I smiled, running my hands over my expanding tummy. It was hard to believe I was having a baby, but as my stomach grew I loved the thought of becoming a mum.
At just 17, the pregnancy had come as a massive shock. My relationship with the father wasn't exactly conventional -Nikolay Dyshkant, 39, was twice my age and he had been my boss at my summer job in a cafe.
One day, he bought me chocolates and told me I looked beautiful.
'He really likes you,' my colleague, Olya, said. I laughed it off but then, Nikolay did seem nice and sincere.
He managed a few local cafes and shops, all owned by a lady called Ludmila Zaitsyeva, 32, who we hardly ever saw.
Sometimes, Nikolay would drop me home after my shift.
'I share a flat with my best friend,' he told me. 'I'll show you sometime.'
When I told my mum Tanya, 43, she warned me to be careful, insisting he was probably only after one thing.
'It's fine, Mum,' I told her.
But after Nikolay bought me flowers again for my 17th birthday, we officially became an item. The age difference didn't bother us so we didn't hide our romance at work. Sometimes I'd go to Nikolay's flat and he'd drop me back so I could go home to mum.
Then in October 2011, I was stunned to discover I was pregnant. Nikolay was thrilled.
'I thought I couldn't have a child,' he beamed.
He quickly started planning our future, promising to buy a new apartment so we could move in together. Once Mum got over the initial shock, she was impressed that Nikolay was taking responsibility.
After that, I stopped work to focus on my studies. I didn't see Nikolay as often but he assured me everything was okay.
'I'm working hard to get money for us,' he'd say.
We'd chat several times a week on the phone and go for walks. He was so proud when my bump started to show.
But gradually, Nikolay's visits became less frequent and he'd turn his phone off at night.
Not long after, Olya told me the cafe's owner, Ludmila, was also expecting.
'That's nice,' I nodded, thinking nothing of it.
Although my doubts were growing about Nikolay, he kept assuring me he was busy making our dream come true.
Luckily, Mum was there to support me through all the check-ups. She also held my hand on July 27, 2012, when I went into labour and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Exhausted but excited, I called Nikolay the next day. He came straight to the hospital.
'I'm so happy,' he smiled.
We called our daughter Luba and I hoped her arrival would bring Nikolay and I closer. I hadn't seen the flat he'd bought us but he promised me it was nearly ready.
'Go back to your mum's and we'll be together soon,' he said, proudly signing his name on our baby's birth certificate.
But later, when he dropped Luba and me home, he turned cold again. He didn't come inside and only called twice over the next 10 days. My heart was crushed, knowing my dreams of being with him would probably never happen.
Soon after, Luba was rushed to hospital with an infection, which turned into pneumonia. I was terrified and although I told Nikolay, he never came.
I wasn't allowed to stay at the hospital but I visited Luba every day. On September 13, when she'd finally recovered, I went to pick her up.
'But her Dad's already taken her,' the nurse frowned. Panicked and confused, I called Nikolay immediately.
'Luba is safe with me and my wife,' he told me. 'You'll never see her again.' He hung up and switched off his phone.
My mind spun. What wife? What did he mean? I stood at the hospital, frozen and shaking. I have to get my baby back!
Calling the police, they contacted Nikolay who told them Luba was safe and that I couldn't look after her properly.
'You'll have to sort it out between you,' the officer said.
Disheartened but determined, I went to social services and they checked on Luba.
'The wife is looking after her well,' they told me.
'But they've stolen my baby!' I protested. Luba was my child. Why wasn't anyone listening?
Desperate to get her back, I recruited a lawyer. Nikolay had the same idea. He'd already applied for full custody of Luba, claiming I was an unfit mum.
Shockingly, a social services official had signed papers saying I was an alcoholic and a drug addict who lived in an untidy dump.
It was pure lies! My house was always spotless, I have never touched drugs and I rarely drink.
But one thing emerged that turned out to be true. Nikolay had a long-term partner who he'd married soon after I had Luba. Her name was Ludmila - the owner of the cafe. They'd been together for 12 years and couldn't have children of their own. I was speechless.
Later that year at Pervomaisky District Court, the surprises kept coming. We heard that during my pregnancy Ludmila had stuffed padding under her dress to make it seem like she was expecting too. That's why my colleagues assumed she was pregnant!
But they had no idea Ludmila was with Nikolay. He had fooled me into thinking he was single.
'Luba is so loved,' Nikolay told the court. 'For the baby, Ludmila is now her mother.'
I felt sick. By then, it had been three torturous months since I'd seen my daughter. But the court papers also painted a disturbing picture of who Nikolay really was. He'd served time for a string of crimes, mostly against much younger women.
The lies about me being an alcoholic and drug addict were thrown out of court. The social service official admitted she'd never met me or visited my home. She claimed she was given the information by a policeman, who turned out to be a friend of Nikolay's.
The judge demanded they apologise to the court and ruled there should be no stain on my character. My version of events was completely accepted and Nikolay was ordered to return Luba to my care. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed with relief.
Although Nikolay appealed the decision, the outcome didn't change. I'll raise Luba, who is now 18 months old, on my own. Nikolay doesn't have any rights to see the daughter he tried to steal from me.
Originally published in that’s life! Issue 3 – January 2014