You’re Having Your Baby Where?

You’re Having Your Baby Where? That was my best friend’s first reaction when I told her I was pregnant and going to have the baby here in Paris. “Are you sure you shouldn’t come back to the States to have the baby? Is it safe to have a baby over there? What kind of doctors do they have?” There was no way she could believe that I was going to give birth in a foreign country. You see, she’s what I like to call “old-school American,” which means things are almost always better in America. My dear friend asked all the questions that I would hear many times over the course of my pregnancy–would the baby be French? What about his American rights? What kind of hospitals and equipment do they have over here? Although I was not much worried about her concerns, I did know that having a baby in France would not be like having a baby in the States. One of my sisters has had six, so I know a little bit about how it works over there. I knew that it wouldn’t be quite the same over here. For me, it all started about four years ago when I went to my gynaecologist for the first time for a yearly check-up.… What Do You Mean, You Want Me To Mail It? I had gotten my gynaecologist’s name and phone number from the American Embassy’s “List of English Speaking Doctors” because when I first got to France almost five years ago, I didn’t speak a lick of French. Having an English-speaking doctor was of the utmost importance for me. I thought the appointment would be a breeze, since the language part was being covered. However, I was unprepared for what the actual visit would be like. I arrived to find that the doctor’s office and the examination room were one and the same. Interesting. As she sat at her desk asking me the usual questions, I was looking around trying to determine if the window facing the examination table had thick-enough curtains. They were sheer white and looked absolutely see-through. Scary. Once the questions were over, my gynaecologist told me to go ahead and prepare for the examination–in other words, to strip. I said “All right” and walked over to the table, a mere three steps from the chair I had been sitting in, and sat down on the table. She continued rustling her papers, washed her hands, and then came back over to the table to where I was. She looked at me. I looked at her. Finally after smiling at each other for what seemed like a long, long time, she said, “I’m sorry for my English, but I mean for you to take off your clothes. We are ready for examination.” I smiled back at her and said, “No, I understood you very well. Your English is great!” (After all, you never want to insult a doctor who’ll soon have you naked in a pair of stirrups.) The doctor came closer and said, “Why did you not do it already? You feel okay, non?” I sheepishly said, “I was waiting for you to leave the room.” She laughed and said: “It’s different in America, yes?” To that, I let out a long “Yesssssss.” I knew it then. Gone were the days when my doctor would politely leave the room, and leave me sitting on the table for a good 15 minutes barely covered up in a little blue tissue-dress, and then gently tap on the door of the examination room before re-entering with a nurse who would witness everything. Yes, I was definitely out of Kansas–or Alabama, if you will. After the examination, the doctor jovially gave my vial, my personal stuff , to her secretary, who proceeded to put it in a manilla envelope. The secretary was telling me not to forget to put a stamp on the envelope before mailing it to the lab. Somewhere between lab and stamp I woke up out of my stupor and asked “Excuse me, but did you say that you want me to mail it? Mail the vial?” Looking at me as if I were an alien, she said, “Yes. You mail it. Of course you mail it.” “Oh, okay. Yeah. All right.” Those were the only words that I could muster. There was no lab on site? Bizarre. I left the doctor’s office feeling like the title of a movie I’d seen recently–Dazed and Confused. For one thing, I was sure that someone had probably set up a video camera across the street from the doctor’s sheer-curtained office and that pictures of me in the stirrups would soon appear all over the Internet and who knows where else. The horror of it! I thought about calling my husband to make sure that this practice of sheer curtains, disrobing in front of the doctor, no nurse witness, and mailing my own vial to the lab were common practice in France, but then I thought, “He wouldn’t know. When’s the last time he went to a gynaecologist?” I called my mother-in-law in Normandy. She told me that indeed it was all common, c’est normale, she said. (That’s a French phrase you have to get used to if you live here.) Then she actually helped me put everything in perspective. I mean, after all, the doctor was going to see me naked anyway, right? What difference did it make if he or she left the room before I disrobed or not? And as for taking my own personal specimen to the post office to mail to the lab, wasn’t it better that I took care of it myself, rather than someone else? She had me convinced that it was all completely normal. Well, almost. I continued on to La Poste nervously carrying the envelope under my arm. You see, I had my small purse with me that day and there was no way…
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