Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 6

It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter. Marlene Dietrich

water trough FRMy close friend of 20 years has come over from London to help me with the baby while my husband is off to work as an accompagnateur en montagne for the first time this summer season. E was a highly paid nanny for many years, working for an illustrious broadcaster and a journalist, respectively, before moving to another profession. Shortly after arriving at my door via transfer from Geneva, she exclaimed that she’d expected me to look like the crazy cat woman from The Simpsons, but was relieved to discover me showered, dressed, and composed. She told me that as she’d been traveling from the airport, gazing out the window of the van, she’d kept noting it was ‘gorgeous, gorgeous scenery, yet completely not Victoria’s natural habitat.’ C’est vrai, mais je dois etre ici pour maintenant.

E happily cooed and exclaimed over my ‘beautiful, beautiful’ boy, and he immediately took to her with her large bosom and animated face. We went out for lunch and a walk, which is a mission with an infant in tow because one must bring every conceivable item one might need for an excursion. Lunch was a good catch up. E made me laugh by not even attempting to speak French with the waiters, instead, she irreverently mimed her needs, such as putting her hands to her lips and making the noise ‘num, num, num, num’ to indicate she wanted to eat. I work so hard to be polite to the French, aware of their disdain for the outsider, and am often met with blank or disdainful looks for my efforts. When I began breastfeeding the boy at the table, E quickly raised my scarf to shield the world from my breast, which she declared is like a woman in National Geographic: “Jesus H Victoria! The size of that nipple! It’s the size of my little finger! Good grief woman, cover that up, you’ll cause a traffic accident!’ That said, she stopped nursing her own boy when he started giving her (what she thinks were) lascivious looks. After lunch and during our walk, my boy pooped three times. I worried we’d run out of nappies and wipes and have to wipe his bottom on the grass, or dip it in one of the basins provided in the countryside for the animals to drink from.

Over the course of her stay, E has been most useful as a sounding board for my thoughts and worries. I can completely be myself with her at a time when I’m not sure who I am anymore. She advocates a mother maintaining her sense of self and her own interests, even as she puts her child, or children, first, which I’m receptive to. E encouraged me to have fun with the boy, and to do things the way I want to, and when I want to, in order to ‘create the child you want.’ To this end, she’s encouraged me to let him cry and not to jump at his every cry, in order to retain my sanity and to allow him to soothe himself. She’s been teaching me to get him to sleep alone. Thus far, I have had to hold him, or sit touching him while he falls asleep, and its almost as though he has a sensor because he realises when I move away and then wakes up. E has shown me to sit with him for a moment or two, coo and talk softly to him about sleep, and then slowly move away. The first couple of times I’ve tried this he cried, but E encouraged me to stay away for five minutes, go in, assure him, then leave, and repeat in ten minute intervals. It’s really difficult to hear your baby cry for you and not to go to him, but it’s well worth the liberty of being able to go and do things while he sleeps. That said, I still check on him every two minutes, despite a baby monitor at hand, causing E to laugh at my expense and telling me ‘You won’t be like that for long! You’ll let sleeping dogs lie soon enough!’ Further encouraging some semblance of autonomy for us both, E has also taken to feeding the boy with formula once in the night so that I can sleep. This is very helpful, I feel revived, and my boy doesn’t seem to mind. During a trip to Italy, she taught me to simply let him cry when we’re driving, particularly as stopping just makes a journey tedious. Knowing I’d need some logic to back up my doing this, she would remind me to note the checklist: ‘Is he hungry? Is he sullied? Is he ill? Is he cold or hot? If none of these apply, he just wants you and there’s nothing to be done for it while you’re driving…’ I do see the sense that an attentive mother is not the same as a hovering mother. And that a happy mother contributes to a happy baby.

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 22

“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.” Aristotle

I met the anaesthesiologist in Sallanches hospital. That’s a difficult word for me to say even in English. Read somewhere that there are 13 anaesthesiologists per 100k of the population in France, whereas the US & UK have a 1/3 less.

We didn’t wait long for the appointment blissfully. It’s getting hard to sit for any duration of time comfortably. I can just about do a movie in the cinema. She spoke French and no English but she was nice enough to enunciate. I don’t know if she’s a doctor or is certified to do this. If our appointment were in English, I’d make small talk and find out why she’d become an anaesthesiologist, what it involved, where she’d studied, whether she liked the job well enough, etc. As it were, I simply lay on an examining table smiling stupidly and she strapped some things to my stomach to monitor the heartbeat while we spoke. She took my blood pressure. She asked if I’d ever had an operation under general anaesthesia, and whether I’d ever had an allergic response to any medicine in the past. She asked me if I wanted to order an epidural in case it was necessary. I said “yes,” and told her that I’d like to know what other pain relievers I could have. She informed me that there is only the epidural. No gas. No air. No gas/air combo (Entonox). No morphine. No intramuscular injections. Moreover, I had to choose what I’d want in case right there-and-then. There were no options on the day other than an emergency spinal epidural if a caesarean were necessary or something went wrong, and doctors and nurses would dictate that then. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of drug addict, it’s that I’m completely adverse to pain and from what I hear giving birth or having a C-section is painful.

It’s funny. In the US and the UK there’s a “birth plan” (“a what?” I’d said the first time I’d heard it, which was not from my midwife here). Apparently, a mother can determine the type of pain relief she wants, what position she’d like to be in, what music she’d like to have playing while she’s in labour, the option of a doula or midwife present…If I were even able to communicate some kind of cogent “birth plan” in French, I’m positive I would be met with sceptical or pitying looks at best and revulsion at worst (“Les Anglais! Tsk, tsk). Must say that I’m kind of into the French mentality in that I’m thinking “Let them do what they need to do,” except on the pain relief front.  Jeez, less than 60% of women even remember their doctor’s names after delivery and many of those have the whole birth-plan-thing. Even so, it’s still a better average than the 4% that remember their anaesthesiologist’s name. I couldn’t understand her name when she told it to me much less remember it afterward.