Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 14

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. Calvin Coolidge

French babyAfter putting my son’s name on the waiting list for the crèche (nursery) when I was four months pregnant with him (almost a year ago), and intermittently popping by to say ‘hello’ to the Directrice of the creche, show her my growing belly, then my new baby, and reiterating my desire for a place when there was one available – we have been given one! Hooray!

But in addition to keeping myself on the forefront of the Directrice’s mind, there’s an official process. I quickly had to go to my ‘fixer’ – an Irish woman who knows the French systems of bureaucracy like the back of her hand and gets paid by expatriates to delve into these waters on their behalf. In order to employ the services of the crèche, and an assistante maternelle (nanny), I must show that I earn income and, more importantly, pay taxes to the French government. So, she set me up as an auto-entrepreneur (self-employed). It quickly gets you into the system, which is why there has been a huge amount of criticism in France about this scheme and its supposed abuse by foreigners. But, for the moment, it exists. I must report income every quarter and then pay around 25% of my income, give-or-take.

For the crèche, my husband and I must produce an Avis d’Attestation (official breakdown of earnings) for last year, utility and bank bills proving we live locally, a letter from the doctor declaring our son is fit to be in collective care, as well as an ordinance, or prescription, for Doliprane in case of a fever, proof that we have supplementary healthcare (for that 20-30% not covered by your taxes and the state), official paperwork proving that we have gainful employment (the letters from the organisation that oversees profession liberales, or freelance and contracted workers), and duplicated pages from our boy’s Carnet de Sante (a health book given at birth in France that records all health visits, vaccinations, hospital stays, etc.) proving he’s had his necessary vaccinations. The French love paperwork, but I’m freakishly organised, so compiling this dossier and putting it neatly in a binder is actually fun for me. It’s perverse, but it’s also useful in this country.

Then there’s the adaptation process. It is literally a period in which your child is adapted, or assimilated, into the crèche. If your child does not meet their expectations, for example, not eating and sleeping when they have that scheduled, then your child loses his place in the crèche and you must apply for a place in the following year. I agree with this in theory. I think it’s a great idea to slowly introduce your child into a new environment and its regimens and people and if it doesn’t work for all involved, so be it. But something in it also makes me think of the last person picked for a team during physical education in school. If you’re not accepted, then you’ve not fitted in, and regardless of what one may say about the entity that has rejected you, or the reasons for the rejection, you’ve been rejected.

The first day you go with your baby into the crèche and sit with him there for about an hour. The second day, you sit with him for an hour, and then leave him for an hour. The third day, you leave him for two hours, which coincides with either their eating time or their sleeping time. The fourth day, it’s three hours, which again coincides with their eating or sleeping schedule. The fifth day, he stays half a day. The sixth day, he stays the whole day. I found it exhausting and overwhelming, so I can imagine what my wee one thought. The women seemed nice enough, with the exception of one who was rather shrewish, though all of them would be coquettish with my husband and look me up and down with a cold, polite smile every time I came in. There are two or three women working on a given day, and eleven babies at a given time. I was amused to see that they have a wooden contraption that has four baby seats on it in a row, and they literally feed the babies a mouthful and move down the line at feeding time. The babies sleep on separate cots in a room together. They would let the babies cry rather than going to them- they’ll fall asleep on their own (or they should!). But dang! I was amazed and pleased when my baby came back to me tidier than when he went in – even his nostrils were cleaned!

At the end of the adaptation process, the shrewish woman told my husband that my son was ready, but she was not sure if the mother was ready (me!). She didn’t mention that to me when she told me he was accepted. But who cares? He’s in for two days a week (as the lovely Welsh assistante maternelle has agreed to take our boy three days a week!) and hopefully it will be the start of his French education and a great introduction to the best of its culture, to the lessons that have given birth to its auteurs, and its wonderful writers and philosophers, rather than the beginning of his training to be a clerk in a Balzac-ian society.

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 4

‘There are some women whose pregnancy would make some sly bachelor smile.’  Honore de Balzac

I woke up in the middle of the night the other night and was bleeding. The next morning, I went to my good doctor for a check up and an ultrasound. He told me that I have two uterus’ (called ‘uteri’, really), which may explain the bleeding. The uteri are only apparent now because my womb is getting larger. They’re heart-shaped – my doctor even drew me a picture. There’s a high chance of miscarriage in the second trimester (which could explain my previous two) as well as pre-term birth in the third due to the danger of my cervix shortening and then opening up too soon.

Thank goodness the French are very attentive in their health care for pregnant women. You’re given a schedule of the tests that you’ll have, as well as the visits that you’ll have along the way, and specialists are frequently, and quickly, referred to. One test that both my husband and I are to take, is one that checks our chromosomes and DNA – it’s quite expensive, gets sent to Lyon, and has confidentiality statements attached to the prescriptions – kind of “Big Brother,” but still fascinating. The one that’s coming up for me is a comprehensive ultrasound that looks for the sort of thing that my doctor has just found, and measures the size of the nuchal folds; they’re on the back of the neck of the foetus and if they’re a certain thickness, there’s a good chance of the baby having Downs Syndrome. There’s also a blood test that complements this ultrasound and both happen here between 12-14 weeks. In the states and the UK, these tests are generally regarded as a ‘mid term pregnancy check’ and are done around 16-20 weeks. I believe the scale goes to 10k (as in, 1 in 5k, or 1 in 300 chance of a problem). If you have anything below a 1 in 250 chance of a problem, then you have an amniocentesis and the results come back a few weeks later. If you score higher than 250, then you have to go to another country to have an amniocentesis.

I’m going to take my blood test in Chamonix and then go to an ultrasound specialist in Grenoble next week who will be able to do the scheduled test, confirm or disconfirm that I have uteri, and explore why I might be bleeding. I looked the doctor up online and he’s world class, which calms me. While online, I looked up the two uteri thing to find out if humans get this or if I’m some strange anomaly that’s more closely related to a sheep. It’s called Uterus didelphys (how do I even pronounce that?), or a double womb. It’s not common. That said, a woman might never know that she has two uteri until there’s a complication in pregnancy, such as repeated miscarriages or placenta previa. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it. It’s possible to be pregnant in each of them (I’m not) but the likelihood of one or both of those foetuses’ surviving is unlikely. I looked up mammals that have them. A lot of them do, and even have two vaginas and two sets of fallopian tubes (I don’t).

Right now, my foetus is growing well and has a strong heartbeat. I could see its profile in the ultrasound with nose, forehead, legs and an arm. So, ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’, and I’m not singing. I’m going to try to see just what’s in front of me, to the very next thing, rather than race ahead with worries and fears; simple, but not easy, when neurotic like me and charged up with hormones. My sister emailed me  “Just remember to brrrreeaaattthe…”