About my life in Armenia, about being a mom and an activist, working for women's rights.
The challenges and benefits of raising a family in a post-soviet republic.
Finding a place, my place and calling it HOME.


The “boks” or the hospital of angry nurses

Right after the birth and especially when it is a c-section, you need to spend some time in the intensive care unit that here, we call the “boks” in Russian, for me it sounded like the “box” and looked really like one. 
During my first birthing experience in Armenia at the Erebuni Hospital in 2005, that “boks” was awful. It was a big room with 10-12 beds. Instead of curtains, the windows were painted in brown so the sun doesn’t bother the patients. There was an old soviet era refrigerator in one corner which was making a horrific trembling sound every 5 minutes or so while water was dripping constantly from the faucet beside the door where I had to spend 10 long dreadful hours. When you just had surgery all these noises sound even worse.  To all this, add the moans of women in pain and their pleas for help, morphine, or something to drink. However, I was trying to concentrate on the idea of meeting my baby and trying to forget all the pain in and around me

I remember how, at some point, one of the nurses came and asked if she could take one of my pads to give it to the woman sleeping near me, since she didn’t bring any and her relatives were late and she had heavy vaginal bleedings. While I gave her a couple of pads from my bag, I was wondering how come such a big hospital couldn’t even provide a pad to a woman who just had surgery. In Armenia, you need to bring everything with you to the hospital (pads, diapers, bandages, IV system, medications, needles, food, water…) really everything. If you are missing something, you need to have someone with you to run to the nearest pharmacy and bring what the doctor or nurses need to keep you safe during your stay there.
I remember seeing all these older women, probably mothers or in-laws, at the entrance, with big bags of food that they would hand in to the nurse, to feed the mothers in recovery. 

So the “Boks” this time, with my 4th child, was less painful. I guess things have changed since 2005, at least in some hospitals. This time the windows were not painted and the sun was coming in, giving hope. The beds were new and comfortable. There were actually real medical recognizable equipments to monitor the patients. The room was smaller; the nurse was sitting near my bed and watching me constantly and dozing off from time to time, since it was very early in the morning. The place was filled with women who just went through c-sections or other gynecological surgeries or pregnant women who were at risk of complications.

The women were talking to each other; almost all of them had their cell phones and chatting with relatives or playing games. I had mine too; Raffi had slipped it under my pillow, in case I needed something. But I had no energy to grab it and was in such pain that I couldn’t even tweet or update my Facebook status, as I wanted to do it in the beginning.

The area was well renovated and looked almost like a western style facility if it weren’t for the attitudes of the nurses who reminded me each minute that I was really giving birth in south Caucasus.

Most of these nurses, either didn’t like their jobs or the conditions were so awful that they were taking out their frustration on their patients.  Some were trying to ignore the calls for help by looking busy or doing more urgent things and delaying response, others would just shout at them, insisting that their pain was exaggerated, very few were trying to comfort them with a smile or friendly words.

In the “boks” I learned how much courage it takes to give birth in this country. I also learned that you needed to depend on yourself and not comfortably surrender to the aid around you as we are so much used to do in the west.  The hardest thing was witnessing how often women were belittled while giving birth.

Although my doctor was amazing and his approach so human, I couldn’t help myself looking at the other ugly parts that the whole experience gave me the opportunity to see. It is funny how people become used to mistreatment and inhumane attitudes. When I asked some women around me “how do you accept such treatment, specially when you’re in such a vulnerable situation”, they usually tell me “well, this is how it is here, we are used to it, you need to pay or give gifts to have a better service. Doctors are good, but nurses are paid very little so it happens…”

After approximately 5 hours, I was finally in my room on the 4th floor with my baby. The “boks” was a thing of the past, but the nurses were still there, everywhere, still shouting on patients or visitors, treating them like kids, with little respect. Some of them had silent angry looks,- I don’t know if I preferred those kinds to the loud ones. The first night I tried to sleep a little but the TV was on at the head nurses table just outside my room. Four or 5 nurses were gathered around it watching some of those cheap soap operas “serials” and the volume was so high that Raffi opened the door and asked them to lower it. The next days, I felt much better because I relied less on the help of the hospital staff. My doctor called me several times to make sure that I was feeling ok. He took good care of me. I had no medical problems at all and was recuperating well. At this stage, all the other not so good things seemed less traumatizing because he was there for us and very attentive to our needs.

I left the hospital safely with the memory of angry nurses who you needed to bribe in order to make them smile or make them hear your pain.


  1. Oh God...I felt like I re-lived the entire experience again when I read this blog. I recall having seen a young women in serious contraction pains, moaning and yelling for help, all alone, and one of the nurses yelling at her telling her to be quiet and that it was 'amot' for her to be yelling like that. It was such a painful and sad sight.

  2. Lara Jan, recently Dav had his gallbladder removed, and let me tell you, we were wishing we were in hayasdan, so we could atleast give the nurse 1000 drams and get a fake smile. There is not much difference here. The only thing we could do is complain to the head nurse, which didn't seem to matter. I guess the days of caring genuine nurses are over here as well.

  3. I hate to say it, but mean, angry nurses are everywhere and I don't know why. For over a decade I have volunteered in nursing homes, in the United States, in well-to-do areas, both for-profit, and church affiliated "not-for-profit". It pains me to say it, but kind, compassionate nurses are the rare exception, rather than the rule. When it comes to dealing with residents that require attention, most nurses and aides treat residents with (at best) annoyance and dislike, even hatred. Many residents live out the end of their lives under the sneering, hostile, snarling even hateful glares of the nurses in the aides. They are neglected, swatted, pinched. This is very, very common. They are treated like naughty, stupid children. The nurses and the aides act like they hate the residents. It's is so painful to watch. It's rampant.

  4. Lara jan, I've been following your blog and Twitter feed for years. Now I am pregnant with my second child, and I am a little worried about giving birth in Armenia because of stories I've heard from other Americans and Europeans -- as you know, most Western expats go to their home countries to have their babies, but I'm not sure if that will be an option for me unless there is some serious medical reason. But as you have mentioned, if I trust this place enough to choose to stay with my family for so long, I should trust that I can have a healthy delivery here, and I'm sure it will be an experience I'll never forget! (Please share any other tips or resources you have!)