5 years ago both Ava and I had the experience of a lifetime. I have told this story to some close friends, but thought it a fitting time to share. Chris helped me write this the eve of Ava’s birthday. It was amazing for me to sit in peace after the kids had gone to bed and reflect on this story with him. Thanks for helping me Chris.
Ava first started as a little bean in Puerto Rico. We had a little scare when I woke in the middle of the night with immense pain, which resulted in an ER visit to the hospital. Some time and an injection later, everything was fine. I believe it was that night that my Ava was telling me what kind of girl she would be.
We then spent some time in Utah during the end of summer wondering where this little bean would be born.
Chris had a few contract offers that year. He was excited about an opportunity he got with a team in Ukraine and I voiced my concern, but hesitantly agreed to go and try to be positive, a tough thing for a pregnant woman who worries.
Four months into my pregnancy, we arrived in Donetsk, Ukraine and immediatley Chris’s translator, Konstantine, had the fun job of finding any doctor who could speak English. The first doctor was located in a somewhat decent looking hospital so I was optimistic. However, when we walked into the doctor’s office he quickly took one last long puff and threw his cigarette out the window. I tried to hold my breathe through the smoky office and without feeling guilty told Konstantine that this doctor would not do.
On to the next. This time we pulled up to a hospital that looked straight out of a black and white movie from the 30’s. I was shaking my head but still trying to be positive. There were women patients walking around both inside and outside the hospital in their bathrobes and slippers. This hospital did not have any working heater, so it felt 25 degrees inside. The hallways were cold and as we were sitting and waiting to see the doctor I noticed a spider web in the corner and then a cat ran down the hallway meowing. Ummmmmm, NEXT!
The following hospital was slightly better than the last two so I told Konstantine “OK.” The female doctor sort of spoke English, so she arranged some blood work for me as well as an ultrasound. The blood work was done at the hospital. Konstantine and I were directed to a line where we waited at least twenty-five minutes and did paperwork, and then we walked through another freezing cold hallway, where we sat in a line of at least twenty people for forty-five minutes. Finally they called my name and Konstantine ushered me forward. Having had my blood drawn numerous of times, I sat down thinking I knew what was coming, but instead I went through the most interesting unexpected fifteen minutes. The nurse wrote “Lesa Burgess” on four pieces of yellow tape. She then wrapped the tape around four open glass vials and then inserted these vials into a holder to keep them upright. She then proceeded to stick my vein with a syringe and sucked the blood out of my arm, like you would medicine out of a bottle. Then, she pushed the blood out into one of the vials, then stuck me again. This continued until all four vials were adequately full. Then I was dismissed. Perfect. All I could do was laugh. I wish I would have had an iPhone back then so I could snap a picture and post it to Instagram. I was then informed that my ultrasound would be in a couple days.
The ultrasound was a bit better, how bad can it be… cold gooey gel on the belly, a little wand, a screen, and boom, I’m done. Might have not been the best one ever, but good enough.
My next appointment with the lady doctor was fine. We spent twenty minutes talking and having no idea what either of us was saying to one another. I was given a tour of the post-delivery room I would stay in after I had the baby to make sure it would suffice. I wasn’t expecting much at this point so it seemed okay. A tiny room with a small flat bed about five inches off the floor, a chair, and a window. Good enough I guess, but still, something just didn’t feel right.
At this point Chris and I had discussed the situation and I was contemplating going back to Utah. I was now six and a half months along and time was ticking. I prayed so hard to know what I should do. Chris and I had promised each other from the very beginning of his career to stay together if we could. When I prayed, I didn’t feel good about going back home to Utah, yet I didn’t feel good about being in Ukraine either. At this point, I was completely confused.
Meanwhile Chris was having some issues with his Ukrainian team. A couple weeks later, Chris and his agent negotiated a deal to be released from his contract and within forty-eight hours had signed a new deal with a team in Eregli, Turkey. When the deal in Turkey was negotiated, the team wanted Chris to play in their next game, which was in twenty-four hours, so the team had purchased tickets for Chris and our family to fly out in three hours. Chris told me this over the phone and I immediately started throwing everything in bags. To get an idea of what I had to do to prepare for our move from Ukraine to Turkey, I had to pack seven 50lb suitcases, a carry-on, a diaper bag, stroller, and a car seat. Not to mention, I had to get our two little girls Kelli Jo and Zoey ready as well as Jango, our fifty-five pound weimaraner dog in her kennel, along with her paperwork to travel. With the clock ticking for our departure, I did all of this in forty-five minutes. Amazingly, the only hick-up we had was Jango’s travel paperwork not being completely done, but nothing four hundred Ukrainian Hyrvna couldn’t take care of. It pays sometimes to fly your dog, whose paperwork isn’t complete, out of a corrupt country. We had lived in Turkey the season prior so we felt good about going to a familiar country. A year earlier, I had gone through a miscarriage and had surgery in Istanbul and knew there were good medical facilities there. Was this all an answer to a prayer? I felt it was.
However, instead of living in a big city like Istanbul, we would be living in a small working village on the Black Sea, a city called Eregli, which was in the province of Zonguldak. Erdemir was the name of Chris’s team and they were a steel factory there in Eregli and it was a three and a half hour drive away from Istanbul. At first I thought I could make the drive for my doctor appointments, but it just didn’t end up working out that way. I wasn’t comfortable with my doctor being that far away when I could possibly go into labor when Chris was on a road trip, so I decided to find a doctor nearby.
The greatest part about being in Eregli was that Chris’s old Turkish teammate from a year ago was also on this team as well. I knew his wife Nilufer a little bit and she spoke English! She accompanied me to my first few doctor appointments at the local hospital there until I got the hang of the procedure (more steps than seemed necessary… but that’s how a lot of things are overseas). My doctor would be Dr. Ulker (oo-ker). He spoke English and seemed alright. I was not totally excited about this small city and small hospital and the whole situation, but honestly I finally felt at peace with delivering my baby here so I just went with it.
The best part about being pregnant overseas is that most of the time you get a quick little ultrasound at every appointment so you get to watch your little bean grow. I loved that.
I started into labor one evening while Chris was in town (yay!) but at practice. When I knew it was time to go to the hospital I texted Chris, left my kids with Nilufer, and drove to the hospital, which was only a few minutes away. Dr. Ulker didn’t really believe I was in labor and had a nurse hook me up to see if I was “lying about my close contractions.” Shockingly, I was telling the truth. He had the non-English speaking nurse, hook me up to the monitors and he told me he would be back later. The nurses and I played charades for a while until Nilufer came to join us. Chris showed up after he took the kids to another of his teammates house for a slumber party. Being in a traditionally Muslim city, they did not want Chris in the same room as me. However it was late at night and nobody else was there so Nilufer convinced them to let Chris in the room. He only had to leave when they checked my cervix, which he was fine with.
He did leave at one point when we found out that this hospital did not have any of the newborn necessities for the baby once she was born. Chris went to the house to pick up some clothes, diapers, wipes, etc. He then went to the store to buy some baby formula and bottled water, because I wasn’t going to be breast-feeding.
Finally it was time for Ava to come. I had not been given any pain medication and planned on receiving none for the duration of my time there with Dr. Ulker. I sat on a chair/table/bed that was sort of upright, but quite honestly I’m not really sure what to call it. Whoever made it was thoughtful enough to have bars put on the side of the table for me to hold onto and squeeze while delivering. As I pushed, and I won’t lie, screamed, Chris stood behind me wishing he was Muslim and had the law enforced of the male not being present during delivery. However, like the good Christian he is, he stayed with me the whole time and helped me through the painful delivery.
I will tangent for a moment here to say that Chris’s Turkish teammates thought I was crazy for having a baby here. They thought Chris was crazy for letting me. I think the short conversation he had with his teammates was “Baba, you and your wife are crazy.” But I knew everything would be fine. When I prayed, I felt without a doubt that we would be watched over.
That’s why when Ava finally made her appearance with the cord wrapped around her neck twice and completely blue, I sat there calmly and watched her knowing she would be ok. Dr. Ulker grabbed her two feet together in his hand and swung her up onto the table like you would a rabbit trying to get away. They unwrapped the cord and started rubbing her furiously. She let out a marvelous cry and slowly turned pink. They wrapped her in one of the diapers, that we brought, blankets, that we brought, and the attention quickly flew back to Dr. Ulker when he started stitching me up. He had to cut me during the delivery and he was now stitching me up….. WITHOUT any local anesthetic. I felt every single stitch. I was clenching my jaw and screaming again doing my best not to hold still and not kick him upside the head. He made a fabulously funny joke about me sounding a lot like my daughter but I didn’t laugh. Finally all done with that and his job was finished. He said “goodbye, see you tomorrow.” Ya ok, see ya Dr. Ulker!
Ava was born at 12:15 AM in Eregli, Zonguldak, Turkey. Because of the time difference, it was the afternoon of January 16th back in the USA. Therefore I always count the 16th as Ava’s ‘kind of’ birthday and the 17th as her real birthday. I wonder if Dr. Ulker would agree with this logic.
I was anxious to know how much she weighed so I was persistent in asking them to weigh her. Nilufer finally came in and explained to Chris and I that their baby scale was broken. Chris thinks Dr. Ulker stole it because he just delivered an infidel baby. I asked several times if they had another one but nobody seemed to care, which greatly upset me. They handed me the clothes that I had worn to the hospital and told me to get dressed. I put my clothes on and they handed me Ava and instructed me through Nilufer not to bathe her for at least a week. She was still all gooey from birth and I nodded to them knowing full well a bath was one of the first orders of business when we got home. I was then wheeled to my room.
There in the room, one of the nurses brought in a bathroom scale and had me stand on it. They then handed me Ava and said “üç kilogram”, which translated into English as three kilograms. Or in non-metric using countries, 6 pounds 9 ounces.
Having a game the next day, Chris went home to get some rest and sweet beautiful Nilufer stayed the night with me to help with Ava since the nursery was non-existent. For some reason I hadn’t had Chris bring a bottle and I forget why I didn’t make him bring one back, but for that evening, my little Ava was fed with a dropper. She did great. Bless Nilufer for staying that night with me. I was exhausted. I don’t know who I was mad at more, Chris or Dr. Ulker. Just kidding, I understood Chris had a big game that day and needed a few hours of rest before tip-off.
I woke up a few hours later and was exhausted from both delivery and lack of sleep. Nilufer went home for a short time and Chris returned to be with me. The owner and general manager of Chris’s team came to visit me and brought a small Turkish pin that they pinned on Ava’s blanket. This is a Turkish tradition that they do to ward off evil. They also brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Still waiting for a gift form Dr. Ulker.
Dr. Ulker came back for a quick visit to make sure everything was good. He said, “everything is good? I said “yes.” Then he lectured me for five minutes on my duties of being a mother and how I am not fulfilling them because I was not breastfeeding. I nodded as he lectured me and said “Okay” when he was finished. This was my third baby. I knew at this point what being a good mother was, and I knew I was one.
It was about time to go when Nilufer had come back and was telling Chris that he needed to go with her to pay the hospital bill for Ava’s delivery. The bill needed to be paid in full before we left. Because we didn’t have any insurance, Chris asked Nilufer if they would allow him to spread the payment over a couple credit cards, assuming the bill would be very high. Nilfer said “Yes, I’m sure that’s fine. No Problem.” Chris was given the bill. 614 Turkish Lira, which is roughly $275. Just so we are clear, that’s two hundred and seventy-five dollars. Chris laughed and said “Oh, I’ll just pay cash.”
Just before noon we left the hospital to go home, just shy of twelve hours after I gave birth. There were no wristbands to check. No car seat checks. We just left and went home. Thank goodness we had the only white baby or who knows if we truely are Ava’s parents.
A couple days later Nilufer picked Ava and I up to go get shots at a clinic. Nilufer told me the immunizations they were going to inject Ava with and I gave them the thumbs up to go ahead with them. Now I was told it was my turn, which confused me. What shot did I need? “Tetanus” Nilufer translated. “Just in case everything wasn’t sterile.” Oh, gee, OKAY. Shoot me up and while you’re at it maybe have the hospital sterilize their tools now and then.
I got home later and told Chris the tetanus shot story and he then proceeded to tell me that while I was walking from labor room to delivery room, Dr. Ulker had stepped out to the stairwell for a pre-delivery smoke break. Chris then said “I hope he washed his hands after, but I don’t know if he did. I was too busy shielding your view of him smoking while you walked to the delivery room.” A mini storm started in my head. I thought about all the things that could have gone wrong and what could have happened. I then looked at my sweet baby Ava sleeping away and knew what had happened.
My prayers had been answered and I had been comforted. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that both my baby and I would be watched over and protected from harm, and we were. I knew Eregli, Zonguldak Turkey would be Ava’s birthplace and that it was right for us at that time. I felt that Ava was my little miracle. I know that sounds dramatic. I know there are stories all the time of real extreme miracles, but nonetheless, I felt like Ava was my little Turkish miracle. I think it was partly her strong will and fierceness that got us both through that. Two qualities that continue to shine through in her. I hope next time you bite into a piece of baklava or any other Turkish delights, you will think of my story of Ava and her birthday in Turkey.
We love our little Turkish girl and are blessed every day to have her in our family. Doğum günün kutlu olsun Ava! Happy Birthday Ava!