This week I talk to singer/songwriter Milja who is Finnish and had her baby daughter in France as part of the series The Global Differences of Baby-Making. She talks about having a “platinum baby” in Paris and bitchy nurses. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old is your daughter and where did you have her? I’m a Finnish singer-songwriter and pianist, mommy of one magnificent daughter… and not so long ago, a performer in a chic Paris piano-bar located somewhere between the Ritz and the old Opèra. As my 8-month pregnant belly no longer fit behind the bar’s grand piano, and my squeezed lungs became unable to yell ‘Proud Mary’ at 4 A.M. without me passing out on the keys, I gave up my night job and retreated to my horrid apartment.
Why did you have your daughter abroad?
My musician husband and me had started regretting our decision to have our child in Paris when it had occurred to us that our apartment wasn’t suitable for a child, or any human being at that. It wasn’t the mice, or that I got an electric chock every time I touched the stove, or that I had to wear a wool sweater night and day just to keep warm, or even that I had to heat my bathing water in a pot because there was no hot water available. It was that there was, in fact, no running water whatsoever, and that carrying 20-liter water containers twice a day couldn’t be done while pregnant.
I started to long for Finland’s clean, functional houses, almost all equipped with a personal sauna. But returning to Finland was no option. We hadn’t suffered the Parisians for six years, painstakingly building a network necessary for any musician to make a living, just to run back to Finnish schlager-style variety music. So we moved to a great deal more expensive apartment, one with running water… and two weeks later, out came Lydia, now two and half years old.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
Finland is a large country with a small population, meaning that hospitals are scarce and thus full. I had heard less pleasant birthing stories from my Finn-friends – the famed Finnish equality between sexes can also mean no pain killer unless there is a ‘real need’, such as c-section. They just tell you to shut up and push, ‘this is the way our foremothers did it and so should you’. The wimpy person that I am, I was relieved to see that the little public-healthcare clinic that was to be my birthing stall offered a wide variety of pain relief. And they had obstetricians specializing in acupuncture, massages or homeopathy, all included in the public healthcare system!
They had helped me tremendously with my pre-birthing hormonal madness, my elephant ankles and my fiery heartburn, so when my waters broke, I felt confident. The waiting room was full of women of all colors and languages. It was fascinating to see the cultural differences of these women when it came to pain. Some talked vividly in their cell phones all through contractions, some screamed theatrically along with the mother and the mother-in-law by the bedside, some demanded more painkillers in an animated french. As it turned out, my baby didn’t come out but 32 hours later, so I had plenty of time to observe everything around me. But after 30 hours, I went into shock and was being prepared for a c-section with the utmost care. I felt so grateful. My Algerian gynecologist surgeon did such a wonderful job, and just a few minutes later, I saw my little blonde Lydia come out, cool and relaxed, practically yawning. This was the very first platinum blonde Nordic baby the gynecologist and his staff had ever seen, and they couldn’t stop staring at her, all smiles.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices? What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
I had been given a choice of a joint room or a single room, and since I do not watch TV and hate its sound, I had chosen a single room. As it happened, I was tangled in wired and hoses after the surgery, and could not do a thing without calling for help. Somehow they knew I was a singer, and at night as I pressed the help-button to go to the bathroom, I heard the nurses mumbling in the hallway. ‘Oh, it’s her again.’ ‘Who does she think she is, calling for us all the time?’ ‘Did you know that she’s a singer?’ ‘Oh, that’s why, then! She thinks of herself as a superstar!’ At this point the nurse stomped in and barked: ‘What now?’ In my hormonal state, I started crying, and pointed towards the bathroom. The next day when I had to call for help again, I heard: ‘Oh, come on, not again! Someone call her husband to come and give the diva some applause!’ Do they really think a piano-bar singer is the same as Beyoncé, I thought. But then, I heard these nurses whined about almost every patient – this one smelled, this one snored, this one was too fat. I decided to let the supervisor know about this, and what a change it made! Nothing but smiles and helpfulness after that!
In France, I’ve noticed, standing up for yourself risking a few moments of shame makes everything work. Mummies – defend your ground!
After a week at the clinic, I was let out with my baby. Not long after that, our landlord started busting in our new apartment with his own set of keys! We decided it was time to leave Paris.
We now live in a tiny medieval village in the southern France’s Aveyron. Instead of piano bars and concerts, we have a small music school and a studio, and a house five times the size for half the rent. I would not go back to Paris now that I’ve tasted the delights of the French countryside. The kind people, the fresh produce, the cheap living. And my little daughter ,that will go to a French school next year (that, I’m sure will make another weird chapter to write about) makes it all worth the while.
Milja Kaunisto is a singer-songwriter, mummy of one fantastic daughter, lover of great food, amateur writer and world-saver, traveling woman and part-time nut.
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