Within a week or two of starting my new job in Paris, I found out we were going to have a baby. In hindsight I realize how scared I really was to be far away from home, with gaping holes in my understanding of the healthcare system here.
I was convinced that I wanted to have a natural birth (correction: I knew that this was the kind of birth I was going to have). I was going to hypnobirth that baby right out of me! He would enter the world into a warm bath of water via the birth canal, and it would be psychedelic and orgasmic (If I was lucky!). My baby would be placed on my belly in all his vernixalicious glory. He would look for and find my breast, and begin to nurse. We would stay together uninterrupted for no less than two hours, after which time I would allow the team to weigh and measure him. To be honest, I don’t know what I thought would come next – but that would be our birth story. In this story I had control over every aspect – I had choices. What I lived was very different than this, but in the end it was exactly the experience I needed.
I went into labour peacefully at home in the middle of the night. I had planned to have a delicious glass of wine and fall asleep to rest before the main event, but when it came time I was too scared that he would come out drunk and the hospital staff would know. I did go back to sleep, and the following morning as my husband got ready for work I told him that he should perhaps stay because it looked like he was going to become a papa. He was surprisingly calm about the whole thing – nothing like in the movies.
At home, my labour was what I imagined. I had taken the hypnobirthing class and so I knew how to breathe, what positions to make, and my husband knew exactly how to draw soothing palm trees on my back. I took a bath, sang my favorite songs and relished in the experience. It was psychedelic. One of the greatest and most peaceful experiences of my life, until…
My water broke. I cried when it happened. Everything instantly felt so real and I was surprised by the sensation and the mild embarrassment. We called our doula,Valérie and decided it was time to go to the hospital. We arrived and rang the bell, as instructed. The contractions were getting more and more intense – as I tried to participate in the discussions, my doula reminded me that I was not to feel pressure to come out of my bubble to talk to them. Time passed, we were admitted, and we headed to the room with the tub. I remember feeling like I couldn’t wait for them to leave me alone, but the questions kept on coming. Eventually I did get into the tub, Valérie cut the lights and I was again in my bubble. Things were going well. The contractions were rather intense and I could feel him shifting positions and making his way down. It was manageable because between the contractions there were moments of intense pleasure and relaxation. Above all, I was connected to what was happening and to him. More time passed…
The midwife came to check me. I didn’t want her to. I didn’t want to get out of the tub on the table, but unfortunately the midwife wasn’t sure how to check while I was in the tub, being young and inexperienced. I’m thankful for her youth in that respect – another midwife might have been intimidated by the presence of my doula and forbade her to enter (and there you have my attempt at positivity and silver linings).
Once I got out of the tub, laying on my back on the table with bright hospital lights on my face, my labour stalled. Some would say “obviously!”, but to the medical team at the hospital this was not as it should be and their urgent intervention was needed. Less than an hour later when I had yet to dilate any further, they told me that they had to pump me full of drugs to make things move faster. I didn’t really know why – an hour didn’t seem to be the end of the world and as far as I read, a first labour can be loooong. I was prepared with labour-aid and a secret stash of nuts (like a chipmunk!) to keep my energy up. I was in no rush, but judging by the threats (and I was indeed threatened) it was rather necessary to take the drug.
So I took the drug. I cried as she administered it. I was terrified, disappointed, and most of all I was being forced to go against my judgement. The pain… I decided not to take the epidural right away to try to avoid further intervention, but this didn’t last long. I could feel my body tighten with every contraction, and there were no peaceful waves of endorphins between surges – there was no in between. They became more and more intense, and I can only describe it as needing to exit my body in order to endure it. The epidural was my saviour. Once it was working, I relaxed. Valérie rubbed my legs and I drifted off into a dream, finally able to rest.
With no more emergency, no more non-compliance, the hospital staff was nowhere to be found. Our original midwife had long since abandoned us and was replaced with an ice queen, clearly in the wrong line of work. She barked orders at me from time to time, and I complied and hated her quietly.
From this point, I won’t describe it all – the invasive and aggressive use of spatulas (thrice!) and the decision to extract him via c-section, after which I melted into tears and was told to stop crying. The humiliation of an unknown man entering the room and shaving me without a word, surgery, and being told to “PUSH!” (what?), hearing my husband say, “Oh, he’s so cute!”, and waiting to see him for the first time but instead watching them run off with my little love, who was blue and limp. And then watching the clock as they sewed me up, not knowing if he was OK, but having no choice but to just lay there.
I do want to say that I learned a lot from the experience, but before I get to that I must admit that it was awful. I cry when I think about it because I feel robbed of the peaceful experience of being treated with the tenderness that a woman in labour deserves – and that I needed.
I also have to admit that I felt a bit like a failure for not being “able” to see my birth plan through. That’s a bit harsh, but true. In the end, I learned that he wasn’t in a position that made it possible for him to descend. His head – as it was described to me – was like a rugby ball presenting its greatest diameter, making it impossible for him to move into my pelvis. Could a more experienced midwife have helped me during labour using positioning and other strategies to encourage him to change position? Maybe, but we can’t go back, now can we? I will say that during the nicer part of the labour I felt him hard at work, twisting and turning during each contraction. We did our best, and having felt this gives me hope for the next time, God willing.
And here we are at the end of the story. I want to present to you a list of those people who helped me prepare for birth, who supported and cared for me, and who – had I known then what I know now – could have helped me avoid some of what I went through. They may be able to help you too if you find yourself in the same place I was in: new to Paris, soon-to-be mother, confused and without a place to start. This list may make things easier for you: I’d like to call it the “warm blanket” list. On it are some people you can trust (and a place or two you can go!) to be cared for you and who can cloak you in a warm blanket of tenderness, compassion and understanding. I’ll add to it as I learn more and meet new people.
Valérie DuPin (Bilingual), co-founder Doulas de France, Paris and banlieue
We met Valérie towards the end of my pregnancy. I hired a doula in the beginning who ended up cancelling – well to be honest, she initially agreed that she was available on the dates and then 4 months later as I was about to write the cheque, had a wedding in the South of France to attend. I spent some time feeling bad about that and not knowing where to turn. Valérie and I had an instant connection. She is French but spent many years in the U.K, speaks English very well, and her children were born there. She visited with us many times before the birth and accompanied us in the delivery room. Valérie stayed with us for 2 days in the hospital, stayed by my side for as long as she could (when I went to surgery), and made sure that our personal affairs were taken to the room once they kicked us out of the delivery room. She came back the following day to help me with breastfeeding, and in the week or two after we were home she visited me regularly so that I wouldn’t be alone. She is a passionate and dedicated woman who is quietly strong, and she’s taught me so much about how to mother, simply by being herself. I should also mention that she’s really been supportive as my husband and I have transitioned into parenthood, and continues to visit us, as needed, to discuss and debate parenting topics.
Anne Belargent (Bilingual), doula, Paris and banlieue
Anne was one of a few doulas we interviewed in Paris. We didn’t choose her because she didn’t have much experience with delivery, but I felt she would have been a good option if we weren’t specifically looking for a person to accompany us in the delivery room. She can help you postpartum, taking care of you and your baby in a supportive role. If I remember correctly, she will come over, give you a nap, and help with food prep and tidying up – among other doula responsibilities such as a breastfeeding supporter. Anne also was on call in the event I went into labour when Valérie was away.
Elizabeth Echlin (Bilingual), hypnobirthing teacher / hypnotherapy, Paris 11e
I saw Elizabeth as my hypnobirthing coach, and as a hypnotherapist postpartum to help me work through the birth experience. I appreciate her so much. She is kind, confident, warm and honest, all while remaining very professional. I highly recommend her.
Charlotte REDON (French only), midwife and lactation consultant, Vincennes
Charlotte was referred to me by a friend in Vincennes, and I saw her as a lactation consultant when my son wasn’t eating very much solid food by age 1. She was very reassuring and kind. I found her to be helpful, especially when other French practitioners in my life were encouraging me to stop breastfeeding.
Claude Vouillot (French only), midwife/osteopath, Paris 12e
Claude was my osteopath for a time and I found her to be effective, strong and a good listener and advisor. In the end, I felt she was not very understanding about some conflicts I had with our appointments that needed to be rescheduled, and I decided to find someone else.
Pauline Allamand (Bilingual), osteopath, relocated to Annecy
Pauline was an angel and a very skilled osteopath. She is a former athlete and has a peaceful presence about her. She treated Noah for colic, and she was the only person he allowed to touch him without screaming. She treated him while he nursed, which was a very unique and beautiful experience.
Nadia Battah (French only), midwife libérale, Rosny-Sous-Bois
Nadia agreed to see me at home because I preferred to leave the hospital as soon as possible. She listened to me, advised me and was extremely gentle with me, in a time when I needed it.
Message Paris (English), connect with other mothers, Paris and suburbs
I recommend joining Message Paris to connect with other mothers in your area. We were not meant to mother alone. Especially in the Parisian winter, life with a tiny baby can be very isolating.
Stephanie Beal Laurens (French only), osteopath, Vincennes
Stephanie is young and passionate, and I appreciate her search for more information and how she uses it to enhance her practice. I have to say that she’s been very helpful to me with some issues I have had with my back since giving birth.
Miettes (Bilingual), café, Vincennes
I mention Miettes because I feel very at home here. It’s important to have a place you can go to and feel welcome with your baby. It is small, but they are very accommodating with the stroller and the bathroom is spacious. Laure and Matthieu are so genuine and kind. They’re generous, open-minded and I very quickly became a regular here. I love the décor – I find it relaxing to sit and have a cup of coffee, a delicious treat and some conversation. It’s amazing any day, but especially nice on days where I feel homesick or lonely. Laure is modest about it but her English is amazing since she spent some years in Australia.
M&Vous (French only), Bar à beauté, Vincennes
I love it here. Also a regular, I usually leave fuller than I was when I arrived, always having laughed a bunch, and sometimes having cried (I’m kind of like this…). Caroline does my nails weekly and eyebrows when it becomes an issue, and Raci takes care of my facials. Spending time with them keeps me looking and feeling beautiful. I think as new moms we must develop and insist upon rituals of self-care, even if all you have is an hour to get your nails painted. They’re very patient and sweet with my boy if he needs to come too, and there’s never a shortage of “bisous”.