Naissance à domicile: My experience in France

Pregnant in France? Here’s my nine-month play-by-play story.

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Early this year we found out that baby numero dos was on the way. We were overjoyed and excited to expand the family. As the belly expanded and another baby abroad, we had a lot to learn about pregnancy and birth in France.

English-Speaking health professionals: At the onset, I was still taking intensive French courses and still hadn’t hit the chapter on birth in France, so I had no idea on how to say the basics – I’m pregnant. I don’t want an epidural. Push? We asked colleagues for recommendations. The one English-speaking gyno was not taking new “patients” so we went with the English-speaking mid-wife, to start out. I made an appointment at about at the end of the first trimester. After 5 minutes into the appointment, I felt uncomfortable and like the entire appointment had been scripted, yet no one passed along the script to me. My improv performance had expectations of understanding and support as a pregnant woman, but it was totally clinical and dry. Had I filled out the proper paperwork? Did I declare the pregnancy? What does that even mean? I barely had a chance to ask my questions. When I did, I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the answers and on the verge of tears. Again, scripted, mid-wifery book answers and the biggest one, “oh a home birth? No those are illegal in France.” GULP. I grit my teeth and had another two appointments, only becuase I couldn’t find anyone else. Finally, I made an excuse and stopped going.

Decisions: Public/Private/Hospital/Clinique/Home: Although mostly everyone here has public insurance, it is often supplemented with something private to boost the benefits, I reviewed our private insurance to review our options. I decided to consider the clinic that was within our plan. My son’s paediatrician recommended a very good gyno at the clinic and I made an appointment. Given there is no ‘pure’ private insurance, I still had a long wait before I could get an appointment, even though I was already about 5-months pregnant. The doctor was nice. We had a bit of friendly chatter and then she filled out my dossier with info and sent me off with referrals for ultrasounds and lab tests. Come back in month. The problem a month later was my taxi never came, I missed that appointment and had to wait almost 6 weeks for another opening. I was asked repeatedly if I had a midwife. Did I need one? Did the gyno work together with one? No and no.

Call the Midwife: Did you ever watch the “Call the Midwife” series on Netflix? Well, I’m guilty. During my first pregnancy, I was fully tuned in. I’m still unsure if it was a good decision to watch house calls of midwives in East London in the 1950s seeing the graphic challenges they faced, but it was entertaining. In French, mid-wife is sage-femme, direct translation: wise woman. At around 7.5 months I was referred to (word of mouth) a sage-femme in Montpellier, one that specialized in home births and spoke English. Was it too late in the game? After a bit of contemplating and encouragement from some local friends I made an appointment. We instantly connected. She listened, she engaged in the conversation and she was genuinely interested in supporting me through the final stretch of the pregnancy and attending the birth at home! We still had somethings to consider and confirm, but it was starting to look good.

Illegal or just challenging? She explained that home births are highly discouraged in France and there are several laws that are in place to depress efforts to have them. They are not illegal, but they are not easy to do. Also, midwives who do home deliveries are not permitted to publicize, so word of mouth is the only way to know they exist. In Montpellier, there is this team of two midwives and they cover the entire region. They try to cut off anything further than one hour, for logistical purposes. They have even been contacted by Parisians.

Doula friend to seal the deal: In the final two weeks, I met a doula. She had lived and worked in Paris and recently moved down south. She specified some of the challenges of being a doula in France (as opposed to Holland, where she did her training and initially practiced). She had two homebirths, one in Holland and another in Paris, and was happy to share her experiences and encourage us on our pursuit for making the right decision for us.

Tick tock tick tock: The final weeks are interesting. You wake up each day thinking it may be the day. Will he come early? Will he come late? In France, they calculate 41 weeks for your due date, so I was technically due on 12 December, but something intuitively told me he was coming earlier. We made our finally arrangements, spoke with our “team” and I did my final nesting tasks (i.e. build a sofa from Ikea and set up the Christmas tree).

Game time: Saturday morning, 2 December, my contractions began at around 7 am. Baby was coming, I knew it. The snow was a flurry outside, nothing settled, but enough to get excited as it snows about once each winter in Montpellier. The midwife came by at 3:30 pm. The team was in place and the ambiance of home, warmth of family, candles and birth pool were set up. I was 4 cm. A few hours later, after some labouring and chit chat with the midwife, we did a check at 6:00 pm. 7 cm. I slipped into the warm pool and my team poured warm water on my back during, what were now intense contractions. After a while, I got out of the pool and headed to our room. Several pushes later, baby arrived at 7 pm. Bon Anniversaire, mon petit lion!

For more details on the birth experience or the “team” involved, please feel free to contact me directly. 

Have you had a pregnancy/birth experience abroad? How was it? What was challenging? What was easy? What surprised you?