Sunday, 29 July 2018

Ten things about being pregnant in Paris

Following on from my getting married in Paris post, here's what I learnt 18 months later - ten things about being pregnant in Paris. 

1. French babies bake for longer in the oven

The French calculate 41 weeks as full term compared to 40 weeks in other countries like Australia where I'm from. I'm not sure why there is this variation of one week between country to country because I assume human babies follow similar gestational periods across borders right..? 
It can get confusing explaining this to your non-French friends and family but you learn to answer that question "when are you due" with a well practised response of: "1st of March according to Australia, 8th of March according to France, so we will see which country wins!"

2. Monthly check ups, pee and blood tests 

French pregnancies tend to require more monitoring, tests and appointments when comparing your standard uncomplicated low risk pregnancies with other countries. 
Unlike my girlfriend in Australia who was pregnant around the same time, I was required to have standard monthly check ups. You can opt for monthly gynaecologist appointments or the less expensive option which I opted for, free state subsidised monthly midwife "sage femme" appointments. 
Also take note that internal examinations were sometimes a part of these monthly check ups in France to check on my cervix.
France is also one of the few countries that regularly tests for toxoplasmosis, a parasite carried by cats and rodents that can also be present in poorly cooked food. 
I had never been exposed to this toxomawhatdoyoucallit in the past and was therefore not immune. Basically this meant that every month, I had to visit a lab to have a fasting blood test, as well as a urine test first thing in the morning. The blood tests weren't too bad, it was more the urine tests that were annoying. They obviously became harder and harder to collect as I gradually ballooned into a whale.

3. Weight gain recommendations

Which brings me to my next point - the French guidelines recommend that you aim to put on between 8-12kg during your pregnancy. We were reminded that we aren't "eating for two" (which is true..) and that it was important to eat a balanced diet (but basically not to go nuts). I still managed to put on 19kg by the time I got to the end, oops haha. Luckily I didn't end up with gestational diabetes.  

4. Birthing prep classes

I found these to be very informative in terms of content and delivery but understand that it can vary across the board. It was a great chance for me to brush up on my French pregnancy vocabulary. The general approach to pregnancy and birthing is more or less medical and somewhat clinical. There was no mention of birth plans, water births, home births, epidural-free pain relief etc but I was very impressed with everything else that was covered from making sure my position on breastfeeding was clear in the hospital to the pros and cons of natural tearing vs episotomies. 
There was even a class dedicated to fathers exclusively which my husband went along to one Saturday morning. He was prepped on what to do when contractions came in, how to recognise when it was time to get to the hospital as well as when to anticipate the drop in hormones preceding the "baby blues".

5. Their generous (but-I-don't-know-how-on-earth-it-is sustainable?) health care system 

When my pregnancy related sciatica pain set in at 8 weeks, I had physio sessions prescribed by my doctor covered by the government each week. My iron supplements and vitamin D supplements were also free, not to mention the DVT compression socks that were prescribed to me post-delivery. My dental check ups were free, and of course my whole delivery/hospital stay was free. The only thing we literally paid for was my husband's fold out bed hire when he stayed overnight in our PRIVATE ROOM, in a public hospital. 
Vive la France..? 

6. The epidural rate is relatively high and access to alternative pain relief can be limited

I read somewhere that 85% of French women end up opting for an epidural. At the beginning I wasn't keen on having an epidural, wanting my pregnancy to be as "natural" as possible (haha...). 
Appointments with an anesthetist at the hospital are routine at around 2 months before the due date whereby you are briefed on the epidural process, as basically everyone assumes you will end up opting for one.

Fast forward to the D-day for me, 34 hours of contractions/hell later after being induced, I was dying for this epidural that I was so against. 
Anyway, generally speaking as the epidural rate is so high, access to other pain relief options such as TENS machine, gas etc can be limited as well unless you are prepared beforehand (depending on the hospital). All I was offered at our particular hospital was a big exercise ball and running hot water. 
In hindsight, I don't know why I was so against having an epidural in the first place. The last 6 hours of my labour was such a beautiful memory. I was still able to move my legs and was encouraged to keep them moving in different positions. I was given a little button to press in case I needed to increase the dose. We had music on, I was bopping along and sending whatsapp photos to my Mum with my legs up in the air ready to give birth! 

7. Smoking and alcohol

Before being pregnant, I had this stereotype of the French not giving a hoot about recommendations regarding smoking and alcohol intake when growing a little human inside. Obviously this was a misconception on my behalf about general French society as there are guidelines, campaigns and posters educating the public about the risks associated with smoking and alcohol consumption while pregnant. 

8. Food rule attitudes

So I asked my GP (who was a mother of 3 in her early forties) what her take was on the types of food I should be avoiding while pregnant. Her response gave me an idea of the difference between French vs Anglo-Saxon attitudes. Whether or not I can extrapolate this experience to the entire French population is another thing. 
She basically said to me "look, you'll find there are women who swear they ate sushi, ready prepared salads, unpasteurised cheeses, foie gras etc while pregnant without a problem - it's up to you how you want to go about it - I'd say try to eat as fresh and home cooked as possible, wash fruit and vegetables properly because toxoplasmosis is higher in France but above all use your common sense and weigh up the risks". 
She also went on to compare freshly made mayonnaise from a fresh raw egg with a jar of ready made mayonnaise open for weeks and weeks in the fridge. Which was funny because in Australia at the time, there were strict guidelines about avoiding any eggs that weren't properly cooked while pregnant. I had friends who had not eaten runny eggs for 9 months. 
I went on to decide for myself which foods were higher risk and which ones were a negligible risk. Reliably sourced, fresh in date egg from a supermarket that was still a bit runny when fried? Ok. Dodgy sushi that had been left out all day, yeah nah.   

9. Public transport

Like any big city with a dense population, taking public transport isn't the most pleasant of experiences. There are people who are mindful and helpful, those who are oblivious and those who just don't care and continue to stare into their phones. 
Most of the time, people would notice that I was pregnant, offer their seat or ask those already sitting down to offer me their seat. I'm also a believer that I need to take responsibility for my own well being, which means that on public transport I need to make it obvious that I was pregnant and needed a seat. And each time I asked someone sitting down (especially if they were staring into their phones haha) to offer me their seat, they were more than willing to do so. 
I also learnt to favour the bus over the metro as there is a designated area for the elderly, pregnant, disabled and kids (except that one time where I was on the bus and there was also a blind man with his cane, another man on crutches and myself..)

10. Being out while pregnant

I find France to be a relatively "old school" country, which is one of the things I appreciate about it as a society. There seems to be an "it takes a village" mindset and it isn't uncommon to be on the receiving advice from random strangers. If you have babies or children, it isn't uncommon for randoms to interact with them, make eye contact and talk to them. If you are a tourist, locals might warn you of pickpocketers when your bag is unzipped. 
When I was pregnant and especially when it was obvious towards the end (thanks to the 19kg I had put on haha), I found the experience to be quite heartwarming.  
I remember walking slowly along the street and a random woman stopping to ask me if I was okay and if I needed any help. At the supermarket, there was always a lane reserved for pregnant women and customers would actually tell me to go to the front of the line. At immigration, I was also able to get fast tracked through the line when coming back from our babymoon and I clearly remember being able to skip lines for tourist attractions, and having access to the lifts when heading up the Arc de Triomphe. 
Preferential treatment towards pregnant women was very present around Paris which was a nice compensation from the daily grind. 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Snowy Montmartre

For the first time in my life, I was able to witness a breathtakingly snowy Montmartre last week. Snowy Winters aren't that much of a regular occurrence in Paris and even then, you need all these other stars to align in order to be in the right place at the right time. 

Not being snowed in, not having to go to work, not having to be anywhere and of course being able to get there before the snow turns into grey sludge are all elements to consider. Hence why I haven't had this opportunity to see Montmartre in the snow since moving here in 2012. And then, there's the whole having enough energy to walk around in the freezing cold not being able to feel your fingers/toes/face. Minor issues of course. I wasn't going to let a little hypothermia/frostbite stand in the way of snapping these shots! So please enjoy while I take you on a tour of early morning lightly snowed upon Montmartre (from the comfort of your warm room inside).

Chez Eugene looking like it should be on a postcard or something, it looks strange all bare like that without a customer in sight.

Can you even recognise Place du Tertre like that early in the morning..? It almost feels like Picasso, Dali and Renoir could come on by any minute (if not for that damn Franprix plastic bag sitting in the middle of the photo)

And of course Sacre Coeur and the lightly snowed upon lawns surrounding her.

And finally in true Parisian fashion, the council decides to lock up the gardens (probably to stop people from skiing or snowboarding down the steps!). Not so great for those who want to roam around but beautiful for us to take photos of the untouched snow overlooking Paris (minus the footsteps on the left of whoever decided to jump the gates earlier that morning). It's the first time I've seen this area of Montmartre like that, with nobody in sight. 

Because today, it's just Montmartre and I.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

A Date with Paris (in the SNOW!)

For the first time in 30 years, Paris welcomed its heaviest snowfall this week - a whopping 15cm! It might not be a lot for some, but for someone from Australia, this is the equivalent to an avalanche. 

A beautifully magical, surreal avalanche of the top things I love in life. PARIS (obviously) and SNOOOOOOWWWW..!!! (if only my baby was with me on this walk, and my Mum, oh and Frenchie haha). Frenchie doesn't share the same level of extreme intense excitement as I do when it comes to snow. Each time we see snow, I turn into this hyperactive yapping puppy on caffeine/Red bull/stimulant cold and flu tablets. I'm literally running around everywhere - up and down the hallway of the apartment, unable to speak coherently and a speed that is comprehensible. My eyes are permanently wide open, I basically stop blinking because if I do I'll miss a nanosecond of seeing that beautiful image of magical snow. I'll jump up and down and repeatedly yell out "IL NEEEIIIIGGGGEEEE" among all my other uncontrollable excitable gibberish. 

So anyway, back to the photos - please join me while I think out aloud on this walk to see the Winter Wonderland date that Paris took me on yesterday. 

Paris and I started off on line 6 - getting off at the Bir Hakim metro before crossing the road towards the Inception bridge. There I found a beautiful blanket of snow ready for me to lay my footprints on. This is the obligatory French-Australian shot, which is kind of funny because just last week I was in Australia battling 38 degree heat. I remember reassuring Frenchie "don't worry, we are in for a cool change tomorrow, it's going to be 35 degrees". Fast forward to this week and we are in -4 degree weather and the heaviest snowfall in Paris since 1987..! 

I continue the walk further along and the snow stretches for as far as the eye can see. I'm struggling to keep calm in public at this point because my heart is literally singing.

I walk towards the Eiffel Tower where the carousel is and glance back, to see THE SUN coming out from behind. I don't believe my luck...!!

I cross the road past the carousel and reach the other of the bank and peer over to see this "interesting" scene. Little bird footprints on the pristine white snow, an annoying dockless bike just strewn on the ground like that (SERIOUSLY WHO DID NOT CONSIDER THE FLAWS OF THIS BIKE SHARING CONCEPT? What if some idiot just comes and pushes the bike into the river?) and of course, remnants of the overflowing flooding of the Seine.

I walk along and eventually cross the road to make it to one of my favourite Eiffel Tower shots - rue de l'universite. There are others taking photos at this spot as well so I give up waiting for people to bugger off.

The sunlight coming through highlighting every little detail makes this one of my favourite photos.

I turn the corner and cannot believe my eyes, I am seeing shadows because the sun is so bright! It's this moment where I feel so blessed to be in Paris on this day, at this moment right as the sun decided to make an appearance.

And then BAM - the battery on my phone decides TO DIE. I don't know if it was too cold or what but I desperately try to revive it. The day that I forget to bring my portable charger is the day it decides to kick the bucket at 55% - WTF? It briefly comes on for me to take this breathtaking shot. Maybe it's the universe telling me to just enjoy the effing moment instead of trying to document everything.

My phone dies again and I am able to revive it one last time before it drops down to 1% for this shot. I put my phone in my pocket and walk away content to do as the universe suggests. I mean, I am on a date with my beloved Paris after all, I should put my damn phone away!

But not without a little selfie. I have never posted a selfie on the blog, actually I rarely take selfies on my own. But this occasion was a little different. Who knows if I'll be able to experience this ever again in my life. We've already waited 30 years for this moment, Paris and I..!