“So you’re single and pregnant? That’s rather daring”. People were perplexed, and I wanted to buy five potatoes

The maternity benefit will not protect you from humiliation, but it will save you from poverty
Taisia Popova | 21 February 2021
“So you’re single and pregnant? That’s rather daring”. People were perplexed, and I wanted to buy five potatoes
Photo: Shutterstock

You are expecting a baby you long for. However, your relationship with the father broke off, and you do not have parents. You find working harder with each day due to toxicosis. All your money goes to treatment and paying off the mortgage, so you have nothing to eat sometimes. Taisiya Popova talks about being a single pregnant woman, about poverty, humiliation, and a legislative draft that can change a lot.

The main news of February is the legislative draft on the monthly payment of 20 thousand rubles for a year and a half to pregnant women. The State Duma will review it this spring.

We discussed it with my friend.

Imagine what will happen, – said my friend (she has three children and she’s a single mother). – They will say: “Well, the government will pay you for your belly anyway. Now we can safely fire you”.

Yes, – I agreed, – this is a reason that people will bully for. And the doctor in the women’s clinic will say, “Well, even though you are a fool that you got pregnant, but still, you will pull through, and then you can take your child to the nursery”.

Did they tell you that? – my friend asked me sympathetically.

No, – I said.

There were no payments and maternity funds for the first-born child before. I was advised to hand the baby over to orphanage due to my situation.

And I was advised to immediately give my youngest up for adoption, – she stretched wearily. – I even thought about it. Seriously. During the period when he was born, there were no payments: some were canceled in 2017, others were established only in 2018…

The draft makes me happy. This means that single pregnant women have a chance. A chance to save the child’s life under the conditions when the mother is likely to face poverty. Women must somehow refrain from abortions in our unstable world.

It is hard to think about it. With such a draft, we confirm out loud that pregnancy is only a matter of women, and if the government does not handle the issue of benefits, then most women will not be able to afford to be pregnant. Moreover, this is an additional reason for people to bully: “Well, it is good for you, you will even be paid for your belly”. It can also be a reason for dismissal (it is no secret that people most often try to press pregnant employees and make them leave their workplace by any means possible), – “the government pays her anyway”.

I hugged my belly and whispered, “Stay with me!”

I have never felt more helpless than when I was expecting my only child. There were no greater humiliations than during pregnancy, either. And more poverty and terror.

My daughter was the most desirable and expected child imaginable. I still remember my bitter tears over negative tests, the dull despair from thoughts “everyone gave birth, and I have not”, the inability to see multi-child families in the church (they have eight, and I have none!). And I remember how I finally sat with a test in my hand, looked at myself in the mirror, and thought, “Is it really happening? Am I going to be a mother, will I be given a child?”

This happiness even made me afraid to speak for a few days, and I did not understand how everyone around me could go somewhere so calmly and work as if the greatest miracle on Earth had not happened: I would be the mother of a child who would be born in April. I had to wait for so long!

I turned 23, my career was on the rise, I had a mortgage for my room in a communal apartment building (yes, when a girl does not have a family with parents behind her, you have to start with such housing). I also had a lot of strength and incredible joy. I did not doubt that everything would be easy. Well, maybe when the baby is born, I will have to endure sleepless nights, but after all, everyone goes through them, so I will not break down either.

Of course, you can say that a woman should think about everything since she decided to give birth, she needs to plan everything. But you know, you cannot know what a pregnancy is going to be like until it happens to you.

No one expects pathological toxicosis, pain in the parted pelvic bones, fainting, convulsions, muscle spasms, and other concomitant conditions at the age of 23. When all this starts happening, you lose the opportunity to work normally.

You may have a perfect weight, excellent test results, a category in gymnastics or athletics, but your body will suffer greatly from carrying a child, and no doctor would be able to relieve you from that.

I could lose my child in the first month of pregnancy: I had health problems. I told everyone at work that I was expecting a baby and they should be careful with me, but this did not mean that everyone around me would take over my responsibilities. According to my gynecologist, there was nothing to save at that time either, because “it happens to everyone”.

So I just cried out of terror in the bathroom during breaks, hugged my lower belly, and said, “Stay with me! Please stay with me! You will see how great it is here. I will think of something. Just come, just stay with me!”

She chose a spineless man and decided to give birth”

A few weeks later, the local gynecologist confirmed the pregnancy and asked me when I would get married, “You will register the marriage now, won’t you?”

I politely said that there would be no marriage because of some circumstances. These circumstances developed very quickly, you know. Human relationships are terribly fragile. Even when two adults really want to be parents, they come up with names, and argue about whose eyes and hair the first daughter would have, and whose traits the second one would have. Then everything changes.

But I still needed to register for prenatal care.

Are you serious? Well, you are brave! – the wise doctor said. – You have to know how to handle a man! Here, for example, my husband gives me his entire salary. And then I give him some money once a week.

That is sweet, – I said even more politely and realized that I would have to put up with a lot of things in the women’s clinic for the next 40 weeks.

This was really just the beginning.

At each appointment, I had to indicate that I was not married and was a single pregnant woman in each form. Each new health worker felt it was their duty to inform me that this was only my decision and I could change it.

I had pathological toxicosis from the second to the eighth month of pregnancy, and because of it, I was admitted to day-stay hospital and connected to IVs. Beautiful women with wedding rings there looked away from me if I mentioned that I was not married.

Most of all, I remember the moment when I mentioned in the ward that I constantly wanted something salty, “I would like to eat red caviar at least once”.

Well, why don’t you try it? It is okay with the diet, – one lady was surprised.

It is expensive, – I said, a little surprised. – It is better to buy ten kilos of potatoes with this money.

She averted her eyes and grimaced as if I sweared. She never greeted me again, even though we spent, at least, a week on adjacent beds in the day-stay hospital.

The proud and beautiful phrase that pregnancy is not a disease was not true in my case, unfortunately. I was very sick. So sick that I could not work. I threw up 5 times an hour every day from 4 am till 4 pm. My colleagues felt very sorry for me, especially the young ones.

Did you get food poisoning? – a trainee, about 19 years old, asked me at the moment of another bout. – Should you see a doctor, maybe?

No, – I said, taking my head out of the trash can that had been set up for me outside of my office. – I am just expecting a baby, you see, it is hard for me.

A baby?! – the guy asked, terrified. – Does your significant other know?

I don’t have one, – I said like a woman who has lived and seen life.

The guy backed away from me in horror, barely blinking.

You are… too brave, – he said. – How will you manage by yourself?

I will be fine, as always! – I snapped. – I have a job, as you can see!

However, my job quickly turned into a series of sick leaves, payments from which covered the mortgage payment, and it left me about 2-3 thousand rubles to live on for the rest of the month.

Most of this money was spent on medicines. For the IVs for toxicosis in the women’s clinic were not for free at all under the Compulsory Health Insurance. The vitamins were not free as well. And I wanted to eat terribly and in huge amounts, and I needed clothes for pregnant women, but it was impossible to go to work with toxicosis happening five times an hour.

Other colleagues were even more blunt in their expressions.

So, has your man left you yet? It is your own fault.

— The man has needs you know, and here you are with toxicosis, of course, he is not interested.

Why didn’t you do anything with him until you were 12 weeks along?

You chose some spineless man and decided to give birth. My man immediately proposed to me as soon as he learned about the pregnancy. It was he who persuaded me to have the baby.

What if you get fired because of your sick leaves?

You will receive only 15 thousand rubles of benefits, you will kick the bucket. You will be lucky if you can make it to the nursery.

I more or less ignored all these humiliations, because I had exactly two tasks: to work and earn money while I could, and to preserve the tiny life inside me. When my stomach felt hard and started to hurt, I hugged my belly and muttered:

Don’t listen to anyone, they are nobody to you. They are strangers. Mom’s here, I can handle it. Please come. I have always pulled through. It’s great here, you’ll see.

I went down to the store to look at the potatoes

The most agonizing two weeks were at the end of December, when I had to wait for the New Year’s advance payment, which was given on the 31st. I was on another sick leave, I threw up all day long, and I had only a jar of milk formula for pregnant women given by the women’s clinic and a pack of buckwheat left. That was it. I spent all the money on the mortgage payment.

I had to divide the buckwheat into portions, with one portion for a day. I remember how difficult it was to bear till 4 pm every day, because if I ate the porridge before that time, I would feel sick, and I had nothing else to eat.

In those two weeks, I went down to the store on the first floor of the house to look at the potatoes, which were getting more expensive every day by a ruble (this terrified me) and dreamt about buying five potatoes for the New Year’s Eve with my advance payment. Maybe, even ten. If I would have enough money. There should be enough as the New Year’s Eve is the time of miracles.

I had no Internet or money on my phone that winter. In addition, I somehow forgot that there can still be merciful people in the world due to constant humiliation at work, in the women’s clinic, and in conversations with the few friends that the single pregnant woman had left.

In general, when you focus on the thought that your body is the home for a tiny person, whom you have failed so much that you cannot even feed her in your belly, then you don’t have the strength to look around, talk, and ask for help.

No one spoke to me in the church either. When I came to a service, I was given a chair with the words, “Sit down, you will feel sick anyways”.

One time, during the Great Lent, a priest asked me if I had any money and gave me 200 rubles. I did not really have any money that day, I even walked there because I did not have any money that I could put on my transport card, but the sight of the sum I was given made me want to go on a rampant spree, and I bought myself a cone of ice cream. I still remember standing there, looking at the raindrops falling from the roof, and thinking that I could walk all the way home, but I could allow myself to buy an ice cream. I had a blessing not to fast too.

Later I finally gave birth to my daughter, dragging my feet to the maternity hospital at night while having contractions (it was already the time of the holidays in May, there was no one to see me off, because they already raise bridges at this time of the year, you know). In the waiting room, the nurse said angrily:

How come, can’t your mother even come to pick up your jacket? I heard people saying all sorts of things here! She lives alone, yeah right! Impossible! A woman has to have someone!

When I had my postpartum stitches washed out the day after my daughter was born, another nurse held my medical card and spoke loudly, so you could hear her in the entire ward:

Taisia, stop yelling here. Better tell me how are you going to raise your child alone?

May mothers not be so afraid

Of course, I would not wish anyone to be pregnant and have a mortgage, to live without a single relative, and with potatoes getting more expensive every day. I don’t like thinking about or talking about it really. And I always tell my daughter only that I was expecting her a lot, loved her in advance, and cried with happiness when I finally took her in my arms for the first time, that she had been sitting in my tummy for a long, long time and I could not wait till I finally meet her.

Growing a new person inside you is a big and complex work of the body and psyche. Maybe someone will be lucky, and they would be able to skate and write novels while pregnant. Or maybe they will have to spend half of the term on IVs at bed rest, with a strict ban on getting up. And no one can predict how it will happen for them beforehand, unfortunately. Everything is in the hands of God.

But He helps us through other people, that is the thing.

It is strange and wild to demand a woman to flutter like a bird, work as before, quickly finish her diploma for another higher education at the same time, and finish the projects before her water breaks. The main task of the future mother is to preserve this God-given life so that her own life also continues.

In the first trimester of pregnancy, when after paying for the mortgage I did not have any money left to buy potatoes or pay for a metro ride, and my Orthodox friends deleted me from their pages on social networks one by one (apparently, it was indecent for them to have such an improper friend like me), I lay on the bed between bouts of toxicosis with my nose down and reread “The Master and Margarita”. And I thought that every woman is at risk of becoming Frida…

A pregnant woman always needs support, and the best support for an adult is money. And I am infinitely happy to think that the government has finally decided to accept this officially.

If then, in 2013-2014, there were benefits for pregnant women, I probably would not have had severe iron deficiency anemia before delivery and many other health problems that pregnancy brought with it.

May this draft be passed. May mothers not be so afraid. So that not a single pregnant woman in Russia would go to the store to look at the potatoes and dream of buying as many as 10 pieces by the New Year’s Eve.

Translated by Julia Frolova

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