the delivery.  Everywhere I go in the world I see a need for more of us Germans to put things in order.  I could have done a whole lot more efficiently, starting with a standard list.  Anyhow, the Germans’ offer to set things straight in Ukraine somehow wasn’t accepted, but that’s another story.
I had a long lunch with a bunch of friends Saturday as Oksana went for a swim, coincidentally with the midwife.  Oksana felt a little something, and Olga took a look and told her she should head home right away.  I got a call to pick up some chocolate and oranges on the way home, followed in five minutes by a call to forget that and come home right now.  When I arrived at 5:00 Olga was coaching her through early contractions.  I pitched in.  The Lamaze huffing and puffing thing is 90% forgotten.  Now it is all about massage.  Of course there is a correct way to do it – always stroking down, rather than in circles – so there is always an opportunity to chide the male party to the process for not exactly understanding the program.  That’s a slam dunk.  We never do, and I suspect that’s how it’s planned to be.
We progressed fairly quickly.  One thing I liked about the process was that Oksana stayed fairly vertical.  Let gravity help.  What a concept!  Another that I liked is that she squatted in the bathtub in warm water.  Has to help – the water bears some of her weight, and warm water and massage oil are a good mixture in any situation.  Olga was great.  She had a very reassuring voice, calmly telling her to keep on pressing, press, press.  And breathe.  Just in and out, not the huff and puff stuff.
As Oksana quivered from the strain we moved back and forth among four stations.  Her straddling the legs of a kitchen stool, on its side and draped with towels; her on the john, her back in the bath and her in my arms as I was seated on a stool in the kitchen.  Olga offering comfort and encouragement as we went.  But with something added.  More and more invocation of God.  The mystic, Orthodox God.  Pushing and prayer together.  It worked well.  Oksana was in pain, but she had an angelic look on her face throughout.
About 7:30 we were on the stool and things got serious.  I was holding her, my hands on the ends of a twisted sheet across the top of Oksana’s belly, pushing down harder than I felt was advisable, but not as hard as the women want me to.  Olga was on her knees, looking up, checking progress and encouraging her.  Oksana was in pain now, saying so as fact and not complaint, and chanting “Help me God” in sincere belief that God was helping, all the while with a beatific look on her face far outshining the pain.  And then, wow, a cry and there he was, covered in parchment and blood, his little head shaped like a bullet, as it had had to be to make his exit.  Crying and blinking.  It was officially 8:10.  Olga had an eye on the clock, along with everything else.

She cleaned his nose, but from the crying it was pretty evident his lungs are working OK.  She cleaned him up and we waited a bit for the placenta, which we put into a pot.  Then we proceeded, baby still attached to placenta in a pot, but mother free, to the bedroom, where Edward lay on his mom’s breast to get some well-deserved rest.  Olga cleaned mom up and I did tasks as assigned.  Among the things we needed were raw potatoes.  They had not been  on the list of provisions, but fortunately we had some.  You grate them and the make a pretty good astringent.  Edward got a potato poultice on his head and Oksana took one to stop the bleeding.  Some part of the process involved iodine, an antiseptic we haven’t used in the US since before I was a kid.  Also a bunch of homeopathic stuff and herbs.  Since moving to Ukraine I’ve armed myself with the authoritative reference on herbal medicines, and have come to accept the proposition that at a minimum they generally won’t do you any harm.  Anyhow, the cleanup worked, but you won’t see these procedures at Cedars of Sinai.
When all was in order I tried to start cleaning up, but the women insisted I lie down and rest a bit.  So I did, just looking at Edward and Oksana.  After two hours (!) it was time to cut the cord.  I learned that the placenta has great spiritual significance.  Olga tied it with red cord.  We took a moment of prayer, telling God of our aspirations for baby Edward.  I was offered the scissors to cut him free to join our world, but I asked Olga to do it as I trusted her hands more than mine.  The placenta will be buried in our new land, tying Edward to a place, and Edward himself spent his first night lying on the breast of a very happy mama, as I lay on the other side of the bed giving thanks and thinking about his future.