Lina had a boyfriend whom she once invited to a party with a friend of his who 'was meant' for me. The young man's name was Alexander Davidenko, Sasha for short. I had seen him several times before and had taken quite a fancy to him.
It was a beautiful summer night on the 28th of June 1980, the famous White Nights in the suburbs of Leningrad. The four of us had a wonderful meal, nice red wine, beautiful music and slow dance. We went for a swim by the moonlight in a little lake not far from the hostel. ( The hostel was situated in beautiful picturesque countryside, in the woods, mostly pine trees). It was one of the most romantic evenings of my life.
All four of us agreed to meet in Leningrad the next day. Lina and I all dressed up and very excited took an electric train from Otradnoye to Leningrad and were there just in time. There was no sign of our 'heroes' anywhere. They did not turn up. I never saw Sasha again.
Some time later (a couple of years even) I did make quite a major attempt to find Alexander but did not succeed. The information that I had about him obviously was not enough to find a person in the vast territories of the Soviet Union but maybe I did not try very hard. I always thought he knew where to find me and if he had not done so then he probably did not want to.
It was the first time in the summer of 1980 that Lina and I decided to go on holiday together, before then I used to go with my parents. We went to Pizunda, a little town on the Black Sea coast in Abkhazia, which in its turn is in Georgia, one of the fifteen Soviet Republics. The climate is very warm there, the sea is clear and beautiful, there are hardly ever any storms.
Before we left for a holiday I noticed that my period was several days late. When we were at the seaside it was about ten days late, but I was still joking about the possibility of being pregnant. I said to Lina, that if any men want to flirt with me again I will tell them: "Leave the pregnant woman alone!".
Several days later I started to panic. I had never imagined having a child outside marriage and I had never been pregnant before either. I thought if I was going to do something about it it was better to do it while on holiday where nobody knew me. I went to a hospital in Gagra, a bigger town near Pizunda and they gave me an appointment for an abortion.
I was very nervous on the morning of my appointment. The doctor examined me and the conversation between us I remember very well.
"Where did you come from?" "Leningrad" "How old are you?" "Twenty eight, twenty nine soon." "Is it your first pregnancy?" "Yes" "Why don't you want to keep the baby?"
The question was so unexpected that I did not know at first what to say. At last I said: "You see, I am not married and I am afraid my mother will be very angry with me".
"Forget about your mother for now. It is about you and your baby. I am not doing this abortion. You go back to Leningrad and if they do it there it is up to them. The abortion at your age can be harmful and you might never have babies again. Listen to me, my girl, keep this baby and you will be grateful to me to the rest of your life".
I could not sleep the next night because I was so exited: I am going to have a baby! I am going to be a mother! The school will have to find a room for me and my little daughter now and we will have our own home and be very happy there! (I was sure it was going to be a girl).
Since that night I have never had any doubts that the decision I made was right and I thanked the doctor hundreds of times in my mind. I wish I remembered her name and address to send her a letter.
Coming back to Otradnoye I started to read books on pregnancy and babies. I remember sitting on the bank of the Neva river on a warm sunny day in September reading "Child and baby care" by Benjamin Spock. I think it is one of the best books ever written on the subject and it helped me a lot. I still look into it occasionally when I need some advice about my children and it has never let me down.
My pregnancy went very well without any complications and was a very happy time of my life. Whatever I thought or did every minute of every day of my life was associated with the child I was carrying under my heart. I was very excited arranging our comfortable little nest in the room of 11 square meters in size. It was small but it was ours!
I calculated when my baby was due by the formula: add seven days to the first day of your last period and deduct three months from there. I remembered that my last period was on the 13th of June, so plus seven days and minus three months made it March, the 20th, 1981 and that was exactly when my son was born!
When my pregnancy became obvious to everybody in the school it was like a bombshell. Nobody expected this sort of thing from me. I was a beautiful and popular girl who always attracted men's attention and the last thing people would expect from me was to become a single mother.
Naturally everybody was wondering who the father of the child was? Somebody suggested that it might have been the headmaster of our school because everybody knew he liked me. It was the juiciest gossip at the time. When I honestly said that the child's' father's name was Alexander Davidenko nobody's curiosity was satisfied because they just did not know him. I could not help that.
The main problem for me was how to bring the news to my mother who was quite strict and no wonder a headmistress. I gave a careful hint in a letter to my parents saying that my life was pretty good and although I could not meet my Mr Right I wish I could at least have a child some time. There was no comment on that point from my mother but I knew my parents were going to visit me in October anyway.
They had also been to Pizunda that year and brought lots of beautiful exotic fruit to me to Otradnoye. I went to the platform to meet them and to help to carry the bags. I was four months pregnant by then but it did not show much especially that I was wearing my favourite long scarf which helped to conceal the state I was in.
However when we exchanged our kisses and hellos and decided to move towards the hostel I reached for one of the bags to carry. My mother took it away from me saying that it was too heavy. I did not argue but carried whatever I was allowed instead.
We had not seen each other for quite a while and there was a lot to talk about as usual. We were having our dinner and chattering. My father made us laugh as he always did, he had a wonderful sense of humour.
Every time I went to the kitchen for something (I shared the kitchen with the other girls) everybody asked me in whisper whether I brought the news to my parents yet. "Not yet, not yet" I kept saying.
It was dark when we decided to go for a little walk and there I started to approach the subject carefully. "Why did you not react to my desire to give you a grandchild?" I asked, meaning the hint in my letter to them. "I reacted straight away as soon as I saw you on the platform today, haven't you noticed?" my mother said meaning that she stopped me carrying the heavy luggage. We laughed.
At once I felt light and easy to speak. I was now free to say whatever I wanted and to talk about the most important thing to me for as long as I wished. I knew they were not against my baby but were as excited about it as I was. I told my mother about the plans and preparations.
"Don't you want to come home and stay with us when it is time to give birth?" my mother asked. "You could stay as long as your maternity leave allows you to". Of course I wanted to go and stay with them! I just did not plan it because I did not know what their reaction to the whole project would be.
My maternity leave started in the beginning of February 1981 and as soon as it started I left for Achinsk, which is overnight from Leningrad to Moscow then two and a half days on a train from Moscow. However I had always loved Russian trains, the only thing that was missing was a shower but I could easily manage without for a couple of days.
My parents met me at the railway station and took me straight to school! Good question: why not home? As it turned out they were doing the decorations and could not finish in time. I did not mind to stay in a school building as the only thing I needed was a bed, no matter where. I was eight months pregnant and I caught a cold on a train.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes the next morning was the sun shining brightly in the blue blue sky. I could not believe my eyes. Living in Leningrad for five years I forgot that the sky could be that colour. It was the same the next morning and the morning after that and every other morning since then. The climate in Siberia was so different from Leningrad where sometimes the sun did not show up in the sky for weeks and weeks.
A doctor came to see me and said there was nothing much wrong with me and what I needed was rest.
It was quite fun living in school especially when the bell rang for a break and the children started running about bumping into my door every minute. My parents brought me nice food to eat and came to see me quite often.
Soon the decoration of the flat was finished and I moved home. The next month was spent mostly waiting for the baby to arrive. The two complications of my pregnancy were heartburn and backache. I was walking like a duck moving from side to side. My father was laughing at the way I was waddling and was repeating it himself showing me what it was like. We went for walks every evening, there was still snow on the ground but it started to melt in March and by the middle of the month there was very little of it left.
When I went to bed one night my waters broke. My mother must have forgotten what to do in that case and I did not remember reading about it. So I went to sleep with a big sheet between my legs.
I went to see the doctor in the morning and told her what had happened last night and before I finished the sentence she sent me straight to the maternity. I was admitted there in the morning on the 19th of March but nothing seemed to be happening to me all day.
My father came to see me at about 7 p.m. with a big bar of chocolate. I was very touched as I knew there was no chocolate in the shops. (well known shortages) Where did he manage to get it from? He said he went to the railway station and bought it in the restaurant of a passing train.
I sent my father home asking him not to worry and sleep well as nothing seemed to be happening to me that evening.
The labour started about 10pm but I did not look at the clock. The pain was overwhelming. Most of the time I was on my own screaming like a wounded animal. Two people came to examine me, they looked at each other silently which made me assume something was going wrong. I started to panic. They said the baby was not likely to arrive until nine o'clock in the morning and left me on my own again.
I had not been to antenatal classes and nobody had taught me any breathing exercises. I was eating father's chocolate between the contractions and then screaming again. I thought if I could get hold of some poison I would swallow it. I would do anything to stop the horrible pain which was tearing me apart. Was it really going to last till 9 o'clock in the morning?
Maybe my screaming got worse but somebody came to see me again and suddenly they started to switch on the lights everywhere. I realised they were taking me on to the special table: my baby was coming!
More screaming, more struggle and Artyom was born at 2.40 a.m. on the 20th of March.
My sufferings were not quite over yet: there were some stitches to make that was also painful. I did not think they used any anaesthetic, but maybe they did.
At last I was left to lie on the table with a bag of ice on my tummy till 6 o'clock in the morning. How surprisingly quickly the pain was forgotten once the baby was born!
I was lying there for three hours listening to my son. He was singing! What else could a new born baby do I did not know? He was not crying, that would make me worry. It was too early for a baby talk yet. However he was making continuous pleasant noises which sounded like songs to me. I thought what a lovely voice he had, maybe he would be as good a singer as his granddad!
I felt happy. Now I realised that I had always wanted a son. I did not dare to hope for a boy that is why I thought I wanted a girl. But now I could not believe I was a mother and had a son who would grow into a big fine man one day. I felt so proud of myself! I thought I had never felt happier in my life.
In the morning I was taken to a big room with lots of beds in it, each one occupied by a woman like me. Some of them were feeding their babies at feeding times. I did not see my son for two days.
On the third day they brought him to me. His eyes had red spots in them and his forehead was scratched as if after a hard battle. He was looking at me suspiciously as if he could not trust me. I started to talk to him in a whisper that he should not be afraid of me, that everything was going to be fine now. He sucked very well and we did not have problems with that.
My parents came to us and brought some fruit, juice and whatever I asked them to bring that was allowed by the hospital rules. Visitors were not allowed on the ward but could talk to us through the window. As we were on the second floor I did not find it very convenient to shout. Some women show their babies through the window but I did not think there was much to see from such distance.
My parents and I exchanged written messages. They sent me their message with a parcel and I passed mine back with the person who was delivering the parcels. I reported to them about myself and all about the baby's progress and they told to me what they were preparing for us at home and asked for my instructions what else to do.
In about a week we were allowed to go home. Surprisingly I felt quite confident with the baby. I was not afraid to touch him or to hold him the way I needed to do. Some women admitted they felt afraid of dealing with their first babies.
The first time I swaddled him I did it very well as if I had had much practice before. Maybe it was because Dr Spock wrote so much about the importance of a woman's intuition. He taught me to trust mine.
There was not a great variety of baby things in the shops and there were some shortages as usual. We had most of the necessary things for the baby but I did not want to use a bed for he was so tiny. I wanted something more mobile but they did not have baskets or anything like that in the shops.
We took an old suitcase, removed the lid and made a little bed out of it. Every time I wanted to air the room I just took the suitcase and moved it to another room for a while which I found very convenient.
As I was not prepared to have a son I did not have a name for him. I was thinking of calling him Eugene or Igor but could not settle for either of the names. I thought maybe some name would stick to him naturally and tried a game where I just called him different names on different days. But it did not work either.
Once a friend of my mother's came to see us and asked why do we not call him Artyom? We liked the idea. It was a popular name at the time. There used to be a revolutionary in Russia, a legendary person called Artem. I went to the registry office and registered my son Artyom, a month after he was born.
The first month of his life Artyom cried a lot. The doctor who came to see him said that he probably was hungry. We had a neighbour, a babushka who lived near and helped me to look after the baby when my parents were away. She also advised me to start giving him some semolina.
I was very reluctant to start feeding him as I thought he would refuse to take the breast. I did not believe he was hungry. I was proven right when we weighed him at the end of the first month, he had gained a kilo of weight just on the breast milk!
The reason for his crying was stomach cramps which were very common in babies and we gave him some fennel water for that. After the first month it became much better. I kept breast-feeding Artyom until he was ten months old. By that time he was in all the parameters like a one year old child. Of course from the age of three months I started to introduce him to solid foods according to the book.
There were no problems at that time in our life, I enjoyed being a mother. My parents adored their grandson and helped me a lot looking after him. My maternity leave was going to last for a year.
It was a very good and comfortable year. Every day I went for a walk with the baby in the pram. When it was warm I enjoyed sitting with a book on a bench in the park. We had a beautiful park with pine trees in it not far from our block of flats.
We often went to my parents dacha, a little house out of town. It was a good rest in the fresh air with vegetables straight from the garden and fresh milk from a cow. The cow was not ours but of one of our neighbour's from whom we bought the milk.
When the weather was cold in winter I still liked to walk around the blocks. We believed that spending much time in the open air was very beneficial for the baby and we went out in any weather. I could not sit and read but I was always thinking much about the present and the future life which was in store for me and Artyom.
During that year at home I had a chance to read a lot and watch television. I did a lot of knitting and even knitted a dress! I could do these things because I did not have to worry about a lot of things like cooking etc, as my mother did that.
My mother and I got on very well and did not argue about the baby. She let me make the decisions about the main things and only helped. She used to say that she loved her own children so much that she would not be able to love her grandchildren. When Artyom was born she was absolutely crazy about him! My both parents adored him always.
Artyom was an adorable child. He always smiled, hardly ever cried and most of the time was obedient. He never complained about anything, was easy to please and always happy. I know it sounds too good to be true but this is what he was really like.
I was aware that being his mother it was difficult to be objective but whenever I left him with a baby sitter or with a friend everybody always praised him and said that with that child they could baby sit every day.