This week I talk to Sharon who is British and had her baby daughter in France as part of the series The Global Differences of Baby-Making. She talks about the importance of family values in France, the challenges of breastfeeding past 3 months (it’s not really “done” in France and following your heart. 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 30 year old British expat living in the North Isere, France with my French husband, my daughter and my two cats. I moved to France from the UK aged 16 as I was an Ice Dancer and Lyons had the best training facilities in Europe. It was daunting arriving in a foreign country alone so young, especially as I didn’t speak any French. However, I soon picked up the language skills and France became my home.
My daughter was born in Valence, France in April 2011. I was living in Lyon and had planned to give birth in the Croix Rousse Hospital in Lyon as it had an excellent reputation and many of my friends had given birth there. Unfortunately due to my Husband and I moving area and a delay in our house purchase, I was unable to give birth where I had planned and ended up having a very difficult birth and after birth in Valence’s public hospital which left me in bed for a month post partum.
Why did you have your daughter abroad?
I didn’t specifically choose to have my daughter abroad. Living in France happened naturally for me and it seemed logical to have my baby here. My Husband and I had spent a few years in the UK together long before we decided to have children and we had both said at the time that if we do have children one day we would like to raise them in France.
France places much more value on Family Values in my opinion than the UK does. I love how meal times are family affairs here and how frequently families get together and make efforts to stay in touch. My Husband and I are as close to some of his French family members as we are to our friends and we want that for our children as well. I know that parents influence the education of their children but I also believe culture does too and I really respect the French culture for the importance they place on family.
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
Having moved to France at such a young age I consider that I already know some of the benefits as I’d experienced growing up in a foreign country myself. Access to a second language and different cultures for a child is fantastic and part of their life education. Aside from the benefits for my baby I don’t think there was really any benefit to me but that is probably because I had a very difficult birth experience and often when things go wrong you want to be in your own country.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
Initially, I was quite blasé about the whole thing and felt that the French placed a lot of drama around such a natural experience. Everything in France is very medicalised and I can remember being told off as I hadn’t had any check ups before my 12 week scan. I had opted not to have any early check ups as I had miscarried the year before and had been through a circus of check ups that led to nothing but stress. Some women find the constant check ups re-assuring but I chose to let nature decide what to do and was at peace with my decision but the Drs didn’t understand.
I also chose to be followed solely by a midwife rather than an Obstetrician which is rare in France and my French friends and family thought I was mad. Despite the difficulties I encountered with the birth and after birth (which were largely due to the medical incompetence of the Obstetrician) I am still happy with how I managed my pregnancy and would opt to be followed by a midwife again. I would even consider having a home birth which is quite rare in France.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
Aside from my choice of not wishing to have my pregnancy over medicalised, I haven’t encountered too many differences as yet as my daughter is still very young. A lot of my friends and French family seem surprised that I am still breastfeeding my daughter (she is 3 months old). It seems as if it is automatically assumed that she would be on formula by this age.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Thankfully I am fluent in French so I was able to make my wishes understood but even then (especially after the birth whilst I was in dreadful pain) I sometimes wished I could explain how I felt and ask my questions in English, just for re-assurance that I was being understood. If you’re not fluent in the local language I would definitely recommend either finding a Dr that speaks your language or finding someone to help with translation.
Also, go with your heart. Just because something is the “done thing” in the country you’re giving birth in doesn’t mean to say it is the right or best thing for your baby. I do a lot based on instinct and will continue to do this as I have a contented baby so must be doing something right!
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It’s funny you say it’s over medicalised in France because as a French I felt it’s over medicalised in Germany!
Here you need to see the doctor every month (at the beginning then twice a month) and he/she does a screen every time – which is quite unpleasant for me as she is using something inside my body and not the outside one (ultrasound). I leave you imagining what happens when you got there for the first time and have 3 different things in your body before having the time to ask “what’s going on?” or feeling like saying “I don’t want this”. But it looks like to me that all that matters is to be sure the baby is doing OK (who cares what the mama thinks? and I’m so much afraid to say I would rather not that because I really don’t want to feel like a bad mother and I’m not sure to be able to explain what I want). Did I say that they are taking your weight, blood pressure and verify your pee EVERY single time? And I’m not even giving you the list of analysis she asked for because that’s truly depressing (you can say you did it some months ago, she say I would rather do it again JUST IN CASE).
Also I hate it when she told us in a rush at the end all the dawn syndrome test thing and ended up saying you need to decide before the end of the week (of course she explained everything in German). Like I’ve seen her before and for me thing kind of discussion is much more important than “I need to do a screen every 2 weeks to make sure the baby is ok because this time I could not do the whole checkup”. I don’t want so much screening. Just leave me and my body alone, I’m not sick, I’m pregnant and as far as I know, it’s not a disease, it’s a natural process in a woman’s life.
Thing is I never had a baby in France, so I’m just taking assumption that it’s more medicalised in Germany. At least for the followup of the pregnancy (it seems to me that the birth is largely under medicalised, like you need to ask – beg- for epidural and would look like a bad mother!).
Oh wow Celine! Do you want to be part of the series? This is great story!
I’m no mama (yet!). Why not once I’ll have a complete story 🙂
(Came over from Piglet in France)
The breastfeeding aspect surprised me at first as well, although I have since found French moms that breastfeed much longer; it seems to be kind of a “back to work” thing, and if you aren’t returning to work… well. My big shock came with the reluctance of the dr. to prescribe prenatal vitamins, while expecting and while breastfeeding. The attitude was “if you are eating correctly, you don’t need them” where in the US I had gotten used to the “do everything you can” mentality. But I wholeheartedly agree on instinct, every mother should trust hers, and this should play a larger part in every pregnancy!
Great article, Sharon! I half breastfed/half bottle fed until Victor was six months old and that was down right scandalous. I can’t tell you how many women or doctors told me I was “obsessed” when in reality I wasn’t even that into it! On the contrary though, I got a lot of bad feedback from my American friends in the US (many of whom are lactivists) for stopping so early, regardless of the fact that he was allergic to my milk.
My biggest shock about having a baby in France has been our experience with the FPIES (food protein induced enter-colitis syndrome) and having to fight tooth and nail to get doctors to actually evaluate my nearly 9 month old child correctly instead of jumping to the conclusion that I am once again, an “obsessed, over protective, young first time mom”. I’ve found pediatricians (dare I even mention the gastro-pediatric specialists) to be some of the most condescending, pretentious people I’ve ever met.
Mummy in Provence, I’m not sure what types of moms you are looking for to contribute to this segment, but i’m an American in Lille that had a c-section last November and i’d love to contribute!
You have mail Amber!
Bookmarking! Who knows? One day I might have the same experience! Just saying, and no promises…