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We returned to France for our son’s birth

Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, my partner and I agreed we would move back to France from the UK. It was the right choice, writes new mum Letty David who now lives in Haute-Vienne

For a first-timer, being pregnant was a rollercoaster of questions, emotions and decisions. But the medical and social support in France, during and after my pregnancy, was reassuring. If I had accepted all the services (for free) on top of the basic medical care, being pregnant would have been a full-time job.

I was born in France, and had only lived in the UK for a few years as a student, so I already had a GP who was very enthusiastic when I went to see him.

“Excellent! A baby!” he said. “You can put on nine kilos, but no more!” He completed a raft of forms, prescribed anti-nausea medication, iron and folic acid and sent me for a scan to confirm that I really was expecting a little bundle of joy.

I met my incredibly efficient midwife at the scan and was offered home visits, counselling, exercise classes, help with paperwork, and a guided tour of the maternity unit.

She suggested information meetings covering pregnancy, paperwork, children’s rights, social services to explain maternity benefits, and childcare options – as well as coffee mornings for new parents.

My diary started to fill up.

She also drew up a schedule of medical exams, blood tests, scans and midwife appointments. I had all sorts of questions. Would I need an episiotomy? Would I be given the choice? What about a caesarean? I also had a long list of things I did not want to happen but I did not know exactly what I did want.

So, when I was asked to create a birth plan I had no idea what kind of thing I should include. “Just put everything,” said the midwife.

My first thought was to have my favourite stuffed toy, Tiger, in the birthing room with me. Then I chose Paul Simon for the music, and said I did not want to eat salsify. I asked for an all-female team, no students, and for an episiotomy to be a final recourse only in the case of an emergency.

At the next meeting, the midwife went through my plan with a smile on her face. Tiger would be allowed, salsify would not be on the menu, and I could exclude students from the birthing room. An all-female team would be tricky, but perhaps I would like to meet the only male midwife so that if he was on duty, at least he would be no stranger.

Monthly blood tests came and went. My midwife weighed me, measured my bump and invited me to swimming sessions, yoga and meditation.

At five months I found out I was having a boy. “There it is!” said the doctor, pointing at the screen. “That proves it’s a boy!”

I started having practice contractions. “Come into the clinic any time,” said the midwife.

So I went, worried the baby might come early. She reassured me everything was fine and sent me home ... but said I could phone the maternity unit or go in, any time, for advice.

The maternity unit was small and friendly. Just three birthing rooms and a team of 10 midwives. I was happy I would be giving birth there, if at the same time, obviously nervous.

Once I was in labour, a lot of the things I had insisted on melted away. I forgot Tiger, and decided I did not mind the nice student midwife assisting at the birth at all. And by the time the anaesthetist came in to administer an epidural I was past caring that he was a man.

I need not have worried when doing my birth plan, but I am glad I thought about them and let the staff know because it meant nothing happened without me being consulted.

I did not need an episiotomy, just one stitch, but I went through gallons of gas. I was offered a morphine injection and when the contractions got even stronger I asked for it and was told I was dilated enough to have an epidural put in.

I loved the epidural! Once it is done, you honestly cannot feel a thing. The anaesthetist gave me a button to press to increase the dosage in case I started to regain sensation.

He assured me it was impossible to overdose, so I pressed the button a few times and fell asleep. I dozed and listened to Chopin for hours.

Then, I pushed for about 20 minutes and our son was born. It was nothing like the movies: no wailing, no panic, no drama. My face did not go red, and I did not break a sweat.

Everyone went away and left us with the lights turned low, where we snuggled for a few hours, and the family came in to meet our new son. A couple of hours later, the baby was taken next door to be weighed, measured and dressed.

While I was pregnant, I was asked how I felt about breastfeeding and offered help deciding what to do. I was encouraged to try breastfeeding even if I only did it for a short time and told that if things did not work out it would be fine to move onto formula.

Nurses and midwives at the hospital helped me with every feed, day and night, until I was confident to do it on my own.

They also helped me use a pump to stimulate the milk production. You can hire a breastpump from a pharmacy. The cost is reimbursed if you have a prescription. The good news is, there was no pressure. There were no raised eyebrows when I started supplementing with a few bottles of formula.

Then there’s the small matter of getting back in shape after having a baby. Rééducation is taken very seriously!

Even though everything went well and I was quite fit, I was prescribed 15 sessions of rééducation périnéale (pelvic floor rehabilitation) and 25 sessions of rééducation abdominale.

Pelvic floor exercises involve a probe plugged into a tablet ... it’s pretty surreal! Taking baby to the sessions made me feel more at ease and also distracted the midwife, who ended up cuddling him and not paying too much attention to me.

At the start of my pregnancy I was full of fears and had nightmares about giving birth. But everything went so well, I need not have worried. The French system prepares you, every step of the way.

It is true that I cannot compare my experience with having a baby in the UK, but my British friends envy the care I had. I am sure women have pleasant birth experiences all over the world all the time, and I could easily have had my baby in the UK, but for me, France was the perfect place.

 

Letty’s tips to make life a bit easier

‒ A two or three-gang extension cable so that you can plug in phones etc and still reach them from the bed

‒ If breastfeeding do not forget some Lanolin nipple cream and breast pads (coussinets d’allaitement) to soak up any leakage

‒ A nice music playlist, a favourite book, a stuffed toy, some chocolate, a travel kettle; whatever else might help create a relaxing and comforting environment

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