Victoria Jelinek

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…”

The Pregnancy Diaries – 3

Tall oaks from little acorns grow.”   Jean de la Fontaine

The other day, a girlfriend I know in Paris told me that she’s expecting her third child. This surprises me. We knew each other at film school in Los Angeles and she was not the type of woman you’d imagine with a child, let alone three (she was so single-mindedly ambitious and talented). Then, oddly enough, another girlfriend here in Chamonix told me over coffee the other day that she had “finally” convinced her husband to have a third child. I mentioned these bits of news to my husband at breakfast and to my surprise, he suggested we try for three, also! I reminded him that I’m only a couple of months into the present pregnancy, so not a good time to talk about more pregnancies. Also, technically, I’ve had three pregnancies in two years – perhaps this is my allotment? Besides, I said, I never intended to have children at all, so one will be great. At his look of dismay, I joked that he could try for two more with his next wife.

I started to think about the people I know with kids stateside and those I know in France. I’m one of three children – I have a brother and a sister. Aside from my siblings, who each have two children, everyone I know with kids there has just one child. The same is true of my friends in England. Then I got to thinking about the people that I know in Chamonix with kids, which is about a dozen. In fact, I only know a few people here without kids. And, everyone I know here has two or three (after I miscarried the second time, I told my husband that I couldn’t live in Chamonix childless because it’d be too depressing for me). After discussing it with several of these friends with ‘only’ two children here, I discovered that a few of them are intending to have another pregnancy; a couple of them are unable, lamentably, to have a third child; and a couple of them are happy with two.

So I looked into statistics to see if my ring of acquaintances is distorting my perception that folks in France have more children than folks in the states. Much to my surprise, it isn’t. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average number of children to a U.S. family is .94. This makes sense. In addition to the fact that almost everyone I know there has one child, the rest of those I know have none. According to Eurostat, part of the European Commission, France is only second behind Ireland. All jokes about the Catholics and Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal aside, this came as a surprise to me. France is the only other country, besides Ireland, in the European Union to report a fertility rate “in excess” of 2.0 per woman. The lowest fertility rates are in Eastern European countries, such as Latvia and Hungary, with an average of 1.3 per woman.

The reports that I perused said that in the 1970’s through the 1990’s, birth rates – at 3.8 per family post WWII – declined. According to these statisticians, this is attributed to an increased use of birth control, women having careers, higher education in general, and women having children at a later age. Currently, in the U.S. one out of every 12 women who are having their first child are 35 years old plus! In Europe, the age is 29.8. But, if increased birth control, women having careers, higher education in general, and women starting families later are the reason for lower fertility rates, in general, then why are France’s numbers rebounding? Is it the fact of stellar healthcare? But other E.U. countries have great health systems. Is it a reflection of family values? But what about Italy with its notion of the family being of primary importance? Is it a simple trend, here? A ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ sort-of-thing? Perhaps my pregnancy, and the birth of my child, will reveal more?

The Pregnancy Diaries

‘He does not weep who does not see’ (Victor Hugo)

When my doctor confirmed that I was pregnant I burst into tears. I’d just returned from a week’s holiday with friends and had drunk my body weight in alcohol. But it’s also the realisation that there is, once again, the possibility of the life-changing reality of a baby. Did I think this through all those times in which my husband and I had been having ovulation sex?
My doctor, a great swath of a man with hands the size of hams, waited calmly for me to stop crying before he remarked, ‘I don’t know if those are tears of joy or sadness…’ ‘I don’t either,’ I replied. Undoubtedly, it’s both. After a few miscarriages, my husband and I have altered our expectations of ever having children to encompass the possibility. We agree that if a child doesn’t happen after the next, and final pregnancy, which I suppose this is, we’ll buy a VW California van. We’ll tool around Europe in it doing things that folks with infants can’t, such as eating leisurely, sleeping in, reading, lazing about on a Sunday afternoon, and watching DVD’s that we want to watch. Can I handle the sadness of losing another pregnancy? I’d named my first baby ‘Appleseed.’ It had never occurred to me that I’d lose that baby…of course I knew it was possible, even statistically likely at 25%, but when I did lose Appleseed I was heartbroken. Can I cope with looking for blood every time I go to the bathroom as the first indication that something is wrong? What about my budding career as a writer? After the last pregnancy, I’d thrown myself into work. I’ll lose this momentum with a baby. Will my personal needs ever really factor into my life again? In the midst of my neurotic circles, minutes passing in the doctor’s office while my mind raced, (no wonder his waiting room is always full), I decided to address the most pressing worry – my recent week of debauchery. I gave my doctor the litany of my activities while on holiday and he was nonplussed; ‘ce n’est pas grave…’ the baby is an ‘atom’ at this point and nothing will have harmed it.
I adore my doctor. He embodies all of the theoretical reasons that motivated me to move to France – leisure, thought, beauty. It has historically been a safe haven for misanthropes, artists, and buggers who didn’t belong elsewhere, and now it’s home for me. He’s plump, but not obese. He’s untidy, but he knows where everything is in his office. Unkempt, there’s a robust sexiness to him, and sometimes on Sunday evenings there’s the resonant smell of a good cigar. His purpose on earth seems to be to help women to deliver healthy babies; not in an officious, ideologically driven manner, more of a lust-for-life-meets-his-specific-skillset. He always seems to be working, holding late office hours and weekend hours (very un-French actually). It’s difficult to get an appointment with him in the first place and it really depends on the mood of his secretary as to whether it’ll take five or nine months to get one. In the first instance, I simply announced to the secretary that I was pregnant and bleeding and she gave me an appointment immediately; there are some advantages to having a hostile uterus. I came to know my doctor well through my miscarriages, all the tests he ran and the office visits as a consequence. All this attention and it’s 100% covered by my carte vitale – very civilised. In England, while free to anyone, (unlike the French system where we must pay taxes first) I would have been left to chew the umbilical cord off of my baby in delivery and if the baby didn’t make it that far, well, so be it.
By the time I left the doctor’s office my worries were abating. My doctor said on parting, ‘I have a feeling about this one…this one is strong…and stubborn…’ Tears welled up in my eyes, but I chuckled and said, ‘A “feeling”? You sound like a New-Age hippie. Stubborn? He’ll have to be to withstand nine months in my womb.’