The Arrival of Krisztina
It was 1977 and we were young. Arpad and I got married in 1973 and lived in one of the two rooms in my parents house. That arrangement was normal at the time in Romania where married children and parents and sometimes grandparents lived under one roof.
Living with my parents had its advantages and disadvantages. Not having to worry about month to month upkeep of the house was an advantage but being treated like children and expected to do all kind of work in the garden was not to our liking.
When we had free time we wanted to relax , go on trips and party like all young people did. We didn’t feel ready to start a family. In five years I had three abortions . That was the only type of birth control at the time in Romania and even that was in secret through connections and for a lot of money. My mom knew a nurse who worked with a doctor, who came to our house and did the procedure while I was lying on the dining room table.
I didn’t feel any remorse at the time about it because it was something normal and that’s what pregnant women did in those days with unwanted pregnancies.
When towards the end of 1976 I became pregnant again my first thought was to have another abortion. I could not imagine myself giving birth and being mother to a child.
Still something inside me urged me to keep this baby. I think we were ready for a child but feared the unknown. Arpad and I started preparing emotionally to become parents but not until I felt movement inside me that I really felt the connection with my baby. My BABY! A little human was growing inside me and with every movement this baby became more real. I would wait with my hands on my stomach for the baby to move. I felt so much joy every time it did. It became my favourite pastime to wait for the movement. I still felt unprepared to become a mother. I was reading the Hungarian translation of Dr.Spock ‘s book The Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care. It became my constant companion. It’s message to mothers was that “you know more than you think you do” and I really needed to hear that. I never experienced morning sickness and I can say I had an easy pregnancy.
June 15 was the projected due date. At the beginning of May I experienced back pains and I thought they were birthing pains. They turned out to be kidney pains. My body retained water and my hands and feet became swollen. I was put on a strict no salt diet and I hated that but tried to comply.
On May 31, a sharp back pain awakened me early in the morning. I tried to make it go away by tying a warm scarf around my waist . I thought my kidney pain came back and hoped that the warm scarf will make it better. But it didn’t. My mother already left for work so Arpad went to our next door neighbour for help. She came over and looked at me and having given birth twice, she knew right away what was happening. You are in labour, she said, your baby dropped and you need to go to the hospital. I noticed that my stomach was much lower than before.
That can’t be. I was not due to give birth until the middle of June. As we were debating weather to call a taxi to take us to the hospital, I felt something warm running down my legs. My water broke.
I don’t remember too much of the taxi ride and the admitting to the hospital but soon I found myself in a big room in the hospital on a bed beside the wall. In the middle of the room there was a delivery table ready for the next birth. The day went by and in between contractions I slept. A nurse shaved my pubic hair and I was given an enema conform regulations at that time. The day passed and nothing happened just the pain that was coming and going. Luckily there were no other births all day and I could lay in that room quietly.
Seven at night came and my contractions were very close together and the pain seemed unbearable.
I was moved on the delivery table and the doctor came. I was told to push and push and push, harder and harder. It seemed that nothing was accomplished by pushing until it felt like something slipped out of me and relief came. My baby was born and I forgot all the pain I felt before.
A girl. I was told and I got to look at her before the nurse took her away to clean her and wrap her .
I did not know before if it is a girl or a boy. Some woman told me just looking at the shape of my stomach (round all around not pointy) that it’s a girl and I was hoping for a girl. She was a beautiful baby and a full head of dark hair. Her skin was not red and blotchy at all as I was expecting, but nice and looked almost tanned.
She was taken away to the nursery and I was taken to a ward with 6 beds after I was stitched up. The doctor had to make an incision ,a surgical cut to the perineum with scissors , to make the baby’s birth easier and prevent severe tears that can be difficult to repair. It was around nine at night when I was taken to the room that I shared with 5 other mothers. I was exhausted and fell asleep and slept until morning when the babies were brought for nursing. My baby was not there.
There was a two tier metallic cart that was pushed around with four babies on each level.
The babies were swaddled in white blankets with their hands wrapped tightly inside the blanket.
The other mothers referred to them jokingly as “sămăluțe”- little cabbage rolls in Romanian. Each mother was handed their baby to nurse and when finished the baby was taken back on the cart to the nursery.
I asked why my baby was not brought and the nurse said it was too early to bring her because she was born just last night. I asked if I can see her and she told me to go to the nursery window and I can look at her through the window. It was difficult for me to get out of bed and walk because of the stitches but I made my way to the nursery. The nursery was down the hall and had a very large window. Through the window I could see many bassinets with babies inside, most of them crying.
I recognized my baby because of her hair. I was surprised to see that most of the babies were bald .
My baby had dark hair and she was crying. I was not allowed to go into the nursery and was told to go back to my room and rest, The baby will be given a bottle and will fall asleep. I was upset but could not do anything. Those were the regulations at that time: babies were kept in the nursery the whole time until they were released from the hospital. Mothers stayed at least seven days under supervision in the maternity ward after giving birth. The babies were brought only for nursing and they were taken back to the nursery after. No visitors were allowed to the maternity ward so the fathers did not see their newborn children until their release from the hospital.
Arpad found out that he had a little girl from the doorman who had a list with the babies born on that day. We had no phones to communicate and I did not talk to him until a couple of days after our baby was born, when I was able to go downstairs to the waiting room .
I was very happy to tell him about our beautiful little girl and he couldn’t wait for us to go home so he can see her and hold her.
When my baby was finally brought to me the next day, I was so happy to finally be able to hold her and touch her and look at her. I tried to nurse her but my breasts were swollen and she could not latch on. She cried and I cried until the nurse came and took her back to the nursery. She said that she will feed her from the bottle and I should express my milk and collect it. From then on all my time between feedings was occupied with pumping out the milk in order to have milk for my baby and for the engorgement to cease.
Finally the day came when we could leave the hospital. Seven days have past and the baby started to regain the weight she lost after birth. She weighed 3050 Grams at birth and went down to 2800 grams. That was normal I was told. When she started regaining the weight and I was almost healed, we were released. In the meantime Arpad registered our baby’s birth and obtained her birth certificate. When he came to see me at the hospital we decided to name her Krisztina. A name that could not be changed by translation. In Romania it was very common to translate Hungarian names to Romanian. My Hungarian name, Ibolya was translated to Romanian, Viorica, on my birth certificate. Arpad insisted on the Hungarian spelling and he succeeded. Our baby had a name:
Krisztina, not Cristina as it would have been spelled in Romanian.
Before we left the hospital I asked one of the nurses to pierce Krisztina’s ears so we can put in the little golden earrings we had for her. So the nurse pierced her ears with a sewing needle and threaded through a thread to keep the hole open. That was the way it was done.
We went home with this little baby and were very unprepared and felt inadequate. At the hospital all I heard was that I should enjoy the time spent there because my baby was looked after and once released it was all up to me to do everything. There was no bonding encouraged at the hospital, on the contrary, it seemed that everything was done to keep mothers and babies separated.
We had a crib set up in our room where we layed her down . Tried to keep a feeding schedule of nursing her every 3-4 hours . I still had to use a pump to express the milk but she was getting stronger and nursing better. We had this little wonder in our room and my parents and neighbours were curious to see her. The day went by and night came. Nursed my baby at 10 o’clock and hoped to get a good night sleep, at least until 5 o’clock in the morning ,the way it was in the hospital.
Not so! At midnight she woke up crying. At 2 o’clock again, at 4 again. I was told to nurse her only at four hours interval. Let her cry awhile and she will stop. Not so! She cried and cried. Didn’t know what to do. This went on many nights and my Mon tried to help. She told me to give her chamomile tea in a bottle, burp her, rock her. My Dad was upset because he was trying to sleep in the room next to us. We walked with her in the stroller around the yard. That helped sometimes.
Went to the doctor thinking there was something wrong with her. The doctor said that she seemed fine and maybe she has colic. We noticed that in the car she would stop crying so many nights we just drove around with her to calm her down. I read that maybe a pacifier would help but my Mom was against it, saying that it is not good for the child and she never gave me one.
We tried everything why not try a pacifier? We gave one to her and as soon as we gave it to her she stopped crying. I wish we would have done that sooner.
As time went by I became more relaxed and more confident about my abilities as a mother.
I got to know my baby’s habits and I kept Dr. Spock’s book at hand all the time. Every time I was unsure of something I would read it and find comfort and answers in it. Phrases like: ” you know more than you think you do” or ” Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”, or Don’t worry about trying to do a perfect job. There is no perfect job. There is no one way of raising your children.” or “Trust your child he/she knows what he/she needs.” or “Routines are nice but babies don’t need strict regimen.” My favourite was :””parents are people too”. And :
“Every time you pick your baby up–even if you do it a little awkwardly at first — every time you change her, bathe her, feed her, smile at her, she’s getting the feeling that she belongs to you and that you belong to her. Nobody else in the world, no matter how skillful, can give that to her.”
I strayed on maternity leave for one year and it was a period of getting to know my baby.
I enjoyed discovering every new movement my baby made. I enjoyed just sitting and holding her on my lap and watching her little hands move and the faces she made. Nursing her and watching her fall asleep was our quiet time. It was a period of learning for both of us.
For her, was to learn how to sit up, stand up, take her first steps, say her first word, which was “Tata”, learn how to eat solid food and learn to use the potty among other things.
For me, to learn how to put her needs before mine , to be patient and calm in desperate situations and how to become a parent.