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.

Advertisements


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.’