Russia: Bloggers’ Memories of Soviet Maternity Hospitals

Last December, Sinisa Boljanovic translated a number of heartrending childbirth stories, written anonymously by Serbian women and posted on the “Mother Courage” award-winning site, launched and maintained by Serbian blogger Branka Stamenkovic/Krugolina Borup.

Earlier this month, LJ user germanych, a Russian blogger, asked his readers to share their experiences of giving birth in the Soviet Union. While Branka Stamenkovic's “Mother Courage” initiative is an attempt to change the situation for the better, the Russian blogger's goal has been to document a lesser-known chapter of the Soviet history.

In the initial post, he wrote (RUS):

[…] For some reason, I have an impression that Soviet nurses […] treated women in labor as if it was wartime and the woman was having a baby from some SS officer. That is, with some hatred mixed with squeamishness. For no apparent reason. It was a strange thing to hear about, considering that in movies they were showing the opposite: when mother and child were leaving the maternity hospital, nurses were flying around them, all so kind, all smiles.


So here is a question to the women reading this blog: would you please share your impressions of the atmosphere that surrounded you in the Soviet maternity hospitals? […]

The feedback that LJ user germanych received from his readers prompted him to write a follow-up post (RUS), in which he quoted over 20 bloggers, some of whom shared stories that were not their own but their female relatives’ (a few comments were submitted by male bloggers). Below is a sampling from this collection.


When in 1984 mama was giving birth to my brother […] it was horror-horror, according to her. [Medical staff] only began moving somewhat when she started yelling that she was a doctor, too, and would be able to find the right person at the [municipal health department] to whom to write an adequate complaint about them. If she hadn't yelled, my brother would have been likely to be stillborn (there were labor complications).


Post-natal hygiene devices were the hospital's non-disposable cloth napkins squeezed between legs: for some reason, it was forbidden to wear panties :(((. No pantiliners were still non-existent then. This is something that I recall with horror… My negative memories of the maternity hospital are connected with hygiene devices.


We were also in a state of complete “pantylessness” – plus the worn-out and somewhat torn hospital dresses and gowns. It wasn't allowed to bring any underwear from home, and other things were not welcome, either. Slippers were also from the hospital, I guess. Family visitation was prohibited, of course. All new fathers were roaming outside, down below, calling their wives loudly. One (free) phone for the whole floor and huge lines to use it…


Winter of 1984. Leningrad. The Institute of Pediatrics. Terrible attitude, everyone talks arrogantly, everyone's busy. It was very cold, minus 25 Celcius [minus 13 Fahrenheit] outside. No hot water, relatives were not allowed to pass water-boilers for us. My mother sent a box of sugar for me, all of us in the room were secretly eating it. There were 12 of us in the room. No bathtub, the toilet was [in a very bad condition]. Scary to remember it…


1989, [Yaroslavl]. Because of painful labor, a woman threw up. A nurse was pushing a mop to her nose, yelling: “Clean after yourself!”… 1990, St. Petersburg. A tipsy nurse overturned a crib with newborns in it, as the shocked audience watched.


Our first child died because the doctors didn't show up. My wife was screaming, and they'd come up and say: “That's okay, this is your first labor, this is nothing. Be patient, don't scream!” And when they got alarmed, it was too late. He was stillborn – intrauterine asphyxia. And when my wife, exhausted from crying, finally fell asleep, listless, a nurse woke her up – the child had to be given a name, for the paperwork. A stillborn child. And they woke her up for that and demanded that she name a dead child. Even now when I recall this, everything in me turns inside out. 1975, [Sverdlovsk]…

LJ user kialu, who had her child at the age of 18, shared a similarly horrifying experience and ended her comment with these words:

[…] For ten years, my son's birthday was for me the day of nightmarish memories. Fear and horror mixed with shame. I've gotten over it now. But my son is 16 now, and I haven't had it in me to have a second child – and will never do…

LJ user germanych also posted a few memories of those who had their children delivered abroad or more recently – “for comparison”:


The conditions at maternity hospitals have changed – children are not taken away, visitations are allowed, husbands are allowed to be present during birth, there are also individual birthing rooms, and a shower in every room.



In Germany, I had a difficulty understanding why the obstetrician was so incredibly polite, careful and nice… Turns out, they treat all pregnant women like this…

Here is LJ user germanych‘s conclusion to this post:

[…] Judging by additional comments, […] nothing has changed in many of today's Russian maternity hospitals since the [Soviet times] – same rudeness, dirt and torturing of the women […]. But there is nothing surprising about it, because in state institutions of the Russian Federation the same contemptuous treatment of human beings still survives the way it was [in the Soviet times]. Basically, maternity hospitals are the die-hard bastions of [the Soviet system]. The newly-emerged commercial maternity hospitals somewhat solve the problem with the availability of normal, safe childbirth care. In general, I think that the global reforms in Russia should begin with [reform of] maternity hospitals.

And here is another follow-up post by LJ germanych, on the impact of the previous one:

[…] The post has generated the total of about a thousand comments and has spent a few days in the [Top 30 posts at Yandex Blogs portal]. Moreover, it was the #1 post for the whole day. […] But this is not the main thing.

The main thing is that a number of readers have labeled me a very non-objective person, who has deliberately collected all kinds of dirt and thus provoked equally dirty comments. Like, those women who had an okay experience with Soviet maternity hospitals just didn't want to write comments at such a place.

Well, to prove that I am all for the all-inclusive objectivity, I've decided to take out comments from that very first post, which talk positively about Soviet maternity hospitals and arrange them into a separate post. And I'd like to see: will it make it into the top ranking? And what kinds of comments will it get? […]

Here are just two of these “positive” comments:


When I was being delivered, the level of care was perfect – because the midwife and the doctor were my mother's friends. […]



1990. […] Normal impressions… […] Medical staff acted in a correct way. Without rudeness, but without special love and care, either. In general, at that time I felt that I was lucky, had been expecting worse treatment…

In a yet another follow-up post, LJ user germanych summarized the results of his “balanced approach” blogging experiment:

As expected, the post about how good Soviet maternity hospitals were neither made it into the top ranking at Yandex, nor generated even a hundred comments. For some reason, there haven't been too many people ready to support the theory that all kinds of horrors written about Soviet maternity hospitals had nothing to do with reality. […]

LJ user germanych also quoted this “positive” comment (that has since been deleted by its author), to emphasize what the Soviet system was really about:

I, too, cannot say anything bad about Soviet maternity hospitals, since my father-in-law was [a high-ranking Communist Party official]…


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