Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we are back in France to hear about MLMom’s experience of having a baby in the South of France. She takes us through her experience of avoiding stinky gooey cheese, the perils of trying to understand why pregnancy is counted as 41weeks in France and missing family. 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?
Well, I grew up in Mexico and the United States, but have lived in France for over 8 years. I met my husband here and we have a daughter, LilO, who will be one year old in July. We lived in Paris for a couple of years, but the weather and the high prices made us move to the south, where our daughter was born.
I finished my law studies in France last year and I am currently looking for a job. I have been lucky to spend all this time with my daughter since she was born and now I want to find a job that will allow me to enjoy my family life. The minimum of 5 weeks legal paid vacations in France is a good start, but I’m hoping to find something interesting by this coming fall.
I also just started writing a blog, Multilingual Mom (MLMom) where I hope I’ll get the opportunity to talk about my experience living here, raising LilO in France and all the ins-and-outs of the cultural differences I enjoy pointing out so much 🙂
Why did you have your daughter abroad?
We live in France and it was naturally here that we decided to have our daughter. Though I have been living here for 8 years, I still consider myself to be living “abroad”. I still wonder how long that will last!
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
I love the fact that our daughter lives in another country, and will be raised in a multicultural environment. I also enjoy knowing that we have so many countries close to us and we can travel easily and learn so much.
As a non-benefit (even if I was not asked!) I would definitely list having my family so far away. We don’t get to see my family as often as we can, and that I do dislike and can get to me at times.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
I can still remember the day I found out I was pregnant I started jumping up and down and couldn’t stop for over ten minutes. Then I decided I’d slow down because I didn’t want my baby to get motion sickness. I was scared, happy, overwhelmed, everything at once!
I am very thankful for the excellent care I had throughout my pregnancy. Although the situations can be different from person to person, even the minimum French prenatal care is excellent. I was able to have a sonogram when I was just 6 weeks along, and I had one every month at least to check on the baby and to calm down any nervous future mom nerves I might have.
When I was 24 weeks along, a member of my family passed away and I was heartbroken. I had such a hard time being so far away from the rest of my family. I felt so alone. I realize it’s still difficult to write about it. Three weeks later I had my scheduled sonogram and we found that the baby’s abdominal circumference was not as it should be — in other words, our baby was “skinny”. My OB sent me to get different tests immediately and sonograms done over the next few weeks followed and it turns out everything was just fine… but I really needed to take my stress level down for a while, since it might have been what had affected me and the baby. Hard to do, but the baby got back on track very quick.
I was also very happy to have found a good OB right before getting pregnant. He recommended a great midwife, with whom I had 10 sessions and was able to learn about the baby, getting physically and mentally ready, exercises, breastfeeding techniques, breasfeeding support group if I wanted… I really felt pampered and I loved it.
I learned that if I wished, I could have a midwife come to my house as many times as I would need her to after the baby was born if I needed any help with breastfeeding. That really boosted my confidence and helped me though the first 7 days (yes, I counted them!) which were VERY difficult for me.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
Let’s see… YES!!!! Definitely. First of all, the French pregnancy lasts 41 weeks, not 40 like in most countries of the world. I kept saying 40 weeks to my OB in hopes he’d change his way of thinking. I didn’t think that would really matter except when it came to me being overdue until I went OVER those 41 weeks! My baby was born 41w5d. Thankfully, haha.
Another thing was: “do you have the toxo“? Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can harm the foetus if you contract it duringpregnancy. Men don’t care if they have it or not. But as a woman, if you have it before you don’t need to worry about it either. If you don’t, then you have to be careful so you don’t get it during pregnancy and they monitor this so they can react with proper treatment if you do.
My friends abroad were never tested for this and here I was getting blood drawn every month to check I did not suddenly have the parasite!!! I guess after 7 years of living in France and no parasite (since according to Wikipedia 88% of the French have it but it’s not as common in the US) I should have just kept my old habits, but here I was desperately trying to eat strawberries (the baby wanted them!) and I had bought my special fruit brush where I would brush each strawberry and wash them for over 20 minutes so I could eat them in less than 20 seconds.
The list of what you can and can’t eat was different than that of my American friends. They were told to avoid lunchmeat and soft cheeses, I was told to avoid raw ham and stinky gooey raw milk farm cheese.
The see differences continue to happen even once the baby is here. I have had an excellent experience with breastfeeding, finding everyone around me very supportive, except for my dentist who had suggested I weaned my baby so he could replace a filling. After that (last) appointment with him was over, I looked for another competent doctor and I was good to go.
LilO’s pediatrician is great and supports our cultural differences. Maybe because I gave him a weird look when he was surprised my baby had avocados as one of her first foods and he almost fell off his chair. An “exotic” fruit?! Goodness!
One thing I can also be very thankful about was the hospital care. I had someone on the phone 24/7 if I had questions about the baby, movement, first time mom panic.. anything. I went to the hospital three times for different reasons (feelings, pains, etc) and they welcomed me every single time with a huge smile, telling me I had made the right decision coming in if I had any doubts. I was also monitored every 48 hours after week 40 since I had some swelling and they wanted to make sure everything was ok.
I was very greatful to have a pediatrician 24/7 as well during those first few weeks where even a lack of poop worries this mom. Even today I know that I can have a doctor come in the middle of the night if something is wrong, everything covered by our health insurance, and I think it has given me peace of mind even if (thankfully) we have never had to ask a doctor to come and see LilO.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Enjoy every minute and follow your instincts. Nobody knows your body or your baby better than you, and nobody is there with your baby during the night BUT you. Research and ask all the questions you can. And if you don’t get the answers or you feel ignored, change your healthcare provider if possible. It can make a world of a difference.
And no matter how often people tell you over and over again to “enjoy it because time goes by so fast”.. well… it really does.
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This was a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing this. I was born abroad and raised by multicultural parents. I can tell you that the gift you are giving your baby will last a life time. I feel more open minded, and appreciative of other cultures as a result of having lived abroad as a child and an adult.
I admit though, living away from family is the hardest thing.
I laughed about the exotic fruit comment. I’m half Asian (From Thailand) and half French Canadian. My French Canadian family were mortified when i gave my children typical Thai spiced foods and they complained that i ate too much rice. I needed to have more meat and potatoes. I laugh now but at the time i wasn’t laughing.
Thanks Annie … What an interesting story you have too! Want to take part in the series?
MOI? Mais Oui. I would love to take part in the series..
Thank you for reading my story Annie! Oh I can see the weird looks we’ll get later on as well. So many differences, but that’s part of who we are. I’d love to read your story too 🙂
Thank you for the series, I love it! I’m American, living in Belgium with a French husband. We have a three year old daughter born in the US, and my little boy was just born here in Belgium 3 months ago. Regarding the cultural differences, I could go on forever. I know that you have already covered Belgium in your series (though my experience was much different!), but if you ever want to cover working and breastfeeding, I could write you a novel!
You are right Erin, we could go on forever with the cultural differences… I find it so interesting! I’m sure you have many that come to mind specially since you’ve had children born in different countries.
Thanks for reading my story! 🙂