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Postcard from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk,Russia

Jackie Dornic
From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010, pp. 16-17

I live with my husband, Steven, my six-year-old son, Stephen, and my 17-month-daughter, Elizabeth, in an expatriate community located just outside the city limits of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia. The city is located on the southern part of the island of Sakhalin, which is just north of Japan. Our camp has a total of 37 duplexes that house 74 families. The community is on a hill, from the top of which you can see the mountains -- especially beautiful in winter time. We have a small store on site that carries a good variety of food and toiletries. We also have a community center that has a sports hall and a restaurant that will open soon, we hope. Our camp is secure with a fence around the perimeter and a security stop at the front gate, though that did not stop a black bear from entering our camp last summer! In our three years here, we have seen an increase in the expatriate population. The citizens mainly speak Russian, but there are more and more English speakers, who can be a big help with shopping. As you can see from the photo, we enjoy a lot of snow during the winter months. We usually get around four meters, and last year it even snowed in May! The temperatures in the winter range from -25°C to +4°C.

My first child, Stephen, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His birth was a typical "American style" birth, with an obstetrician helping with the delivery. After three epidurals, eight hours of labor, forceps, and a large episiotomy my beautiful son was born. He latched on immediately, but shallowly, which led to cracked and bleeding nipples. With the help of the lactation consultant at the hospital, a book called The Nursing Mother's Companion, and my neighbor, I was able to get my baby latched on properly and my nipples healed. As happens for many moms, at about six weeks everything came together -- my body was almost healed, breastfeeding was going well, and I could not have loved Stephen more than I did. When Stephen was four months old we relocated to Houston, Texas. I called La Leche League to see if I could get recommendations for a pediatrician who was supportive of breastfeeding. That is when I met LLL Leader Anne Hutton. She said that she could not recommend a doctor, but that I could ask the moms at the next meeting. Anne was lovely and starting to attend LLL meetings was great. I had felt isolated in New Orleans, except for the friendship of my dear neighbor who breastfed her two children, and here I had finally found my "tribe."

We attended the infant LLL meetings and, when Stephen became a toddler, we also attended monthly toddler Group meetings. We joined like-minded moms for playgroups, trips to the zoo, and to the children's museum. LLL moms recommended a local organic co-op to join and we started to enjoy fresh local organic vegetables. As Stephen got older, I started cooking more and even baking my own bread. Our horizons really broadended! Stephen was still comfort nursing during the day and to go to sleep when we found out I was pregnant again. We were thrilled and Stephen weaned gently before his fourth birthday. Elizabeth Anne was born at dusk, in Houston, Texas with my most amazing midwife and husband at my side after eight hours of labor with pitocin, no epidural, no episiotomy, and no forceps. On leaving the hospital Elizabeth had elevated bilirubin levels. (When blood levels of bilirubin become too high, the bilirubin begins to dissolve in the body tissues, producing the characteristic yellow eyes and skin of jaundice.) The pediatrician required Elizabeth be wrapped in a "bili-blanket," (a portable phototherapy device for the treatment of neonatal jaundice, in which a blue/white light is placed close to the skin, or touching it, through a special, light-permeable fabric to reduce elevated levels of bilirubin. The blue light generates specific wavelengths that help break down bilirubin into nontoxic water-soluble components that can then be excreted. Using a "bili-blanket" allows the baby to be home with the family rather than having to stay in the neonatal unit under fluorescent lights in a box.)

The pediatrician wanted me to stop breastfeeding and start formula to try to lower the bilirubin levels, but the recommendation I had read in The Breastfeeding Answer Book was to continue to breastfeed to try to lower bilirubin levels. And that is what we did. Nursing Elizabeth around the clock and using the "bili-blanket" got her bilirubin levels back to normal. I thank La Leche League for the information they provide, without which I may well have stopped breastfeeding on the third day of Elizabeth's life. My daughter now enjoys trying all sorts of solid food along with the family, but is still nursing at 17 months. I have learned from my friends here that women in Russia are encouraged to breastfeed right after delivery. Most women here start breastfeeding from birth, continue for a few months, and normally start to wean from six months to a year. Mothers' jobs are protected for a total of three years following the birth. For the first 18 months mothers are given a small subsidy to help towards living expenses -- though not normally enough to live on. After three years mothers have to decide if they are going back to work.

Russian moms carry their babies in front carriers in the summer and use prams with large wheels to maneuver over the snow in the winter to shop about town. My family is very thankful that our Russian friends have welcomed us into their homes in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. I have been able to enjoy living here as a mother a long way from home.


Jaundice In Healthy Newborns. LLLGB No. 2802, 2008.
Mohrbacher, N. and Stock, J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book, third revised edition. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2003; 260–75.
Newborn Jaundice. LLLI, 2005.

Adapted from a story in LLL Asia's Close To The Heart.

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