Margaret Sanger, "Mother Care in Russia," 1934.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of CongressLibrary of Congress Microfilm 20:738 ."
So much has been heard outside Russia of the Soviet Government’s policies on birth control and abortion, that it comes as a surprise to find that at the Institute for the Protection of Mothers and Children in Moscow in Moscow itself, birth control and abortion are regarded as settled questions. There is far more interest in other efforts to diminish infant mortality, still almost three times greater than in England, in a pure and plentiful milk supply, in the new developments continually being made to provide skilled care for the pre-school child and to educate expectant and nursing mothers in the latest scientific care of themselves and their infants. The whole work for maternity in Russia is a natural outcome of the Communist doctrines as expounded by Lenin. Women being, as one Communist expressed it to me, “the oppressed of the oppressed,” measures were taken to make her free--free to work and to take her place in the community as a free citizen. Hence easy marriage, easy divorce, all occupations open to her, even in the Red Army, equal pay, birth control, right to abortion, institutes, nurseries, hospitals, schools for babies and children to set her free to work and to play. Children too must be free, hence no illegitimate children, education free from the day nursery to the University, with maintenance allowances in nearly all cases, parents not allowed to give their children corporal punishment; the aim, as an intelligent girl of fourteen told me, is to encourage “self-conscious discipline” and to place the “discipline of the school in the hands of the scholars.” Punishment is replaced by the idea of re-education, and a naughty or tiresome child is said to need the attention of a pedagogue.
Maternity work is entirely free from religious interferences, hence there is no opposition to the scientific treatment of all problems. As the only serious opposition to birth control comes from the Roman Catholic Church, the Soviet authorities need waste neither time nor energy in trying to placate or circumvent those enemies of woman’s emancipation.
Scientific knowledge has the last word. Everywhere there is enthusiasm for education, for research, for the accurate knowledge on which action is to be based. When I discussed with one of our guides the lavish service for the children in comparison with the very real hardships being endured by the people in food, housing, bad roads and other ways, she replied: “We want to have a healthy population, and it is only be looking after the children well that we can get a good population.”
A “good population” being the aim of the Government, careful provision is made for the expectant and nursing mother. As soon as a woman thinks she is pregnant she is urged to visit her clinic to receive advice and help suitable to her condition. She is given two months from work before the birth of the child and two months afterwards on full pay. She receives a ticket which entitles her to a seat in tramcar or ‘bus, and also to go to the head of a queue, instead of waiting her turn. Propaganda is unceasing on good motherhood, as on many other activities. a poster for Expectant Mothers is freely displayed in clinics, factories and clubs. Among the point enumerated are: Visit ante-natal clinic every month. Keep your body scrupulously clean. Eat for the most part vegetable food, keep your digestion healthy. Have your teeth attended to Coitus must cease (1) during early pregnancy (2) on days when menstruation would have occurred (3) eight weeks before birth. Normal work is harmless for the pregnant woman and her future child
Museums for mothers and children showing in an attractive way the importance of proper care during pregnancy, of the evil effects of alcohol and venereal diseases, talks in factories, workshops and at the Houses of Culture, all drive home the value of child life and good motherhood to the nation. The centre of the work in the cities is at the Institute for the Protection of Mothers and Children. In Moscow this includes many departments, such as clinics for ante-natal work, for birth control, for child welfare, a hospital for young children, the Museum for Mother and Child, and research laboratories.
As preparation for adult life, the importance of sex education is recognised and definite instruction is given in the schools to all children from 12 to 16 years of age. Practical applications of the teaching are provided by visits to farms where animals are bred, and the importance of good breeding is emphasized from examples on the farms. The age of marriage is 18 for men and women, and in an adjoining room to the marriage bureau are posters warning the newly-married against the dangers of alcohol and against venereal diseases. The best ways of avoiding tuberculosis, of the necessity of fresh air, sunshine and cleanliness of pure food and the dangers from flies are clearly and forcibly pointed out. Addresses where birth control information can be obtained and the clinics where expectant and nursing mother should go are given.
The most recent development of the work for maternity is the establishment of clinics at the big railway-stations in Moscow. There is an immense deal of travelling in Russia, especially to Moscow, and peasants bringing their children with them can now have them cared for at the clinic, instead of dragging them about the city The writer visited a railway clinic. The children were received in a room above the station by a woman doctor, assisted by a nurse. The doctor examined the children, and those free from any infection were taken to one of three nurseries graded according to age--babies, toddlers and older children. For the older children, those over 7 years of age, a teacher was provided as well as a nurse. A child with any infection was placed in a small isolation room, and, if necessary, transferred to a children’s hospital. The parents may call for the child in a few hours’ time, or it may be a few days. Moscow is so overcrowded that it would be almost impossible for anyone with children to find sleeping accommodation, and the railway station clinics are not only an immense help to parents, but prevent much suffering among children.
are not regarded as something extraneous to the work of maternal health, but as a normal part of these health services. The birth control methods are similar to the methods used in clinics in England and America. Contraceptives are being manufactured for export, and instruction for their use are issued in English, French and German. Experiments are being made with a new contraceptive paste prepared by the culture of the Bacillus Bulgaricus in milk. This is apparently giving very good results, and the women are pleased with it, but it has not been long enough in use for any statistics of value to be collected. The failures in the chief Moscow clinic have been reduced to 3 per cent., but as failures can be met with abortions, they have not the tragic significance they have with us. Abortions, carried out only after inquiry into each individual case, are usually performed at special hospitals. Dr. Haden Guest, in his visit to Russia, made a full investigation of the abortion hospitals and published his results in “The Lancet” of December 5th 1931.
This thorough work for mothers and children, carried out apparently regardless of expense, is the more remarkable when contrasted with the very real hardships endured by the general population in order to make the five year plan successful, is of interest to women in all parts of the world. No woman in Russia need bear an unwanted child and any women who desires to bear a child will find the child as welcome in the society as any other child. Both parents contribute to the support of the child. Maternity is recognised as a social service and mothers are accorded recognition, encouragement and help such as is not given in countries where motherhood is regarded as being mainly the private concern of the individual mother. In many countries governments interfere to prevent birth control information, to forbid abortion, to label innocent babes as “legitimate” and “illegitimate,” to prevent cruelty in its grosser forms, and to provide education, but no country except Soviet Russia has as yet attempted to assume real responsibility for the continuance of its own existence as a society. The best test to apply to any system of mother-care is to examine its results on the welfare, character and happiness of the human beings. Time and experience alone can show what these results will be. Feminists, birth controllers, eugenists and humanitarians should study Soviet Russia’s plans of mother-care as the most important experiment now being made in the sphere of maternity and child welfare.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project