You’re Having Your Baby Where? Part II



The Good, The Bad, and The Hurry

was only five weeks pregnant and already completely stressed out. The
first reason was that my gynaecologist, whom I had become attached to,
informed me that she did not deliver babies. “Well, why not?” I asked
her. “Aren’t you a gynaecologist?” She laughed her affable laugh and
said, “Oui, mais c’est comme ça.” (Another French phrase that you have
to get used to.) Hmm. So it’s like that? Okay. But she was helpful as
usual, and gave me a recommendation to a “great” clinic. After that, I
was still stressed out because she, along with all of my friends,
colleagues, and French family, were telling me of the dire importance
of registering to have my baby immediately. Register? To have a baby?
In Alabama you just head to the nearest hospital whenever it’s time.
You call the doctor and he meets you there. That’s it. In Paris,
everything is more…well…shall we say, organized?

of all, you have a choice between hospitals and clinics. I decided to
go with a clinic in order to have a more a personalized service, since
this would be my first child. Also, I had heard a few horror stories
about how quickly one can become a mere number in some hospitals here.
I’m aware that that could happen anywhere, in any country, but still,
for me, a clinic was definitely the best choice.

clinic that I went with is called Maternité Sainte-Félicité, and is
located at 37 Rue St. Lambert in the 15th district of Paris This
maternité is run by les Petites Soeurs des Maternité Catholiques-in
other words, Catholic nuns. The clinic has been in place since 1990
and, as one friend put it, if you were summing it up it in hotel
measures it would ,be a four-star.

I first went there to register, having already been to the Sécurite
Sociale to declare my pregnancy, and having my first ecography as proof
that I was indeed pregnant, I was afraid they wouldn’t take me, that
I’d be left out in the cold to have my baby at home. After all, I’m not
Catholic, so I didn’t know if that would be a problem or not. It
wasn’t. They never even asked the question and the clinic is open to
people of all faiths. My next fear was whether they would have enough
space for me. Was I already too late? As it turned out, I was too
early: I had to leave the clinic and come back two weeks later. In the
end, the clinic accepted me, and I was officially registered.

next step was choosing a doctor. If you have your baby at this clinic,
you must choose a doctor from their list. Of course, not knowing any of
these doctors, I called my gynaecologist and she recommended a doctor
from the list. Another panic set in. Would he be as nice and as good as
my gynaecologist? Well, only time would tell. There was really nothing
else that I could do. Being pregnant is one thing, but I learned that
being pregnant in another country is something altogether different.

It All Happened So Fast

pregnancy seemed to be over before I knew it. I had stopped working,
having the usual six weeks’ maternity leave that women receive in
France before the baby is born. (In addition, you receive ten weeks of
maternity leave after.) I had walked all over the Versailles gardens on
the weekends for exercise, and in my own neighbourhood’s Parc Monceau
as well. I had read all the well-known books available in English:
“What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Your Pregnancy Week By Week.”
Those books are excellent references, but if you’re having a baby in
France, I strongly suggest that you buy at least one French book. That
way, you’ll have the French system and the vocabulary under your nose.

book I found to be the most useful is “Guide Practique de la femme
enceinte,” by Marie-Claude Delahaye; I found it one day while browsing
in a FNAC store. The price? Only 7.90 euros and worth every centime. In
this book you have the usual advice and evolution of your pregnancy,
but it’s also filled with social security information, legal issues and
other administrative information that you really need to have. And as I
mentioned, the French medical vocabulary could be an issue for some, so
it’s good to know very important words, such as péridurale. In English,
it’s epidural. Yes, they almost sound the same, but do you really want
to take a chance at not being understood? Not with this word!

read all my books and seen the doctor for my last regular visit, in
which he chided me a little bit about my weight, I was totally ready
(mentally) to have the baby. As for the weight thing, in France the
doctors advise you to gain between nine and 12 kilos, that’s 19-26
pounds. In America, the doctors are more liberal, shall we say, and you
have the “right” to gain between 30-35 pounds. As I told my doctor,
I’ll certainly adopt everything that’s great about the French system,
such as the maternity leave, for example. But as for the weight gain, I
have to remain totally American on that one. For me, it seems totally
reasonable to put on 30 pounds. I mean, with the baby’s weight, all the
water retention, the placenta…okay, and also because of the mere fact
that trying to resist delicious French pastries, pregnant or not, is
like trying to convince George Hamilton to stop tanning: it’s

Friday morning,
July 12, I called my husband, who had just arrived at work, and told
him to make a u-turn. It was time to get over to Sainte-Félecité, right
away. I’d called the clinic and they were expecting me. When we
arrived, I saw my doctor for only 15 minutes, because as it turned out,
he was on his way to the south of France for a holiday, so he called in
a replacement, one of his colleagues. The “new” doctor came in to see
me, and was extremely nice. Everyone at the clinic was. The nuns,
nurses, administrative people were all very professional and smiley. I
even had my own private monotrice; a nurse specialized in deliveries
who worked exclusively with me before, during and after the delivery.
The sécurité sociale didn’t cover the full fee, but her services were
well worth it. She got me my péridurale very speedily, and from that
point all went extremely well with the delivery.

the stay at the clinic was six days, something totally different from
the hospitals in America, in which the average stay is two to three
days at the most. The service at the clinic continued to be good, the
staff very friendly and helpful, and they even had good food. Now when
have you ever had good hospital food? I’m here to tell you that it does
indeed exist. The baby and I were surrounded by great people who really
went out of their way to provide us with the best service possible.
While lying there watching Le Tour de France on the television posted
over my bed, the baby sleeping in his little crib beside me, I even
felt good enough to continue rooting for my compatriot, Lance

The Best of Both Worlds

wonderful to have a baby who would be from two different cultures and
speak two different languages! While I was still at the clinic, my
husband took care of registering the baby at the mairie as an official
French citizen, as this must be done no later three days after the baby
is born. When my lovely stay at the clinic came to an end, it was my
turn to handle the other administrative task: making the baby an
official American. Even though we had until the child is 18 years old
to claim his nationality, I wanted to get it done as soon as possible.
The baby was already French by birth, of course, and we could say that
he was automatically American too, since I am, but it still had to be
made official. Luckily, the American Embassy has everything you need on
its website. Here’s the link:

downloading all of the paperwork, I went to the Embassy with forms
already completed, and the whole process of making my son officially
American was done in less than an hour. Now he’s a little
Franco-American–good news for his French family, and good news for his
American family. It’s also great news for the parents. I felt so proud
standing there in the American Services section holding the official
document that would serve as his American birth certificate. I wanted
to break out in song with “The Star Spangled Banner” at that moment. I
wanted to dance a little jig. But with all the new security measures in
place, I didn’t want the Marines to chuck me out thinking that I was a
lunatic…but I did hum the anthem all the way back to the métro. I love
France and my husband tells me that I’m half French now, but I’m still
very much American too.

Have I
learned and been through everything that is different here? No, not
even close. There are so many other new things to learn. For example
the milk that babies use here is in a powder form. Another question is
that of circumcision. What about pediatricians? The learning and the
experience doesn’t stop after the baby is born. The school system is
different, the daycare. I could go on and on.

having a baby in France the frightening experience I’d expected it to
be? Not at all. The doctor didn’t ask me to pass him the forceps or
administer my own péridurale. (I would have though, had he asked me,
the péridurale, that is.) In fact, no matter how strange it might have
seemed at times, Americans have more things in common with the French
than not. Once you understand the way things work here, you just learn
to go with it. Would I do it again? I sure would, in a second, or maybe
more accurately, in a couple of years.

I hear my little Franco-American angel crying. Time for another bottle!
As for you, what else can I tell you? I know. Go out and have all the
babies you want here in France! As I assured my best friend on the
phone, believe me, it’s totally feasible and perfectly safe.

A true Southern Belle who grew up in Alabama, Priscilla Lalisse now lives with her French husband and son in Paris.

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