Over the past month, it has become blatently apparent that I am sharing my body with another being. I'll feel these twitches in my abdomen that feel like a muscle spasm or a big popping bubble, and I'm reminded that the bulge in my tummy is not from too much cake or beer, but from an ever growing bundle of joy.
Yes, as the French say, I'm waiting on a happy event. A bébé.
All of a sudden, I've been whisked into this adventure and into the French healthcare system. The government views me as a revered being, this thing that needs to be monitored and protected at all costs. I need not stress, I need not worry about money - Mama Marianne is gonna take good care of me. Coworkers and family view me as someone to welcome into the clan of motherhood. They give me advice (good or bad...) and tell stories of their pregnancies and birthing sessions. Other Parisians view me as that horrid round woman who had the audacity to demand that they give up their seat so that I may sit down and not worry about falling. Or they just don't view me at all as they hide behind their newspaper, pretending not to see me (and these are the folks I go for when asking for a seat!)
And can we please talk about living in a country with more cheeses than days of the year, and all of a sudden you can't eat but five of them?
Being pregnant in a country that is not your own and that is far away from your family and friends is quite the overwhelming experience. Things that you see your friends experiencing through their own pregnancies may not necessarily work over here. You can't get some of the same baby gear that they are getting. There are a few commonalities, but not many. And can we talk about the vocabulary you have to learn - both medical, commercial and baby talk? I'm definitely earning my Master's in French as a Mommy Language.
So what do I see as being the good, the bad and the ugly from my experience thus far?
Good: I'm under all kinds of medical surveillance that isn't overly expensive. I'm not going to say that it's free - because it isn't. The taxes I pay every month help fund the system that allows for all of my medical costs to be absorbed 100% by Social Security. But for the most part, it's been really good and thorough. I can't help but be relieved that I don't have to worry about which hospital I can go to or do I have enough saved up to cover the costs of medical care.
Bad: While the medical care is public, the customer service reflects that. My midwife is perpetually late - from 40 minutes to just under 4 hours - depending on the day. She also doesn't write down information accurately (I was one of the lucky women that did not have morning sickness, yet somehow my weight loss at the beginning of pregnancy was attributed to my puking all over Paris.) The secretaries at the check-in point *love* to make comments about my unorganized folder chock full of administrative crap and medical history. Yes, a folder. They don't keep your gestational medical history on file...it's up to you to cart this heavy file folder around with all of your test results, ultrasounds, check-up records, and other miscellany. Don't lose that goodness - or else you have *nothing*.
Good: French people *love* babies. I mean, they get all mushy and smiley and they all want to talk about babies. I don't think some people were as excited about our wedding as they are for this little cabbage (a French term of endearment that I've noted is used for babies more often than not). My only hope is that this love carries over for when I need a babysitter...
Bad: Strangers wanting to touch your stomach. All the time. And give you unsollicited advice. I'm sure this isn't limited to France by any means, but all I know is, I need a belly guard when I go out on Sunday mornings now that I've got one. Old women wanna touch this.
Good: Paid. Maternity. Leave. I haven't had the leave yet. We still have a few months to go. But hot damn, I get 16 weeks paid leave. Hubby gets 2 weeks. And if either of us needs more, we can take parental leave - unpaid- for upwards of 3 years, and our jobs are protected. Shazaam.
Bad: Aforementioned midwife wants to put me on maternity leave as soon as I start to show the teensiest sign of stress. That just doesn't jive with my American work ethic. Life can be stressful. To me, it is more stressful to go to the clinic where I do my monthly check-ups than it is to go to work. Why? Because work is a shorter commute, and there are loads of seats on the train. Clinic is on one of the *worst* metro lines in Paris (ligne 13 for those of you who feel me) and I always have to fight to not have a pair of elbows up in my baby's grill. I get that I need rest, but I sometimes feel as if everything is a bit too...panicky here. I feel fine, so why should I stop? And furthermore, why should I get to make the decision to stop? Everytime I go, I get asked if I want to stop working yet. Aren't you all supposed to be the doctors here?
Good: I feel good. While healthy grab-and-go foods don't really exist here (think Whole Foods) nor do inexpensive gyms, I feel as if I can have a healthier pregnancy here than in the United States. My prep courses are paid for by the government, as are any meetings I may need with a nutritionist. The verdict is out about exercise during pregnancy here, but I choose to do what I feel is best for me and do some exercise. Plus, I do kinda have to walk a lot of different places, given that I don't rely on a car. That helps keep my butt in motion.
Bad: I have never wanted to burst out into tears more after an encounter with someone than after my monthly meetings with my midwife. The endless contradictions, the harsh criticism for the slightest bit of weight gain, the panicked prescriptions without any explanation of why, and the occasional remark about Americans make me - well...wanna punch a baby. I'm not supposed to gain much weight, but I can't exercise. I'm supposed to eat healthy, but I can't eat raw vegetables because everything raw is covered in toxoplasmosis. I don't have gestational diabetes after all, following a slightly high blood sugar test, but don't worry - it'll show back up in the next couple of weeks, just you wait and see. I pray to the higher beings that she is not in my delivery room the day I give birth...Or maybe for hubby's sake I do, so I can yell at someone other than him.
The best thing of all about being pregnant in France: my adoring Frenchie husband. He is so psyched about being a daddy, it's almost surreal. He talks to it all the time, makes a playlist of music in French, English, Chinese, and Spanish so that it will hear multiple languages. He says hello to it everytime he feels it kick. He wants to be a part of every decision - from the crib to the baby monitor, from the type of diapers that we use to what hospital. And it's not all about the baby. He totally makes me feel like a bombshell. I always worried that while pregnant, I would feel like a beached whale. But every day, I hear how beautiful my tummy is, and it is just so wonderful and empowering. Even if our next kid is not born in France, I at least get to take this best part with me.
I don't want this to turn into another American mom living in Paris thing. But it is kinda neat to look at it through two cultural lenses and see where we don't see eye to eye.