Girls, this one’s for you. What do you imagine being pregnant in Paris is like? A striped dress à la marinière, whose blue and white lines curve elegantly around the pregnant belly? Sitting around on cafe terraces, pinching into freshly baked croissants? Long walks by the Seine or along the impressionists’ gallery at Musée d’Orsay?
Toxemia, a whining back pain, and French fries (even if French) would so spoil the perfect picture. I thought so too, until reality hit me hard. It was January 2016 and my pregnancy test confirmed 1-2 semaines de grossesse.
The first 20 minutes I just stared back. Don’t get me wrong, this was planned, but I got pregnant in a foreign country, where my husband was my only relative.
And if pregnancy is already a trip into the unknown, when it happens in a foreign country, you’re basically out in the wild.
THE OFFICE CHAIR VS PRENATAL YOGA
Maternity leave in France is 4 months. After that you’re faced with some tough choices. If your career is important to you, forget spending the baby’s first 3 years at home. An early maternity leave? Yep, forget that too. Most Parisiennes only leave on their 8th month, and to be honest, why not, if health-wise there are no contraindications?
And if the pregnant girl-boss is limited in her free time, the pregnant lady with no obliged office hours is spoilt for choice in mom-to-be activities.
Prenatal yoga, the swimming pool, sophrologie training, pre-natal and post-natal classes…the sky is the limit.
Sorry, I mean the wallet, since the only downside to such a great variety is the great price tag that drags itself along.
THE HOLY GRAIL OF PAPERWORK
The French are used to bureaucracy, where adding of a comma requires filing a new dossier. This means that the stack of any given household’s paperwork grows incessantly, and this is shocking even for me – a girl born and raised in a very bureaucratic Russia. The internet has helped to resolve many things, but it hasn’t quite reached the pregnant Paris dwellers. My coffee table quickly went from fab to drab, as it sunk into the sea of various pregnancy-related papers, ushering out fine literature and fashion magazines I used to host before.
NARROW STREET POLITICS
The Parisienne has learnt to survive the narrow street,maneuvering masterfully between bistro tables, parked scooters, and toddlers set on the loose. Add to this traffic lights at every 20 metres and you end up with people fighting over the right of passing first. The latter is so important that it overshadows any other condition of the pavement game. Even a pregnant me. With an 8-month belly. With multiple grocery bags hanging from each arm. The pregnant me, given my state, can most surely wait, thinks my pavement adversary, zooming past, as I awkwardly fail to make more space on the few centimeters of the grey floor concrete.
Did I mention that the game of “get a seat in the metro” also ignores the needs of pregnant ladies? On the few occasions when I got a seat, it typically happened 1 or 2 stops before my destination.
In any case, despite the mostly unfair treatment and the lack of understanding in what it’s like to carry around 8 kilos of extra weight, I did find my everyday hero. The Boulanger, the bakery lady or gentleman, who was not only very happy to discuss the progress of my pregnancy and the latest test results, but would always throw in a little extra treat. Hence my conviction: if you do a get a seat in the metro or a pavement-crossing priority, it’s the kind gesture of a bakery artisan.
FRENCH VS RUSSIAN DOCTORS
The real difference between the French and the Russian healthcare system lies in the approach to human life. Take a mundane situation of cutting a finger. The Russian doctor will look you up and down, his or her eyes full of regret. This will be followed by a prescription of blood tests, but not only.
The ultimate recommendation will be to start planning a funeral, because you know, a bleeding finger is no joke.
In France it’s different. First of all, good luck in getting that appointment. And it doesn’t matter if you’re filthy rich and have the best insurance: patience is the answer. If your cut finger hasn’t fallen off in the three weeks you wait to see the doctor, you are most likely to get a prescription for paracetamol. You already took paracetamol as self-medication? Well then, here’s a list of antibiotics and you’re free to go! And if those fail to work, in another month or two you’ll be able to see a cut-finger specialist. If you’re lucky of course.
If you haven’t fallen off your chair and are still following: let me reassure you – pregnancy is a whole different matter.
My first 6 months were with a Russian gynecologist. She was cautious of every detail. She made big eyes and scared me with terminology I failed to understand. In short, she acted every bit like a Russian doctor would. In line with the French law, after that I was transferred into the caring hands of French midwives in our chosen hospital. The appointment with these sage femmes typically lasted around 5 minutes, not more. Because if everything is according to plan – and by plan I mean a breaking back and some baby-in-the-belly dancing that keeps me up at night – there is nothing to worry about.
Started early morning on the 3th of October. I thought my water broke and my husband rushed in to take me to the hospital. We dropped by the bakery to get a croissant and some coffee (we are in Paris after all), convinced in that there was nothing to worry about. We have signed off the contract with the hospital 3 months back! We’ve even been for a prior tour of the place, to know where to run if you’re giving birth before 8 P.M. and where to run if it’s later than that. We arrived feeling calm and prepared. The nurse did some tests and said that it’s not the water. Go home, too early to give birth. But just as I got up, my water did really break.
An hour later, I was lying in my assigned bed, studded with wires connected to various devices. I had little clue as to what was going on and was starting to feel nervous. My husband had already cracked multiple jokes about the adult pampers I was given, had called all our relatives and friends, and was also starting to feel restless. The atmosphere livened up with the entry of a nurse.
The hospital, which we visited on a regular basis for the past 3 months, signed a contract with, and whose personnel we knew by name, suddenly announced that it didn’t have any free spaces.“We’re really sorry,” said the nurse-spokesperson. “We’re trying our best to find you a spot in another hospital.”
To be continued.