Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making I talk to Juliette who is French. She’s shares her experience of having a baby in Canada. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old is your son and where did you have him?
My name is Juliette but you can call me “Zhu”—that’s my Chinese name and penname. I’m 29 and I grew up in Nantes, France. I left France at 18 to go traveling and somehow ended up in Canada—this is a rather long story actually! I have been living in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital, since 2004; and I became a Canadian citizen in 2009. I consider myself a citizen of the world and I live in a multicultural house with my Chinese-Canadian partner. I just gave birth five weeks ago to our Canadian-Chinese-French baby, Mark Floyd.
Why did you have your son abroad?
I don’t consider myself an expat—I’m a Canadian citizen now and I haven’t lived in France since I was 18. Canada is “home”, and I never consider going back to France to have our baby there. If anything, having the baby in France would have been more complicated. I am no longer covered by the French healthcare system because I am no longer a resident. I would have needed to support myself, and finding a job in France would have been very difficult, considering my lack of French experience—ironically!—and the fact that well, I was expecting. Finally, my partner doesn’t have an immigration status in Europe and he doesn’t speak French. I’m Canadian enough that having a baby here didn’t scare me at all. I speak both official languages and communicating with the medical staff wasn’t an issue. If I hadn’t been fluent in English (or French), I may have considered going back “home”. Relying on a translator during a medical appointment or not being able to communicate your needs well must be very stressful. I also trust the local healthcare system. Let’s face it: it’s not perfect but Canadian isn’t a third world country. French love to brag about their great healthcare system, but as good as it is, I can see its flaws now. I was actually thankful to the Canadian healthcare system, and I had a great labour and delivery experienceat the hospital—with no midwife, no epidural, no childbirth classes! I feel very lucky.
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
I certainly do feel stronger—being pregnant and giving birth is quite an experience, and doing so in your adoptive country, “abroad”, is an interesting experience. I loved being exposed to a new culture and I believe as expats and immigrants, we benefit from that. We can take the best of both worlds! I like the idea that Mark will grow up in a multicultural country, in a multicultural household. We speak English, French and Mandarin at home; we eat Chinese rice and French cheese; we blend our cultures into our daily life. Mark will be a citizen of the world as well!
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
Let’s be honest here: I was miserable when I was pregnant! Some women are glowing throughout their pregnancy; I was self-conscious and I felt I was going through puberty all over again! I would have felt the same in France though… actually, I did: I traveled there twice, during the first trimester and at 7 months pregnant, and I was as bitchy in France as I was in Canada! Must have been the hormones. Yep, must have been. More seriously, generally speaking, I felt supported. Canada offers a great range of free or low-cost community services, including breastfeeding classes, childbirth classes, parenting classes, etc. There are also tons of resources available online in both official languages. I had all the info I needed at my fingertips. Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices? Don’t even get me started…! In Canada, I met the “pregnancy police”, random strangers giving pregnant women unwanted advice. It seems that when you are pregnant, you suddenly become everybody’s business. You are no longer a person—you become a baby incubator whose only job is to care for the embryo, the fetus and then the baby. For instance, I kept on getting unwanted comment because I went to my regular yoga classes until I had Mark (I had my last class when I was 37 weeks pregnant!). I felt a lot of pressure to be the “perfect” pregnant woman but hey, I’m only human. I think French are a bit more hedonistic and don’t care as much about potential health risks or issues; they don’t try to be perfect. From a practical point of view, some tests are different in Canada. For instance, I will never forget the day Canada tried to give me diabetes!
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Be confident and trust yourself, don’t listen to random strangers’ advice—they don’t know you and they have no context! It’s okay to disagree with local practices and beliefs… or to reject what you’ve been taught at “home”! Keep an open mind, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do things. I completely adopted some Canadian customs but I am still French and I’m sure it shows in my parental beliefs. Same goes for my partner: he is Canadian but he grew up in China, and some Chinese customs and beliefs creep in at home—that’s fine! Cultural beliefs are not exclusive, they complete each other. And if you are having a baby in Canada, don’t hesitate to get in touch—I’ll be happy to help!
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