“Prenatal clinics are now a source of obscurantism”

“Prenatal clinics are now a source of obscurantism”: “Helpful Advice for Strengthening Family Ties” Brochure Handed Out in Prenatal Clinics in Moscow
Yuri Lvov
September 1, 2015

An acquaintance of mine is expecting a baby, and she was issued a so-called exchange card [obmennaya karta] at a prenatal clinic. This, for those of you who do not know, is a brochure containing about twenty pages of various medical tests. But my acquaintance’s exchange card was about twice as long, and this additional content makes it virtually a new work by Vladimir Sorokin. It is simply a monument to the New Middle Age. The ads at the back of the brochures—for diapers and rocking chairs that “imitate the motions of parents”—are one thing. But the text printed alongside them, “Useful Advice for Strengthening Family Ties,” is genuinely obscurantist and insulting.

Sample “exchange card” for pregnant women. Courtesy of 2polisa.ru

“It is best for the woman not to awaken the ‘beast’ in her man: a wife’s ability to be second constitutes her greatest value for the man.” “All men wish to be the heads of their families because it is their God-given destiny.” “The man cannot stand to be supervised by his wife: the head of the family cannot be supervised! Try and supervise the country’s president: will he be able to do much for his country?” argues the text’s author. He or she is not listed, by the way, and although the word “god” is capitalized, what god is meant is not spelled out. So we will assume that a certain denomination has played no role here. The Moscow Health Department Health itself simply converted to some faith, apparently, in connection with layoffs of doctors and cuts in the number of hospital beds.

Andrey Ryabushkin (1861-1904), Merchant Family in the Seventeeth Century, 1896. Oil on canvas. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It would seem that mandatory health insurance policies now come equipped with a divine covering and the rhetoric of the Domostroy. But in the sixteenth century, the man in charge was the tsar, who really could not be supervised, unlike, it would seem, the president in an electoral democracy. By the way, similar advice—e.g., to greet your husband in a clean apron and say nothing while he eats supper—was to be found in a Soviet book of the 1960s entitled Housekeeping [Domovodstvo]. Even back then, however, such advice looked like a stupid atavism: the Soviet regime had long ago destroyed the foundations of patriarchy. But now, half a century laters, we read, of all things, about the male’s divine status in the family. In the twenty-first century, neighborhood prenatal clinics in Moscow are a source of obscurantism. They could have at least thought what it is like for single pregnant women, whom god did not send husbands, to read stuff like this.

In Russia, whatever problem you tackle is serious, but the topic of feminism had always seemed concocted to me. Domestic violence in connection with widespread drunkenness and police inaction is a real problem, but feminism in the sense of the struggle for women’s rights appeared as far-fetched as the recent controversy over the word “chick” on the social networks. Russian women have long enjoyed all the same rights as men: they can be anything from bosses to rail sleeper layers. If anything, society rather suffers from a lack of respect for the work of housewives. But if the health department has hatched a plan to send women back to the kitchen, consider me a feminist.


Yulia Markina, the brochure’s publisher: 

I myself am the mother of three children, and I discovered that the exchange cards at prenatal clinics were obsolete. They were compiled way back in the 1980s. Many tests were not listed in them, and OB/GYNs had to update them manually. Some other mothers and I contacted different departments, but no one responded. So then we offered the doctors to develop new cards, and our designer worked out the bugs.  To recover our expenses somehow we added advertisements. We published 15,000 copies of this card and have been distributing them to prenatal clinics. Women have been grabbing them up, and some places have even run out of them.

In this issue of the exchange card, we decided to publish a psychologist’s advice on a trial basis. This advice is based on normal Christian principles. In fact, many obstetricians, worldly wise adults, have backed up this advice. My own life experience speaks to the fact that these recommendations works.

Marriages based on selfishness quickly disintegrate, so many women have to give birth alone. These tips will make selfish people indignant, of course: “How come I have to restrict myself in some way?” Well, what can you do: everyone is different. However, we are not going to publish such tips again so as not to upset anyone.


The heading on page 31 of the controversial Moscow “exchange card,” a brochure distributed to pregnant women at prenatal clinics, reads, “PRACTICAL TIPS FROM PRESIDENT’S WIVES ON HOW TO IMPROVE FAMILY RELATIONS. It’s a well-known fact that behind every famous man is a woman. Reading the biographies of successful people in various fields, we see confirmation of this. For example: Roosevelt, Lincoln, [and] Churchill. Let’s have a look at several tips that helped these women [sic] make their husbands great.” Image courtesy of Afisha Gorod


Excerpted from Anastasia Karimova, “‘Don’t awaken the beast’: What is happening in prenatal clinics,” Afisha Gorod, September 2, 2015. Both articles translated by the Russian Reader


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