My name is Maria Babin. I am an American born to a Mexican mother and a Peruvian father. I was born and raised in California and married Sam, a Frenchman, the love of my life, while we were both completing university studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. We lived there for six years while we finished up school, started our little family and Sam got started on a career.
We moved to France in January 2006 and have been living in a pretty countryside suburb southwest of Paris for the past 6 1/2 years now. I majored in French at BYU and was a French teacher in the United States and taught English here in France for a couple of years before I became a professional daycare provider. I am currently employed by the municipal daycare in the commune where I live and work out of my home caring for two children. That is, up until I became pregnant and very sick and my doctor felt it best for me to not work during this pregnancy.
I am the proud and happy mother of three children: a son Alex age 11, and two daughters Elena and Gabriela ages 8 and 5 and am expecting a little boy in November. He will complete our family! I’ll be 40 next January and we’re going to close this baby making factory to devote our time and attention to raising four! My two oldest children were born in Provo, Utah (a land of high fertility! and thus in my opinion availability of excellent birthing facilities) and my youngest daughter was born in Orsay. Our little boy will be born in Versailles that is, granted we make it to the hospital on time!
2. Where did you choose to give birth in France?
I had originally intended to give birth at the clinique in Parly II (Le Chesnay), but since we had just arrived in France (when I was 8 weeks pregnant!), I did not yet qualify for the Assurance Maladie. I was therefore given an emergency state coverage that was not accepted at this or any private hospital and was forced to choose a public hospital. Orsay was the closest to home and also well-equipped to handle any neonatal emergencies since the baby I was carrying was at high risk for Down Syndrome.
3. Why did you decide to give birth in this location?
To deliver at Orsay was a huge disappointment as I had become used to the idea that I would deliver in Parly II, the same clinique where my husband was born. When I learned that it would have to be in a public hospital I had a sinking sick feeling in my stomach. I was new to France, not yet confident with my French and changing provider and hospitals mid-pregnancy caused me a great deal of anguish, especially when I envisioned a public hospital as one being for the needy or under-privileged. I imagined that it would be dirty, lower quality, over-populated and second-class service. I had delivered in almost luxurious conditions while in the United States and I was apprehensive of the change.
4. What were you doing when you began labor?
My first two children came 2 1/2 weeks early, so at 36 1/2 weeks gestational age. Gabriela, my third-born took a little more time. My due date was set for August 14th and I delivered the day before on August 13th! In the States, my doctor was not apprehensive about stripping my membranes to induce labor naturally once he felt that it was safe to deliver, but here it was an absolutely unheard of or insane idea. What’s more is that term is 41 weeks here in France, whereas it’s 40 in the United States. Try an American due date calculator, then a French one and you’ll notice that the French one tacks on an extra week. So in the United States my due date would have been August 8th! I was used to delivering at 36 weeks and as I patiently (or very impatiently) watched 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks, 40 weeks go by, I really honest-to-goodness thought I couldn’t survive another second with a very large belly (my largest baby to date) in a record breaking Parisian heat wave and in a country where air-conditioning is not the norm!
I was huge. I had two rambunctious, happy children who loved to play and make messes and giggle and I was exhausted. I remember the evenings getting them ready for bed, I would take one-two-three steps and then I’d have to wait a bit before I could keep going. Kneeling down to help them to put away their toys was sheer torture!
My doctor would not strip my membranes, but my husband and I were eager to get this baby on the way and tried everything else that is recommended, even though I was huge and it required some careful gymnastics. I believe we even broke a bed that we were sleeping on at my sister-in-law’s house. Good times! We prayed a lot that she would finally come and I would cry a lot during the days out of sheer physical and emotional exhaustion. Our transition to France had been rough: Sam was currently unemployed, and even though I had been very serene and at peace concerning Gabriela’s impending health, the last moments of anticipation of what awaited us were sheer anguish. The fact that she was taking so long didn’t help.
And then August 13th at around 6 am I woke up with some strong contractions. I remember the night before I had gone in to see my little ones in their beds and had talked to them about their little sister who would soon arrive. They were very tender moments. It was almost like intuitively my body knew and I was preparing myself and the children. I woke Sam up and told him it was time even though I had only had a few contractions. I showered and dressed and got our things ready. I was a little nervous. My in-laws were already with us, had been for several weeks, waiting for the moment to arrive. My husband said a special prayer and I was instantly calmed and at peace. The contractions were strong enough to take my breath away, but still bearable. We got in the car and drove to the hospital while I made a list of to-do’s for my husband and in-laws.
5. Tell us about your experience giving birth in France?
The second I met my mid-wife I knew everything would be okay. She was a short blond, energetic woman with a smile that radiated sunshine. She was quick and competent. She was also kind enough to wait until my contraction ended to check and see that I was dilated to a 5. I was in labor! And I thought I was really going to do this without an epidural this time. We walked the halls where I would bend over and wait and breathe with every contraction. Things seemed to be moving along very quickly. At a certain point the contractions became unbearable, so I went to lay down but there was little that could provide any comfort. When the nurse came in I told her I would be having that epidural after all.
Quite a while later on one of her visits back in our room, I asked her when the anesthesiologist would be arriving. She looked at me with big eyes and said she thought I didn’t want an epidural. She had not understood my earlier request. And there I was begging to have one now! The mid-wife came in and announced I was dilated to a 10, but that I could still have the epidural if I really wanted it. I begged her please, yes. The anesthesiologist finally arrived and told me I must curl into a ball and hold perfectly still. Hold perfectly still in that position? Was he joking? Did he have any idea of the writhing pain that was causing my body to contortion in vain efforts to manage the surreal pain?! He left and they gave me some laughing gas.
OOOOooooh, I liked that stuff! Not only did it give me a little buzz (and just so you know I’ve never done any drugs, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and just having a Coca Cola makes me feel wired, so you can imagine the effects of this laughing gas!!!). It took the edge off the excruciating, out of this world agony, but also violently inhaling it in and out through the mask gave me a sense of control. Control of what? I have no idea, but it helped. I started pushing pretty soon and stopped at one point to take off my gas mask and yell at everyone in the room: “Ca fait mal!!!!!” Needless to say, they were all laughing and yes, I’m pretty sure I had intended it be a comical understatement. Laughing gas, remember? At a certain point I could feel contractions, the urge to push, the baby and the mid-wife’s hands inside of me. I kept thinking: “Doesn’t she realize it hurts enough without adding her hands in there?!” Later I would learn that Gabriela had the umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck and that the mid-wife skillfully removed it before I pushed her out. I was grateful she never told me what was happening. I would have panicked.
At 12:23 p.m. I heard and felt an audible tear when I finally pushed out her head and some really broad shoulders and then they plopped a very round and chubby, slightly purple (due to the temporary lack of oxygen) baby girl on my belly. I couldn’t believe it! There she was! 4 kilos 20 grams. Or as we say in the USA: a 9 pounder! A very sweet and tender connection developed almost instantly between my Gabriela and me. I was a very happy mommy.
6. What was your most memorable moment?
Now I don’t know if this was the most memorable moment, but it definitely marked our experience with Gabriela’s birth. I mentioned earlier that she was at high-risk for Down Syndrome, but because we would love and accept her any way she came to us and because I had had two previous miscarriages and didn’t want to risk having a third, I refused the amniocentesis. I had an incredible experience once I made this choice and was filled with an indescribable and yet almost tangible peace that everything would be okay. I didn’t have the certainty that she would be born without Down Syndrome, but I already loved my little girl and I knew that everything would work out in the best way possible and that I was ready to love and accept her into my life, my heart, my home and my family no matter her state of health.
It was a little different for my husband and his parents. Sam was also willing to accept our little girl in whatever state of health, but he was less serene than I was and the second Gabriela was born he asked the doctor whether or not she had Down Syndrome. And to be totally honest, I personally couldn’t tell. She was so much bigger and chubbier than my other two babies, a bit swollen and purple because of the umbilical cord. She looked different than my other babies and I didn’t know if she had Down Sydrome or not. But in my heart I knew that time would tell and that everything would be okay. My husband on the other handed a firm confirmation either way. The pediatrician briefly examined Gabriela and gave him what he felt was an evasive answer: “Apparently, she is okay.” Sam needed more. He needed to know in no uncertain terms and he had to fight tooth and nail to get the hospital to agree to give her a karyotype blood test.
We were highly criticized for this by the entire medical staff. They rebuked us for having our tiny girl’s blood drawn needlessly and told us that it was so obvious that she was a perfectly healthy girl. We were criticized during the pregnancy for not having had the amniocentesis and now we were being criticized for wanting to know. It was as if our window of time to find out had closed and now that the baby was born, the medical staff no longer cared whether or not she had Down Syndrome. The pediatrician tried to reassure my husband telling him that we would know long before the test results arrived by simple observation that our Gabriela was perfectly healthy. This was simply not enough for my husband or my in-laws. All this created a very tense atmosphere where all I wanted to do was love my little girl who had filled me with an indescribably love and joy, even though to be totally honest there was a little sadness not knowing whether or not she had Down Syndrome. But I shrugged it off, blamed it on the baby blues and told myself that only time would tell and that everything would be okay.
One morning my mother-in-law came to see us and ended up having a somewhat animated discussion with one of the medical staff. In her heart she felt I didn’t dare ask these questions, that I was too shy, and she was trying to help me! But it was more than I could handle and I remember taking a walk outside in my pink pajamas just to get some fresh air and breathe away from the heavy tension. My behavior (going outside in my pj’s) absolutely puzzled and intrigued my in-laws, but being American I saw nothing wrong with it.
Towards the end of our hospital visit, Sam gradually came to accept our baby girl just the way she was. He had come to terms with the situation, felt peace and a great love developing in his heart for his little girl. He would still be very sad to learn that she had Down Syndrome, but he knew he loved her no matter what. And to make an already long story short, her karyotype came back normal when she was a few months old and we had indeed already seen for ourselves that she was a perfectly healthy little girl.
7. Is there anything you would do differently if having another baby in France?
For starters, this time I am going to a private hospital, a clinique. Even though I had a beautiful birthing experience at the public hospital, my prenatal visits left something to be desired. My biggest complaints? The secretaries were impersonal and sometimes bordered on rude, the first doctor I went to treated me like an idiot because I didn’t know to bring my medical file with me when I switched providers and hospitals and never let me get a word in edgewise. I ended up losing my temper and telling her to please let me speak, that I was a foreigner and that could she please just have a little more patience with someone who is not from this country? She took me back to the reception area, wrote on my file that we had relational problems and requested for me to have a different doctor.
I was in tears by that point with the rest of the medical staff staring at me like I was insane. Total silence and very awkward moment. It stung! Where was the kind caring staff that I was used to in the United States? The hospital was old and run-down and indeed overcrowded, parking was very difficult to find and the hospital was at the top of a hill where I would trudge my large pregnant body in the hot summer sun and then have to check into the hospital for every single prenatal visit and then walk back down to my appointment. The hospital was constantly under construction, felt gloomy and in the summer during the heat waves, they wouldn’t turn the lights on in order to conserve energy and keep the temperatures down! No air conditioning in sight, remember? In addition, my own ob-gyn would not deliver my baby, I would have to take a chance on whatever mid-wife happened to be there (okay, so that one worked out okay) and then of course, there was that whole Down Syndrome situation.
Changing hospitals was necessary this time around and while I was at it I thought: «Why not a private hospital this time?” And that’s exactly what I’m doing and the experience has been so much more pleasant and the cherry on top is that my ob-gyn will deliver my baby. For me, that counts for a lot to have the same physician who has followed my entire pregnancy and knows my history be the one who will be present for labor and delivery. For my first appointment she was over an hour late because she was delivering a baby and that was okay and just fine by me because someday that will be me on the delivery end and I will be grateful that she will give me priority over her scheduled appointments.
The other thing I am doing is documenting my experience on my blog: www.busyasabeeinparis.com. I realized that so many of my American friends were curious to know what my experience was like here and also that I would have loved to read about another American’s experience before going through a pregnancy and delivering in France. So I decided to dedicate several blog posts to going step-by-step through all the parts of having a baby in France. The experience has been somewhat therapeutic and has also helped to really understand (and appreciate, I might add) the French system.
A piece of advice I would give: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions even if they are not necessarily patiently answered. It’s your body, your baby, your health and you have a right to know. For so many things I really felt lost, but I didn’t dare ask for fear that I would get my head snapped off (as was my experience with one doctor) or for fear that I would seem stupid. And I still suffer from these fears, but I’m really trying to get better at it. Another piece of advice? Read Carrieanne’s book, I’ve glanced through it and will soon read it to write a review on my blog, but I can already tell you it is brilliantly written. Well-organized, well-documented, informative and the cherry on the cake? She not only gives you English translations, but also includes exercises to help you learn the language by becoming proficient with vocabulary and phrases that will be useful in your birthing experience! How I wish this book existed 6 years ago!
8. How was your experience different than giving birth in your home country (if you are a foreigner)?
The biggest difference was that the ob-gyn that I finally chose through the recommendation of my French neighbor would not be present for the birth of the baby. This seemed just absurd to me. I really apprehended the birth experience, but was pleasantly surprised. So all is well that ends well, right? Another difference that I also already mentioned was the difference in terms between the USA and France: 40 versus 41 weeks. There are a lot more ultra-sounds here and of course the famous Down Syndrome blood test was new, but I believe it’s done in the United States now as well. I just refused it this time, but it was not presented to me as an option when I was pregnant with Gabriela.
The actual birth was fairly similar. With the emergency insurance I had I didn’t pay a centime out of pocket, but in the states we had both of our children while we were poor college students and so we qualified for Medicaid and didn’t pay a penny for either of those births. I no longer have that emergency insurance, but I have understood that the Assurance Maladie plus my supplemental health coverage through my husband’s work would also cover every centime. If we were living in the United States today, with normal health insurance I don’t believe this would be the case. I was thoroughly impressed by Carrieanne’s article on this subject. So that is a HUGE difference! And so here we go again, having another baby in France!
Have you given birth in France? Share your birth story… read this post for more information.