Married couple Elvira Dana and Jason Kass live and work in Armenia, a developing country once part of the Soviet Union. When it came time to have children, however, Dana and Kass looked outside of Armenia for care.
They looked to Dana’s native Vermont, specifically Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.
For each of their child’s births – first Gideon three years ago and then Natalie late last month – the family flew back to Vermont.
“When Gideon came along we decided very quickly we needed to be back in the U.S. for the birth,” says Dana, who grew up in Northfield and was one of Gifford’s early Birthing Center patients nearly 35 years ago.
She got her prenatal care – such that it was – in Armenia and e-mailed test results and information to Gifford’s team of certified nurse-midwives. “They were willing to be flexible about some pretty strange pre-natal care,” says Dana, noting some documents sent had been translated from Russian and Armenian.
At 36 weeks of pregnancy (the latest point in a pregnancy that women are recommended to fly and often the latest point an airline will allow a pregnant woman in the air) Dana, with Kass at her side, traveled the 36 hours home. Gifford childbirth education and lactation consultant Nancy Clark provided the couple a crash course in birthing.
Gideon was born the morning after that final birthing class. He arrived two weeks early and just two-and-a-half hours after Dana made it to the hospital.
Hurricane Sandy this year delayed the family’s flight and Dana ended up flying – a bit nervously – at 37 weeks. But Natalie was patient, arriving on Nov. 26, one day after her due date and about an hour and forty-five minutes after the family made it to the hospital.
In both instances, says the couple, the atmosphere, low-intervention birth experience, and friendliness of staff were exactly what the family was seeking.
“Nobody was stressed. It was so calm. It was just us, a midwife and a nurse with no beeping noises. Everyone we interacted with was so kind, including the cleaning and food services staff,” Dana says.
Pediatrician Dr. Lou DiNicola – Dana’s pediatrician growing up – checked on both babies following their births. The children have both gotten their pediatric care at Gifford while they’re in the state. And in fact, they even called Gifford, reaching Dr. DiNicola as the on-call pediatrician, when Gideon spiked a high fever in Armenia and the couple didn’t know what to do, says Kass, 37 and formerly of Randolph Center.
It is the consistency of the care provided at Gifford, says Dana, that gives the couple the confidence to fly in and give birth with a midwife they may never have met or entrust their child’s care with a pediatrician who may not be a familiar face.
Service through the Peace Corps first took Dana to Armenia in 2005. Putting her master’s degree in teaching English as a second language to work, she taught English and trained teachers. She then was hired as Armenia country director of American Councils, a non-profit that administers U.S. State Department and international educational programs, including student exchanges.
Jason joined her in Armenia in 2008, working in the scant Armenia job market and for meager Armenian wages as a head gardener at a renovated public park.
Presently staying with family in Northfield, the couple and their now two children will fly back to Armenia on Feb. 4. Natalie will need a passport before they can go. Bilingual young Gideon is on his second passport, having already filled one in his three years of life.
The family hopes to make Vermont their permanent home one day again soon – at least by the time Gideon will start school.