Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 17
December 2, 2013, 12:19 pm
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Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health. William Foege

Dearest son,

Diphtheria_vaccination_posterYou had your booster immunizations yesterday – five at once – Diptheria, Whooping Cough, Polio, Tetanus, and something called HIB…you were stellar at the doctor’s office, never crying, not when the doctor examined you, placed you on your front, poked and prodded you for your six-month check up (as you’re six months next week) and then gave you your injection. Your father and I had screwed up and placed the patch that would serve to numb the area that you’re ostensibly injected, in the wrong place, so you had to take it “cold” and, as mentioned, other than letting out a bit of a protest (you seem to be chatting and speaking a lot recently, so it seemed more like an ‘awww…”). Luckily, you’ve got really pudgy, lovely big thighs and didn’t seem too bothered. On the way home, you were chuckling and smiling, then suddenly you started crying, then you passed out asleep. The rest of the day you were your normal cheerful self, sleeping, eating, giggling and smiling and you didn’t have a temperature…

But today you’ve been out of sorts – fussy, hard to settle, obviously uncomfortable, not eating as much as you normally do, making us think its affecting you a day later…I went to get my haircut in town (and also got a fresh bouquet of flowers) and you were, according to your father, difficult and didn’t fall asleep for the entire time I was out (and even as you were asleep when I came home). You did watch a few cartoons in earnest and tracked and grabbed your Brio classic bell/cage ball (very impressive) and played with your over-the-head jungle gym, and laughed when I was dancing for you to THE KILLERS. That said, we’ll take your temperature tomorrow and hope that you’re your normal wonderful self. If there’s a temperature, I’ll likely want to take you to the hospital (in Sallanches, where you were born) and let them call me paranoid.

Much love,

Mom

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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.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 15

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.” Marcus Aurelius

Prompted by my husband’s planting an apple tree in our garden for our lost baby, Appleseed, I wrote about this miscarriage in last week’s column. While I’m American, and therefore prone to “vomit” my whole life upon the floor to anyone I’ve just met, I’ve lived in Europe for almost 15 years now, and have learned (am learning) to hold myself back more and to think before I speak…so to write about something so personal filled me with ambivalence and trepidation.  However, the stories told to me by other women as a result of this piece, have touched me greatly and confirmed for me that it was right that I wrote about Appleseed.

Of course there was the angelic figure that I met when I was leaving the hospital after my pregnancy sack had fallen apart – her miscarriages and then the birth of her autistic son. One woman told me that she’d had five miscarriages, all at five and sixth months along in her pregnancy. Almost literally, the babies were falling out of her. Finally, the doctors tied her cervix shut and she was on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy that resulted in her only child being born. Another woman told me of a stillbirth in which she’d had to deliver the child through induced labor; she has since had two healthy children but holds this sadness in her heart still. Another woman had six miscarriages, one in which she’d had to deliver the baby stillborn, before she finally had her healthy babies; she told me that every night she still says a little prayer before she goes to bed for the baby she delivered and named.  These are harrowing stories from real life – not work, not money, not the tedium of daily life with its challenges, not friends who irritate us, or ‘enemies’ that overwhelm us – but the stuff that constructs who we are, what we’re made of fundamentally, and which defines our relationships to others.

When I was twenty-years-old I became pregnant with a boy man who’d been my boyfriend through secondary school. I was scared and confused. I’d just won a scholarship to a great university and knew that with a baby I couldn’t go…also, I was very young and the boyfriend was trouble. The only people we told about the pregnancy were his parents and mine. His family was incredibly Catholic and admonished me to keep the baby. He, himself, wanted to get married and have the baby. My parents were not sympathetic to his cause. They reminded me of what it would mean both in terms of my age and the unstable relationship that I had with the boy man. I got an abortion. It was painful and saddening for me, and because of the shame I felt, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my best friend – for almost a decade. It was harder still as my sister had a baby at the time I would have had this baby. Even now, my mind flits briefly to the thought of this aborted child when I look at my nephew. When I was finally open about the experience, I was startled to discover so many similar stories. Writing last week’s piece about the miscarriage of Appleseed reminded me of this early experience because of the fact that there are so many people who can relate to situations that we imagine are so unique to us…maybe even shameful…certainly not the image of ourselves that we want to portray…and it’s in the sharing of this vital personal information that we are truly courageous and that we begin to heal…and by ‘heal’, I mean that we begin to accept ourselves, our choices, and the circumstances and events of our life.