When people think of Russia, they think of the former Soviet Union and the history that Russia has had to endure since World War II (assuming that readers know basic history). Russia has been in the news lately and the US and Russia has had a tumultuous relationship throughout the years since the cold war and there are still power struggles today.
When we think of Russian women, many people associate them with Russian mail order brides who come here to marry some random rich guy in order to get out of poverty. There is a lure that many American have towards Russian women because they are more traditional and family-oriented than many American women.
Americans are much more casual about their personal life in terms of dating and marriage. Russians date in order to find a future husband or wife and tend to take it more seriously. Russians hope to take casual encounters and turn them into marriage.
Now when it comes time to start a family and raise children, Russians take a much different approach compared to Americans. This could mean that some expats who are pregnant in Russia might have some culture shock to adjust to. Read on to find out the 15 different ways how pregnancy in Russia is treated and looked at differently than in the United States.
16 There Has Been A Decline In Population Due To Low Birthrate
There is a demographic crisis that Russia is facing right now and they want to encourage women of child-bearing age to have more babies.
The country is still feeling the hangover effects of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Low population growth is one of their problems due to high mortality rates, low birth rate, higher rates of pregnancy terminations and low levels of immigration.
According to Thought Co, Russia's population peaked in the early 1990s (at the time of the end of the Soviet Union) with about 148 million people in the country. Today, Russia's population is approximately 143 million. The United States Census Bureau estimates that Russia's population will decline from the current 143 million to a mere 111 million by 2050, a loss of more than 30 million people and a decrease of more than 20%.
Russia has given its citizens incentives to have more children. They've called on a measure to spend 500 billion rubles ($8.6 billion) over the next three years including mortgage subsidies and payments to new and growing families (Bloomberg). This will be a new welfare program to combat Russia's plummeting population so that it will create "additional incentives for the birth of the second and third child."
15 Russian Tourism To Give Birth In The US Is A Thing
Just like China, Russia has pregnant female citizens who give birth in the US and then fly home. The purpose for this is that their babies can have US citizenship because they were born on US soil.
A growing number of pregnant Russian women have been traveling to Miami to give birth, with the wealthier ones buying birth tourism packages and those of more modest means putting together DIY packages, according to The Week. All children born in the US are US citizens.
Giving birth in the US, and in Miami in particular is a huge status symbol in Moscow. "The child gets a lifelong right to live and work and collect benefits in the U.S." NBC News says. "And when they turn 21 they can sponsor their parents' application for an American green card."
America has been lobbying his efforts to thwart this trend of birthright citizenship and has been insisting on getting rid of the "chain migration" in Washington (The Week). Many of these wealthy Russian women are renting out expensive condos in Miami. In fact, the Sunny Isles Beach area has been nicknamed "Little Russia". As of right now, birth tourism is perfectly legal as long as they don't lie on their immigration or insurance forms.
14 Natural At-Home Births Are Not Encouraged
A few months ago in March 2018, there were pics that went viral of a Russian woman giving birth in the Red Sea in Egypt. Though she was a tourist on vacation, this did stand in the way of Mother Nature. According to Daily Mail, the mother was a Russian tourist who traveled to the resort town of Dahab, Egypt in order to give birth in the water.
Natural birth has been around since the beginning of time, but new moms now are embracing natural birth with water now more than ever. However, the Russia is not encouraging its women to give birth naturally because of its initiative to lower infant mortality rate and its anxiety about its declining demographic. The government wants its female citizens to give birth in hospitals under medical supervision.
Many new mothers around the world are opting for a home birth. In Russia, this practice is not licensed by the state, nor is it recognized by the medical establishment; any midwife involved could be charged with a criminal offense and the family subjected to visits from the child protection agencies.
(Open Democracy). This is why Russian women are traveling to other countries in order to give birth the natural way if they want to avoid hospitals.
13 Even In Present Day, A Nuclear Family Is Still Common
Russian culture is more traditional and likes to stick to family values. Russia is not a nation that has taken too kindly to "alternative lifestyles" like different orientations and feminism. In their ideologies, these types of lifestyles are a threat to public morality and marriage. In fact, they presented a report in June 2014 titled "Conception of State Family Policy for the Period up to 2025" which addressed low fertility rates, prevalence of divorce, and the weakness of family ties.
The new policy sought to remedy the sociological challenges that Russia faces by describing traditional family values as the state understands them: marriage for the purpose of bearing and raising children on the basis of mutual respect among all family members. (Russia Beyond)
Though Russia has become more progressive like the rest of the world where divorce rate is higher and marriage age on the rise, the culture deep down still seeks to preserve the nuclear family.
According to Russia Beyond, values first began to change in large cities, where young people often marry but remain childless. In Russia's regions, early marriages and child rearing remain popular in small cities with low standards of living.
In any case, Russia is now giving incentives for families to have more children, so the Russian nuclear family is praised.
12 Tradition Is More Important Than Innovation
Russia is a country full of intellectuals and new technology, and it has a great potential to achieve great accomplishments as a nation post-Soviet era. However, there is a culture of intolerance that can impede the development of creativity.
According to the Financial Times, some of the country’s most brilliant entrepreneurs — such as Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte (dubbed Russia’s Facebook) — have been muscled out of their businesses and quit the country — or ended up in jail. Russia’s propaganda laws have been widely condemned abroad. This means that people who identify themselves as different orientations are held under much scrutiny and are very prone to become the victims of crimes.
This is why as an American expat, you need to really think twice before considering bringing up a child in this type of nation. Though Russia has made many improvements throughout the years, they are still very much stuck in the old ways of what a "traditional life" is supposed to entail.
The culture of intolerance reduces the growth of Russia’s creative industries account for a far smaller proportion of the economy than elsewhere, in spite of the country’s riches in talent and technology (Financial Times).
11 Unmarried Women Are Looked Down On
Since the role of Russian women in that society is primarily for giving birth to and raising children, it is assumed that they need a man to provide for them.
Single mothers who have had children out of wedlock are looked at as unable to keep a man's interest. However, women have had increased access to work and study ever since the communist regime sought to empower women and increase gender equality.
Another reason that unmarried women and single mothers are looked down on is because dating practices in Russia are much different than that of the US. According to Cultural Atlas, Russians generally approach dating with the prospect of a long-term relationship in mind. Though we have the "hook up" culture in the United States, dating is generally seen as a gateway to marriage. Therefore, it is much less casual in Russia than it is in other Western cultures.
Most Russians marry in their early 20s, commonly in the first years after they have left university. It is often considered somewhat humiliating to be single for a long time; older unmarried women have particularly low social statuses regardless of their wealth or occupation (Cultural Atlas). Though some unmarried couples might live together, legal marriage is preferred before cohabitation.
10 The New Baby Is Not Taken Out In Public During The First Month
Once the baby is born and is fresh out of the womb, it is pretty isolated and not to be taken out into public until it is at least one month old. According to Prezi, there are a few rituals to be followed in Russian culture when you take a new baby home for the first time. There is a protocol Russian women tend to follow in the 40-day postpartum window and there are restrictions on maternal activity.
Before the baby is born, baby showers and other celebrations before a baby is born are not congruent with the cultural Russian view of pregnancy.
The new baby is not taken out in public during the first month, and visitors to the home are strongly discouraged. In fact, family celebrations for the new infant's birth are usually celebrated 40 days after the baby has come home safely.
During this period of time, baby massage is highly practiced after the first month at home. New Russian mothers are encouraged to have their babies out in the fresh air for several hours every day. Under Russian superstition, no visitors of extended family and friends can be around the baby until 3 months. It seems like babies are given enough space to themselves in Russia.
9 You Don't Tell People You Are Pregnant Until Your Belly Starts Showing
Though it is common sense to just withhold telling people that you are pregnant until you are at least three months along, Russian women sometimes wait even longer than that. In that area of the world, you are not supposed to tell people that you are pregnant until your belly starts to show. However, by that time it will be obvious anyways.
Perhaps this is the Russians just taking special precaution when announcing their pregnancy or it could be linked to another superstition. According to Discover Russia, this mystical superstition is associated with they way to prevent bad spirits from affecting the baby.
Generally speaking, the first semester for any pregnant woman is typically shrouded in secrecy because this is the time where miscarriages are most likely to happen. For many women, it's made harder by an unwritten social rule that says they should keep their news quiet — at least for the first 12 weeks, according to ABC. In most educated countries throughout the world, waiting until the end of the first trimester to announce a pregnancy is considered a social norm.
However, whether or not your belly starts to show by then could vary vastly depending on the individual woman.
8 Pregnant Women Should Not Cut Their Hair
There is a superstition in Russia that says pregnant women who cut their hair during pregnancy are more likely to have a premature birth.
Though most modern Russian women would call this an old wive's tale, many women end up having long, beautiful hair while they are expecting.
According to Britannica, the old wive's tale states that the baby could develop problems with its vision if the mother cuts her hair while she is pregnant. What is also more controversial now is the question of whether or not women should dye their hair while they are pregnant. Though the use of hair dyes has not been definitively linked to birth defects for human beings, experts still advise against it in the first trimester.
Another crazy Russian superstition is that baby girls steal their mother's beauty away. By contrast, if a woman becomes more beautiful throughout her pregnancy, then there is a baby boy in her womb. Perhaps this is just another nod to the preference to have a boy over a girl. However, pregnancy can either make your skin glow or give you acne depending on how your hormones treat you and regardless of whether its a boy or a girl.
In any case, superstitions are just that: superstitions.
7 Grandparents Play A Key Role In Raising Children
In Russia, it is not uncommon to see three generations of families living under the same roof. Grandparents play an extremely important role in child rearing because it is strongly believed that they have more wisdom to pass on to their grandchildren more so than their parents can provide. Therefore, they need to be around at least for the majority of their grandchildren's childhood, especially the grandmothers.
"The main difference between Russian grandmothers and grandfathers, and those in America or Europe, is in the idea that grandparents must help, sometimes even when they are not asked, and that grandchildren are their responsibility," writes Tanja Maier, author of Motherhood, Russian Style.
Russian grandmothers, or babushkas, commonly take their grandchildren in at their dachas (cottage homes) for the entire summer while their parents work in the city, according to Russian Beyond.
Since Russia is still developing a system for childcare, it is not fully available and most Russians can't afford nannies. Therefore, grandmothers are an integral part of the family, especially for the first few years.
Frequently, a grandmother will care for their grandchildren during the time between the end of parental leave and the beginning of regular school, which can be several years (Live About).
6 Fathers Are Not Expected To Be As Involved In Child Rearing
Russian men are not allowed in the delivery rooms when their wives or baby mamas are in labor. In fact, they can only meet their newborns once the mother and the baby have left the maternity ward. The experience of delivering babies in front of husbands or other family members is not a concept for Russian culture.
Traditionally, Russian culture sees the responsibilities of child rearing to the woman while the man acts as the provider. It is not uncommon to find many stay-at-home moms in Russia while their husband takes on a career and is the breadwinner. This is why there is no paternity leave for Russian men.
Though there is maternity leave for women, fathers cannot take time off of work without sacrificing their salary when they are absent. There are no laws guaranteeing that they would have their jobs back in the event that they did decide to take time off.
Though families with two working parents have become the norm, it is still looked at as the woman's job to take care of children and the housework. In fact, there are very specific cultural norms on what masculinity means in Russia. Men are expected to be more strong-willed and outspoken while women who take on those qualities may make others feel uncomfortable (Cultural Atlas).
According to Russia Beyond, "Russian husbands do not follow their wives' instructions; they themselves choose the level of participation in the child's life."
4 No One Is Allowed In The Hospital For 7 Days After Birth
Russians are very careful when it comes to keeping germs away from newborns. In fact, they are downright strict about it.
Russian women stay in the hospital for at least a week after a birth. During this time, fathers and immediate family members are allowed to see the mother and baby only through a glass window.
Though this sounds harsh, this is the medical precaution to ensure that there is no bacteria around newborns until their immune systems have become accustomed to the outside world.
According to Ask a Russian, the majority of women would rather have their babies in the official medical establishments where they will stay from 5-7 days after giving birth. The level of comfort that hospital is able to provide vastly depends on the standard of the hospital. Private hospitals can accommodate those with means as if they were staying in a hotel. Public hospitals can be crowded and new moms probably cannot wait to get out of there.
Expatica states that mothers usually receive in-depth care from medical staff and sometimes nurses take extra time to provide assistance. Even after the mother returns home, sometimes a pediatric nurse will make several visits to check up on the progress of both the mother and the new baby after being released from the hospital.
3 Pregnant Women Are Offered 3 Years Of Maternity Leave And Will Get Their Job Back
Unlike the United States, Russia is generous when giving women paid maternity leave at work.
They are offered up to 3 years paid maternity leave and it is written in the law that the employer must offer their job back. In the US, new mothers typically get 10 weeks paid maternity leave at their employer's discretion.
The doctor gives the necessary documents and a medical note for 140 days, you transfer it to the financial department and within 10 days you will receive the money for maternity leave, according to Russia Beyond. When 140 days is up, the mother’s bank account will be topped up with a monthly allowance until the child is 1.5 years old. The calculations are based on her salary (Russia Beyond).
On top of that, you get a lump sum for giving birth to your first child for up to 16,000 rubles ($280). After the birth of a second child, you can receive up to 450,000 rubles ($8,000). If you have a third baby, you can get additional benefits such as free public transport and support for housing.
Fortunately if you are an expat, you will receive these same maternity leave benefits only if you have worked more than 183 days out of the calendar year, according to Expatica. However, you don't get those benefits of government grants for having more than one child unless your are a citizen.
2 Even After Having Kids, Russian Women Take Great Pride In Taking Care Of Themselves
There is a stereotype of Russian women being the most beautiful in the world (arguably). There is a reason for this that goes beyond genetics.
Since it is a great value in their culture to "attract and keep" a man, they spend a lot of time on their appearance and taking care of themselves. Having a baby doesn't exempt them from that cultural norm.
In the United States, many women tend to stop caring after they give birth assuming that they have their husband locked down. This is not the case in Russia.
Since single women have low social status in Russia, for Russian girls the external beauty, including pretty makeup, hair, slim body, and fashionable outfit, come before anything else, according to Elena's Models. In this culture, emphasizing your femininity is what is important to show that you are "good wife" material.
Russian men also have a reputation of not being faithful so therefore, it is the woman's job to make herself as attractive as possible in order for him to stay faithful. In their minds, female attractiveness is accessible to any woman, who cares to put time and effort into it (Elena's Models). For Russian women, beauty is their second religion.
1 Appearance Is Carefully Monitored During Pregnancy
In America, many pregnant women use it as being an excuse for mainlining McDonald's and ice cream. It is a time to eat as much as you want and not worry about gaining because you are "eating for two." Much unlike the US, future Russian moms and their doctors carefully watch how many kilograms are put on during pregnancy, according to Russia Beyond.
Being healthy during pregnancy and eating the right foods is important in Russian culture and doctors don't recommend pregnant women to be eating junk food, no matter what their "cravings" tell them.
This would explain why so many Russian women bounce right back into shape after giving birth to a baby. The stereotype of a tall, skinny blonde with perfectly manicured nails pushing a stroller down the street of Moscow is definitely a thing.
Doctors weigh the pregnant women on a regular basis to make sure that the weight they are gaining is from the pregnancy and not from overeating. Overeating during pregnancy is looked at as a danger to the baby and a danger to the expecting mother. A diet of vegetables, fresh fruit, hot cereals, soups, cottage cheese and yogurt is highly recommended for pregnant women in Russia (Russia Beyond).
Source: Bloomberg, Thought Co, Fox News, Open Democracy, Financial Times, The Week, Cultural Atlas, Elena's Models, Live About, Expatica, Britannica , Ask a Russian, To Discover Russia, abc.net, Prezi