I don’t think there’s a woman on earth that isn’t apprehensive about giving birth to their first baby. I mean who wouldn’t freak out at the thought that a baby that could weigh the equivalent of 4 bags of sugar could come out of there? Yet for me, it wasn’t the pain, or the wondering what things would be like after that melon sized thing came out that scared the bejesus out of me, it was the fact that I was going to give birth in France without really speaking French.
Despite not being able to communicate, the whole lead up to the birth had gone pretty well. The French medical system, whilst baffling to me with all their stickers and bureaucracy, had run pretty smoothly. I’d had what seemed like endless blood tests, check-ups and scans to make sure everything was A-OK. The only place I’d slipped up on was when I asked my midwife at 8 months what pain relief options were available for me, and she looked at me in horror that I hadn’t had an appointment with the anaesthetist. I had to self-refer myself to one pretty sharpish as apparently without the appointment I’d be in labour au-natural and I don’t think either me or my husband’s hands would have survived that.
One rainy day in November, when it was pouring with torrential rain (of course it was), Baby Bell decided he wanted to make an appearance. Bang on time, on his due date. His English due date my add, as a French pregnancy is one week longer.... no idea, don’t ask me! We hurried off to the hospital when my contractions were 8 minutes apart and after a quick exam I was taken off to my private room where I was going to stay for the next week. Yes, that’s right folks, in France you have to stay in hospital for an entire week when you’ve given birth, whether it’s your first or your tenth baby. I was told to make myself comfortable and to come back to the delivery suite when it got too painful.
Now, being a tad wimpy it wasn’t long before that was the case. I soon declared I was in too much pain and the anaesthetist came along and administered me with an epidural. At the hospital I was at, the choices for pain relief were nothing or an epidural. The anaesthetist had advised me as it was my first to go for the drugs, and I’m not one to argue with a medical professional. The epidural worked wonders with my contractions as they seemed like mild rumbles where I had to confirm with my husband that I’d had one with him looking at the print out of my belly monitor. The next few hours passed in a bit of a haze. I may or may not have had a little doze, my husband certainly did. And the only thing that caused me discomfort was when my husband ate a whole bag of giant Malteasers sitting next to me and I was nil-by-mouth I couldn't have one. Something he has never been truly forgiven for.
I was lucky in that I had a very quick labour, much to the relief of my husband who wanted to get home by the evening to watch the football... yes, I am a wonderful (if not stupid) wife for letting him go to watch it. When the baby started to push, the midwife came along, my legs were put in stirrups and away we went. And despite all my fears about the language and my midwife knowing no English, we did pretty well. It was mildly disconcerting that the French word for push is poussez and sounds like pussy - so when the midwife was shouting that stood right next to my um, well down there, it did sometimes reduce my husband and I to some teenage sniggers.
Baby Bell popped out and I was really impressed with the rest of the medical care I received. Being in hospital for a whole week in a room by myself with my bad French was both terrifying and a godsend. The nurses and midwifes taught me all manner of things and without them I’d have been clueless. It was great having someone on the end of a call button that came really quickly - if only because they had no idea what I was trying to say on the intercom. I also loved getting all the food, the morning hot chocolate, afternoon cups of tea with madeleine and the mini bries that seemed to appear with most meals - ah brie how I’d missed it in pregnancy.
I’m pregnant again, with new baby due in October, and this time I’m dreading the birth in a normal way and not so scared about the language or the stay. My French has got much better and I know how nice and helpful the staff are. Plus I’m less clueless about all things baby. I’m slightly deluded into thinking that it will almost be like a holiday having a week off from the housework at home, and those afternoon madeleines, and the brie - and of course my little baby. Only another four months to go!
My French Life
In 2013, my husband and I bought a house in a tiny village in the Pyrenees. Since then, we've gutted and renovated it, had a baby, I've had three books published and we've moved to France full-time. This is my blog about our French adventure!