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Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: FRANCE

Having a baby abroad franceI am back in France, once again as part of the series The Global Differences of Baby-Making. This week I talk to Ashely who had her daughter in France and is expecting her 2nd baby in November.  Here is here story on becoming a mother away from her home country of the US and being spoled by the French medical system

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old is your daughter and where did you have her?

I grew up in sunny California, and now live in not so sunny France, about an hour East of Paris.  My daughter is 20 months old, and I am currently expecting Baby #2 for November.

Why did you have your  daughter abroad?

I had my child (and will have our future child(ren)) abroad, well, because we live here!  I didn’t really have any other option to be honest.  I no longer carry any insurance elsewhere, and in all honesty, I don’t know that I would have wanted to have my baby elsewhere.  I like where we live, and I can’t imagine leaving to birth a baby elsewhere, unless of course it was on Ina May Gaskin’s “Farm”…

What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?

Living in France, I feel lucky that all costs related to my birth were taken care of by either the social security system, or our complementary insurance.  Something that can be both good and bad, depending, is the amount of time spent in the hospital after the birth.  I ended up with a C-Section due to a breech baby, and stayed in the hospital for 5 days before being released!  While I know that this is to make sure Mom and Baby are in top condition before leaving, it was a little too long for me personally.

Another benefit I had, was an IBCLC midwife that came to my home for several days once I was home, to help us with breastfeeding while got off to a rocky start.  I don’t think that I would have nursed as long as I did without this IBCLC’s support.  A ‘future’ benefit to having consequent children in France for me, is that France seems to be very VBAC friendly.  When I asked my Doctor about a VBAC for this baby, he seemed sincerely surprised that I was even asking.  It was obvious to him that we would be aiming for a VBAC, and a repeat C-Section if only really necessary.

Ashley and Miss L

As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?

I felt spoiled!  I was put on a medical leave for the last few months of my pregnancy due to a really long commute and high-ish blood pressure.  There are special lines at the grocery store for expectant mothers, old ladies would put anything heavy in my cart for me, in general it was a very positive experience.  I did have a few less pleasant experiences, but all in all, it was great!

Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?

I am not sure how a breech baby would have been ‘handled’ in the US, but I think very similarly to how it was here.  As for parenting choices, the French, in general, parent quite differently then us.  Their babies always wear slippers, and (way too) covered up, and are on strict feeding schedules from a very young age.  I guess I could be qualified as an Attachment Parenting type. Having a baby abroad I (still) breastfeed my daughter more or less on demand.  She co-slept for a long time, and still does sometimes, I don’t spank, I don’t have strict mealtimes, I don’t let my child cry it out, and I don’t read any ‘parenting’ books.  I’d much rather follow my heart and my child’s lead.  Parents like us in France are rare.  I feel like in the US I would have been able to find a group of like minded parents with more ease.

What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
I think the best advice for any mom, is to follow your heart.  The best ‘expert’ on your child is you.  Not someone who wrote a book, not the neighbor, not even your own parents.

Connect with Ashley on Twitter and on her blog



Want to share your story? Get in touch: ameena@mummyinprovence.com


Breast is NOT best, if you live in France

It’s not the first time I have written about my struggles of breastfeeding in France. I’ve been told repeatedly by medical practioners to stop breastfeeding and that it’s “abnormal” for my baby to NOT take a bottle. Today, I was sent the article “In France, breast is definitely not best” published in yesterday’s Guardian. The article highlights how breastfeeding in France is frowned upon, I wish I could say the article was untrue or unfair but in reality it is true. All true.

France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the western world. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA (via www.guardian.co.uk)

I urge you to read the article but if you don’t have time I’ll take some of the more poignant parts that’s ring true and give you my take on it (since you are reading this I guess that’s what you want after all!)

Everyone, however, knows the dangers of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding destroys lives. It starts by robbing women of their most powerful weapons of seduction, then their style and then their feminine mystery.

Breasts are very important in France – I have never, ever, in all my life (even after living in the Middle East) seen so many lingerie shops – beautiful and expensive lingerie is abundant in France. I am even told that many women collect lingerie yet when it comes to finding a good nursing bra I had to look abroad which makes it painfully clear that breasts are to be beautifully adorned in the finest silks and lace, both of which cannot accomodate a suckling baby.

women must beat back their babies with bottles of formula milk and rigid feeding regimes if they are to retain their independence and their sex lives. You won’t be in the least surprised to learn that breastfeeding, like so many other grave threats to civilisation, was invented in America.

There is this crazy fear that breastfeeding will make you a “slave” to your baby. How on earth can you live your life with this parasite that seeks to drain every last drop of your soul, being and femininity?  Urrr … firstly, breastfeeding is not like that and secondly, how does breastfeeding make you unfeminine?  I was asked repeatedly if breastfeeding was making me excessively tired and if I really wanted to carry on seeing as I was still hanging on to my baby weight months after delivery – surely I wanted to wean and go on a French diet of coffee and cigarrettes and regain my svelte silhouette (which just FYI was never really that svelte to start with). Didn’t I want to leave my baby to go and do something better with my time? Actually no I didn’t, not on a regular basis – this shocked people – why would I want to spend ALL my time with my baby? Scheduling appears to be very important to the French so breastfeeding on demand was akin to a crime against my being – I shrugged, I guess I am a “slave” to my baby but I’m happy …

the number of French mothers still breastfeeding after six months is so negligible that it doesn’t even make the graph. Frankly, as my partner and I discovered, getting a mother out of a French maternity ward while she is still breastfeeding is something of a miracle.

This is a very sad but true statistic. I gave birth in a private clinic where there was a lactation consultant on call 24/7 yet I was the only mother breastfeeding on the corridor of 10. Even when I asked for help from my independent midwife once I was home she shrugged her shoulders and said maybe I should try a bottle. It wasn’t until MONTHS later that I found that La Leche League operate in France, but sadly for me my French wasn’t up to speed to benefit from the meetings – later I found a leader an hour away who spoke English and found the support I so desperately craved. I know if I hadn’t been so determined and stubborn I would have undoubtedly failed.

She will get her perinea retrained to return her to peak sexual performance – a wonderful French tradition that is actually about preventing incontinence, and which the NHS would do well to copy

Ahhh “rééducation périnéale” something that horrified me when I first learned of it during my pregnancy. I leapt on to Facebook to find an old school friend who I’d not spoken to in  almost 2 decades but I knew who’d had a baby in France recently and I asked about it. Nothing quite like pregnancy and childbirth to break down social norms and dive in to a conversation about your nether regions! She replied “It’s not very sexy but you HAVE to do it. They insert this thing into you, its connected to a machine and it makes all the muscles work again. Your husband will thank you for it” … OK as a first time mum to be I was mortified – what is this crazy thing? I jumped on the internet and found no record of it anywhere in the world other than France. Fast forward to my 6 week check up post delivery and I was prescribed 10 sessions with a physiotherapist plus a prescription to pick up my, umm … well, probe is probably the best way to describe it. Off I go to my appointment and its basically kegels on speed with a screen to track your progress – you have sets of 10 umm … squeezes and then you have a bit of electro-stimulation to make the muscles work harder. Yikes. Not really something you want to talk about but I am the first to say it’s excellent aftercare. They say its to ward off incontinence but it’s not the real objective – it’s to get your sexual prowess back as soon as possible. THAT is the focus. PLUS it’s free completely 100% free – making it more important under the healthcare system than chemotherapy or the flu vaccine!  The physiotherapist, who’s sole responsibility was to get women’s pelvic floors up to speed was mortified when I went one day with BiP who was hungry as usual so I fed her – “breastfeeding! Stil? But she is almost 3 months old!!!”

So yes, sadly, if you breastfeed in France you do so at your own risk. You will be asked if your husband is ok with it – or if you are a foreigner like me it will be chalked down to the fact that you are obviously not French.  BUT if you really do want to you can, you will and it will be great!