Victoria Jelinek


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.

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 19

I allow no one to touch me.’ Paul Cezanne

It’s the weirdest thing, but ever since I’ve looked obviously pregnant, people have been touching it, often without asking to first! This goes hand-in-hand with people of all kinds offering me unsolicited advice about my pregnancy and tales about their own.

I’ve always been a ‘touchy-feely’ American type – affectionate, demonstrative, and open– but I’ve never been one to touch someone that I don’t know, or even to touch someone that I don’t know well. Yet people are touching my pregnant mound as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to do, and I feel like a prude that it bothers me so much. I feel like asking them if they’d also like to feel my seins…or, perhaps, my newly rounded cul? But I fear that this may come across as rude. And it goes against all the non-confrontational qualities that I’ve learned after living over a decade in England. I realise that folks touching me have good intentions, are excited about pregnancy in general, and I realise that pregnancy has become a communal property sort-of-thing in recent decades (whereas prior to the 1970’s, women often stayed at home, were hidden while pregnant, or wore modest outfits to hide their pregnancy in public) prompting the touching and the advice, but what to do if it makes me uncomfortable? And it does.

I read one blog about it and the author states that she has directly asked people to stop touching her belly, at the risk of being a ‘kill joy,’ because it’s presumptuous and it ‘creeps’ her out. I can’t quite say this even as I’d like to. She also writes that she doesn’t want the unsolicited advice or the myriad of questions about her pregnancy and birth because she’s not interested in justifying every decision she makes on her pregnancy, birth, and parenting with a long explanation. Again, I completely empathise with the sentiment, and like the approach, but it’s not me…normally, anyway…perhaps with increased hormones and fatigue I can muster the couilles (so to speak) to ‘just say no.’ Then I read from Dr. Sears’ website about the unwanted touching of the belly. A Dr. Bennett writes that it’s important to try to emotionally guard yourself against advances, meaning that even if you feel your life is an open book because you’re pregnant, you can send off ‘vibes’ to folks that you do not invite intimacy in this way. She advises, however, to be on the safe side and put as much physical distance between yourself and others as is possible – remembering your head may be a good distance away from the next person on the train, but your belly isn’t.

Regarding the intimate questions and unsolicited advice, such as whether or not the conception was natural, or whether I plan to have a C-section, or to breastfeed, Dr. Bennett advises a pregnant woman to answer vaguely and to deflect with a question towards them. Dr. Bennett writes: ‘I think women in general, but pregnant women in particular, feel a certain sense of vulnerability that makes us think that just because someone asks us a question, no matter how inappropriate it is, we have an obligation to answer it. But in fact, this just isn’t true.’ So, when others share their horror stories about labour, I’ll simply muster up my courage and tell them that I’ll look forward to my own horror story, thank you very much.